Recently released documents outline the Department of Defense's attempt to make Russian hackers look uncool
The creation of a really good meme can’t be boiled down to a formula. It’s more like a fine art form that requires experimentation, timing, and sensibility. This art form is largely dominated by the youths of the internet who grasp its particular type of humor in a way that can only be mastered by hours upon hours in not the darkest, but certainly some of the deepest corners of the internet. This art requires sacrifice: eyestrain, limited offline social relationships, high blood pressure, impending arthritis of the hands, power complexes with their parents (who are for some reason in charge despite their embarrassingly low follower counts), anxiety, and sleep deprivation.
Memes, when created properly, wield enormous power. The Pentagon, like many amateurs, has attempted to utilize this power form while clearly not dedicating itself in the ways necessary to do so effectively. The US Cyber National Mission Force posted an image to Twitter in October that shows a cartoon Soviet bear in a fitted black trench coat tripping in the forest, his Halloween candy spilling out of a jack-o-lantern basket. The candy (and this is where the meme attempt comes in) does not feature the Nestle and Hershey logos we might expect, but instead is labeled with words like “ComRat” (a malware toolkit), “Drovorub” (another malware toolkit), and “X-Agent” (more malware).
The meme received hundreds of likes and retweets, but did not achieve virality. It was not entirely bad, its nicheness being a saving grace. If a meme is niche enough, those who get it, even if they don’t like it, will like or share in a desperate display of their mastery of said niche. Unfortunately, this meme was lacking in all other essential areas. The word “meme” stems from the Greek mimema, meaning imitated. This meme is far too raw. It does not carry on the tradition of reworking and reimagining. It was created with intention rather than observation. The Department of Defense does not create memes in the same ways those who have mastered the form do. Before the meme was posted, it underwent numerous drafts that were revised through the hierarchy undermining the successful meme’s intrinsic impulsivity.
This analysis may seem a pointless endeavor—nobody is actually expecting the Pentagon to make a good meme. Nobody is actually expecting the Pentagon to make memes at all. So why are they doing it?
A senior advisor for Norway’s Armed Force Cyber Defense filed a Freedom of Information Act Request regarding the meme in question. A 23 page report detailing the image’s creation was subsequently released. In these pages, the intent can be found. Firstly, the idea is to educate the public about malware. Sure, that’s nice, but the intent soon changes. The bear, originally naked, was to then wear a soviet uniform. The meme became an attempt to make Russian hackers look uncool. “Russia hates to be seen as cuddly or cozy so we want to tick them off,” an anonymous U.S. official told Cyberscoop following the incident.
The government has long utilized the public in under the table kind of ways. There is a history in recruiting the names and faces of Hollywood in subliminal messaging and discrete investigations. In the last 100 years and change, over 800 feature films (like beloved blockbuster franchises The Terminator and Iron Man) have received financial support from the Department of Defense. The Scorpions’ “Wind of Change” wasn’t just a rock anthem, but a work of Cold War espionage by the C.I.A.. Meme making is an equally, if not far more, nuanced form of art as film and music. If the Pentagon wants to employ the meme, it might fare better in recruiting the artists instead of trying to mimic it themselves.