Dr. Nitin Agarwal was recently invited to present his research on combating socio-cognitive threats at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, also known as the Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut (FOI) or the Total Defence Research Institute. The FOI is a government agency in Sweden responsible for conducting research and development in areas related to national defense and security. Its vision and mission is to research for a safer and more secure world and to provide cutting-edge research and expertise in defense and security. It also works with the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB). 

The FOI conducts research in a wide range of fields, including military technology, cybersecurity, chemical and biological defense, and intelligence analysis. The agency provides scientific and technical advice to the Swedish Armed Forces, the Swedish government, and other authorities to support decision-making processes related to defense and security. It often collaborates with international partners, including other research institutions and defense agencies, to stay at the forefront of defense technology and knowledge, and as a result, the FOI produces numerous reports, studies, and publications that contribute to the broader understanding of defense and security issues, both within Sweden and internationally. Dr. Agarwal’s recent presentation to the FOI represents one such collaboration, mirroring the presented and collaborative research he presented to NATO in late 2023.

“We are living in a hyperconnected world,” explains Dr. Agarwal. “Narratives travel at lightning speed that can transform individuals to groups and groups to mobs. Propaganda disseminated through social media could potentially be used to persuade susceptible targets to disrupt military operations, compromise operation security through protests or other ‘non-lethal resistance.’” He explains that part of the danger of such operations, or TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures), is that they “can be employed clandestinely in a low-cost, low-risk context.” He predicts, “Military leaders can expect to encounter an increased amount of adversary-generated, AI-amplified social media-driven propaganda.” For these reasons, says Dr. Agarwal, “NATO has classified the cognitive as the 6th domain of warfighting besides land, sea, air, space, and cyber.”

Dr. Agarwal finished his presentation by describing the tools that COSMOS is developing to counteract such TTPs. “We develop research-based solutions for characterizing multiplatform and multimedia-rich influence campaigns to strengthen socio-cognitive security apparatus,” he says. “Not only do these approaches advance our understanding of the dynamics of social processes—such as campaigns and social movements—but by better characterizing campaign phases, we can characterize the information actors and network coordination structures that allow us to develop countermeasures and focused intervention strategies to strengthen community resilience.” Dr. Agarwal explains that, using the multiplatform and multi-theory research being conducted at COSMOS, “We are developing socio-computational models and social cyber forensics methodologies to advance our understanding of coordinated campaigns, mobilization through online networks, collective action, influence campaigns, mis and disinformation, and propaganda campaigns that are conducted in the cyber world with possible real-world implications.”