Date of Award

Summer 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Regina Karp

Committee Member

Bryan Porter

Committee Member

Matthew DiLorenzo


Vulnerabilities of the human mind caused by the way it is designed to process information have always been exploited in warfare, since the dawn of humanity. History is marked with frequent use of deceits and manipulations over the centuries, with examples ranging from the use of the Trojan Horse to Facebook’s user-profiling. While largely used over time, these tactics, that I call cognitive threats, have not been collectively examined. I hypothesize that they pose a security issue to which prevention strategies on different levels could be successfully applied. The research questions that this study asks are what the characteristics of these cognitive threats, and what specific techniques could be employed to counter them. To respond to them and to contribute to filling the gap in the literature, I describe four case studies that illustrate some of the most common types of cognitive threats in the 21st century - the case with Maria Butina, the case with Russian disinformation, the case with ISIS recruitment, and the case with Cambridge Analytica. Then I analyze them and suggest different approaches that are fit to respond to the contemporary political and psychological features of these cognitive threats. The findings from the study, the policy recommendations, and the additional measures I propose are grouped into six categories: creating alternatives, narrative change, official government statements, legislative measures, education, and awareness.


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