Monday, June 22, 2015

Weaponizing Arab Humor

I confess, I subscribe to the NY Times printed edition. I often consider myself an expatriate New Yorker and relish reading the news about New York City from the Grey Lady herself.

On Saturday, June 20, 2015 I came across the article: “Satirical News Show Finds Humor in Gaza, Even if Hamas Rulers May Not” (see: While looking for the URL to pass along to my readers I came across a similar article on the CNN website: “Saudi TV series deploys new weapon against ISIS: satire” (see: which is also the photo source).

The NY Times article covers Akram al_Sourani the show’s writer and his approach to satirizing the government(s) in Gaza while the CNN article covers a TV series which has drawn attention – both good and bad. The CNN article also quotes a former State Department Official (Michael Rubin) as saying that humor needs to be a part of the strategy against ISIS.

I have had the good fortune to present in a variety of international venues. Most of these have been either information security or legal related although I have had my share of NATO and other military presentations.

While many ‘experts’ caution against the use of humor, I have found that humor can work well most of the time. Interestingly enough attorney jokes seem to be popular even in some Asian countries where you wouldn’t think that was the case.

The implication for PSYOPers is that we should be encouraging satirical talent if we can. We must always be mindful of a negative taint that can be attached to any association with Americans. However, people are people and the fine art of influence ultimately rests on being able to connect with your audience.

Humor, especially when created by the audience themselves, is an exceptionally potent weapon and should, as noted by the CNN article, be a key part of the arsenal of those standing up to our enemies and the enemies of peace and prosperity.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Poetry and Music: Keys to Defeating Daesh?

The Havok Journal, an on-line publication featured an article entitled: “Jihadis, Poetry and the Ongoing Bromance of ISIL: Are We Sending The Right Message?” (see: which is also the photo source.)

The main thesis of the article was that dominating the information high ground against Daesh will require taking the offensive with the poetry and music that is a part of the Arab culture. In support of this position, the article states that Osama Bin Laden was recognized for his eloquence of the classics and postulates that poetry is the way that Daesh communicates.

The author notes: “Rather than littering Raqqa, as we recently have, with pamphlets full of cartoons and meat grinders to try to push disenfranchised Muslim youth or already hardened ISIL fighters away from the cause, we should engage them in dialogue they understand and inculcate.[7]  Suggesting that Uncle Sam should sit down and pen ISIL a poem to open up dialogue seems like a ridiculous stretch, but if we put this responsibility in the hands of those capable of crafting the right message, perhaps we can take this understanding of culture and use it to our advantage.”

Is this really “a ridiculous stretch”? I frankly don’t think so. The essence of communication is that the messages are in tune with the receiver’s system. Deciding what media to deliver the message is a different decision than what the messages ought to be. Leaflets may or may not be the right medium in that particular AO, however, we must not lose sight of the fact that the messages are more important.

Understanding the culture is a prerequisite to crafting and delivering effective messages. Having said this, truly understanding a culture is not a trivial matter or a quick undertaking. One needs to enlist not only the reservoir of published material, a degree of immersion, preferably with a group of knowledgeable and cooperative ‘natives’ of that culture is another key ingredient.

Given that we will be engaged for quite a long time, this investment seems not only prudent – but, necessary.

As always, reader comments encouraged.

Friday, June 5, 2015

PSYOP OPSEC and an IT View of Today’s Influence Landscape

I have often posted about Social Media as an important PSYOP medium. However, I haven’t addressed the down side of Social Media very much. An article in the June 4, 2014 Aviationist is quite to the point: A U.S. Air Force Intel team turned a comment on social media into an airstrike on ISIS building (See: which is also the photo source. )

According to the article:According to Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, airmen belonging to the 361st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, at Hurlburt Field, Florida, were able to geo-locate an ISIS headquarters building thanks to a comment posted on social media by a militant.
As Carlisle explained to Defense Tech:
“The guys that were working down out of Hurlburt, they’re combing through social media and they see some moron standing at this command. And in some social media, open forum, bragging about the command and control capabilities for Daesh, ISIL. And these guys go: ‘We got an in.’ So they do some work, long story short, about 22 hours later through that very building, three [Joint Direct Attack Munitions] take that entire building out.”

Many of us know that many senior CDR, especially Generals think they are experts at everything including PSYOP.  Many of us have been in AOs where GOs have run their own influence campaigns and have engaged in operations with any regard to the psychological impact of those actions. Add this to the challenges of enforcing universal OPSEC up and down the chain of command and there is a real recipe for disaster.

Tactical teams in particular need to be sensitive to the influence activities of their supported commands and insure that the MISO chain of command is informed so that they in turn can work through the supported command’s higher HQ to provide the appropriate guidance.

Another View of the Influence Landscape
As many of you know, I have spent my civilian career in the high tech world. One of the journalists who I respect and have followed for years recently wrote a blog entry about Wag The Dog – one of my favorite post Bosnia PSYOP type movies. Check it out at:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Research: Vital to PSYOP Success

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a listing of materials captured along with Osama Bin Laden (OBL) (see:, which is also the photo source)

It was apparent the OBL was intent on learning about his enemy. The Al Qaeda leader also recognized the need to appeal to emotions and to understand ‘how’ his enemy felt, which is not the same as knowing about the events and experience that influences the enemy.

I’ve taken a few of the titles and listed them below:

·      America’s Strategic Blunders by Willard Matthias
·      America’s “War on Terrorism” by Michel Chossudovsky
·      Al-Qaeda’s Online Media Strategies: From Abu Reuter to Irhabi 007 by Hanna Rogan
·      The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast
·      Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins
·      Military Intelligence Blunders by John Hughes-Wilson
·      New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 by David Ray Griffin
·      Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward

Life long learning is part of the PSYOPers stock in trade. We need to keep abreast and perhaps a bit ahead of world events, social media trends, communications trends and of course cultural, economic and political issues.

Many CDR provide a reading list for their junior leaders. Now that summer is around the corner – it’s a good time to update yours.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Captive Audiences Are Good Targets

What’s a government to do? Let’s say your economy is in the crapper, your bank interest rates are around 22% and your air is so polluted that people spend most of their time on the road rubbing their eyes and stuck in traffic.

You takeover all of the City’s (Tehran, Iran) 1,500 billboards and whatever was on them – like advertisements for western products that most people cannot afford and replace them with art work.

Iraq has a long and proud culture so it’s no surprise that the splattering of art work all over the city has had it’s intended positive effects even though, according to “The Arts Get a Parton, and 1,500 Billboards” in the May 7, 2015 edition of the NY Times (see:, which is also the photo source) “more than 30% are foreign including works by John Singer Sargent”

While it’s fair to say that not every citizen of Tehran is an art critic or has even visited a museum, it’s clear that the classic visual imagery is taking their minds off most government challenges for the moment. But not everyone has forgotten and as Manijeh Makbari put it “but the city shouldn’t forget the sidewalks need to be cleaned as well.”

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tradition: The Military Foundation

On 2 May 2015 I was pleased to attend the Change of Command for the Naval Operations Support Center San Jose (NOSC San Jose) and on 3 May 5, 2015 I attended the Relinquishment of Command Ceremony for the 7th POG.


In my opinion, the Navy is the most ceremonial of the services. (For more info, see: Perhaps it’s because of the adaption of Royal Navy traditions from centuries ago. This ceremony took place in the parking lot of the NOSC, a complex of military looking buildings that appears to have been dropped in the middle of an economically challenged neighborhood. The recently saved trees were festooned with flags and yellow ribbons.

In addition to the stage, a simulated quarterdeck was set up complete with “side boys”, a ships bell and a boatswain’s mate. Navy Commanders and Captains each rate 4 bells.

The Officers and sailors were decked out in the dress whites complete with white gloves. The formal change of command takes place after the outgoing and incoming unit commanders read their orders. They then exchange the history phrase -

The exchange of words between the incoming Commander, “I relieve you.” With the outgoing Command, “I stand relieved.” Have found their way into space because Starships are ‘ships’ and the Navy’s tradition and rank structure apply.


On Sunday it was my personal pleasure to attend the Relinquishment of Command Ceremony for the 7th POG, my former unit. For those of you who don’t know, “Relinquishment” occurs when the older Commander needs to leave and the new Commander is not able to take Command. The incoming 7th POG Commander is currently mobilized and unable to take command.

Any Army change of command is a big deal. The subordinate units are assembled on a parade field. The outgoing and incoming Commanders along with their mutual boss and the unit’s senior NCO move to the Center of the field. The senior NCO, typically the Command Sargent Major (CSM) brings the unit’s flag or guidon. He hands the guidon to the outgoing CDR who hands it back to his boss, who, in turn passes it to the new CDR who then returns it to the CSM.

There are of course other elements of the ceremony to include awards, review of the troops, etc.

These ceremonies are very reassuring for all concerned. It gives the leadership a chance to thank those responsible for the unit in the past and those about to lead the unit to set the tone for their Command.

While these ceremonies take an inordinate amount of time to plan and execute. It can effectively torpedo a drill weekend, nevertheless, the traditions are the foundation of service. All of us, whether serving, active, reserve or retired need to do what we can to support these and other appropriate traditions.

Photos: The Author

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Subtitles and PSYOP

I am an avid reader of the Economist for a number of reasons. First of all, as a British publication they can get away with saying things American Pubs simply cannot. Secondly they are generally, not always, but generally – pretty good journalists.

My addiction to the Economist was jump started in Bosnia when I got my issue a couple of weeks late. I used those past issues as sort of the “teacher’s edition” because it was the only way I could figure out what happened while I was there.

The April 25, 2015 edition of the Economist had an article entitled: “Literacy in India – A bolly good read”. (See, which is also the photo source.)

The essence of the article is that same language subtitles are employed as a tool to help people learn their own written language. Television has often been touted as a good way to learn a language.

Watch a movie you’re familiar with and you can actually match your English brain with the language being spoken by the characters on the screen.

The article quotes the research firm Nielsen whose work shows that by exposing children to 30 minutes of subtitled films/songs the percentage of exposed children that become good readers doubles from 25 to 50%.

What does this have to do with PSYOP?

In the Internet age many of us have watched broadcasts in a language not our own and we have relied on voice over translations. What would happen if these foreign language broadcasts – even English ones to other audiences – used subtitles?

What  is the potential to subvert the subtitles from an accurate or literal translation to one that favors your position or the actions you would like the audience to take?

Could this type of PSYOP be executed on smart phones as well?

I’ll leave it to you!