Monday, December 8, 2014

Sponsored Content = Propaganda?

Like  many of you I get a fair amount of e-mail, some of it informational, some of it news, etc. Foreign Policy magazine is a magazine favored by policy wonks. I get a couple of their newsletters - the item in red caught my attention today.

The sponsor of the red item is "US/UAE".

Propaganda or just some good information?

You be the judge.

A New HQ Is Not Enough

Interestingly enough after I published today's post I came across an article by UPI "Why the US is losing the war against the Islamic state. They boiled it down to: "The Obama administration has preferred rhetoric and half measures so far because it was unwilling to re-engage in Iraq. Rhetoric is no substitute for action. To defeat IS decisive leadership and determined commitment are essential. Otherwise, the fight against IS will not be won.

A POTF FOR ISIS?





On December 5, 2014 the Washington Post published an article: “New US Military Command Established for Iraq and Syria Operations” (see “http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2014/12/05/new-u-s-military-command-established-for-iraq-and-syria-operations/).

The article indicated that LTG James L Terry was designated CDR of Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) – Operation Inherent Resolve in addition to his current duties as CDR of the Army Component of CENTCOM (ARCENT).


According to the article LTG Terry was supposed to provide a briefing on the changes engendered by the new Command on Friday the 5th. A check of the Pentagon issued a Press Advisory that noted that the briefing had been postponed until December 18, 2014 at 10 AM EST. (See: http://www.defense.gov/Advisories/Advisory.aspx?AdvisoryID=3691)

Given the challenge facing him, LTG Terry is wise to gather his thoughts and resources first, figure out what impression he wants to make on the world stage, then enter it.

The NY Times published the map a right to show ISIS controlled areas in November 2014. It’s no coincidence that ISIS’ AO is Syria and Iraq. It’s also no secret that ISIS is a new kind of enemy, one that is borderless, and in many ways amorphous.  (See: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/06/12/world/middleeast/the-iraq-isis-conflict-in-maps-photos-and-video.html?_r=0)

Appointing a single CDR to deal with this threat is in keeping with the principle of Unity of Command and makes a great deal of sense on many levels. The rank of the CDR indicates a Corps Level Command which Normally implies a pretty big HQ element.

In this I would argue that smaller would be better. Operations against ISIS need to be characterized by swiftness and flexibility. The enemy has interwoven itself into the civilian population and can ebb and flow within the population, as it needs to in order to defeat allied efforts against them.

Non-kinetic efforts are absolutely critical in this battle.  They need to be a key element of all operations conducted in the AO. Consideration needs to be given to the implications (in the minds of the civilian population) of all acts conducted in the AO.

The PSYOP support must be equally supple. The range of MISO resources needed to support this new type of CJTF is mind-boggling. On one hand tactical elements are needed as is normally the case and on the other, strategic resources need to be on call to deal with events that have global significance such as murder of hostages, massacres and the like.

GO HQ are often lumbering beasts often encumbered with big staffs and meetings upon meetings. This one needs to be different.

Reader feedback encouraged.

Friday, November 21, 2014

False Tweets = Cyber PSYOP




I’ve posted about cyber influence before. When an event happens that confirms or reinforces some of what I’ve concluded I like to post that reference as well. Anti-virus vendor Sophos publishes an almost daily blurb called “Naked Security”. The November 20, 2104 editions featured an article “Hackers Blamed For Unusual Tweets..” (see: https://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2014/11/20/hackers-blamed-for-unusual-tweets-from-jeremy-clarkson-columbian-farc-rebels/ which is also the photo source.)

The substance of the article is: “TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson and Colombian militia group FARC may not have much in common, but this week they were linked by headlines blaming hackers for potentially embarrassing Twitter messages.”

The article addresses how hackers can take over a Twitter account and broadcast their own content to the detriment of the target. In some cases the hacker will identify themselves either directly or indirectly by virtue of the message, in others the hacker is content with remaining unidentified.

These attacks can be broadly staged such as against governments or large companies, or they can be tightly focused on particular individuals.

Depending on the nature of the target, more harm may come from the publicizing of the attack rather than those who follow the target’s tweets. The Twitterverse (if there is such a word) is a community of followers and perhaps some analysts, but IMHO is not indicative of the general public.

In some locations Twitter users are likely to be younger, perhaps more affluent and perhaps more educated. Also I suspect there is a higher density of media types involved as well.

Reader comments appreciated.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Comics: The Real Super Heroes of Middle Eastern Influence?




Many of us will admit that ‘comics’ were a big thing in our lives at one point or another. Today’s comic reader is more likely to be a 20 or 30 or even 40 something than they are to be a teenager especially if we are talking about the Middle East.

The Economics of November 8, 2014 ran an article “Laughing at the humorless” (see: http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21631198-regions-artists-are-mocking-jihadists-laughing-humourless?fsrc=scn/tw/te/pe/pe, which is also the photo source) which addressed how the “region’s comics have long used subtle satire to criticize their authoritarian regimes, yet with little success in effecting change.

The Middle East is certainly nothing to laugh at, especially these days. Much of the cultural and sociological norms there remain a mystery to Western audiences even those charged with influencing the region.

It strikes me that comics can be an effective way to gradually influence behavior. If I could wave a magic wand I would create a credible lead character whose trials and tribulations are captured in comics that are easily related to by a Middle East audience.

We talk about videos going viral and getting hundreds of thousands of views, I wonder if support to rising comic authors makes sense as a logical part of US Middle East influence efforts.

Comments are very much encouraged.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

MISO and the American Embassy: Two Peas In The Same Pod?



As many of my loyal readers know, I have been participating as the IO SME in a number of exercises which project me into the role of MISO Task Force CDR and PSYOP Evangelist. On the iteration which ended today I had the good fortune of working “an old hand” from the Department of State who provided invaluable assistance and guidance with this post.
The ‘influence war’ is fought with all of the instruments of national power. For MISO this means we must work very closely with the  Department of State’s Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs whose major efforts “include public diplomacy outreach, which in turn includes communications with international audiences, cultural programming, academic grants, educational exchanges, international visitor programs, and U.S. Government efforts to confront ideological support for terrorism. The Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs oversees three of the State Department’s bureaus -- Educational and Cultural Affairs, Public Affairs, and International Information Programs -- as well as the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications.  The State Department has some of their own acronyms, and the shorthand for the Under Secretary and the three bureaus is “R.”  With Foreign Service officers in the Political, Economic, Consular, and Management “cones.” Public Diplomacy officers also participates in foreign policy development.” (See: http://www.state.gov/r/) 
State’s concept of Public Diplomacy bridges public affairs, advocacy, and influence – with an eye both on short- and long-term effects.  Among themselves, Public Diplomacy officers wrestle with old and new concepts, including “evaluation,” “metrics,” “branding,” “narrative,” “storytelling, and “messaging,”
At first glance many of the functions and programs of Public Diplomacy look like they parallel MISO missions, so it makes logical sense for the two organizations to work together in a synergistic way. Some Embassy Public Affairs Sections host Military Information Support Teams.  While MIST may deploy with their own specific mission set (such as counter drug operations), doctrinally the MIST works for the Embassy PAO in the Public Affairs Section.
In some Embassies, Public Affairs Sections have offices in buildings without access to classified communications.  (Most of their work is public, open, and unclassified.)  Given that a MiST may require access to military communication channels, teams may spend time both in the Public Affairs Section and the office of the Defense Attache (DAO or DATT), and there is occasional tension from the arrangement.  Still, MISO personnel work as part of the Embassy team. This means that MISO personnel need to understand the Embassy’s organization and roles and be comfortable working outside the military chain of command.  Some personal “diplomacy” helps MIS teams work on programs that mesh with Public Diplomacy’s goals.
Military Information Support Teams (MIST) often work with Embassy personnel to provide research and other resources in a peacetime environment. They can meet with students, media, or other groups helping to augment a typically short staffed information section.  A MIST has its own travel budget, and it can draw on many resources (e.g. funding, Reachback, in place contracts, etc.) to implement a project or a communication program.  During operations MISO can supplement the Embassy in a number of ways. The can facilitate research on issues and audiences, and they can develop what Public Diplomacy people call “programs.” 
Assignment to a MIST can benefit MISO personnel by exposing them to the diplomatic world, the full range of U.S. departments and agencies that form a Country Team, and offering a complementary perspective on influence operations.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Media Savvy Enemies

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PSYOP and our influence colleagues are on the pointy edge of the digital spear. The media savvy enemy is becoming more of the norm than the exception. It is no secret that ISIS and other terrorist groups are adept at employing the internet for their own purposes.

“The Islamic State’s Media Warfare” is described on the Monitor Website at: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/10/islamic-state-media-strategy-propaganda-iraq-syria.html (which is also the photo source). The article talks about how ISIS’ media managers are very careful in staging their work.

Unlike some of our enemies in the past, ISIS is well funded and apparently has not problem attracting the talent needed to carry our their media strategy. According to an expert quoted in the Monitor article “Analyzing the latest videos broadcast by the group shows that they have cutting-edge tools and professional operators. I have to say that they are generous when it comes to their media machine, and they pay good money to professionals.”

According to the article there are two media divisions. Al-Furqan is focused on military warfare while Al-Itisam is “dedicated to social and religious activities and sermons”. At first glance this seems to recognize the attitudinal difference inherent in the two different audience.

ISIS’ strategy also shows an appreciation for some other fundamentals such as the personification of the movement’s leader as the caliph and showing the human sides of their fighters are not accidents, but part of an overall strategy designed to positively position the movement.

We can expect to see more in the way of digital media from ISIS and others. This means that we need to step up our game in terms of counter-PSYOP. Major tasks at end are to reduce the effectiveness of enemy recruitment operations and to dry up the pipeline of Western country citizens supporting the jihadist cause. This also includes convincing those that have already embarked on this journey to reverse their path and to return to their former lives.

The enemy has also recognized the need for more OPSEC as evidenced by release of directives and documentation by ISIS on how to avoid SIGINT efforts. (See: http://hackread.com/isis-manual-nsa-twitter-online-safty/).

Never a dull moment in PSYOP – is there?
On a personal note, I’ll be working another exercise next week as the IO SME. Nothing like a bit of immersion to stimulate the creative juices.