Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Military As A Career Booster, The Draw Down – What does it mean to you?

Today’s posting was triggered by the article: “Should I Join The Military To Advance My Career?

 (See: http://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2015//28/should_i_join_the_military_to_advance_my_career_108290.html, which is also the photo source.

I thought it would be helpful for my to offer my perspective as a semi-retired dude to those of you who are just starting or are down the career path. Perhaps it’s because I had lunch with 3 of my 4 grandchildren yesterday and think about their future often.

I strongly believe that a military stint is an incredibly valuable experience. It may not lead to a career and you certainly won’t enjoy every moment, but you will (as the article states) be changed – for the better. You will find you can do things you never thought possible and that you may actually have an affinity for leadership or for one or more of the particular skills you’ve picked up or expanded upon in the military.

My advice is pick a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) that appeals to you, perhaps one that expands on your previous education or aptitude. As the article points out – it’s probably smarter to pick a specialty that can easily translate into civilian skills.

A MISO Tactical Team Leader is a great example. You are not only the manager of a team, but you are dealing with influencing people every day. You need to have the discipline to make a plan and carry it out. In most cases the tactical team is engaged in some kind of activity requiring interacting with people of all types – a very valuable skill.

While we constant debate whether or not PSYOP/MISO = marketing and sales, I believe we can certainly explain to future employers how our military experience will help their company succeed. 

It's clear that the shape of the military is changing. The active force is being reduced significantly and there may or may not be trade offs between uniformed positions and contractors. Whatever the outcome, your military experience will make you a better person and a stronger candidate for that next job.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

General McChrystal Talks About Leadership


One July 15, 2015 I attended a “Meet The Author” session with General (R) Stanley McChrystal held at the Marines Memorial Club in San Francisco. (see: www.MarineClub.com).

I had never met the General before, and my only previous impressions came from the media. The overwhelming one of which that his staff let him down by not doing their job with the Rolling Stone reporter (see: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-runaway-general-20100622).

While the General may be 60 he clearly projects confidence and energy. During his hour long talk (without notes) he came across as focused, direct and in this setting, candid. While I’ll admit that the moderator threw only ‘softball’ (easy) questions at him, the General’s comments spoke for themselves.

He was promoting his new book: Team of Teams (see: http://mcchrystalgroup.com/teamofteams/) about leadership, especially of large, diverse groups.  The central thesis of the book is that you need to treat teams as if they were individuals so that the teams in turn can effectively interact with other teams just as individuals reinforce, support and help each other.

His talk centered on his experience in command of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

ISAF, he told us, was composed of forces from 45 nations, each with their own particular national agenda, yet seeking strong direction from their boss. His job was to foster unity of effort – which was no mean feat.

The General described how he faced a new kind of enemy. One that was not organized in the traditional hierarchical way, but rather a loose network that was enabled by real time communications using mobile phones and the Internet. This enemy didn’t react in a predictable templated way like conventional forces from the Cold War or the World Wars. Rather this enemy was agile and didn’t play by any rules.

In this environment, the General noted, you were an enabler of those working with you, not an oracle from which all decisions would emanate. He learned this during his career. He commented on the evolution to this conclusion from his early self as a junior officer where he only wanted to learn the craft of soldiering, and always wanted to be in charge.

The General explained that historically senior military leaders envisioned themselves at chessboards facing an equal opponent. Today each of the opponent’s pieces is intelligent and independent. They also communicate with each other, work together, and do not follow particular rules.

He compared today’s senior leader to a gardener. The gardener’s job is to enable the plants to do what they do best – grow. The leader does the feeding, water, weeding, and harvesting thereby providing the best possible environment for his plants to grow, or in this case for the diverse forces to act with a unified sense of direction.

The General was quick to point out the dangers of micromanagement, particularly of strong, independent teams. “Eyes on, hands off” was the way he described his leadership still. The leader’s job is to instill confidence across the force.

He did point out that technology is a micromanager’s dream tool because the senior leader can see and communicate directly with the lowest echelon. Quickly the General added that this would be a mistake. The leader has a far-off, two dimensional view while the force on the ground was right there and could feel the pulse of the battle.

When asked about managing start-ups, the General felt that employees were not motivated purely by money. He felt that the attraction of being part of a team, having a cause/vision to believe in and being successful was far more powerful of an incentive then mere money.

After the talk the General was gracious enough to sign an untold number of autographs. He was charming, patient and concentrated on each and every person who met with him.

It’s easy to say why he inspired the loyalty of his forces.

Photo Source: The Author

Monday, July 6, 2015

Stars & Bars: The Power of Symbolism

Say what you will about what it stands for, but the latest debate over the Confederate Flag and the passion behind it clearly show the power of symbols.

Passion has been aroused on both sides of the Confederate Flag issue. Advocates and opponents are voicing their opinions and taking actions. While perhaps the debate’s center of gravity is the old Confederacy which has evolved even more in many ways – socially – economically – politically than even the past 200 years since the Civil War.

We can all agree that the Stars and Bars has galvanized people into action.

Isn’t that the essence of PSYOP?

A recent article in the on-line publication, The Havok Journal considers whether or not the flag’s historical connotation should be erased just as Pharaoh ordered Moses’ name stricken from the obelisks and pyramids of Biblical Egypt. (See: http://www.havokjournal.com/uncategorized/should-we-erase-history-over-the-confederate-flag/?utm_source=Havok+Journal&utm_campaign=23a276440a-Havok_Journal_Weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_566058f87c-23a276440a-213402489 which is also the photo source.)

No matter what the outcome of the debate. Several things are pretty certain in my mind.
1.     No one will look at the Confederate Flag quite the same way again.
2.     Disaffected groups and individuals will use the Confederate Flag as a rally point or justification for their anti-social beliefs and actions or tools for other nefarious purposes.
·      The unintended consequences of restricting use of the symbol have not been a factor of the decision making process.
·      The flag may be used to arouse flag opponents.
·      Criminals may employ the image as a part of a cyber scam – click here if you hate the flag or vice versa.
·      Hacktivist groups such as Anonymous may take cyber action against groups they feel are not sensitive enough and continue to display the flag on-line.
3.     The PSYOP/MISO Community should step back and appreciate the raw power of historical symbols and take a fresh look at current operations and the possibility of applying this lesson.

This post represents a different perspective than I normally take. Please let me know what you think – one way or the other.

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: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/20/world/middleeast/a-show-finds-humor-in-gazas-headlines-will-hamas-get-it.html?_r=). 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: http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/22/middleeast/anti-isis-satire/ 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: http://www.havokjournal.com/national-security/jihadis-poetry-and-the-ongoing-bromance-of-isil-are-we-sending-the-right-message/?utm_source=Havok+Journal&utm_campaign=233c4aaba2-Havok_Journal_Daily&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_566058f87c-233c4aaba2-213402489 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: http://theaviationist.com/2015/06/04/social-media-comment-turned-into-airstrike/ 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: http://blog.strom.com/wp/?p=4861

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: http://www.odni.gov/index.php/resources/bin-laden-bookshelf?start=3, 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.