Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Enemy Is Always Faster

While I was on a consulting assignment, playing the J39 of a mythical Joint Task Force (JTF) being deployed to a notional country, our largest tactical unit was to be the 1st Bde Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne.

Part of my job along with a colleague was to portray enemy social media posters. While we were busily playing our roles on January 16, 2020, a gift dropped from the heavens. In the real word “Families of deployed paratroopers received ‘menacing’ messages, warned to double-check social media settings” See: http://bit.ly/2tDI07t which is also the photo source.

We quickly seized on the concept and borrowed some of the text of those messages and employed themselves. It was easy and effective. In fact, the student class that was trying to counter our influence efforts couldn’t even figure out who the ‘enemy’ social media authors were actually representing.

This is a clear microcosm of the world we live in. I have already noted a few very well-done pieces on the fact that Cyber Command does not have a true PSYOP/Influence capability (see: http://bit.ly/3aw8g4s ). In my view this is as one of my former SF colleagues used to say “deja do do” or I have seen this poop before.

Shooters want to shoot. If they are war fighters, they want to fire weapons and blow things up. If their cyber wizards, they want to shoot electrons (distributed denial of service attack) or employ other means to show their technical chops.

There is a glaring lack of an overarching strategy to achieve dominance or even parity in the information domain. Even if there were such a strategy, the bureaucratic nature of our government would hamper effective, timely response.

At the 2* JTF level for example, approvals would have had to be sought from the State Department, the Combatant Commander, SECDEF and presumably the White House to wage a multi-platform influence campaign including both social media and cyberspace operations over and above the tactical MISO/PSYOP executed by the JTF.

It is no wonder that the ‘enemy’ is cleaning our clock at the national, operational and tactical levels. As the 2020 Presidential Election comes closer and closer, I’m afraid we can expect more targeting by traditional enemies and adversaries as well as a host of opportunists to include Transnational Criminal Organizations and others who will seek to drive the American voter their way.

Unfortunately, experience shows this is not a drive, but a gimmee putt.

Friday, December 13, 2019

What Does Congress Really Know?

I’m sure you all saw or heard about the Washington Post article of December 9, 2019, “At War With The Truth” which you can find at https://wapo.st/2Plvhyl and is a photo source. The article claimed that “senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.” As a result of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the results of over 400 interviews were revealed.
Among the most telling of those interviews was a quote from LTG (R) Douglas Lute (you can read his bio here). According to the General: ““We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

As a Viet Nam veteran, I was reminded of a similar Washington Post story which came to be known as the Pentagon papers. For those of you who do not remember, the Pentagon Papers was a collection of classified DOD reports on the conflict in Viet Nam. Just like the latest release, the Pentagon Papers indicated that the war was not going nearly as well as the US public was led to believe.

PSYOP Today – What Does Congress Know?

In my role as First VP of POVA, I decided to ask my Congressional Representative about PSYOP manning. Here is the text of the letter dated 5 December 2019 from my Rep.

“Thank you for contacting me to express your concerns about funding cuts to the U.S. Army's psychological operations (PSYOP). I appreciate that you took the lime to share your thoughts with me and for speaking with me at the Veterans Day parade. I apologize for the delayed written response.

Like you, I recognize the strategic importance of the U.S. Army's PSYOP units. Both active duty and reserve PSYOP units play a pivotal role in disseminating important information to local populations in foreign countries and are critical to our national security. Helping locals share information about schools reopening or NATO-sponsored building projects, for example, are proven ways to positively impact U.S. perception abroad and can help to keep U.S. forces deployed overseas out of harm's way.

My staff shared your inquiry about this program to the Office of the Chief Legislative Liaison
(OCLL) for the Army. You may be interested to know that the OCLL informed me that the Army's psychological operations units are currently manned well above the authorized leve.ls at almost every rank and that there is no plan to reduce these levels in the foreseeable future. My office was notified by OCLL that PSYOP units are facing challenges in recruiting, but have been told that the Pentagon is working to address this challenge and has made recruiting one of their top priorities. You may be pleased to know that the Active Duty Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) PSYOP Initial Entry Training pipeline, which was instituted just a year and a half ago, is beginning to produce pipeline graduates. While I was informed that it is still too early to identify the impact of this pipeline program on recruiting levels, the program has the potential to assist in the growth of Active Duty Enlisted PSYOP forces in the future.”

I’d like readers to let me know how this picture compares to reality.

Thanks for your support over the years.

All the best to you and yours for the Holiday Season. This will be my last posting of PSYOPREGIMENT.BLOGPSOT for 2019. May 2020 be your best year ever!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Read The Enemy’s Manual Whenever You Can

If you have seen George C. Scott as LTG George S. Patton, you might remember him saying “Rommel: you magnificent bastard, I read your book!”. If you don’t remember the scene, click here. Patton was of course referring to Rommel’s book “Infantry Tactics” in which the famed Armor Commander talked about his World War I experience employing speed, deception, aggressive action and surprise to win battles.

As the 2020 US Presidential election approaches, there is growing concern about Russian interference. The NY Times on November 11, 2019 ran an article “How Russia Meddles Abroad for Profit: Cash, Trolls and a Cult leader. (see: https://nyti.ms/35eQVJH, which is also the photo source.) This article is a book of sorts on how Russia extends its influence.

While Russia can compete with either the US or China dollar for dollar, they are able to pick their political battles outside Mother Russia. Africa is in some ways the last frontier of foreign power influence. While some outsiders are motivated to share the ideology, for others, like Russia, the goal can be simple. In this case the profit motive based on controlling chromium mines. According to the US Geologic Survey, “Chromium is critical in the manufacturing of stainless steel. Most stainless steel contains about 18 percent chromium; it is what hardens and toughens steel and increases its resistance to corrosion, especially at high temperatures.” (see: https://on.doi.gov/32YYVgc)

The Times article is a rather lengthy one, here are some highlights. I have added the bolding and italics to emphasize key points.

·      The Russians were hard to miss. They appeared suddenly last year in Madagascar’s traffic-snarled capital, carrying backpacks stuffed with cash and campaign swag decorated with the name of Madagascar’s president.
·      Skirting electoral laws, they bought airtime on television stations and blanketed the country with billboards.
·      But two years after the Russians’ aggressive interference in the United States, here they were, determined to expand their clout and apply their special brand of election meddling to a distant political battleground.
·      The operation was approved by President Vladimir V. Putin and coordinated by some of the same figures who oversaw the disinformation around the 2016 American presidential election, according to dozens of interviews with officials in Madagascar, local operatives hired to take part in the Russian campaign and hundreds of pages of internal documents produced by the Russian operatives.
·      In some vital ways, the Madagascar operation mimicked the one in the United States. There was a disinformation campaign on social media and an attempt to bolster so-called spoiler candidates. The Russians even recruited an apocalyptic cult leader in a strategy to split the opposition vote and sink its chances.
·      It repeated a pattern in which Russia has swooped into African nations, hoping to reshape their politics for material gain. In the Central African Republic, a former Russian intelligence officer is the top security adviser to the country’s president, while companies linked to Mr. Prigozhin have spread across the nation, snapping up diamonds in both legal and illegal ways, according to government officials, warlords in the diamond trade and registration documents showing Mr. Prigozhin’s growing military and commercial footprint.
·      Plans included the creation of a “troll factory” to focus on social media, echoing the tactics Mr. Prigozhin is accused of unleashing on the United States. (Note the hyperlink to an article on Mr. Prigozhin – Yevegny Prigozhin: who is the man leading Russia’s push into Africa)
·      Few appeared to have much expertise on Madagascar, or on Africa at all — and it showed, locals said. They often used a translation application on their phones to communicate and had little understanding of local politics.
·      In the end, the Russians retained their prize — control over the chromium operation. They now maintain a staff of 30 in the country, including engineers and geologists. The contract gives them a 70 percent stake in the venture, said Nirina Rakotomanantsoa, the managing director of the Malagasy company that owns the remaining share.

This case study is one worth reviewing in detail. PSYOPers in particular should analyze the mix of on ground and cyber influence activities. Strategists might consider what other countries in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere they may be similarly targeted.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Black and Gray are the New Red, White and Blue

Community radio was the most trusted medium noted in one of my posts about influence and information during disasters. Local news is still more trusted than national news. While there has been a tremendous decline in newspapers in the US. According to The Pew Institute “The estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2018 was 28.6 million for weekday and 30.8 million for Sunday, down 8% and 9%, respectively, from the previous year.” And “Weekday print circulation decreased 12% and Sunday print circulation decreased 13%.”

In spite of the decline of true local news sources, the trust of local news sources remains high. It’s no wonder that our adversaries are jumping on that bandwagon. The New York Times on October 31, 2019 ran an article “Americans Trust Local News. That Belief is Being Exploited” (see: https://nyti.ms/33oTEj9, which is also the photo source. 

Adversarial attention to local news outlets builds on the growing distrust the American population has for national news outlets according to the article. Interestingly enough the efforts extend throughout the US with a network over 35 fake local websites in Michigan along according to the Lansing State Journal.

These fake sites shore up their appeal by combining local releases and announcements with their own content. Sites have names that look legitimate but are confusing by design to obfuscate their true origin. The article pointed out that many of these fake sites incorporate material gleaned from conservative sources. Once such source is the Daily Caller. While the Daily Caller isn’t labeled as a conservative oriented source, readers would quickly be able to determine their viewpoint.

There is a synergy with these gray (hard to determine source) propaganda sites and white (identity clearly stated). The article noted that “In August and September, President Trump’s official Facebook page linked three times to the Minnesota Sun, which had published commentaries by the leader of the state’s Republican Party and the chief operating officer of the Trump re-election campaign.”

There are some interesting lessons learned for PSYOPers.
1.     Community sources remain trusted.
2.     Even discerning information consumers would have difficult tracing sources on ‘fake’ sites.
3.     Localizing information sources requires a combination of true local material to maintain credibility.
4.     There is a blend of Gray and Black propaganda sites.
5.     Material that supports the point of view of the site producer can be imported from a variety of sources including legitimate ones.
Here’s an informative piece of advice while watching the 2020 elections: http://bit.ly/2NoBqcg

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Why Does the Enemy Always Seem to Have a Faster Chain of Command?

Many of us have commanded and served at many levels within the military. Personally, I have commanded at the platoon, company and battalion level as well as serving as the DCO of a NATO Task Force at the Four-Star Level. At one time or another I always felt that my opposite number always had an easier and more responsive chain of command to work with than I did.

Today’s example is the People’s Republic of China. While the US scrambles around trying to figure out how to synergize the various government instruments of power to get the best bang for the buck in cyber influence, Russia and China are already down the Road.

The New York Times print edition of October 5, 2019 ran an article “Chinese Propaganda For The Digital Age”. You can find it at: https://nyti.ms/2Mnj4Xm, which is also a photo source. The article can be summed up in one of its paragraphs: “Beijing may be still struggling to influence the outside world more effectively, but at home it has learned how to compete with short videos, Hollywood movies and mobile games for the public’s attention span. While imposing tight censorship, the Communist Party has also learned to lean on the most popular artists and the most experienced internet companies to help it instill Chinese with patriotic zeal.”

You don’t have to speak Chinese to appreciate a good cartoon (see: http://bit.ly/311og8q, also a photo source). Notice the hero in the cartoon. He was scorned by his peers in elementary school and went on to be a pillar of the Party and an example to one and all.

The Chinese have also harnessed their own movie industry as another influence medium. Apparently, all this influence is working because of the positive impact it is having on the young adult audience. In the words of one Chinese Blogger ““When I was growing up, it was considered uncool to be overtly patriotic and take photos with the national flag,” he said. “Not anymore.”

I will hazard the guess that any attempt at “Patriotic” movies in the US market would not be a very profitable venture.

Reader comments invited.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Radio is More Important Than You Think!

On September 7, 2019 I sat in a window less room – no, it wasn’t a SCIF. It was the Radio Room for my local Red Cross Chapter. For the first time ever, the region was conducting a test to see which chapter could communicate with other chapters.

This experience helped my belief that radio is often overlooked and that while Social Media may dominate mindshare, there are other ways to communicate and influence. Radio has served three major roles.

1.     Radios in Emergencies
While the above noted test was in the planning stages for a while, I could help but think of the timing of this test with two other interesting radio developments. The first was the importance of Ham Radio in communications and supporting relief efforts associated with Hurricane Dorian hitting the Bahamas (see: http://bit.ly/2kqzKmT). Ham Radio has long been an important communications resource during emergencies. For background you can check out the Domprep Journal article “Ham Radio in Emergency

2.     Radios as a Secret Message Medium
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was very active in WWII broadcasting and information and as revealed in article on 3 September 2019, they also had an important role in transmitting instructions via ‘personal messages. (See: https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-49562570, which is also a photo source). This particular article details how the BBC used music and coded messages to transmit instructions across Europe from Poland to France. For example, the article noted that “On the night of 5 June 1944, the eve of D-Day, the phrase "Berce mon coeur d'une langueur monotone" or "cradle my heart with a monotonous languor" signaled the invasion was about to begin.”

3.     Radios As an Influencer

On September 7, 2019 the NY Times also ran an article: Radio Free Europe (RFE) Is Set to Be Revived in Hungary (see: https://nyti.ms/2kzqLzG which is also a photo source). This article actually focuses on the US Agency for Global Media.

While the Agency is independent and not subject to political influence. Here’s a look at them in their own words:
·      The mission of United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) is to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.
·      The Agency’s mission is reinforced by those of the individual broadcasters that are overseen by USAGM.
·      USAGM networks are news leaders, uncovering stories left untold in environments that lack press freedom. Major media often pick up or cite our networks’ news coverage. We serve 345 million in 100 countries and 60 languages every week.
·      Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s mission is to promote democratic values and institutions by reporting the news in countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established. Our journalists provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.
·      Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is a private, nonprofit, multimedia broadcasting corporation that serves as a surrogate media source in 26 languages and in 23 countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and Ukraine. (see: https://www.usagm.gov/networks/rferl/, another photo source)

While Social Media continues to dominate people’s thoughts, let’s not forget that there are other means of influence that should not be overlooked or taken for granted.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Army Cyber wants counter propaganda capabilities down to Bde! Isn’t that PSYOP?

At the recent AFCEA TechNet Trade show in Augusta the CDR of Army Cyber Command, LTG Stephen Fogarty made a bold move to reshape his nascent cyber commandos into an IO force to be integrated down to the BDE level (see: http://bit.ly/2zg6h2B, which is also a photo source).

The BCT is the new key maneuver element and that echelon does indeed make sense. However, one wonders how support could be provided down to the field elements and how amateurs with a modicum of hacking knowledge, some COTS and an internet connection can be restricted from doing their own thing.

We have already seen Division CDR turn into PSYOP officers dropping their own leaflets from their own heliocopters.

I have maintained that the Cyber Dudes, like their kinetic counterparts, are more interested in shooting electrons (read that Distributed Denial of Service, DDOS, etc.) then they are in the influence space.

In taking a page from the Air Force, whose prowess at leveraging current events into budget dollars is legendary, LTG Fogarty wants to capitalize on the publicity surrounding Russian disinformation efforts.

He feels that the BDE is the right echelon for the IO focal point because it is the lowest level where there’s a SCIF that could house the cleared personnel, systems and networks needed for that work. Down into the article, there is a mention that “ARCYBER is also collaborating with Army Special Operations, which runs psychological operations (formally known as Military Information Support Operations, MISO)”.

Another article, this one from c4isrnet is “ A new name – and focus – for Army Cyber Command” (another photo source). That article quotes LTG Fogarty as saying: that he needed to integrate the ‘information environment’ which includes the cyber domain – which encompasses electronic warfare, information operations, signal and intelligence – as well as space, psychological operations, public affairs, military deception and operational security.

Interestingly enough this is likely to involve more stars than a Planetarium on a good night. None other than the CG of TRADOC, GEN Paul funk chimed in quoted as saying that: “Our application of information dominance is too narrow, ……It is underdeveloped and lacks coordinated direction.”

Clearly the CG of US Cybercommand, GEN Paul M. Nakasone (also the Director of NSA), Commander, USSOCM, General Richard D. Clarke and LTG Francis M. Beaudette, CDR, Army Special Operations Command not to mention LTG Charles D. Luckey, Chief of the Army Reserve and CG, USAR Command. All of these GO’s have a dog in the fight.

Speaking of dog, what part of the dog’s anatomy do you think PSYOP will be? Does it look like a new branch, a hybrid of cyber and PSYOP is in the future?

The term ‘above my pay grade’ comes to mind.