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.









Friday, August 16, 2019

PSYOP and Fried Chicken!


Most of us in the PSYOP Community have spent time at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, or as it is some times called “The Center of the Universe”. During out stints there we availed ourselves of legendary Southern Cuisine. While some favored Fried Chicken or catfish and hush puppies, I was a Waffle House fan.

What does this have to do with PSYOP? Well, up until this afternoon I would have said “nothing”. But thanks to the NY Times print edition of August 16, 2019 I learned that the UK is using takeout chicken boxes as an influence delivery vehicle. (see: https://nyti.ms/2Z22XaV, which is also a photo source).

Concerned with the just under 43,000 offenses committed with a knife (remember guns are very hard to come by in Britain so the knife is the weapon of choice) in the year ending 30 September 2018. In April 2018 reason.com ran an article “British Politicians Declare War on Knives”. (see: http://bit.ly/33Apmux, which is also a photo source). This concern was partially driven by the fact that the murder rate in New York City was lower than London’s.

 In the latest attempt to control knife attacks, the British government opted for a takeout chicken box campaign. More than 300,000 chicken boxes are part of the campaign being distributed by about 200 outlets in England and Wales.

The messages on the boxes are statements from convicted knife attackers and are designed “help reduce the numbers of young people carrying knives”. Critics label it as “explicitly racist, or at best, unfathomly stupid”.

It is implied of course that the majority of offenders are great fans of fried chicken!

We have seen PSYOP messages on leaflets, posters, soccer balls, dropped from bombs and balloons and delivered by simple radios – I’m pretty sure this is the first food/PSYOP campaign.

Having said all this, let’s step back for a moment. Did the British government do its homework? Did the establish that there is a relationship between their message delivery vehicle (the medium) and the target audience? Have they established MOE?

I’m guessing no to most of the above. Does this mean that food/PSYOP wouldn’t work in another place at another time to accomplish different goals? No, it doesn’t, but I may never look at Colonel Sanders again the same way.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Is PSYOP Ready to Support Civil Authority Information Efforts?








Doctrinally  PSYOP/MISO forces are authorized to provide support to Civil Authorities in time of emergency. The doctrine is found in Joint Publication 3-28 Defense Support of Civil Authorities 29 October 2018 (http://bit.ly/2XXM8Jz) Chapter V, Section 6 Public Affairs c. CAIS (on page V-11)“Psychological operations (PSYOP) forces can be employed domestically for CAIS under direction and authority of a designated lead federal agency (LFA) or civil authority. When executing CAIS activities, PSYOP forces are restricted by policy and SecDef guidance to only broadcasting and disseminating public information. When authorized for employment in this manner, PSYOP forces utilize their media development, production, and dissemination capabilities to deliver public or other critical information during domestic emergencies. Their mission is strictly to inform, and all CAIS efforts should be coordinated with ongoing military and LFA PA efforts. The LFA is the approval authority for all products conveying the lead agency messages.” (Reference: Chapter V V-12 JP 3-28)

Thus far, PSYOP forces have had only limited experience in these matters. For a look at how support was rendered after Hurricane Andrew, here’s the link to SGM (R) Friedman’s story: http://www.psywarrior.com/PSYOPHurricaneAndrew.html.

My perspective on the issue comes from my position working for a NGO. During the past few years I have had the opportunity to deploy as a Red Cross Public Affairs Officer (PAO). In particular I provided PAO support during the San Jose Flood (February 2017), the Santa Rosa Fire (October 2017), The Mendocino Complex Fires (August 2018) and the Camp Fire (December 2019).

In the following paragraphs I’ll cover some of the issues surrounding the information environment in disasters based on my personal experience.
  
Let me emphasize that my work here was totally Red Cross work, there was absolutely no military connection whatsoever except my hat. I found that most people relate very well to retired military.

San Jose Flood of 2017

The San Jose Mercury News, “San Jose mayor: Clear ‘failure’ led to record flooding” ( see: https://bayareane.ws/2L3TCH9; the source for the map is the City of San Jose, CA.)  What made this particular disaster unique was the fact that it impacted two entirely different ethnic communities, the Latino community and the Vietnamese community. Each of these communities had their own broadcast, print and social media outlets. Working with them required an understanding of the underlying culture and language as well as a knowledge of their particular community was impacted.

Mendocino Complex Fires

Lake County has had a great deal of experience with wild fires. The graphic shows the almost 350,000-acre area burned by the Mendocino Complex Fire. (source: https://lat.ms/2ZFt57j) Clear Lake is the body of water dead center of the map.

Community radio was a highly trusted medium. My Red Cross Boss asked me to investigate the nature of information being broadcasted by 88.1FM. KPFZ (kpfz.org) from Lakeport, CA (on the southeast end of Clear Lake. As you can see, it was right in the heart of the area impacted by the fire. With studios in downtown Lakeport, CA they have a diverse programming portfolio and are highly trusted, in particular they appeared to be the most highly regarded by residents of Red Cross Shelters.

My role was to be the Red Cross Ambassador on live, unscripted ‘talk radio”.

The Camp Fire

The deadliest fire in California history accounted for 85 fatalities. That fire started on November 8, 2018. I arrived there just before Christmas. While my role in the previous disasters was more direct since the recovery effort was just beginning, the Camp Fire was different. My role was to provide PAO support to the 700 or so residents of the Red Cross Shelter at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico.

There was very little media interest by the time I arrived in late December. My role was more of a catalyst for the media. For example, I helped the Chico based Enterprise Record understand the rules of interviewing people in Red Cross facilities and helped their reporter and photographer during the researching and interviewing.

Chico Enterprise Record, “An evacuee’s Christmas: Just another day“ see: http://bit.ly/2VG7har, which is a photo source.

Interestingly enough I was engaged through the Red Cross National HQ to work with the advance planning for a major article for Vogue magazine. One of their staff came out a couple of weeks prior to the scheduled shoot. I gave him a detailed guided tour of the facility and made sure he understood the nature of the rules for shelters and protecting resident and volunteer privacy. The article appeared in early March at  “This Side of Paradise” (see: http://bit.ly/2XZtbpP, another photo source)

As you can see, there are some very significant challenges working to support Civil Authority Information efforts. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the PSYOP/MISO force has had sufficient training and exposure to be able to just jump right into these kinds of missions.

Reader comments are of course very welcome!


Photos are identified with sources, those that are not are the author’s personal photos and subject to Copyright protection.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

It’s Not The Headline That Should Get Your Attention: AI and Cyber Influence


Sometimes it’s not the headline that should cause concern, but the text. Lately I have been doing quite a bit of research in the area of Cyber Influence. So when I saw an article “New research generates deepfake video from a single picture” (see: http://bit.ly/2WAlyse, which is also a photo source), I was naturally intrigued.

Apparently, it is relatively easy to create a fake video of a subject when there is a great deal of footage of that subjects. This is the case of “creepy video amalgams of Donald Trump and Nick Cage”(see: http://bit.ly/2JK3wxN, another photo source)

This technique would seem to work most of the time from a PSYOP perspective since government leaders are often a subject and in the case of ‘generic’ images, file photos or other widely available material would be a good source.

However, this particular article concerns a technique that the Samsung AI research team (more about this in a moment) called “one-shot learning. In essence faces have key features or landmarks which the software “can then use as anchors when creating deepfake videos of new targets”. If you are a real geek and are interested in the details, you can check out their paper “Few-Shot Adversarial Learning of Realistic Neural Talking Head Models” at http://bit.ly/2I45OEI, another photo source.

Talk of technology is all well and good and should be noted and understood. However, what I found to be the most interesting aspect of the article was the note in passing “Samsung Research’s Moscow-based AI lab”

Samsung of course is a Korean chaebol or family-controlled companies. You can learn more about “Money, Power and Family” in a NY Times Feb. 17, 2017 article which you can find at: https://nyti.ms/2YSHFrr (another photo source).

As a Brooklyn born, former Military Intelligence Officer who is also an attorney, I’m a bit skeptical by nature, so it struck me as rather interesting that the team publicly exploring and reporting on this kind of research is based in a nation state (Russia) that is well known for using cyber influence to impact other nations in a variety of ways.

If this is their public information, one wonders what is being held back. There is also the ever-present money motivation of global for profit organizations – will they sell their technology to anyone? Is that appropriate given the intended use? Looks Cyber Influence is the digital wild west out there.

Reader comments also invited.