Monday, November 28, 2016

Shifting PSYOP Emphasis from Asymmetric Threats to Peers

 While the threat from terrorists and other asymmetric enemies remains real and potent – there is great concern about historic and new peer-sized threats. The maturation of the cyber domain as a battlefield has brought with it a resurgence of nation-state enemies and adversaries.

Chief among them is Russia. On November 1, 2016 Reuters reported “UK spy chief sees growing threats from Russian cyber- attacks, espionage” (see:

In the days of the Cold War it was relatively easy to stereotype the Russians as illustrated by my friends to the right: Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale and Fearless Leader; characters in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series.

The Russians have always understood the need to control information that has also become a strategic imperative that they have passed along to other countries within their political umbrella. The article notes that cyber attacks and espionage are increasingly being used to advance Russian foreign policy goals.

There were a number of media reports indicating that the Russians had the capability to hack voting systems and thereby impact the US Presidential election.

The PRC has also been reportedly active in cyber attacks, while perhaps not as subtle as their Russian counterparts, PRC hackers also represent a state sponsored well-resourced and sophisticated threat.

The implications for US political and military strategies are profound and the election of an avid Tweeter as President may actually be a positive sign for PSYOP. President-elect Trump, for all is other characteristics, is far more aware of the power of mass media and the importance of Social Media.

Perhaps his new cabinet will be directed to formulate an influence strategy that will meld all of government’s influence resources – military and otherwise – as well as dedicate the cyber resources necessary to support such a strategy.

Photo source:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

PSYOP Comes To The Presidency

It is pretty clear that the President Elect understands the principles of PSYOP and marketing. Simple, direct messages targeted at a clearly defined audience combined with concentrating your efforts where they will do the most good appear to have been keys to his unexpected success.

Task and Purpose a military oriented site published an article (see:; which is also the photo source) which, in my view sums up how the President Elect defeated the ‘establishment’.

The article and the campaign contain great lessons for PSYOP, but the end results and the new Administration’s ability to craft a cohesive and workable political strategy and the military strategy behind it remain to be seen.

The article summed up Mr. Trump’s success in one sentence: ““He benefited from a very easy to understand and appreciate message: ‘Make America great again,’ ... That’s not about Donald Trump; that’s about the American worker who used to be punching in at the textile plant.”

Voters, especially those whose manufacturing jobs, and the economy surrounding them understood the Message, agreed with it and voted for the Messenger.

We also learned that celebrity is perhaps more important in the U.S. than any sort of qualifications or experience. To be fair, Mr. Trump is a showman, and he may stand for the proposition that there are limits to political correctness.

Mr. Trump also knew his target. While the media proclaimed that his sweet spot was “non-college-educated white voters”, anecdotally I know quite a few ardent Trump supporters who are indeed college educated and the numbers are far too big to include only this group.

Trump targeted the voters who make up the majority of the electorate and according to the article, Secretary Clinton was not able to garner the kind of support that President Obama did either in the black or Latino community.

Mr. Trump also did very well in the ‘up for grabs’ states. I’ve often posted about needing to concentrate on those on the fence rather than trying to move those on either end of your message’s spectrum.

The Clinton campaign also had some PSYOP examples, unfortunately, not many of them are good ones. Her campaign seemed to appeal to educate elites and was more often focused on Secretary Clinton herself. The “I’m with her.” didn’t resonate because, only a few wanted to be and they were concentrated in the liberal blue states.

The next test for Mr. Trump will be to appoint competent and experienced people to help him guide the nation and to control his mercurial nature. He may surprise us all, or in 2020 the US will tell him “You’re fired!”

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The PSYOP of Elections

With the 2016 US Presidential election only 5 days away and media of all sorts bombarding us with exhortations to vote their way, I thought it appropriate to make a few comments about PSYOP in the context of political influence.

Rather than descend into the cesspool like depths of the media barrage in the Presidential race, I felt it more instructive to look at a particular piece. There are 17 Propositions on the California ballot this year – not counting local ones. They range from repealing the death penalty to deciding whether starts in porn flicks should wear condoms.

Behind every proposition there are people with an agenda. While some propositions are clearly worded, others are not. Wording can obfuscate the true purpose of the proposition or can be a legislative hodgepodge of sentences thrown together.

To the right is a typical direct mail piece. The focus is on personalizing the proposition in a way
that the voter identifies the picture with the proposition. In this case we have a likeable enough looking family. Since there is no Dad in the picture we could also jump to the conclusion that this is a single Mom raising three young children. The child on the right is missing her front teeth possibly indicating that she is a second grader or in need of some dental help.

Proposition E is a San Jose Measure that would require businesses with over 35 employees to offer extra hours to part-time workers before hiring new ones.  While the motivation behind the measure might be to give a break to those part time workers who work multiple jobs and don’t have benefits, this is not the case according to the major local newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News which said “Voters are likely to approve this feel-good measure, but it would be a mistake. It adds record-keeping burdens and lawsuit risks no other city in this county places on industry — at a time when San Jose is already is struggling to attract business and build its tax base. Vote no.”  (See:

In addition to personifying the message, the direct mail piece offers some general innuendos at the top right. By agreeing with these oversimplified statements the reader/voter might very well want to ‘help out’ by voting yes, which, according to the facts (or the newspaper) would be a mistake.

Hopefully the election will be over soon to clean up the airwaves.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How do you influence the PAO?

The October 17, 2016 Defense News ran an article “DoD is Losing the Online  Fight to Win Hearts & Minds” (see:; which is also the photo source).

I was attracted to the article because of the title and expected to see yet one more treatise on how the overpaid contractors charged with executing the DOD on-line influence war  were not doing their job. Interestingly, the article makes the case that a major problem with the US on-line influence programs is the resistance from Public Affairs.

The article describes how NATO is trying to recognize the significance of the influence issue by forming a strategic communications directorate and that the US is the only holdout. The article’s author, Robert T. Hastings should know about Public Affairs because among other assignments he served as acting secretary of defense for public affairs from 2008 to 2009.

PAO has generally taken the view that they must remain and chaste and pure, avoiding any taint of ‘influence’. Having had the opportunity to work Joint Exercises at DINFOS, the DOD school that trains Public Affairs Officers, I’m of the opinion that the ‘new generation’ of PAOs has a much more profound appreciation for social media and the on-line world than their top brass.

The inability to integrate PAO efforts into the influence fight dilutes our influence efforts and has to stop, the sooner the better. While I’m generally not one to editorialize, the DOD is a pretty simple organization; it works from the top down. SECDEF needs to bring MG Malcolm B. Frost, Chief of Public Affairs (see:  into his office along with General Raymond A. Thomas III, CDR, USSOCOM (see: and have an open discussion about DOD’s need for unity of effort with regard to Public Affairs.

The buck has to stop somewhere, and it looks like it needs to be at the top or we will continue to lose influence ground to our enemies and adversaries.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Self-Help PSYOP Against North Korea

The NY Times, October 15, 2016 US print edition ran an article “Subverting North Korea, One Bundle of Leaflets at a Time”. The Asian version ran a day earlier and lead with “A ‘Balloon Warrior’ Subverts North Korea, Thousands of Leaflets at a Time" (US version at:, which is also the photo source.)

In the day and age of Tweets and FaceBook it’s somewhat refreshing to see old school operations. According to the Times, Lee Min-bok is a North Korean defector with a self-avowed mission to foster popular subversion against the North Korean government.

Mr. Kim’s efforts do not receive any government support. Rather he supports himself through lecture fees and receives donations from various groups. According to the article, A Japanese group because they want him to send leaflets to help find Japanese citizens in North Korea. Other donors include Christians who provide Bibles and food.

Kim summed up his efforts this way “My leaflets are a poison for Kim Jong-un’s regime, because they help North Koreans wake up to his lies”.

The leaflet bundles are high enough to avoid small arms fire. Kim has developed is own ‘timer’ that opens the bundles allowing the leaflets to drop down.

While Kim receives security support from the Republic of Korea, his efforts are chiefly his own and is only job.

While we can only assess Mr. Kim’s production and not his effectiveness, his story is an interesting one. On the launch end Mr. Kim choses to assume a low profile and not launch from villages or populated centers so as to avoid conflicts.

One wonders if this type of grassroots approach could be adopted in other areas, especially where a regime controls the information channels. Of course leaflet drops are wind dependent and the receiving terrain must be open enough to allow the leaflets to reach their targets.

Readers are invited to contribute any other examples of Self-Help PSYOP.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

ISIS Propaganda Drooping? Does it really matter?

On October 10, 2016 the NY Times ran an article “ISIS Media Output Drops as Military Pressure Rises, Report Says’ (see:      The article as based on a report prepared and released by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center at West Point which you can find at: and is the photo source.

My gut tells me this is perhaps another incident where we have confused Measure of Production (MOP) with Measures of Effectiveness (MOE).  The article cites the following statistic: “At the peak of the Islamic State’s media output, in August 2015, the group released more than 700 items from official outlets in Syria and several other countries. During the month of August 2016, after a year of airstrikes and other assaults, that number had declined to under 200, according to the study.”

It is interesting to note that ISS favors pictures (59%) and Twitter (Photo) (30%) over Video (10%) according to the reports’  analysis of type of state media release from January 15 through August 2016 (page 31 of the report).  

Military and Governance appear to be the two most favored themes as show in another diagram from the report and a subsequent diagram shows that the production of these two these were virtually the same since January 2016.

While this analysis is helpful, does it help the Commander assess how strong his opposition will be?

The report has no illusions of grandeur and notes in its conclusion “In addition, this paper has not given insight into a critical component of understanding the efficacy of the Islamic State’s media success.” Isn't this what we really need to know? While we can feel good if ISIS production declines, we can conjecture that this means they feel they don't have the 'products' to sell anymore, they are still pretty good at the influence business.

Media exposure, especially visual media is like tooth paste, once its out, it doesn’t go back into the tube. The ISIS propaganda campaign has been relentless. It is reasonable to believe that there has been a cumulative effect of this intense effort. Audiences, especially those that have a higher propensity to be influenced have been effected and will continue to be effected even if the production numbers continue to decline.

While I certainly commend the report and its authors for their extensive analysis, if I were called into the CG’s office and asked “what does this really mean?” I’d have to respond: “Sir, we really don’t know. Perhaps the pace of new recruiting will abate, but those who were influenced by the early high production numbers are not likely to change their minds because ISIS is producing less propaganda”.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

PSYOP History – Hanoi Hannah Passes Away

Tokyo Rose (see: was a footnote in history to we veterans of the Viet Nam Conflict. It’s probably fair to say that Hanoi Hannah is the same to Post 9/11 veterans. The NY Times featured an obituary of Trin Thi Ngo, better known as Hanoi Hannah in its 5 October edition (see:, which is also the photo source.)

John McCain was one of her regular listeners although not by choice because loudspeakers were prominent in the prison where he was a POW.

Personification is a great influence tool that I have written about on a number of occasions including last week’s posting on what local TV producers are looking for.

Female voices were generally used because it was felt that since service members were predominately male, they would be more favorably inclined to listen to a female voice.

Popular music was played but the goal of the content was to wear down their listeners. Hanoi Hannah used to read the names of recent American KIA as a part of her broadcasts in an effort to demoralize her listeners.

More recently there was Baghdad Betty. She was not very competent according to then LTC Jeff Jones, CDR of the 8th PSYOP Bn who said: “Her broadcasts proved the Iraqis didn’t understand us at all," Jones said. "Her ignorance was pervasive. She was never sure of her sources, and broadcast old information based on dated news." (See: Jones went on to be CDR of the 4th PSYOP Group and ultimately Defense Attaché to the French Embassy. It was my pleasure to nominate Jeff for the Gold McClure Award, which he received shortly before his death.

While the PSYOP Regiment is a relatively new entity in the US Army we owe it ourselves to be mindful of our history and to learn from it – both good and bad. While we don’t want to fall into the trap of being prepared to fight the last war, we don’t want to repeat the same mistakes either.