Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Social Media: The Elephant of Influence



I have been a reader of the Economist since 1997 when I was in Bosnia. The situation on the ground there was so complicated that the only way I could figure out what was really going on was by reading the Economist, albeit over a week late.

The impact of Social Media is another one of those topics that requires neutral and comprehensive attention. The November 4, 2017 edition of the magazine ran an in-depth article “I can haz all your votes” (see: http://econ.st/2iZ0ZQK which is also the photo source) which struck a chord with me since I’m teaching a graduate course on Propaganda and Disinformation for American Military University.

The article analyzes the role and impact of Social Media in the political arena. Some governments such as the Philippines and South Africa (according to the article) have made very good use of Social Media as a way to spread false narratives and bolster the government’s hold on power.

Russia of course is the leader in harnessing Social Media having employed the full range of Social Media techniques in the Ukraine, France, Germany and influencing the American Presidential election.

My personal experience in recent disaster confirms that Social Media often has more impact and reach than ‘traditional’ media. The article notes that from a quantitative perspective Social Media is virtually everywhere as more and more smart phones are connected. While this may not be the case in every area of operation, it is certainly the case in populated areas.

The article cites a variety of motivations for the use of Social Media besides political gain and makes some very interesting comments about what sells best on Social Media: Humor and Outrage. Both of these have been prominent in Social Media campaigns ranging from the Arab Spring to Hillary Clinton. President Trump, it is conceded is a master of outrage in the way his Tweets can ride the outrage or inspire it.

Noting that Facebook and Google account for about 40% of America’s digital consumption it is no wonder that these companies are under attack to do more about controlling what’s out there. The sheer volume of Social Media content is mind-boggling and it would appear that there is no real way to tame the beast whether technological or regulatory.

The message for PSYOP is clear – Social Media is the Elephant in the Influence Living Room!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

YouTube Should Be in Your PSYOP Toolkit – It’s in the Russian’s!


We all know that a picture is worth 1,000 words. In a previous posting I addressed the trend of video becoming the most powerful and popular means of influence … chiefly through Social Media.

As it turns out YouTube is a pretty good tool for amateurs and professionals alike. On October 23, 2017 the NY Times published an article “Russia’s Favored Outlet is an Online New Giant. YouTube Helped” (see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/23/technology/youtube-russia-rt.html?_r=0, which is also a photo source)

The article focuses on the cozy relationship between Russia’s state owned RT outlet and YouTube.

I’d like to offer a more personal perspective. As an instructor for American Military University I was asked to develop a course called “Cyber and the Intelligence Cycle”. It was a two pronged course that looked at the use of the intelligence cycle against cyber targets and the use of cyber tools to enhance the intelligence cycle. A requirement of the development was that I had to provide “20 minutes of entertainment” each week for the students. I decided to employ Camtasia a program that allows me to record what’s on my screen (PPT) and a voice over.

Then I had set of pretty large files that were often impossible to send anywhere – enter YouTube. I could simply upload the files to YouTube and provide links.

A similar situation happened recently when I found myself with a couple of very important video recordings on my iPhone6. A blessing of being an all Apple user is that photos and videos from your phone magically also appear on your iMac. Once that happened it was a simple matter to upload the videos on to YouTube.

YouTube also offers several alternative levels of classification so that you can offer some of your work to the general public, but keep some accessible to only select audiences.

Oh I would be remiss if I didn’t give a giant Hoo Aah! To my good friends at SOCOM for returning unit designations back to PSYOP. Glad to see y’all had a good does of common sense!

Reader input, as always invited.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Chief Speaks About Adversary Propaganda – But Can He Really Do Anything About it?

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On September 26, 2017, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, USMC https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Dunford_APQs_09-26-17.pdf)
testified before the US Senate Committee on Armed Forces (see:

Part of his testimony appears below:
Do you think that the Department of Defense needs to better integrate its capabilities and planning for cyber operations and information warfare?

Yes. The Department must improve our ability to exploit the potential of cyberspace as a pathway for Information Operations to drive adversary perceptions, decisions, and actions (or inaction) in ways favorable to our strategic ends. We must also improve our ability to reassure friends and support allied and partner military efforts to defend against and defeat adversary propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation, much of which is delivered via cyberspace.

If so, how would you recommend that this goal be achieved?

Cyberspace is one of many domains through which we can conduct Information Operations. In order to improve cyber-enabled Information Operations, we should continue to prioritize growing and maturing our cyber forces. We are working toward this goal by integrating our approach to the information fight from the ground up, building Information Operations and cyberspace doctrine, guidance, and tasks into our strategy development and execution orders, adopting an active and innovative approach to improving understanding and fluency in the domain, and developing new operational and organizational constructs and advanced tools designed to keep pace with the environment and the threat.”

I have repeatedly commented on my perception of the schism between cyber operations and MISO. While there is no denying that cyber is a significant IO vector and that Social Media is evolving to be more important than broadcast media, I have not seen any evidence that DOD is on top of this challenge.

While there is a published DOD Cyber Strategy from 2015 (see: https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/2015/0415_cyber-strategy/Final_2015_DoD_CYBER_STRATEGY_for_web.pdf), there doesn’t seem to be a coherent strategy for US government wide Strategic Communications or influence, nor does there seem to be a current DOD wide MISO  strategic plan, nor any documentation on spider webbing MISO and cyber influence capabilities throughout the Force.

In June 2016 DOD published the “Strategy for Operations in the Information Environment” which you can see at: https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/DoD-Strategy-for-Operations-in-the-IE-Signed-20160613.pdf. However, this document is also short on specifics and of course, was published under the former Administration.

A couple of thoughts on what needs to happen.

1.     We need a coherent, US government wide strategy recognizing that influence and counter disinformation and propaganda must stretch across all Federal Departments and resources.
2.     DOD needs to emphasize the need to put MISO and Cyber Operations resources at the point of the kinetic spear. Meaning that the Marine Corps and Army Forces should be augmented with tactical Influence Operations forces.
3.     Career tracks should be established across the force to cross train selected personnel in Public Affairs, MISO and Cyber Operations. This force should also include highly qualified personnel from other Federal Departments such as Department of State, Commerce, Treasury and Energy.

Reader comment invited.

Monday, October 16, 2017

PSYOP For Good


From 11 – 15 October 2017 I served as a Public Affairs Manager for The Red Cross out of the Disaster HQ in Sonoma, CA. My time was divided into working with the media, managing the team’s efforts, drafting messages and documents along and, of course, ‘other duties as assigned’.

It turns out that PSYOP soldiers make pretty good Red Cross volunteers. The combination of ability to work under pressure, living in less than ideal circumstances and the skills of our profession make for a great combination.

I urge all of my colleagues to go to www.redcross.org/volunteer to explore opportunities to serve the community.

Some observations:
1.     Disasters bring communities together.
The outpouring of local and Event Based Volunteers (EBV) was incredible. The Red Cross received over 10,000 applications from EBV in the first week and was able to put over of 500 of them to work.

2.     Social Media Is The Jungle Drum of the 21st Century
FaceBook and Twitter were the main lines of communication. Fire Departments, Law Enforcement, traditional media, groups and individuals all took to Social Media to find out what was going out and/or to express themselves.

3.     Incorrect and negative information seems to travel faster than good news.
There is apparently a great deal of truth behind ‘misery loves company’. It must be human psychology – but bad news seems to go viral much more quickly than positive news.

4.     Broadcasters tend to take Sundays off.

5.     The public still does not understand the nature of the military
Today’s military enjoys more popularly and support than the military force has in years. Our long-term commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq have garnered a place of honor and respect for our military force in the eyes of the American Public. The California National Guard has been supporting the rescue and relief efforts in many ways from manning security posts to directing traffic.

Yet some members of the public are concerned about soldiers ‘with machine guns’ are walking around. (Of course the weapons in question are not ‘machine guns’ but M16s or M4s).

Community service is a rewarding and satisfying way for military personnel to harness their skills and experience to make their communities a better place. Consider how you might get involved.

(Photo source: The author.)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Smart Toys: New PSYOP Vector?



I’m attending www.cosac.net, an information security conference outside of Dublin where I'll be delivering a presentation on SCADA Lessons Learned and the IoT. One of today’s speakers gave an outstanding presentation on Smart toys to include their potential vulnerabilities.


The speaker addressed classes of threats with an emphasis on nation states and sexual predators as the most likely and most dangerous. I envisioned another scenario, one where a specific geographic area, say in the Middle East, is controlled by a jihadist terrorist group. In this case it strikes me that it would be relatively easy to do some research and find toys that can be hacked to transmit jihadist propaganda.

Alternatively, we were told that some toys can transmit conversations in their presence that are in turn monitored for ‘key words’ related to sexual abuse. Jihadists could use the same technical capabilities to ferret out those who are disloyal to them and/or engaged in acts typical of infidels.

Reader comments invited and encouraged!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

PSYOP Training A Battlefield Multiplier Against Extremists


Busy week on my end, getting ready to start two new on-line class on 2 October, supporting the Red Cross, working a large set of client projects and getting ready to head to London and www.cosac.net.

Thanks to Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy “Seen on the Web” (#85), September 16, 2017 for the article triggering today’s post.

MISO personnel are working with the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UDPF) to help them learn the non-kinetic skills needed to conduct successful influence campaign. (See: http://bit.ly/2yAhB8d, which is also the photo source).

The MISO element of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) conducted a four-phase course to the UDPF. The phasing is interesting on it’s own:
1.     Phase 1 – US led and US assisted.
2.     Phase 2 – U.S. taught and UPDF assisted.
3.     Phase 3 – UPFD taught and US assisted.
4.     Phase 4 – UPFD taught and UPDF assisted. US personnel serve as observers, controllers and trainers.

The article quotes Maj. Allan Kitanda, UDPF Psychological Operations staff officer, who said that the U.S. contribution to the mission of neutralizing and containing VEOs like al-Shabaab and Boko Haram has been “immense.” He asserted that the U.S. government’s participation in cultivating the UDPF’s psychological operations is critical in preserving civility amid necessary kinetic forces used by AMISOM to battle VEOs.

The article also notes:
“Most recently, Soldiers of the 346th Tactical Psychological Operations Company (Airborne), out of Columbus, Ohio, have been facilitating the third phase of the program for UPDF members at the Uganda Senior Command and Staff College.

“We increase AMISOM capabilities by certifying UPDF instructors on MISO, thereby creating a self-sustaining program in the UPDF,” said Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Hurst, the tactical detachment’s noncommissioned officer in charge. “We use a training program that takes the UPDF from being trained by U.S. forces to being trained by their own forces.”

According to Hurst, the goal upon reaching phase four, “is to have the UPDF be self-sustaining and able to teach and implement psychological operations in support of AMISOM, as well as other operations against violent extremist organizations.”

It’s gratifying to see the Reserve PSYOP force in play for an appropriate, challenging and important mission.

Monday, September 11, 2017

MISO Malpractice: The Latest Leaflet Debacle



Apparently it was amateur hour in the leaflet production campaign in Afghanistan. The http://bit.ly/2gYdTkw) was dropped in Afghanistan in early September 2017 broke some of the most basic rules by quoting the Quran. (see: http://nyti.ms/2eSdknQ, which is also a photo source). 
leaflet

IN addition to the suicide bomber noted above, additional reaction is shown in the picture at left (photo source: http://nyti.ms/2eSdknQ). At issue was the use of words from the Quran in a leaflet. Frankly, you would have to be living in a cave for the last 16 years if you didn’t realize that the Islamic faith takes their Holy Book and their Prophet far more seriously than other religions.

The Charlie Hebdo killings in 2015 (see for example: http://nbcnews.to/2xgTmxG) and the 2012 incident where US troops burned the Koran (see: http://bit.ly/2wlsGb4) are only two of the incidents that serve as very good bad examples and should have put everyone on notice of what to expect.

Know your audience is the first rule of PSYOP/MISO and of course any influence operation. The blatant ignorance displayed by the leaflet creators and those in the approval chain should be considered MISO malpractice.

The FindLaw Legal dictionary defines malpractice as: “negligence, misconduct, lack of ordinary skill, or a breach of duty in the performance of a professional service (as in medicine) resulting in injury or loss” (See: http://dictionary.findlaw.com/definition/malpractice.html)

If these leaflets were created by an outside contractor, this type of malpractice should be considered a material breach of their contract.  The contract should be terminated immediately and consideration should be given to litigation for damages to the Coalition campaign and reputation.

As for the notion of yet more cultural training – it strikes me as playing training whack a mole. When military personnel deploy they go through a pre-deployment training and certification. Current deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan must have training on Islamic traditions and protocol to include role-playing situations designed to illustrate the right and wrong ways to work in theater.

There is simply no excuse for this type of ineptitude, especially in our longest running AO!