Monday, April 27, 2020

China's Disinformation is not as important as Economic Blackmail as an Influence Weapon



It is often said that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” China has been in the forefront of the Covad-19 pandemic. The press has widely covered allegations of Chinese efforts to disinform the American public by providing false information about the virus and by trying to foment panic.

Two articles chronicling the disinformation campaigns are: Chinese Agents Helped Spread Messages That Sowed Virus Panic in U.S., Officials Say, NY Times, April 22, 2020 (see: https://nyti.ms/2Y555gb, which is a photo source and China’s Disinformation Addiction: Spreading Disinformation on COVID-19, April 25, 2020 ClearanceJobs (see: https://bit.ly/3bFwCJd, also a photo source).

According to the NY Times, “American officials were alarmed by fake text messages and social media posts that said President Trump was locking down the country. Experts see a convergence with Russian tactics.” The Times added “The messages became so widespread over 48 hours that the White House’s National Security Council issued an announcement via Twitter that they were “FAKE.”.

The Clearance Job article concluded by saying “None of this is really a surprise as China struggles to save face as the world looks to the country for answers to very hard questions. China would much rather have the world think the United States was about to impose martial law than to have their own actions dissected.” That article also quotes a March 2019 report from the Department of State Weapons of Mass Distraction Foreign State Sponsored Disinformation in the Digital Age (pdf)” the portion on China minces no words. They assert that China’s efforts are designed to influence economic, political and foster personal relationships.”

While these offensive efforts are certainly concerning, perhaps we should pay more attention to the way China burnishes their brand in other ways. China, more than any other country seems to have grasped the concept of offensive and defensive influence operations. This is demonstrated by way that they pressure economic partners to give their image a break and on the other, they strive to disorient their adversaries.

The movie character Jerry McGuire said it best “Show me the money!” (see: https://bit.ly/2yRWrqA (You Tube clip and photo source)

The NY Times, April 24, 2020: ran an article “Pressured by China, E.U. Softens Report on Covid-19 Disinformation” (see: https://nyti.ms/2KzFvrI and a photo source.) In what is clearly a measure of effectiveness, according to the Times, “Bowing to heavy pressure from Beijing, European Union officials softened their criticism of China this week in a report documenting how governments push disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, according to documents, emails and interviews.”

The Chinese recognize the importance of brand management and economic leverage. They employ a whole of government approach to move their country’s agenda forward.

Can we say the same?






Thursday, April 9, 2020

Zoombombing As PSYOP



We’re all confined to quarters thanks to Covid-19. As a result, we have turned to video collaboration platforms such as Cisco WebEx, Adobe Connect, Citrix Go To Meeting MicroSoft Team, GoogleHangout and of course, Zoom.
On March 20, 2020 the New York Times ran an article ‘Zoombombing’:when Video Conferences Go Wrong (see: https://nyti.ms/2XoqJM3, which is also a photo source).
They reported among other things that “On Friday , the journalists Kara Swisher (a contributing writer for the Opinion section of The New York Times) and Jessica Lessin hosted a Zoom event focused on the challenges women tech founders face. They were forced to abruptly end the event after just 15 minutes of conversation because a participant began broadcasting the shock video “2 Girls 1 Cup.”

“Our video call was just attacked by someone who kept sharing pornography + switching between different user accounts so we could not block them,” Ms. Lessin tweeted, adding that she and Ms. Swisher would reschedule an audio-only version of the event.”

Unscrupulous influencers are also moving to online platforms as a way to attack their targets. One such Zoom bombing was against Portland State University. The Portland State (Oregon)
Student run newspaper, the Vanguard was hacked by neo-nazis. (see: https://bit.ly/2K5Kq3z, which is also a photo source). According to the Vanguard, “The hackers interrupted speakers with racist invective and ties to Nazism.”

According to the UT based DesertNews (a subsidiary of the Deseret Management Corporation, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), “It’s happened for virtual Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in New York. It’s happened in Boston. It’s happened in workplaces and schools in California and Texas. It’s happening everywhere.” (see: https://bit.ly/3c9Xlxl, which is a photo source and responsible for the hotlinks in the quotes. The article continued that “Trolls have entered into Zoom meetings to drop “disturbing imagery,” like pornographic material and “horrifying sexual videos,” TechCrunch reported

From the variety of targets, it should be obvious to PSYOPers that these PSYACTs are having an effect. People are stuck in their homes due to shelter in place orders and are somewhat of a captive audience.

Meanwhile Zoom is scrambling to keep up with the burgeoning demand for their product and to upgrade their product’s security.

At the moment, Zoombombing is easy to do. In some respects its like phishing in the ‘old days’, meaning designed to troll for unspecified victims. Many organizations, especially non-profits, schools and others new to video conferencing employ unprotected links which can be unearthed in a variety of simple ways.
As these links are secured, it is reasonable to assume that Zoombombers will start to employ spear phishing like techniques meaning that they will attack specific, high value targets.

OPSEC folks and Counterintelligence specialists need to be vigilant as to Zoombombing efforts and coordinate with their respective PSYOP support elements to help facilitate the counter propaganda analysis and perhaps even offensive cyber influence campaigns employing this new influence vehicle.

If you are interested in how to protect yourself, here’s an article from techrepublic.com that offers 5 simple tips on preventing Zoombombing.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Retired Doctors and Nurses First – PSYOP, PA and IO Next?


We know we are losing the information war. Our peer adversaries, China and Russia are cleaning our information clock.  They waging economic war through global investments and have seized Covad-19 as a major theme for disinformation. (see: https://nyti.ms/33Yy9Xr, which is also a photo source.)

The pandemic has fostered a critical shortage of medical personnel, the Army put out a call for retired medical professions to return to active duty to help quell the spread of the virus. Over 9,000 former soldiers (see: https://abcn.ws/3dF17A5, another photo source) have answered the call.

What about the information war?

Perhaps the time has come for the Retired Information Corps (RIC). The RIC would be composed of retired PSYOP, Public Affairs, Information Operations (IO) and perhaps even Civil Affairs personnel. For administrative purposes the RIC could fall under USACAPOC while it would report to USSOCOM.

As a part of USSOCOM the RIC could reinforce influence operations conducted outside the United States. It is not inconceivable that a significant portion of these project-oriented missions could be conducted by personnel working from their home computers.

Projects such as propaganda analysis, content creation and counter disinformation would be assigned to individuals and teams from the retired force.

Alternatively, retired military influence professionals could be assigned to a Civilian Influence Corps (CIC). As civilians they would be able to support influence operations internationally and domestically as a part of the appropriate federal, state or local governments. CIC personnel could supplement Public Affairs in Emergency Operations Centers. They could also augment efforts to counter foreign disinformation campaigns in Social Media and on domestic soil through traditional media.

Congress has already recognized the need for civilian support to critical missions when it called for a creating a reserve force of civilian cybersecurity experts. (See: https://bit.ly/3awud2D, which is another photo source)

Of course, this is a radical idea, but this are radical times that call for radical measures.

What do you think?


Thursday, March 19, 2020

PSYOP and Covid




Unless you’re in a cave, in which case, you wouldn’t be reading this anyway, your life has been tremendously impacted by the Covid-19 virus. 
 
Here in California, Governor Newsome has placed our National Guard on alert on March 17, 2020. As the governor noted in his press release (see: https://bit.ly/33IaACt)
 “As Californians make sacrifices over the coming weeks and stay home, we are immensely grateful for medical providers, first-responders and National Guard personnel who are assisting those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19,” said Governor Newsom. Today’s (March 17, 2020) announcement, made in the Governor’s capacity as the Commander-in-Chief of the California National Guard, is consistent with duties routinely performed by the California National Guard during natural disasters and other emergencies within the state.”

As of 1800 Pacific Time on 19 March 2020, the US Army Reserve website is only offering general messages which you can see at: https://bit.ly/33IaACt and which is a photo source.
 
PSYOP soldiers represent a trained and ready communications resource. Under the appropriate circumstances USAR personnel such as PSYOP soldiers may be called up in “Defense Support of Civil Authorities”. This force can be immediately accessible for assistance to local government leaders (see: https://bit.ly/3ddZyJp)
PSYOP was called upon to provide support in Florida during Hurricane Andrew. (see: an excellent article on the psywarrior.com website at: https://bit.ly/2vzV9PU)

Today’s situation WRT Covid is clearly unprecedented. The Johns Hopkins dynamic website is showing almost 250,000 confirmed cases as of 3/19/2020 at 17:43 Eastern time (see: https://bit.ly/2U68CZ2). 

Many communities, such as mine are under Shelter in Place orders which are legal orders requiring citizens to remain in their homes except for ‘essential services’.
President Trump has ordered the deployment of the two Navy hospital ships Mercy and Comfort.
Where does the reserve PSYOP force fit in?



Frankly, it’s hard to say. In my Red Cross experience, military personnel often provide logistics and security support. Here in California, the Air National Guard provides extensive logistical support while the Army National Guard 49th MP Bde has provided security support during wildfire incidents. Communicating to the citizenry has not been an issue.
 
Is there a need for PSYOP at this time? At this time, this doesn’t seem to be the case. PSYOPers are influencers and communicators. There is no shortage of information. Traditional and social media are deluged with information. Individuals are also getting phone calls, Zoom/Skype/WebEx sessions and other forms of engagement to provide guidance on how to prevent contracting the disease and your responsibilities under a Shelter in Place Order.

For the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a pressing need, at least here in California. Given the geographic disparity of PSYOP units across the country, this may not be the case nationwide.

In short – stay safe and stay alert!

Reader comments invited.
Other Photo Sources:
49th MP Bde: https://www.nationalguard.mil/News/Article/1357064/cal-guards-49th-military-police-brigade-brings-1900-plus-into-california-inferno/
129th Air Rescue Wing: https://www.129rqw.ang.af.mil/
Governor Newsome’s photo: https://www.businessinsider.com/california-governor-coronavirus-national-guard-2020-3



Thursday, February 20, 2020

Why Kansas for Russia’s Sputnik Radio?


In case you missed it, last Friday, February 14, 2020, the NY Times ran an article “On the Air in Kansas City: Russian Propaganda” which is a photo source and which you can see at: https://nyti.ms/38L2Elt

The article profiles how Russia’s media organization, Rossiya Segodnya. You can find some background on it from the Center for Strategic and International Studies at: http://bit.ly/39NNUlV.

     The Russians cooked a deal with Kansas City’s (MO) Peter Schartel, owner of Alpine Broadcasting Company.  I’ll get to some best practices and operational observations in a moment, but first – why Kansas?

  • Some organizations, the American Nurses’ Association for example, thought it made sense to have a base of operations in the middle of the country to serve a national membership. As it turns out – they moved to the Washington, DC area.
  • It’s a small market with limited influence, so no one will really care if you screw it up.
  • Since the Russians tend to lean right politically, why bother with Kanas? In 2016 they went for Mr. Trump where he earned 56.16% of the vote. Both Senators are Republicans although the governor is a Democrat. It would not appear that the citizens need very much influence to move right.

And of course, there are operational possibilities as well:

  • It’s a great test market with limited risks if you fail.
  • It could be a diversion for activities going on elsewhere.
  • While Social Media is omnipresent – Radio still counts!

Radio Sputnik services 90 cities worldwide and is part Russia’s global influence campaign. US intelligence sources believe that this campaign influenced the US 2016 Presidential election in favor of Mr. Trump.

The Kansas City station is employing several best practices:

·      They are airing their messages for 6 hours a day during prime drive time and on weekends.
·      The share a frequency with a community radio station that was grounded in Kansas City’s jazz community and that already had an audience.
·      Somehow, the managed to avoid having to register as an agent of a foreign government.
·      They have cohesive messaging:
o   America is damaged goods.
o   Playing on internal divisions.
o   “The wheels are coming off the establishment media,”
·      They employ personalities that appeal to their target audience.
o   According to the NY Times “Sputnik shares its Kansas City stations with a cast of far-right conspiracy theorists, evangelical pastors and anti-Semites.”

No matter where you sit in the political spectrum, it is important to realize that America’s adversaries appear to be far better at orchestrating all of their instruments of power to influence people around the world to think their way.

As always, reader comments are encouraged.

Source of the Wizard of Oz photo: https://www.flavorwire.com/411724/50-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-wizard-of-oz






Monday, February 10, 2020

Native Art Can Be The Best PSYOP




The February 4, 2020 NY Times ran an article “In Iraq Where Beauty Was long Suppressed, Art Flowers Amid Protests” (https://nyti.ms/2ScUsVk  which is also the photo source). While the political climate in Iraq is volatile and arguments about US troops are staying and over who was responsible for the most recent rocket attack.

Protest art is cropping in in various places around Baghdad.

These two paragraphs pretty much sum up the situation:

“The paintings, sculptures, photographs and shrines to killed protesters are political art of a kind rarely seen in Iraq, where art has been made for at least 10,000 years. It is as if an entire society is awakening to the sound of its own voice, and to the shape, size and sway of its creative force.
“In the beginning this was an uprising, but now it is a revolution,” said Bassim al-Shadhir, an Iraqi-German who goes back and forth between the two countries and has participated in the protests. “There is art, there is theater, people are giving lectures and distributing books — giving them away for free.””
Interestingly enough the article noted “There has been little if any new anti-American messages in the paintings in recent days, even though there is more anti-American feeling in Baghdad…..

The article postulates that there are two possible reasons: there are already more than enough murals with anti-American and Anti-Israel messages and/or there is not much available space.

Unlike other forms of influence, there is no question about the origin and how the art reflects how a younger generation of Iraqis have been influenced by the internet.

While today’s influence campaigns have been focused on Social Media and the like, it is worthwhile to step back and recognize that the people of the country are the best ones to influence its future.

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.