Monday, February 25, 2008

PSYOP and Video Journalism – Inevitable Linkage

There has been quite a bit of media turmoil here in Silicon Valley and, while I guess I never paid much attention to it, my recent training as a Red Cross PAO has made me more sensitive. While the plight of newspapers in the US is not necessarily important to the PSYOP community, there are some aspects of the current trends that are worthy of examination.

On is the expansion of the role of Video Journalist. This surfaced in a recent announcement by Young Broadcasting, owner of about 10 stations including one here in the San Francisco Bay Area. In and amongst comments on their profitability was this one:
“Increase use of the video journalist approach to expanding news gathering capabilities and introduction of server based systems to efficiently produce newscasts.” Which was extracted from a news release dated February 21, 2008. (

There can be no question that imagery is powerful, perhaps even more powerful than words. PSYOP needs to harness high impact means to get our messages across and increasingly video images are the weapon of choice. Images convey emotion and emotion is the currency of behavior.

PSYOP needs images to incorporate at all levels from local to global. Some local situations may benefit from the use of local images, but not all. Under the wrong circumstances local images would serve to inflame already overheated passions. At other times local images might serve as graphic and tangible proof of the truth and validity of the messages that the PSYOP campaign is delivering.

Local images may also be powerful demonstrative evidence for regional or international use. If the images aren’t needed immediately or in the short term, they can be categorized and stored for later use. In some cases the images might be used to draft materials for release upon a certain event. For example images of a massacre might be employed as a part of the campaign used after the capture or prosecution of an individual for war crimes or terrorist activities. Critical events such as the capture of major enemy players are time sensitive and must be capitalized on quickly in order to have the most impact.

In some of my previous work I’ve strongly argued for the cross training PSYOP personnel with Public Affairs. The skills of a video journalist are just as important in PSYOP as they are for the PAO. I believe we should integrate these skills into PSYOP AIT using COTS technology and training materials. It is likely that there are some very good materials available on the Internet (e.g. the Apple Digital Campus at:

It also strikes me that there ought to be some doctrine development to provide general guidance for Tactical Teams especially in AOs like Afghanistan so that they can effectively harness the power of local images and to insure that they are sensitized as to the need of capturing appropriate images and forwarding them up the chain of command. It would also be appropriate to issue guidance concerning the sharing of images between the PSYOP Groups and the JMISC.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Can Disinformation be Credible PSYOP?

Today’s Asian Times on line is featuring an article: “Disinformation flies as US raises Iran bar” ( The article talks about the informational tug of war between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the US efforts to insure that Iran is the target of a new round of UN Sanctions. According to the author of the article: “a source close to the IAEA has called the US media reports "misleading". The source said: "Without going into the intelligence we may or may not have received, I can say that in my view, these news reports were misleading.”

At issue in today’s post is to offer a bit of analysis methodology to assess effect this ‘exposure’ of the alleged misleading nature of information provided will impact the battle for mindshare over the issue.

I’ve been often been accused of being a funny person, one who if life’s path were different, might have been a professional comedian. As a result, over time I have told people that “the best stuff is never made up”. This principle holds just as true in PSYOP as in comedy because the most effective PSYOP is the truth.

Another truth is that people believe what they want to believe. They tend to give more credibility to statements that prove their position than to efforts to discredit their position or change their mind. Consequently when information comes out that has in tainted in a credible way, that information is more likely to be disbelieved than it is to be considered by people holding opinions contra to that position.

The article author’s position is that Iran is within its rights to engage in nuclear ‘research’ and that the “IAEA must insulate itself from the disinformation campaign against Iran that has by all indications gone into a higher gear as we draw closer to the upcoming meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors, and it must ignore the intensifying American lobbying efforts and those of its junior partners such as France (at a recent meeting of France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy and the IAEA chief, Mohammad ElBaradei, the IAEA was urged to "stay firm" on Iran).”

Let’s look at the PSYOP/IO problem here. The article quotes an alleged source within the IAEA. The source is never named. The main thrust of the article is to reinforce the pro-Iranian position of the author. The messages are:
1. The US and its allies are trying to improperly influence the IAEA.
2. They are employing bad data (intelligence purportedly obtained from an unreliable source – stolen laptop) to do so.
3. The IAEA must remain above this sort of chicanery.
4. Iran is within its rights.

Some questions arise:
1. How credible/important is the Asia Times on-line in the information picture?
2. Who reads the Asia Times?
a. Direct Audience
b. Media that would parrot their position
c. Infuencers
3. What efforts (if any) should be made to counter this article?
I’m not going to offer responses here, but will strongly suggest that analysis like this is an important mission and that a “corporate” repository of the analysis, along with the responses and a tracking of their effects needs to be as much a part of the PSYOP arsenal as the loudspeaker.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The PSYOP of Interpreters

Unless you are a fluent speaker of your audience’s language, you will likely need an interpreter. While the exigencies of the situation may often mean that you have to settle whoever is available, there are likely to be other times when you might be able to pick an individual whose presence might enhance your overall effectiveness.

A couple of examples will help illustrate. One particularly savvy GO knew he was going into a situation with a high ranking adversary where he wanted to make sure that his opposite number couldn’t fully concentrate. He took the most exquisite young female interpreter he could find knowing that his ‘host’ would not be able to take his eyes off her. While this may sound politically incorrect, the employment of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be a sound technique.

Another example would be ethniticity or religion. Selecting an interpreter that fits in with the audience or one that is ‘opposite’ the audience can be a PSY – Act. Be aware that in this case the phrase opposites attract doesn’t necessarily ring true.

A third perspective is the invisible interpreter. This class of interpreter is skilled in the language, the nuances and the body language, and virtually blends into the woodwork leaving you as the principal in center stage with the audience. A fundamental principle of working with interpreters is you talk through the interpreters, not at them. You talk directly to the other individuals while the interpreter relays your words. Consequently an invisible interpreter can be a major asset.

Each of these alternatives as a place, it’s up to the PSYOP practitioner to pick the right one for the mission and environment at hand.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Market Intelligence and Counter Propaganda Analysis

Commercial organizations routinely gather competitive intelligence from open sources. Most companies in the high tech world concentrate on feeds, speeds and features. Some expand their focus to include company level intelligence – what products and acquisitions are the competitors likely to field. In many cases these functions are embedded in a larger function called Market Intelligence. This includes mapping the landscape to include forecasts for key industries, the overall economic climate, and estimates of how much product and services will be bought in a designated time frame, usually 5 years.

We in the PSYOP community should take a similar approach when assessing the enemy’s propaganda. Analysts should look at the technical details of the propaganda – how sophisticated, what resources were needed to produce it – quality as compared to commercial quality, where was it likely to be produced originally etc. The designated media should be examined not just for the message, but for the implications of selecting this medium or outlet versus another. The nature of the spokesperson and their approach should also come in for scrutiny. Key messages should be extracted and messages that seem out of context should be especially reviewed to determine if they are serving an ulterior purpose such as communicating to the ‘friendly’ force rather than the target audience.

Individual enemy PSYOP products should be grouped in a time line for further analysis to determine common themes, campaigns, likely future media, etc. Once the products from a group are consolidated and analyzed, groups should be compared against each other to determine the level of homogeneity across them, common messages, etc.

After the analysis of what the adversary is doing is completed, the really hard work begins – what counter moves need to be taken. These counter moves may or may not be PSYOP or information oriented, they might include face to face actions designed to thwart the adversary’s ability to communicate effectively. Psychological acts might be employed that would graphically disprove or denigrate the effectiveness of the adversary’s efforts.

A key part of the counter propaganda analysis is the link to the intelligence community and the research resources of the commercial sector. The commercial sector might be able to offer a media map that shows which media are the most effective for the type message, target audience and location. Today’s AOs are blanketed by satellite television so that outlets outside the main AO need to be assessed as well. Other commercial information might point to credible spokes people or outlets that should be employed on behalf of the friendly forces.

Key to counter propaganda analysis is measurements of effectiveness (MOE). MOE help the analyst determine how successful the adversary has been to influence the target to behave in line with his goals. MOE is a subject of debate in the PSYOP community and MOE in denied areas or in areas such as remote or dense urban areas where it is difficult to gauge the situation at hand. Of course subjective MOE are better than none and ‘gut feel’ is still a well respected commodity in marketing circles.

It seems to me that the analysis of what adversaries needs greater emphasis in the PSYOP cycle. I’m also of the belief that we need to be more sensitive to the fuzzy and the human in a way that facilitates operations and is not hobbled by false beliefs in silver bullet technology.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Do You Need PSYOP Wherever There Are Spies – Even in Second Life?

The February Washington Post (Source: reported: “U.S. intelligence officials are cautioning that popular Internet services that enable computer users to adopt cartoon-like personas in three-dimensional online spaces also are creating security vulnerabilities by opening novel ways for terrorists and criminals to move money, organize and conduct corporate espionage.” The article went on to say that there were attributes of the virtual world that it makes it an attractive operating environment for transnational threats: “including anonymity, global access and the expanded ability to make financial transfers outside normal channels”

While I’m an advocate of PSYOP adapting to the platform of the audience and I’ve certainly made a number of posts concerning the efficacy of Cyber PSYOP, I’m drawing the line at PSYOP in virtual worlds.

SecondLife FAQ states that: “Second Life is the size of a small city, with thousands of servers (called simulators) and a Resident population of over 12,405,461 (and growing).” (Source:, accessed 12 February 2008). It is a virtual world built by its residents. Users are attracted because they want to “discover a vast digital continent, teeming with people, entertainment, experiences and opportunity.” (Source:, accessed 12 February 12, 2008)

SecondLife and similar sites may be a limited means for our adversaries to communicate, exchange funds and perform other nefarious tasks furthering their ends, however, this medium is not quite ready for PSYOP.

PSYOP skills and resources are in high demand. Optempo is at an all time and it’s necessary to prioritize where we get the best bang for the buck. There are several reasons why SecondLife would not be a good user of PSYOP resources. First of all there is no proof (so far) that there are spies or other adversaries on SecondLife, secondly it would be difficult to find them even if they are present making it difficult to send messages their way and thirdly, there is likely to be high percentage of SecondLife residents who are US citizens.

Consequently, I believe we ought to pass on SecondLife as a possible PSYOP environment and use our resources elsewhere.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Neighborhood PSYOP – The Key To Winning Urban Areas Anywhere

I’m a city kid. I grew up in a City Housing Project in Brooklyn, New York and lived in Brooklyn until I was in High School when my parents dragged me to what I felt was the end of the earth – Suffolk County, Long Island, New York.

While many of my colleagues in ROTC Camp and training experiences beyond that knew their way around the woods and maxed the day and night compass courses where every pine tree looked the same, I was an urban kind of guy out of my concrete and subway element.

USA Today on 7 February ran a page one article “Al-Qaeda targets hearts, minds – New tactics seek to raise local image” exploring how the enemy has “shifted tactics to try to improve their image among Iraqis...”

Baghdad is a City with a population north of 6 million people, which is about ¾ of the size of New York City as I remember it. Nevertheless, the culture of neighborhoods, especially ethnically rooted ones remains the same. Your building is part of a block, blocks are the fundamental components of neighborhoods. Buildings and blocks may not have designated leaders, but neighborhoods certainly do. The key to success is forging strong relationships with Neighborhood leaders and influencers. In the same way that the success of crime prevention rests on the concept of the beat cop who knows the people on his beat and who has earned their respect and trust.

This kind of relationship implies open, honest and timely communication. Neighborhood leaders don’t like surprises and they appreciate being taken into the confidence of those they trust and expect mutual trust and consideration in return.

In return Leaders can provide access to key communications channels and venues, formal and informal. They can also provide guidance as to what media has the most credibility and influence and perhaps, in certain cases, act as credible spokes people to their respective publics.

The article implies that the US is being successful in Baghdad because of a neighborhood centric approach, and reports that this same approach won’t work in Mosul. Mosul is Iraq’s third largest city with an estimated population of 2 million or so making it about the same size as Houston, TX. Al’ Qaida has purportedly changed their strategy for Mosul to reduce harm to civilians and avoid the backlash they suffered in other areas. The result is less willingness on the part of the citizens to work with the Coalition.

It’s my feeling that the neighborhood approach is the only way to win in large cities. While there may be sensitive issues concerning the comparable treatment of the different ethniticities, there may be a primitive way to address the problem. That is to designate a lead for each neighborhood and a ‘super’ lead for the ethnic group. The structure would be based on the mafia where there was a captain (cappo) who was the local boss and there would be the boss of bosses (cappo tutti cappo) who is the senior leader for the group.

A council of these senior leaders might be able to serve as the ultimate authority to resolve issues that arise to their level. Regardless of the organization, due respect must be given to the notion of blocks and neighborhoods in order to succeed in urban areas.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

PSYOP Implications of the DNI Estimate

The unclassified version of the Annual Threat Assessment of the Director of National Intelligence for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was released on 5 February. It can be downloaded from:

In addition to threats heightened as a result of globalization such as vulnerability to hostile cyber actions, rising food prices, energy issues, the Director focused on several issues:

“The continuing global terrorist threat, but also the setbacks the violent extremist networks are experiencing; The significant gains in Iraqi security since this time last year and the developing political and economic improvements;
and the continuing challenges facing us in Afghanistan and in
Pakistan, where many of our most important interests

From a PSYOP perspective there are several high level take away points:
The OpTempo of tactical PSYOP will not abate. Further, if US troops are deployed in support of UN, NATO or other actions in Africa or elsewhere, the demand for PSYOP support to these operations will require tactical PSYOP and influence operations planning in unfamiliar settings with unfamiliar media landscapes. This planning will undoubtedly be multi-national and allies should be sought who can bring knowledge of the AO and the culture/language with them.

The need for detailed, highly localized media maps will be critical. Gathering reliable comparative data on media in these locations will require highly trusted and competent local personnel who can be properly vetted quickly.

There is a pressing need for more capabilities to bring PSYOP messages into denied areas. It would appear that the Pakistan border area would be a case in point. The Director indicated that al-Qa’ida has been able to establish a center of gravity in this area which is acting as an operational hub to support decentralized decision making and to coordinate the organizations international operations. A combination of high tech (TV, Internet) and low tech (PSY Acts, leaflets, etc.) media should be employed where possible. Attention should be given to using the enemy’s own communications channels for PSYOP purposes.

Traditional borders are disappearing. Al-Qa’ida has strengthened its ability to recruit “Westerners” and is actively employing the Internet as a recruiting, communications and marketing tool. These points seem to reiterate much of what recent posts have called for in terms of more sophisticated Internet capabilities.
There are some inklings that campaigns centered on deputy al-Qa’ida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has been criticized by supporters for perceived contradictions in his public statements about HAMAS and softness toward Iran and the Shia.

There should also be some analysis to determine the rationale for the recent solicitation of questions for al-Qa’ida leadership and their subsequent non-response.

For its part, the PSYOP school house should be broadening its curriculum to insure that the widest range of PSYOP media are covered and that tactical PSYOP soldiers are given fundamentals of how integrate high tech and low tech PSYOP in cohesion. Training should be offered in how to research local media and how tor recruit trusted organizations and individuals to assist. Candidates include academics and business leaders. Furthermore, an on-line resource should be created that provides access to cultural, linguistic and other materials that would be useful.

The latest Estimate is another proof point for the strong case to increase PSYOP resources.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Cyber PSYOP: The Time Is Now!

Two news items grabbed me today:
“Al-Qaida Web site was hosted in Phoenix” which ran in the Arizona Republic today ( and “Man your battle stations, we’re under cyber attack” which is an AP story that ran in the San Jose Mercury News (

The Republic piece covers the story of “a well-known and popular forum for Islamic terrorists and their sympathizers” which was hosted in Phoenix (before the site was taken down by the ISP) among other places. The second piece describes the “Cyber Storm” exercise where according to the article “The incidents, designed to tax responders, were divided among categories: computer attacks, physical attacks and psychological operations.”

The incident categorization of: computer attacks, physical attacks and PSYOP works equally well as CNA, kinetic operations and PSYOP do in the military world. Today’s posting argues that US government influence Internet capabilities must be as robust and coordinated as well as those found in any multi-billion dollar corporation. Internet PSYOP can be easily defined as the use of Internet for influence operations in the same way that any major organization would employ the Internet to advance their business goals, sales and profits. Web sites, podcasts, webinars, blogs and the like are the stock in trade.

Now more than ever PSYOP tactical forces on the ground need the cover and support of Internet PSYOP based activities. Aggressive actions have been hampered in part because many in the PSYOP community have felt there are serious legal issues preventing exploitation of the Internet for influence activities. However, it appears to me as a licensed attorney that whatever conflicts may exist should be surmounted using the argument of “compelling state interest”. Since PSYOP is an important element of DOD operations, it is clearly a critical component of national security and therefore likely to be a solid reason to over ride many if not most legal conflicts. It would seem that Cyber PSYOP is small potatoes compared to the PATRIOT act, surveillance programs and other actions already countenanced under national security.

A national Internet offensive should reflect a true national influence effort and harmonize the messages from all the major stakeholders: the Executive Branch, Department of State and should draw expertise from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Treasury and others as needed.
Unless and until a concerted national Internet influence effort is undertaken our enemies will keep the cyber high ground and we will always be looking up the hill.