Friday, January 25, 2008

If There Is Embedded Intelligence – Why Not Embedded PSYOP?

Recent articles about the Marine Corps moving intelligence capabilities down to the Rifle Company level from the Bn, should raise the issue: what about PSYOP?

Once upon a time when I was spending two semesters abroad in Southeast Asia in the late 1960s intelligence was regarded as somewhat of a black art by my brothers in the infantry. While only a LT, I felt a bit like Gandalf as I carried my large black book with me and was granted access to the Bde CDR often denied to MAJ.

Over time intelligence capabilities have migrated downwards and even the mystical world of SIGINT has moved into the mainstream. This evolution was stimulated because the chain of command recognized that lower echelons needed some of the same capabilities found only at higher levels.

It would appear that today’s conflicts beg the question, but this time it’s for PSYOP. If the force is improving intelligence capabilities at the lowest level (Company) is it time to put PSYOP soldiers at these levels or to train infantry, cavalry and armor soldiers to a level where they can provide a modicum of PSYOP support?

In an urban environment it is especially critical to win the influence battle apartment to apartment – to do this the maneuver element needs to have an array of weapons to include influence capability. This could be as simple as special training in sales, language and culture to as wide spread as expanding the 37F world to include positions at the company level.

If 9 million people could learn how to play World of Warcraft, it would seem that the ability to influence people could be entrusted to lower echelons in an orchestrated matter. It’s time to realize that the influence battlefield is a real life Massive Multiplayer Effort.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Prankster Shmankster – Does It Really Matter?

The recent dialogue about whether or not the radio transmissions received by US Naval warships during an encounter with Iranian small craft has brought up the possibility that these transmissions were not from the Iranians at all, but rather from a “prankster”.

Does it really matter and who cares?

The key thing to remember about PSYOP is that it’s only the effect on the desired audience that really matters. A second key point is that time will pass quickly and that it is the effect on the audience that lingers, not necessarily the authenticity of the actors.

If the audience for the Iranian PSY Act was the population of the Middle East then it’s their reaction that matters, not whether or not the transmissions came from the Iranians. Did the man on the Arab Street feel sympathy for the poor US warships? Did they identify with ‘heroic’ acts in the face of certain death? Did the addition of the radio transmissions to the acts at sea strengthen or weaken the event?

It’s my contention that the radio transmissions strengthened the impact on the audience and reinforced the actual acts of the Iranian vessels. Influencing perception is done best when multiple senses are put into play and most of all when the receiver has an emotional picture of the event that touches them.

Bottom line: it doesn’t matter if the source is credible, only the effect on the intended audience.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

PSYOP & The Internet

Internet users number over a billion and by one estimate stand at 1,262,032,697 at the end of 2007 ( yet Internet based PSYOP remains mostly a back burner effort.

Today’s posting will address best practices for Internet marketing.

Websites are like puppies. They have to be feed, cared for and cleaned up after. People are driven to websites by content. Relevant, exciting and changing content are the hallmarks of active websites.

Graphics and effective ‘real estate’ utilization are the heart of good websites. There needs to be an inviting marriage of form and substance. Good content has to also look good. Internet users are notoriously fickle and have pronounced attention deficits. In the face of burgeoning sources of information visits are generally short. Users crave more and more information. Many knowledgeable Internet users employ Really Simple Syndication or RSS feeds to automatically channel new information to their desktops. Sophisticated users can employ web crawlers to systematically search the Internet for material.

Since the Internet is global, language can be a factor. While English is the most popular language with 30% of users, Chinese is in second place with 14.7% and Arabic number 8 with 3.7%. (

From an organizational standpoint the demands of the Web require a dedicated staff of content producers and technicians. Also in the mix are resources to perform editing, graphic design and other tasks that are neither content nor technical. The content management function needs to be rich enough to be able to insure that messages remain consistent in each of the supported languages and in tune with the overall messaging and strategy. Editorial and translation personnel have to be grounded in the practicalities of their languages so that there are no unwanted nuances. If the site is encouraging communications either via e-mail or with an interactive Blog, then staff has to be dedicated to these functions as well. Web efforts must be orchestrated with other media to reinforce each other and to increase both frequency of message reception and reach to extended audiences.

When web based efforts are sponsored by the government additional elements need to be attended to as well. This includes superb CND and constant monitoring for other sites seeking to leverage off the legitimate one or adversaries who wish to either alter the message on the legitimate site or divert access from the legitimate site to their own.

When considering Internet PSYOP there are a number of considerations beyond actual programs and products. Organization and echelon are a key concern. Internet operations in this context would require a high level presence; at the very least this effort would have to be nested in a three star command or higher. The web based organization would ideally be a part of a larger information provider and would have access to technical support of the highest caliber.

There is also the matter of the legal climate. PSYOP and Public Diplomacy are restricted with respect to operations aimed at US citizens. While it could be argued that websites are passive in nature, it is also possible, if not likely, that sites would be visited by citizens of many countries, the US included. Consequently it would be necessary to insure the legality of any projected activities. One possible approach is country specific whereby the website would be hosted in a ‘host’ country where that country has given its permission for this activity. This implies tailoring of the site to a specific country which might make a great deal of sense in certain situations.

An alternative is to work with commercial providers or NGOs that have congruent goals and could act as a legitimate outsource.

In any event, it’s clear that Internet messaging is a critical part of any global information campaign and that the Internet is one of the key mediums to be employed.

Reader thoughts are invited.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Turning Lemons Into Lemonade

You have got to give credit where credit is due. The Iranian claim that the video and audio of their recent foray with US warships is made up propaganda deserves some kind of award for creativity.

First of all, their supporters and followers will instantly believe this claim because it’s what they want to believe. Secondly, the US has a reputation of technological superiority so that there is an air of reasonableness to the claim. Third, it’s incredibly timely. It would appear that they read my earlier post about taking advantage of current events.

From the Iranian perspective the mission likely served two purposes. One purpose was clearly intelligence collection. They were able to test reactions of the US Navy very much like ferret flights during the old Cold War. Ferret flights were “Training flights” used to ‘ferret out’ what the opposition would do if attacked by flying near their enemy’s border just to see what would happen. Take a look at:

The other aspect was a PSYACT. As it turned out they were able to gain some positive propaganda traction by claiming the video was made up by the Americans. I suspect that had the Navy fired on the ships, Iran would have claimed that those speedboats were engaged in legitimate peaceful operations in international waters and that the US was unprovoked.

It makes me wonder what kind of activities the US could engage in that would have a win-win perspective regardless of the outcome.

Commercial Marketing and PSYOP: Background and a Thought

During my PSYOP career I have often heard that PSYOP is really a form of marketing and that today’s issues in the PSYOP Community are similar to those faced by marketing organizations.

As a Reservist I have two careers: one military and one civilian. In my case most of my commercial career has centered on marketing. In December 2006 I concluded a 6 year run in the marketing department of one of the world’s largest software companies. My roles ranged from Director of North American Enterprise Marketing to Director of Market Intelligence to Analyst Relations, Corporate Strategist and Public Sector Evangelist.

I was at the Corporate HQ and a part of the corporate marketing department. The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) reported directly to the CEO. The Corporate Marketing Department consisted of Market Intelligence (Research and Competitive Analysis), Analyst Relations, Marketing Communications, Events, Partner Marketing and Regional Marketing. Public Relations and Brand Management although normally part of marketing didn’t move over until a key Executive VP departed.

The main job of the CMO was in essence to protect the value of the corporate brand and to make the job of the sales people easier by influencing the behavior of our customers and prospects and by identifying those individuals and organizations that were likely buyers for our products.

Corporate marketing established the corporate tone, developed corporate messages and governed the corporate brand and its image. Regional marketing departments were responsible for localizing the corporate materials, messages and guidance in order to maximize sales and profits within the region. There are two conflicting philosophies concerning to whom marketing should report. One advocates that Regional and Country marketing people should report up to the corporate marketing entity and the other believes that marketing people should report to the senior executive leader in their geography. At the company where I worked all marketing people reported up to the CMO.

It was felt that this structure insured a commonality of marketing and homogeneity of messages that in total would yield the best overall results in terms of sales.

While the question one is tempted to ask is how does all this relate to PSYOP? The real question is how are US government efforts all managed in concert to insure that the messages reaching audiences around the world are similarly cohesive, reinforcing and successful.

Given that the Department of State is the lead for Foreign Relations it would appear that their key element is the country team headed by the Ambassador. He or she is the President’s representative and by extension the representative of the US government. The President as the country CEO entrusts his Public Diplomacy ‘marketing’ efforts to the DoS in this context.

DoD in general and PSYOP in particular is organized differently. There are global and regional Combatant Commanders, Theater Commanders, Corps Commanders, Division Commanders, BCT Commanders, etc. PSYOP missions are executed by units that cumulatively report up through different pipes (USSOCOM, USASOC and the USARC) and none of these is particularly ‘country’ oriented. Furthermore, the future PSYOP force is constructed with a view to support the overall force, not necessarily with the perspective of optimizing effects in a particular country.

Now that I’ve offered up a picture of the problem, let me posit an approach to a solution. During my tenure in Bosnia I found that it was incredibly helpful to have a good relationship with key members of the Embassy. While I was the DCO of an American unit that was part of a NATO force, it was vital to have the window into the civilian world. However, we were not necessarily able to spider web the knowledge we gained through to the subordinate Multi-National Districts (MND), nor could we counsel key subordinate Commanders on their AOs and the key influencers (individuals and media).

It would appear that the country Military Information Support Team (MIST) needs to play the key role of buffer and shock absorber between the country orientation of the Embassy Team and the AO disposition of the military. As such they would need official linkages at the highest levels of the appropriate military command and solid communication with national level PSYOP resources and organizations. This also presupposes that MIST individuals have superb interpersonal skills that would enable them to effectively move in civilian, diplomatic and military circles.

Comments from the Community are invited.

Information Fire Control – A Homogenous Branch Is Not The Answer

The debate over PSYOP and its relationship to IO rages on. The latest salvo comes in a Military Review article, “Merging Information Operations and PSYOP” ( The author, Lieutenant Colonel Fredric W. Rohm Jr., U.S. Army, Retired, advocates merging PSYOP and the Functional Area of Information Operations (IO) into a single branch.

I am of the opinion that this is not a good idea, especially at this time. Rather I see the article as another episode in the continuing professional soap opera of career planning. The issue to be debated now is not branch specialties, but how to make Commanders more effective through better use of information oriented weapons systems.

Commanders today are facing greater challenges from ineffective use of information as a tool to achieve their goals. These challenges include the fact that Commanders at all echelons including General Officers and Flag Officers (GOFO) are for the most part unaware of what information tools they have at their disposal or could harness to achieve their particular goals.

Another is that each of the elements of IO and PAO require different training and talents. Furthermore each of these specialties has its own strengths and weaknesses. Commanders need a single staff officer who can orchestrate all of the elements on behalf of the CDR just as the “2” orchestrates all of the facets of intelligence and the “3” plans operations employing a variety of weapons systems. This orchestration of all aspects of information in the Area of Operations is the crux of the information issue – not branching.

A good analogy might be the symphony orchestra. Each instrument must be played by a consummate specialist, yet it is the conductor who blends each of the individuals to create beautiful music. Blending the various elements of information in concert with each other to achieve the CDR’s goals is very much the same thing. The elements of IO (PSYOP, EW, MILDEC, CNO, and OPSEC), PAO and PSYACTs (Economic, CA, Engineering, etc.) must be executed by specialists and orchestrated for maximum effect.

Given the high optempo and the stress on the Force, I don’t believe a homogenous branch is needed. Rather staff officers for each function need to be present at the BCT and above. BCT specialists in each discipline should be Majors. Their efforts would be managed by the BCT Operations Officer. The Operations Officer likely a MAJ or LTC would either have had BN Command or is likely to get it. Consequently experience at the BCT staff would be exceptionally helpful.

The Division should have its own Deputy Chief of Staff (DCS) for Information. This slot should be manned by a LTC and echelons above Division should have a COL as their DCS for Information. These DCS jobs should be held by individuals who have had experience in one or more of the elements of IO to include PAO, but more importantly have developed as strategists able to blend the information elements on behalf of the CDR.

There is however, one caveat to this idealist picture and that is that the doctrine and tactics of CNO may not lend themselves to tactical implementation due to a number of factors such as legal issues, national boundaries, technical skills and/or resources.

Consequently it seems to me that an effects oriented approach is the better road to take and would be more likely to yield the results Commanders are looking for than homogenizing branches of diverse specialties.

PAO Skills A Must For PSYOP Professionals

The key difference between PSYOP and PAO is that while PAO seeks to influence media who in turn communicate to their audience, PSYOP influences the audience directly.

Over the course of my marketing and military careers I’ve worked with the media in a number of ways: source, analyst, writer, and Public Affairs Officer and I’ve learned that both disciplines have a lot to learn from each other.

For PSYOPers there is no doubt that some PAO skills come in very handy. In today’s Internet connected world anyone can be in the news in a matter of moments. PSYOP tactical team members in particular have a high likelihood of being singled out by media as either good subjects for a story, as a spokesperson or as a source.

In classic terms the media tends to look for stories that are timely, inform, educate, entertain and have a connection with their audience be it local, national or international.

If you are called upon to be a spokesperson, here are some rules from a City Government PAO from a city with a population of about 135,000:
Know when to shut up.
Assume the microphone is always on
Always assume there is a camera (remember tops of masts and helicopters have cameras)
You are always on the record.
Have a couple of safe (home base”) messages that you can always refer back to.

If by some quirk of fate you find yourself acting as the CDR’s APO or are pressed to do so, here are some tips for “Press Secretaries” from the PAO a major airport:

Tell The Truth
Return the call
Represent what you respect
The Public Affairs Officer is not the story
Context is Critical

And if you want to learn some news about news, check out: or for California News:

Diplomat Killing in Sudan Points to Upside Down Africa PSYOP Situation

The early morning killing of USAID diplomat John Granville on New Year’s Day should be of great concern to the PSYOP Community. The headlines are normally dominated by actions in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. In these areas PSYOP soldiers are on the street performing their missions. They are trained first as soldiers and then as PSYOP professionals and are employing both sets of skills every day.

In non-combat situations, uniformed military do not perform PSYOP missions. The Department of State is the lead agency for foreign affairs and organizations like USAID are in the forefront. For those of you unfamiliar with USAID, since 1961 “USAID has been the principal U.S. agency to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms.” (Source:

While this all sounds nice and neat, it isn’t. US government interests span the globe and the Department of State is simply not properly resourced to do the job themselves. The departure of Karen Hughes as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs was another set back in a long list of setbacks to these efforts.

Information is a key element of soft power and like it or not DOD with its significant resources is an important component of the overall mix. What does this all have to do with Khartoum? Plenty. Our adversaries may have executed this action or it may be a simple street crime. Personally I don’t believe in randomness like this and as a career MI officer, I tend to assume the worst. So let’s assume for the moment that Mr. Granville was indeed targeted.

What are the implications for US interests? Does the Department of State have messages that ought to be transmitted to and through local media that will enhance US Interests? What role if any should AFRICOM play and how would this square with whatever PSYOP forces are already deployed in the AO? How would the personnel and messages differ? Should they differ? Who should assume the overall lead? The military lead?

This being the start of the New Year, I’ll leave you with these questions and let you come up with your own answers.