Thursday, June 26, 2008

Obama The PSYOP President?

Senator Obama has proven himself to be an astute student of Information Operations, PSYOP in particular. I saw a June 23 article in the Washington Post, Obama Reintroduces Himself to Voters and there have been other articles in other media all pointing to the Senator’s command of IO. There is also a Washington Post Blog dealing with the ad campaign at:

He has done a target analysis and knows that states with the most electoral votes are the targets to shoot at. He realizes that perception is reality as noted in an earlier post where I talked about his Internet trackers.

There are some other PSYOP fundamentals in the Obama campaign as well. Senator Obama is sending an array of messages to either signal his intentions or mask them. The Washington Post article said: “The scope of Obama's first advertising buy sent an unmistakable signal to McCain and the GOP that, at least initially, the senator from Illinois will invest money in states no Democrat has won in years, including Georgia, Indiana and Alaska.” This type of move is reasoned, clever and elegant. If Senator Obama can achieve measureable results in contested areas, consolidate these gains and ultimately prevail it will be because he attacked early on the information front and adjusted as effects were known.

Regardless of Senator Obama’s success in these areas, it will force Senator McCain to take some sort of counter moves thereby diluting whatever other efforts he might have had planned.

The Internet will be an important battlefield for this year’s election and it is pretty clear to me that Senator Obama has done well there, recognizes the nature of the beast and is not afraid to pump money into this medium as well. In fact, yesterday I noticed that there was an ad from Senator Obama on my Linkedin Home Page.

In short, Senator Obama appears to have an understanding of PSYOP and IO. Should he get elected, it would be refreshing to see a Commander in Chief who knows a little more about the pen than the sword.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Visiting Team PSYOP Challenges

Like most of you I receive a variety of e-mail and take part in a bunch of e-mail lists. One of my recent e-mails contained a 5 point discussion of the advantages that the Red Force (natives to the AOR) Since PSYOP by definition is the visiting team, I felt it would be very useful to examine the home team (Red Force) versus visiting team (Blue Force) from a PSYOP perspective and offer some ideas on how the visiting team can win more often.

1. Home Field Advantage – they know it, you don’t. Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) is essential. PSYOP preparation of the battlefield should go beyond the doctrinal IPB and include as much media and influence mapping as possible. Overlays showing significant groups and or bandwidths of influence of various leaders should also be employed as a means of achieving an understanding of the audience and environment. If possible employ personnel who are from that area and who have some credibility. If that’s not possible at least employ some talent that has been in the area in the recently or worst case in the past – perhaps relatives (even distant ones) of the current residents could be extremely helpful.

2. Organizational Experience – the Red team has played together before, often the blue has not. While liaison visits can be productive. Consider frequent personnel exchanges, joint exercise training, joint social events and any other creative means to develop the kind of bonding that allows one person to pick up where the other has left off and which fosters a high degree of trust. Trust needs to go up and down the chain of command, not to mention a peers.

3. Triggers and Flexibility – Blue team can show up with only one or two plays in their book and no way of getting an early warning of what is to happen. Study of the adversary, history of the AO and alternative scenario modeling to deal with unforeseen consequences. Drills and rehearsals can reduce uncertainty. From a PSYOP perspective - - think like the adversary and so without limits. Recognize that the adversary will take advantage of friendly actions and reactions and work to minimize the enemy’s IO success by thwarting exploitation of negative events when possible.

4. Consequence – the home team never gets to leave. Their relatives, friends and neighbors will not easily forget. This works both ways. PSYOP personnel need to be put themselves in the position of their audience to create messages that resonate on an emotional level and that are likely to cause reflective thinking by the audience long after transmission.

The visiting team is always behind the power curve; however, the curve can be flattened if the team recognizes the nature of the audience and the nuances of the AO on the same level as those who live there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Can PSYOP Prevent Murderer Bombers?

First of all, anyone who detonates an explosive with the intent of killing others is a murderer and I frankly don’t give a rat’s ass if they end up killing themselves in the process.

The Washington Times featured an article: “Suicide Recruits Dropping in Iraq” ( which reported a decrease in foreign recruits.

Irregular Warfare reeks of local action. People know their neighborhood better than any visitor can hope to. Local conditions affect those who live there and those whose families have lived in that area in the past. Even if the report is correct, the issue remains that murderer bombers are lethal and hard to stop. A thinking and breathing IED is a dangerous weapon. It's also my contention that recuritment of murderer bombers takes place locally and must be stopped there rather than anywhere else.

From a PSYOP perspective I suspect that there is a tipping point in the mind of the recruit. The apprentice murderer reaches a point where no amount of convincing will dissuade them from going forward. This point may be reached due to the influence of peers, people they respect, or out of desperation. All the PSYOP in the world is too late.

PSYOP should be directed as early in the cycle as possible. Just as small elephants are easier to train than big ones, PSYOP should be laser focused on diverting individuals from this path is likely to have the most effect especially if the PSYOP messages come across as both credible and powerful. A prerequisite to success in this kind of a campaign would be extremely detailed local knowledge. Details like the family composition of each apartment building, the most popular gathering places, the food most closely associated with a warm family atmosphere, the most influential teachers and religious leaders and a keen sense of what has gone wrong there as well.

Messages should be delivered by complementary means with an emphasis on word of mouth and informal communications. If possible messaging should be present at key locations perhaps using artwork such as murals, graffiti and only if appropriate – posters.

Small investments at the local recruiting source will be big dividends by diverting would be murderer bombers from their course.

Monday, June 9, 2008

PSYOP And Two Theories of Terrorism

The Sunday NY Times featured an article “A Not Very Private Feud Over Terrorism” ( The article postulated that there are two competing theories about the state of terrorism. Position 1, championed by Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown is that Al Qaeda is alive and well and more dangerous than ever. The contra view is espoused by Marc Sageman author of “Leadlerless Jihad” who argues that the main terrorist threat is from unorganized small groups and highly self-motivated individuals.

The question for today’s post is: Does it matter?

I believe the answer is likely to be ‘no’. Under either scenario the target audience with the biggest upside payoff is not necessarily the radical bent on destruction of the West or a successful IED or murder (let's not dignify it as a suicide) bombing. Rather the target audience is the support structure and those in a position to help thwart these potential attacks through their behavior. Mao had it right when he characterized guerrilla warfare (now more popularly referred to as Irregular Warfare) as fish swimming in the sea.

Our PSYOP messaging seeks to either dry up the sea around enemy fish or make the waters hostile enough so that the enemy fish cannot thrive. PSYOP campaigns will not necessarily be aimed at individual targets but at audiences that can be influenced. Successes in defeating terrorists will likely be local rather than international. They will come once the surrounding citizenry feels that it is in their best interests to make life difficult for the terrorist.
Terrorism, like elections is won at the local precinct. Our messaging objectives should focus on the neighborhood and withering the climate of support.

Having said this, we need to adopt a broader perspective in our counter propaganda and IO analysis. Analysts should continue to look at the big picture of Al Qaeda as it communicates and recruits. Particular attention needs to be paid to the Internet.

The Internet is an evolving medium. No one can doubt its importance, but few will admit they don’t understand it. Senator Obama can credit the Internet as being a force in his success. He employed the Internet with great success to collect donations and to recruit and communicate with those new voters who were most at home there. He is also reportedly beefing up his team to track down rumors and erroneous statements on the Internet. (

This sort of defensive marketing (PSYOP) requires not only a big picture view, but global perspective and local language competency.

In short – we don’t have to support a theory of terrorist organization – we need to support a bi-furcated PSYOP strategy employing local efforts in the context of strategic understanding.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Graffiti – PSYOP Secret Weapon?

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and spent my formative years in a housing project run by the New York City Housing Authority. While that was certainly more than a few years ago, I have what I feel is a unique affinity for things urban. However, try as I may I don’t really recall much graffiti. Perhaps it was because we had more respect for authority, came from stronger families or maybe because graffiti had just not evolved to be a commonly accepted urban art form.

The picture accompanying this post was pulled from You Tube ( and was purportedly posted in March of this year.

I’m not sure what story this tells, since I don’t read Arabic, nor do I know the surrounding environment, but my gut tells me it’s not a good one from our perspective.

While graffiti may be cheap to produce, the downside of getting it wrong is pretty high and the need to truly understand the nuances of the location and the surrounding population is daunting.

The point of today’s post is pretty simple – if we’re not employing this highly visible and powerful street medium – we ought to be.

Take a moment today and remember our brothers and sisters who planned and executed the Normandy invasion. They are a part of us and we are a part of them.