Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rural PSYOP - Harder Than Urban PSYOP

As a City Boy I’ve always been fascinated with all things rural – especially Cowboys. This summer has been an immersion experience in rural living. While not exactly living on a farm, any town with about 4 cows per person certainly qualifies as rural.
Here’s a couple of things I’ve learned:

Credibility comes from closeness – media from the immediate (and I really mean IMMEDIATE) area is the only credible source. Local media concentrate on local news and opinion. They reflect what is important to the area. For example, a weekly county newspaper will put the obituaries on page 2 because it’s important. City people read the obits to make sure they’re not there.

Word of mouth is still the best means of communication – the grapevine in a small town puts the CIA to shame. Most people know more about their neighbors and former neighbors than NSA could find out in a hundred years.

Not everyone is on the Internet – while e-mail may be a mainstay of life for many people, it’s not necessarily a key source for everyone.

Cell Phones are more common than six guns. Every self respecting cowboy has a cell phone! Not that they’re going to IM while ropin’ doggies, but they are ubiquitous. Strangely enough my personal observation is that they’re used mostly as phones.

Billboards – While certain states regard billboards as eyesores, communities that have an Interstate linking them to larger cities have some prominent ones. There are even state of the art electronic billboards with flashing messages to catch the eye of locals and travelers alike.
Community Gathering Spots – there might not be places where groups gather regularly, but there are major events during the year that draw crowds, some of which encourage participation by groups seeking to get their message out.

Agriculture and Schools are centers of gravity. Family schedules revolve around the land and the school year. One is adjusted to accommodate the other.

Sense of Urgency – a sense of urgency is something that doesn’t seem to exist unless it relates to acting to avoid damage to crops or livestock.

Do It Yourself – there is a strong sense of self-reliance. Most people would rather fix stuff themselves then rely on others. This often translates to a shortage of people for hire in ultra rural areas.

Your word is your bond – sooner or later if you don’t stick to your promises, your reputation will precede you and it won’t be pleasant.

Y’all enjoy the summer, Labor Day is around the corner!

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

I have often said that imagery is more powerful than words. The accompanying picture says quite a bit. It readily identifies an adversary with a vilified past. While the technique of visual morphing isn’t exactly new it does take quite a bit of creativity to come up with the idea and then harness the appropriate technology.

When I was in Bosnia (circa 1997 – 1998) the Republika Serbska had a great TV commercial. First they showed NATO troops then focusing on the Kevlar helmet, morphed the NATO helmet and the troops into Nazi storm troopers. At the time I thought that was a nice piece of work and I admired what I felt was a streamlined approval chain.

While morphing is a great visual, the object of the vilification (in this case Stalin) typically brings up such emotions and memories that this kind of work needs to be dealt with very carefully. This is especially true in a coalition environment where partners may have their own perspective on the campaign and its reflection on a troubled past.

This particular picture also stands for the proposition that the media playing field is leveling. Viral marketing with unclear sourcing and no fact checking or validation is now with the capabilities of almost any individual and certainly almost any group.

This also means that any single image or writing can become an overnight Internet darling with hundreds of thousands of downloads – yet the ability to respond quickly with powerful images will often establish the information battle positions much as the first product out in a market place may dominate market share simply because its first.

Bottom line: PSYOPers need to be at least as conversant with technology as our adversaries and we need to have a streamlined approval chain, yet one that can see beyond the image at hand.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

PSYOP in Georgia

Fox news has reported that President Bush has ordered the military to spearhead the humanitarian aid missions to Georgia. (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,402982,00.html).

Given the lack of overt USG action on the world stage up to this point and the suffering of the Georgian population it is incumbent on the USG to accompany aid with some strong PSYOP. Large military aircraft are indeed a PSYACT and the sight of a modern day “Berlin Airlift” is likely to be viewed positively, but there has to be more. The USG must orchestrate a multi-pronged information offensive designed to restore the confidence in the US by the Georgian people and the rest of world.

Not only should the aid packages have prominent display of appropriate messages, but media coverage, in particular TV should be encouraged. Viral marketing employing UTube should be aggressively employed. Consideration should be giving to encouraging and authorizing as individuals taking part in the operation to document their personal humanitarian efforts. Putting a face on those being helped is a positive idea.

Logistical and PA support should be provided to the appropriate NGOs. It might also be a good idea to send in a limited number of Civil Affairs teams to do damage assessment and see how the infrastructure of the region has been impacted.

In short the USG needs to get in front of the traditional and new media ASAP. This particular crisis also underscores the need to have properly vetted and prepared contingency PSYOP forces (perhaps consisting of retired and/or civilian personnel) ready to be employed as surge personnel when needed.

Image Courtesy of the RAF (because it was easier to find an appropriate shot from them based on a Google Image Search)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Georgia On My Mind

Blog Entry, 11 Aug 08, Georgia On My Mind
All of us have been watching the unfolding situation in Georgia. For some of us, we are reminded of untold exercises involving the Fulda Gap – or as I used to say “19 Russian Divisions - no waiting”. Russian forces have taken direct and violent action on the battlefield overwhelming their adversary.

They have also employed new weapons – Computer Network Attack (CNA). The UK based Telegraph reported that Russia is also conducting a “Cyber War” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/georgia/2539157/Georgia-Russia-conducting-cyber-war.html) where the target is official government websites.

I’d argue that it’s not really “Cyber War”, but a reasoned PSYACT designed more to show dominance rather than to orchestrate harm. Control of a government or individual’s ability to communicate is designed to invoke a feeling of helplessness on the part of the victim and to erode morale and will.

Attacking a government’s websites making them unavailable or redirecting the accessor to another website clearly under the control of the attacker would appear to be a good way to reduce confidence in the government. It would also seem to be a way to make the citizenry feel that their government is powerless.

The defender would have to turn to other means to counter this impression. This best alternative given the demographics would be TV. Government TV broadcasts could fill the void left by any Internet deficit, and employ visuals designed to bolster the confidence of the citizenry and unite them against the attacker.

Broadcasts of action on the front line could also be used as a means to induce other nations to come to the rescue of the victim by putting political pressure on the attacker, or perhaps even offering some military counter balance.

Interestingly enough this type of action was considered in the recently released National Defense Strategy as stated on page 4 of the strategic environment section: “All of these actions suggest a Russia exploring renewed influence, and seeking a greater international role.”

Given all the above, how confident are we that the USG could mount an effective response in this or a similar situation that would harness conventional military power, Computer Network Operations, PSYOP, PA, Department of State and other instruments of national power?

This most recent action should be a real wake up call. An efficient enemy such as the one posed by a totalitarian regime with strong and unchallenged leadership is a formidable foe. Especially since the USG lacks:

A cohesive and well thought out National Information Strategy.
A single designated Senior Government Leader in the Executive Branch to form and implement such a strategy across the USG.
Neither a strategy nor designated responsible individuals within the USG to mobilize or at least work with US civilian resources to assist in an information offensive.

It would seem that now is the time to finally put into place recommendations from the Defense Science Board’s 2007 Task Force on Strategic Communications, ideas from the IO Roadmap of 2003 and other moves designed to prepare the USG to more effectively deal with today’s environment and avoid disaster in tomorrow’s.

It also appears that DoD should increase its emphasis on NATO Doctrine to help insure smoother joint operations with NATO allies and would be NATO members should these be necessary in the future.

Friday, August 1, 2008

2008 National Defense Strategy (NDS) Implications For PSYOP

It’s pretty unusual for a short timer to take decisive action that will impact his successors for years to come, but that is exactly what the SecDef did with the most recent National Defense Strategy released 31 July (http://www.defenselink.mil/news/2008%20National%20Defense%20Strategy.pdf) .

While PSYOP is not mentioned in the document, reading between the lines reveals some profound implications for PSYOP. Let’s start with the Strategic Environment.

“For the foreseeable future, this environment will be defined by a global struggle against a violent extremist ideology that seeks to overturn the international state system. Beyond this transnational struggle, we face other threats, including a variety of irregular challenges, the quest by rogue states for nuclear weapons, and the rising military power of other states. These are long-term challenges. Success in dealing with them will require the orchestration of national and international power over years or decades to come.” (NDS; p 1, emphasis added by the author).

Struggles against ideology are won through influence; “irregular challenges” implies something besides force on force actions and conjures up visions of asymmetrical challenges especially those fostered by the global reach and instantaneous response of the Internet. Rogue states connote large, powerful nations with WMD, conventional and asymmetric capabilities. The notion “rogue” also implies a nation willing to take extraordinary risks and one that doesn’t ‘play by the rules’.

The document goes on to emphasis the need to monitor global trends in demographics, economics, energy and the critical need to use “soft power to shape the behavior of individual states and the international system” (p6) Likely challenges will be PSYOP in urban environments and a pressing need to conduct influence operations in denied areas as well.

DoD has five key objectives:
1. Defend The Homeland
2. Win The Long War
3. Promote Security
4. Deter Conflict
5. Win Our Nation’s Wars

The Long war is “a war of ideas, and an assistance effort that will require patience and innovation” (p8). Perhaps the most telling paragraph is found on page 17:

“We also need capabilities to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Strategic communications within the Department and across government is a good example.
Although the United States invented modern public relations, we are unable to communicate to the world effectively who we are and what we stand for as a society and culture, about freedom and democracy, and about our goals and aspirations. This capability is and will be crucial not only for the Long War, but also for the consistency of our message on crucial security issues to our allies, adversaries, and the world.” (Emphasis added)

No mention is made of the “how” this will be accomplished or the “who” will accomplish this vital task. One thing is certain and that is PSYOP is already a force in this effort. However, the big picture is anything but clear. The notion of Strategic Communication has changed from exclusively a top down, generally large scale, trans-regional effort to leveraging local events instantly on the Internet.

SecDef has made some bold declarations and in my view – “gets it”.

But, what about the implementation of the strategy? How will PSYOP interact with PA within an IO context to accomplish USG goals? Will the stove pipes of IO functions such as EW and Military Deception embrace the need for synergistic cooperation? Can the vision of employing soft power evolve to a true core competency of DoD?

These are the kind of tough questions for PSYOP brought out from the National Defense Strategy. Reader comments are invited.