Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An UnHappy Customer Is Your Best Advertisement

An Unhappy Customer Is Our Best Advertisement

The Washington Times today reported that North Korea has declared it will attack South Korea if they don’t’ stop dropping tens of thousands of balloon originating leaflets. (
Photo Sources: Leaflet - Washington Times, DMZ Photo - the Author

According to the article, “The leaflets sent on Monday were printed in waterproof ink on plastic sheets and carried the names of South Korean civilians and prisoners of war thought to be held in the North as well as a family tree that the civic groups said maps Mr. Kim's relationships with several women who bore him children.”

The ‘leaflet wars’ have been going on for an incredibly long time with both sides seeking to use this older and perhaps classic media to influence the other. One would argue that, like poker, it would be best to remain expressionless in the face of the paper onslaught less the other side would gain an advantage through the satisfaction of provoking a reaction.The nK’s however, defy logic with the greatest of regularity, this instance being only one of many in a long line

Monday, October 27, 2008

PSYOP And The Raid On Syria

The official Syrian news agency, Sana, reported an attack by US Forces in the Abu Kamal area near the Syrian border with Iraq. (see or

The Washington Post and BCC reports extensively quote the Syrian news agency including the facts that “The dead include a man, his four children and a married couple, the Syrian report said, without giving details of the children's ages.”

Both reports included the following: “But the Associated Press quoted an unnamed U.S. military official as saying the Special Forces raid had targeted a network of foreign fighters that regularly crosses the border."We are taking matters into our own hands," the official told the Associated Press, speaking on the condition of anonymity.”

Thus far (1146 Mountain Time, 27 October), no official USG comments have been made although the Washington Post article offered up:
“Speaking to reporters on Thursday, the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq called Syria "problematic," and blamed fighters based in Syria for one cross-border raid in May.
"We do know that there are operatives that live, we believe, certainly -- let me say, the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi intelligence forces feel that al-Qaeda operatives and others operate, live pretty openly on the Syrian side. And periodically we know that they try to come across," the commander, Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly, said.”

In a world where ‘secret’ raids are news moments after they begin and where unanswered claims of our enemies and adversaries are taken as ground truth, does it make sense to maintain official silence? In this particular case, it would seem that US forces executed the action. The truth behind the casualties has defaulted to the Syrian view and anti-war activists of all nationalities have seized on the action as yet another club footed act by the USG.

This is yet another case where a tactical action has turned into a strategic communication and where it appears that the information engagement value has not been given the proper consideration. Was the purpose of the action simply to attack the village of Sukkiraya or did the action have a broader purpose?

Perhaps there were some messages that ought to have been transmitted:
• “Sure, we’re in the middle of a Presidential election, but don’t think for a moment that we will hesitate to attack terrorists no matter where they may hide.”
• “If sovereign governments do not act to address terrorist activities, we will.”
• “The government of Iraq has powerful friends who will help it deal with its enemies”

No matter what, the information engagement facets of the kinetic attack should have been handled differently. Failure to address the information engagement aspects of similar moves will do more harm to the overall war on terrorism than the tactical victories.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

PSYOP And The Next Phase In Iraq

(Photo Courtesy of NATO, General Babakir Baderkhan Zibari, Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Joint Forces and Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, Commander JFC Naples met during the Admiral's visit to NATO Training Mission-Iraq, Jan. 24.)

Readers are forewarned that today’s posting is a bit futuristic, but hey, it’s almost Election Day and we all should be used to it by now. The October 16th headline screamed “Iraqis Tout Business Opportunities to U.S. Firms” ( and the story concerned the Iraqi government’s promotion of the unlimited investment opportunities in Iraq. Of course the speakers were from the Ministry of Defense and there was the appropriate caveat that safety was not guaranteed.

Speakers included Gen. Babakir Baderkhan Zibari, chief of staff for the Iraqi Joint Forces , Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal Ahmedfahmi, deputy minister of the Ministry of Interior, and Sameer Abdulwahhab Razooqi, director of public affairs for the Ministry of Defense. The premise of the pitch was that foreign companies ought to do business with the Iraqi government, especially the Ministry of Defense. There can be no dispute that the country’s infrastructure is bad shape and that it cannot be repaired without external resources.

Today’s posting is actually about what happens when the security posture is considered stable and outside investment beyond the defense sector beings to flower in Iraq. What would be a proper role for PSYOP and what new issues and concerns will surface?

First of all, PSYOP will continue to be a voice of the USG until the troops leave. They may not be the only voice as PAO will still be the major information conduit to the media. Time will tell if the new administration gears up Public Diplomacy, nevertheless, PSYOP troops and their products will be functioning.

As the security environment shifts from lethal to benign, USG messages and the media used to transmit them will evolve. Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy ought to be employed in Western Europe and Asia to induce investment in Iraq and risk taking opportunistic firms will trickle in. Then what?

Increasingly Coalition forces, especially Tactical PSYOP Teams will hear something like: “Soldier, can you and your boys help me out here? I need to get this truck load of my product from here to there and I’m really concerned about security.” Kind of training has been provided to help PSYOP soldiers and others deal with requests from commercial companies or even from NGO? Would the USG be subject to liability if one vendor’s request was honored, but another was not? What would happen if the Coke truck got through, but the Pepsi truck did not? Have officers and NCOs been trained on the ethics of conflicts of interest within the commercial context?

Given today’s optempo, the answer is that none of these issues have been addressed in training. The message of today’s post is that we in the PSYOP community need to address these issues now, at least in the academic sense. Curricula need to be developed that address the conflicts of interests and other ethical dilemmas that are likely to pop up during the more mature phases of nation building.

Friday, October 17, 2008

PSYOP And The Next Phase In Afghanistan

From the latest news it would appear that the conflict in Afghanistan is moving into a new and more deadly phase.
On October 16, 2008 SecDef remarked ““Afghanistan is the test, on the grandest scale, of what we are trying to achieve when it comes to integrating the military and the civilian, the public and private, the national and international,” at the U.S. Institute of Peace’s first Dean Acheson lecture. (more details at:

The DoD story notes that: “Gates called Afghanistan “the laboratory” for U.S. efforts to apply and fully integrate the full range of its national power and international cooperation to protect its security and vital interests.

SecDef Gates described the scope of the effort there, as 42 nations, hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, universities, development banks, the United Nations, the European Union and NATO all working together to help Afghanistan rise above the challenges it faces. These range from crushing poverty to a bumper opium crop to a ruthless and resilient insurgency and al-Qaida and other violent extremists.

“Afghanistan has tested America ’s capacity – and the capacity of our allies and partners – to adapt institutions, policies and approaches that in many cases were formed in a different era for a different set of challenges,” Gates said.”

Gates concluded that there were two key ingredients needed for success in Afghanistan:
“To be successful, the entirety of the NATO alliance, the European Union, NGOs and other groups – the full panoply of military and civilian elements – must better integrate and coordinate with one another and also with the Afghan government,” he said. “These efforts today, however well-intentioned and even heroic, add up to less than the sum of the parts.”
“A big factor in Afghanistan ’s success rests in the effort to rapidly train, equip and advise its army and police force”, Gates said. He noted that until recently, few Western governments and militaries had this capability outside their Special Forces.

After my personal experience of working alongside my NATO colleagues in Sarajevo, and switching to ‘civilian mode’ when walking the halls of the Office of the High Representative (OHR), I can attest to the fact that once again the SecDef has hit the nail on the head. The synergy of the Coalition, NGOs and other organizations is the weapon needed to defeat extremism. The application of resources to address the social, economic and infrastructure needs of the country is the mode of attack for nation building.

However, doing the work is only part of the solution. The Afghani people must understand that the Coalition is working together for their common good. This is where PSYOP comes in. working in tandem with PAO, and Strategic Communications, PSYOP must be employed to make certain that the people know the source of their new resources.

Herein lies the challenge, under the current stove pipe organization each element within the USG answers to its own master as to the corresponding components from other nations and other organizations. There is a critical need to form as SecDef calls it, “a laboratory” to orchestrate the information engagement in an unprecedented way and in a commercial flavored manner. This organization would likely report to Department of State, but would be a hybrid of US, other nations and NGOs, etc. The leadership would be a respected civilian, ideally one with credible backgrounds in the military and commercial sectors and with the diplomatic skills required to ‘herd the cats’.

As example, there was a September Medical Assistance Mission in Arghandab district of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. According to one of the officers on that mission: “We were expecting roughly 400 people to come through, but approximately 850 showed up, 500 of which were kids,” the officer said. “We had to go back to the firebase to get more supplies to hand out to meet the overwhelming demand. Everyone that came in walked away with something that they needed. I’m just glad we could do something to make their lives a little better.” (More details at:

It’s great to read about such a heartwarming story on the official DoD website, but how would Afghanis down the road or across the street know this happened? How would the best practices and lessons learned from this mission and the publicity surrounding it be spider webbed to other similar missions in Afghanistan or even Iraq? These are the questions that need to be answered in the next phase of this conflict.

Monday, October 13, 2008

One Ring To Rule Them All

On October 12th the Washington Post published a story “U.S. Military Plans Polls and Focus Groups in Iraq”. The story described “The proposed polling contract, which has yet to be awarded, would centralize activities currently conducted by four different commands within Multi-National Force-Iraq and the Psychological Operations and Information Operations task forces.”

ThePost pegged the new strategic communications initiative as a $15 million effort to supplement the military’s existing strategic communications budget of $100 million year. And “would centralize activities currently conducted by four different commands within Multi-National Force-Iraq and the Psychological Operations and Information Operations task forces.”

As a civilian market research professional and the former DCO of the Combined Joint Information Campaign in Bosnia I have some opinions about this contract and the story – some positive, some not so positive.

First of all the notion that the identity of the ultimate user of the data, i.e. the U.S. government can be kept secret is preposterous. In the day of the Internet to quote the title of a book by Richard Hunter of Gartner Group, we live in a “World Without Secrets”. It is only a matter of time before the nature of the poll or focus group becomes public. Given the heat the military took for actually paying a writer to write positive stories from the LA Times and others, some enterprising journalist will have a source that uncovers one such poll or focus group and will blow it up in hopes of winning a Pulitzer Prize.

Secondly, as correctly pointed out by SecDef Gates on more than one occasion, the State Department should be the lead dog in this kind of effort, not the military. Public Diplomacy and helping other nations rebuild their infrastructure is the responsibility of the Department of State. Their diplomats along with seconded representatives of other Cabinet Level Departments should be driving the nation building, not the Department of Defense.

Third, polling and focus groups produce intelligence – they don’t change opinions, nor do they perform concrete functions. Who will use this information and what will they do with it? Doesn’t make more sense to beef up the as recommended by SecDef Gates?

Fourth, any contractor selected for this project – assuming it moves along will need a civilian oriented buffer organization that can interface with the native Iraqi sources, analyze the collected information and make appropriate recommendations. Military personnel are simply not trained nor experienced in market analysis and perhaps most importantly, they don’t think like civilians.

Fifth – Congress is Clueless If the quote attributed to Senator James Webb (D-VA) that "At a time when this country is facing such a grave economic crisis . . . it makes little sense for the Department of Defense to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars to propagandize the Iraqi people," is true, it is clear that Senator Webb hasn’t the faintest idea as to the importance of strategic communications and likely has no clue as to why effective strategic communications and information engagement are needed to stab at the heart of what fuels the success of terrorists and insurgents.

While there is always more to government contracts than printed in any publication, this particular story raises some red flags that need attention.

Monday, October 6, 2008

New Army FM on Stability Operations Short on PSYOP Content

The Army released its new FM 3-07 Stability Operations, the 200 + page document positions Stability Operations as a new cornerstone of Army operational doctrine. (Available at:

Today’s release of the new manual is good news and bad news. Good news because it codifies some of the strategy and tactics that made the surge a success in Iraq and more importantly the rationale behind them. It’s also a bit of bad news because it took so long to recognize “New Terms” such as “whole of government approach”, “rule of law” and “comprehensive approach.

The manual incorporates the new jargon dejure of information engagement as the current terminology for the former information operation even though, according to the manual’s glossary, the components remain the same: “The integrated employment of public affairs to inform U.S. and friendly audiences; psychological operations, combat camera, U.S. Government strategic communication and defense support to public diplomacy, and other means necessary to influence foreign audiences; and, leader and Soldier engagements to support both efforts. (FM 3-0)”

The manual recognizes that information engagement is intertwined with the success of stability operations in paragraph 3-73 of the manual: “Information engagement tasks are deliberately integrated with activities in each stability sector and primary stability task to complement and reinforce the success of operations. This integration is vital to success; information engagement tasks must be carefully sequenced with other tasks and supported with thorough risk assessments.”

I have always marveled at the Army’s ability to use more words than necessary to explain something. The manual concedes that information engagement is critical to the success of stability operations as shown in its Figure 1. However, astoundingly enough there is only one paragraph on PSYOP in the entire document, 2-73:
“Psychological operations exert significant influence on foreign target audiences and are often the primary capability for affecting behaviors among these audiences. During stability operations, psychological operations forces also advise the commander and staff on the psychological effects of their operations, provide public information to the target audience to support humanitarian assistance, and assess adversary propaganda. Effective psychological operations can support communications with the local populace, reduce civil interference with military operations, support efforts to establish and maintain rule of law, and influence the host-nation attitude toward external actors. The approved objectives and themes of psychological operations are integrated through the operations process to ensure forces effectively and efficiently apply limited resources.”

The next two paragraphs recognize the “spotlight of international news media,
and under the umbrella of international law” and the likely urban nature of many stability operations.

Apparently it is now up to the PSYOP community to absorb the enormity of the stability operations challenge and to craft its own doctrine to deal with this new challenge. Interestingly enough stability operations are going to be joint by nature, yet there is neither published Joint doctrine, nor service stability operations doctrine from the other services.

It would seem that now would be the right time for a Joint PSYOP Doctrinal project, perhaps within the auspices of USSOCOM’s J-39, to act as the catalyst for the development of Joint, Navy, Marine and Air Force doctrine for stability operations. This group should be augmented by personnel from other departments and agencies involved in stability operations. Well thought interagency doctrine is a vital component of stability operations so that broad representation from other agencies is necessary to harness all aspects of the USG’s soft power. Consequently, the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Health & Human Services, Justice, State and Treasury ought to be included.

The availability of more comprehensive guidance will go a long way to eliminate many of the wrinkles in today’s stability operations and that are likely to surface in the next ones.