Thursday, December 24, 2009

Yemen: The Next Afghanistan?

I was thinking of giving the Blog two weeks off. After all, it’s Xmas Eve when the pace of government and business slows to almost a halt in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Well – that was my plan until I came across an article in the December 24, 2009 Arizona Sun: “Airstrike illustrates ballooning US involvement in Yemen” (

Map Source: University of Missouri – St. Louis:
The article talks about increased US military activity in Yemen to bolster the effort of the Yemeni government against Al Qaeda. Yemen is nestled to the south of Saudi Arabia and across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia and Djibouti. Little bells should be going off in your head about the volatility of this situation and the particularly interesting nuances in dealing with the neighbors.

First of all whenever there are ‘drones’ there are ‘accidents’ and civilian casualties or at least the allegation of them cannot be far behind. Failure to deal with the backlash will result in negative opinions of the US and the Yemeni government and a decrement of US status in world opinion in general.

In today’s world there are few secrets, US military involvement is not one of them. This is clearly a case where PSYOP needs to be involved. Drones and military action means PSYOP plans, programs and materials need to be in play BEFORE the eventual accident or allegation.
This particular part of the world has gotten it share of notoriety from US involvement in Somalia, pirate activity and even an episode of the adult cartoon series, South Park. The economic clout of Saudi Arabia and their deep connections to Al Qaeda are well known; consequently US actions in this area cannot be successfully accomplished without some type of coordination with the Saudi’s.

Rounding out the mix is Djibouti which has long been under the influence of the French and is considered a strategic bulwark in the area. Actions which poison a potential ally in the region must be considered with caution and long range strategy in mind.
So we find ourselves coming in to the movie theater in the middle of the feature. This playing feature is “US in Yemen” although it seems strangely like the movie we just saw: “US in Afghanistan” and we didn’t much care for that one.

My best wishes to my brothers and sisters in the PSYOP Community and a special thank you to those of you who are serving in harm’s way at this time of year. May 2010 be a breakthrough year that sees a trend to calmness in the world and a reduction in PSYOP Optempo.

Look for the next PSYOP Regimental Blog entry after the 4th of January 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Palestinian Polarity: Implications for Afghanistan and Beyond

The December 14, 2009 Washington Post featured an article: “The Palestinians' opposite poles.” (

The article describes how two men grew up in the same refugee camp in Gaza. One ended up moving to the West Bank while the other remained in Gaza. The article goes on to describe how the man in the West Bank was able to begin a business and how his son will be going to college in Cyprus to study film making while the other’s son is studying in al-Quds University and has no idea as to his future.

It would seem that the purpose of the article was to show how these two men and their children were affected by the move and to highlight the growing dichotomy between the two Palestinian factions and areas.

To me there are some interesting lessons to be learned here. First of all, age old conflicts can take generations before there is even the slightest amount of movement towards resolution. Secondly, the soundest way to strengthen a society is from the bottom up starting with the family unit. The basis of the strength comes from insuring the basics of being able to live a life where there is security and stability, but more importantly, where there are bright possibilities in the future.

The ability for the children of the original Gaza refugees to seek out and obtain education beyond their own country where they are able to learn skills and nurture their talents to benefit their people is a key differentiator. Where squalor and hopelessness prevail, there is an incentive to lash out against real or perceived oppressors.

The parallel to Afghanistan is clear. The Taliban have succeeded in permeating the society and supplanting the government. They have done this on a village by village basis and they have done so over many years.

The ‘new’ US strategy is aimed at dislodging the Taliban because the Taliban provide safe haven to Al Qaeda and our other enemies. Given the number of villages and the time and treasure needed to establish their security and stability – I’m not optimistic.

In the meanwhile it will be up to the tactical PSYOP soldier, buttressed by efforts of local, regional and high level PAOs to constantly paint the positive picture envisioned under a non-Taliban (but not necessarily purely democratic) government. PSYOP and its allied disciplines must constantly strive to publicize ‘good examples’.

PSYOP will also have to be ever watchful for inevitable screw up where injuries or deaths to the civilian population are attributed to the International Security Assistance Force, (ISAF) so as to minimize the negative impact of these incidents and enemy propaganda. Neither of these are easy tasks nor will they be made easier by the surge. President Obama and his key leaders need to be ready to re-evaluate their ‘new’ approach early in the game and often to properly respond as the situation evolves.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Reality of an Influence Strategy in Afghanistan

The more I read about the situation in Afghanistan, the more I stand by my previous analysis of the bottoms up rural nature of the country. The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) the ‘trade association’ for the Signal Corps and IT in general has an electronic newsletter called NightWatch. Their December 8 edition had a particularly good analysis of Afghanistan which I commend to your reading at:

Photo by Bruce Hoffman and Seth G. Jones, (

“Winning” in Afghanistan needs to be defined as establishing a secure enough environment that the country would no longer be a safe haven for Al Qaeda and other enemies of the United States. Our goal is not and should not be for Afghanistan to become a modern, democratic state. That being said, the key mission is to bolster local governments at the village level to the point that the Taliban are no longer to establish their dominance nor are Al Qaeda or other foreign enemies be able to exploit the country or its people.

We must recognize that a Taliban lead insurgency is a chronic condition much like a disease. However, the major of Taliban are not militants and are probably not ‘anti-American’ by nature as much as they are anti- stranger and anti-occupier. Consequently there are a number of key messages that must be transmitted:

1. Local Governments Have The Integrity & Wisdom Needed to Govern and Provide Honest Justice
This mission means key villages must be identified and local governments installed that can offer a viable alternative to the Taliban shadow governments. It means that these governments must be corruption free (in a relative sense because a certain level of corruption seems endemic to Afghanistan) and able to provide the quick justice Afghans have found so appealing in the Taliban shadow governments.

2. The Taliban Way is Not the Afghani Way
This would reassert the need for a people oriented justice system rather than the Sharia law or law based on the Quran. History has shown that the people of Afghanistan are fiercely independent and have no taste for these draconian legal systems.

3. NATO and the US are Not Occupiers
The ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) is there to help the people of Afghanistan restore security and peace. The mission of ISAF is to train Afghani’s to handle their own security and law enforcement and will leave once the mission is accomplished.

These messages need to be transmitted at the local level more than any other. This will require the entire force to be cognizant of how to work with the local villages and require the Department of State to cajole or catalyze the Karzai government into the same mode. It is clearer than ever before that the only way to succeed in Afghanistan is from the Bottom Up. As a former precinct organizer, let’s hope that President Obama insures that this philosophy is core to our strategy and operations.

Friday, December 4, 2009

State of the Regiment: Strained But Improving

As we approach the end of 2009 and having just attended a “Council of Colonels”, I felt it was appropriate to provide an update on the State of the Regiment. Overall 2009 was a very positive year. Most Importantly PSYOP soldiers continue to excel globally and the ‘dwell time’ (time between deployments) for Reserve PSYOP soldiers remains around 20 months – less time at home than the active counterparts tend to enjoy. Soldiers and their families are stepping up to the challenge and enduring this unprecedented level of sacrifice.

We were able to recognize exceptional long standing PSYOP contributors with the first annual award of the McClure Gold Award for PSYOP Excellence. Regimental week, hosted by the 4th POG at Fort Bragg, was a success and a rewarding experience for all who attended.
The Regiment continues to feel the detrimental effects of splitting active and reserve PSYOP forces between the US Army Reserve Command and the US Army Special Operations Command. This bifurcation resulted in degraded cohesion across the force and has had a negative impact on training and standards.

The Regiment continues to be well served by two associations (POA and POVA), each of which has its own stated core goals. However, neither of them has risen to the needed critical mass of other associations such as MI, Artillery, SF or CA. Consequently, the Regiment does not have a strong, financially viable, unofficial voice that can also serve as a catalyst to grow the Regiment and increase esprit de corps. Among other things, a strong association is needed to:
• Recognize the entry into the Regiment of newly qualified soldiers and officers.
• Record and maintain legacy of PSYOP
• Engage in training process to provide a historical perspective
• Represent the interests of PSYOP internally within DOD and externally
• Enhance Morale

Positive steps are being taken to champion the Regiment and move it forward. In past years informal coordination was facilitated with a “Council of Colonels” who met at least annually at the “Worldwide PSYOP Conference” and other venues. I am pleased to report that this cross organizational body has been reconvened and is making plans to foster cross-organizational cooperation and strengthen the Regiment and its activities.

It is hoped that SWC will step up to its responsibilities as the “Regimental Home Base” and afford the same professional courtesies to the PSYOP Regiment that it has continually provided to the SF Regiment.

Regimental Week is again tentatively scheduled for the week of June 7, 2010 at Fort Bragg. The PSYOP Troop Commanders have all committed to participate in next year’s event to make it truly a Regimental function. In addition a strong commitment was voiced to approve criteria for the Silver and Bronze McClure Awards and to secure funding so that proper recognition made be given to outstanding PSYOP personnel.

As we look forward to 2010, I am optimistic that the Regiment will grow and mature to support our marvelous PSYOP force that continues to excel in spite of hardship and sacrifice.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Converting the Taliban – A Worthy PSYOP Effort

The 21 Nov 09 edition of the LA Times carried an article about what it termed ‘a fledgling effort to convince the Taliban to turn in their weapons and turn away from violence in return for jobs and security (see,0,2892908.story). The article described how this program was patterned after a similar program in Iraq, the Sons of Iraq, which was widely credited with reducing the level of violence there.

Photo from the LA Times, (Reza Shirmohammadi / AFP/Getty Images / November 21, 2009)
PSYOP support to this program and similar ones is critical and support of these programs can pay dividends in other ways as well. While I’ve never been to Afghanistan, it’s my belief that the Taliban are for the most part Afghanis and as such have a long term interest in their country. Furthermore, the Taliban are representative of the beliefs and values of many more Afghani citizens as evidenced by the kind of popular support they seem to enjoy in many parts of the country.

The Taliban and their fellow Afghanis hold certain beliefs about the purpose and long term goals of the American presence there. Unless we are able to shift these believes, a satisfactory end game in Afghanistan will continue to remain elusive. By showing that our intent is to help the Afghanis establish a secure and comfortable (by their standards, not ours) lifestyle we would go a long way to setting the foundation for an invigorated Afghanistan.

PSYOP efforts here should be a combination of direct and indirect messaging. Direct messaging should very definitely include true success stories showing how individuals made the decision to renounce violence and how they are now living secure and prosperous lives. Personifying the success and putting the average Afghani, especially the Taliban, in the picture of a more satisfying and secure life will help others visualize themselves in that enviable position.

Indirect messaging should show Afghanistan without the American forces and urge citizen cooperation to help get to that point by renouncing violence, engaging in peaceful livelihoods and helping to root out corruption in the Karzai government at all levels.

Given the agrarian nature of Afghanistan and the likely parallel push to replace the poppy as a major crop, there needs to be a parallel program of offering short and long term assistance to poppy farmers so that they can successfully transition from poppies to another crop. This program is likely to require a combination of assistance up front along with seasonally oriented agricultural resources and education. Care must be taken not to over rely on capital equipment for the new crops since that equipment will be difficult and expensive to maintain and to blend the new crops into the culture and lifestyle of the local farmers.

This kind of dual pronged positive PSYOP coupled with the resources to keep the promise of the programs will go a long way to establishing the stability that will facilitate an end game in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Counter PSYOP – The Hasan Matter

Bad news, unlike wine and chicken soup, does not get better with age. The murders at Fort Hood will haunt our collective consciousness for some time to come. Make no mistake, our enemies are pondering how to use the tragedy for their own purposes and we need to be ready with counter PSYOP, in fact we need to be sending messages right now. Photo credit: AP via Washington Post
Hasan’s links to ‘radical cleric’ (see Washington Post, 18 November 2009 is one of many Monday morning quarterback articles across the media. I won’t concern myself with the law enforcement aspects but point to the PSYOP aspect - -word of mouth, especially from credible (to their audience) religious leaders is a powerful recruiting tool and a means to keep their followers engaged against the perceived enemy.

From an enemy PSYOP perspective let’s honestly reflect on what they have to work with. First of all there is an incredible wealth of video and photographic imagery of the carnage at Fort Hood and pictures of MAJ Hasan in uniform. There is also a wealth of information on his alleged beliefs and even a PowerPoint.
The enemy is more than likely going to employ some of these on the Internet and perhaps even orchestrate the spider webbing of word of mouth showing how the jihad’s righteousness has been accepted by Muslims even in America and even by those who have mistakenly taken up the cause and worn the uniform of the infidel.

What do we need to do about it? First of all we need to reemphasize the message that we are not at war with Islam, but with terrorists. However, while there needs to be direct USG messaging from President Obama and Secret Clinton on down the line, American sources are not enough. We must enlist the aid of credible Muslim religious leaders to speak out against the atrocity and reiterate the criminal, anti-Islamic and abhorrent nature of the act.

We need to show that the defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty. If appropriate messaging concerning his medical care after the incident along with the on-going story of the criminal prosecution may be of value.

It might also make sense to have messaging from Muslim Chaplains and individuals currently serving in the US military to underscore the fact that Hasan is an aberration and that serving in the US military is consistent with Islamic beliefs.

The point is we know the enemy is resourceful and employs a high degree of information agility – we need to launch an information offensive before we are caught flat footed once again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

PSYOP in Peshawar – How Do Can you Deal With the Irrational?

November 7, 2009’s Washington Post ran an article: In Peshawar, state of denial over market attack culprits, there were also two subtitles for the article: MANY BLAME 'FOREIGN HANDS' and 'Taliban would never do this terrible thing' (

Photo by Pamela Constable - TWP as appeared in The Washington Post

The gist of the article is that the local Population in Peshawar, Pakistan blames the US among others for the rash of civilian deaths caused by bombs and refuses to believe that the Taliban could so such terrible things to them.

This is quite a PSYOP problem, one that made me harken back to my first set of sales training courses. From a classic marketing perspective, the US needs to position the Taliban as the bad guys in order to induce the local population to stop supporting them thereby beheading the insurgency. Sales philosophy says you try and take objections to your proposition and turn them into questions.

In this case, we want to say “Obviously you have a reason for saying that the Taliban would never do such a terrible thing, may I ask what it is?” If the answer is rational, they would come up with a statement such as they are our countrymen and would never do such a terrible thing.

The next step would be to say, “ just suppose for a moment that I could prove that the Taliban were responsible using objective evidence, would you believe it?” Logical individuals would typically agree that they would do so. Illogical or irrational people would not.
Unfortunately I’m afraid the irrationals are the majority in the AfPak AO. Our enemies have done a magnificent job of bolstering the Taliban reputation through local action to the point where the voice of logic falls on deaf ears.

Having said this, the challenge becomes to build the pile of emotional evidence to such a height that on one could deny its validity. This is not an easy task. I believe the answer is personification. We need to put a credible, believable and sympathetic face to voice this message. Credible eye witnesses, relatives of Taliban suicide bombers, ex-Taliban members, clerics familiar with the Taliban atrocities are all good candidates. Recruiting them will not be easy and there is no free lunch.

A combination of incentives whether direct payment or community projects or contracts for particular families, tribes or companies must be brought to bear to recruit individuals who can deliver the message credibly. If we are not able to cut off popular support to the Taliban than all of our efforts will be for naught.

Friday, November 6, 2009

PSYOP Video – Self Taught

While a picture is worth a thousand words, a video may be worth millions of viewers! The power of TV as a PSYOP weapon is unmatched. While smart phones and the Internet with mediums such as YouTube are becoming so popular that they are mainstream, there is no doubt that today’s Facebook picture will be tomorrow’s video.

PSYOP needs to be more proactive – we need to capture events as they unfold and we need to be able to tell our story ASAP. The media expertise of the Taliban in particular have clearly shown that we are just not able to get inside their information operations OODA (observe, orient, decide and act) loop. While there are a number of factors behind this, one of them and perhaps the easiest to solve is technology – especially video technology.

I’ve always had an interest in photography and over the years I’ve had 8 MM movie cameras; VHS tape video recorders, 8 MM camcorders, and digital cameras that shot videos. I’ve also dabbled in things dramatic and many people have told me that I should have gone into comedy rather than the Army or High Tech. Over the past year or so I’ve been teaching military intelligence on line and have been managing all source incident investigations. In one of our investigations we used covert video and I had to learn the technical and legal ins and outs associated with the technology and its private use.

Consequently I know video is important and I’ve embarked on a self-managed professional development program to learn more. As a start, I bought a Flip Camera (see just before Halloween 2009. It’s so easy I could teach a General to use it. It has an on button, a record button, a play button and a trash button. You can’t lose the USB jack because it’s built in. It is really plug and play. I’ve shot a few segments inside and out and I’m quite pleased with the results.

I’m also enrolled in a Sloan Consortium workshop “Video, Tools for Teaching and Learning” which will cover a number of different (and apparently free) tools such as Viddler, Screencast-O-Matic and Viddix. Screencasting is used to capture screens (duh), Eyejot is video messaging and Viddler and Vidix are interactive video tools.

PSYOPers at the tactical level need to have these tools and the knowledge to use them. Of course there must also be an over arching system for quality control and approval. Big caution here –the pace of information in the 21st century requires decentralized tactical PSYOP and the ability to capture local events that can be used for strategic and operational purposes. This all implies a high degree of trust at the tactical PSYOP level and extensive training which itself is probably a combination of structured and unstructured.

It should also be noted that the same capabilities and concepts apply to PAO in their role as journalists so that combined training on technical skills for PAO and PSYOP should be considered not only as a way for DOD to save money, but to foster teamwork between these two sibling disciplines.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

PSYOP and the “New” Afghan Strategy

A number of publications such as the New York Times and The Washington Post (October 29, 2009 - have reported that President Obama is considering a ‘hybrid’ strategy whereby we protect a number of key population centers and critical infrastructure such as highways.
Photo from Washington Post – AP David Guttenfelder

The President is “a great thought thinker” and is not a man to act in haste. His tenure as a Constitutional Law professor no doubt strengthened what was already a strong analytical streak. He has reportedly gone so far as to order a Province by Province analysis (also in the October 29, 2009 Washington Post -

Since this is also the approach I posted about before the media stories, it is necessary to take the analysis down a level and address PSYOP under this strategy. Before doing that we need to add in an October 27, 2009 story from Reuters reporting that the US will pay Taliban to renounce the insurgency (Reuters -

PSYOP will likely be given a number of missions to accomplish under this new strategy.
· Reinforce the perception of stability, security and Afghan national government support within the protected zones.
· Provide tactical PSYOP support to infrastructure protection to minimize civilian interruption with that function.
· Employ tactical PSYOP to convince the Taliban to renounce the insurgency and accept payment for their sound decision.
· Develop a broader PSYOP strategy that will leverage the security of the “protected” zones to other parts of the country with the goal of increasing popular support against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
· Seek out key leaders outside the protected zones and persuade them to join this new tide of Afghani pride and nationalism and renounce the Taliban.
· If one or more areas become an example of success – leverage that example at the strategic, operational and tactical PSYOP levels to induce other areas to do the same.

These will not be easy missions as serious considerations need to be given to:
· Troop protection for PSYOP and CA forces working outside the wire.
· Developing and maintaining highly reliable and timely intelligence on each protected zone, adjoining zones as well as key leaders both friend and foe.
o Social networking in the most primitive sense needs to be employed to interlink families and tribes that form natural alliances and to be able to pit historic and natural enemies against each other to weaken the Taliban efforts.
· Coordinating all the elements of power, hard and soft, in support of reinforcing security at the local level whether or not this reinforces the need for or the success of the Afghan national government.
· Rules of engagement inside protected zones and how to protect the force without antagonizing the local population. This implies increased use of non-lethal means and diplomacy. It also implies a ready supply of security vetted and knowledgeable local interpreters.
· Given that some level of troop increase will be supported, how should additional PSYOP resources be deployed to support those troops and who will be the troop provider.
· Are there changes that must be made to the force structure to insure a ready supply of PSYOP forces in support of the “Big Army”? Can the USAR survive under the current merciless operational tempo?

The White house has dithered on the Afghan strategy and while I respect the need to make a carefully reasoned decision, let’s hope the decision includes these considerations as well as how the President’s popularity is likely to fare afterwards.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

PSYOP Is An Insider’s Game

Like many people I’ve been very frustrated over President Obama’s delay in setting an Afghan strategy. However, it wasn’t until I started reading an article from October 27, 2009’s Washington Post – “US Official Resigns Over Afghan War” ( that it hit me why the war has always struck me as a tougher problem then Iraq.

Matthew Hoh, 36, a former Marine Captain was the first Foreign Service officer to resign over the Afghan war. His action drew some very high level attention including Special Representative Holbrooke. The key statement made by Mr. Hoh was: “But many Afghans, he wrote in his resignation letter, are fighting the United States largely because its troops are there -- a growing military presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are not welcome and where the corrupt, U.S.-backed national government is rejected.”

We have all experienced the pain of being on the ‘outside’, whether it was the choose-up street game of punchball or being snubbed by a group in High School. I have had the good fortune to travel quite a bit and perhaps due in part to my Brooklyn upbringing I have a sense of knowing when there is a ‘fit’ into the situation and when it is uncomfortable.

Sometimes it is possible to fit into a group after showing that you know a little bit of the language, appreciate the culture, or have a sense of humor or for a number of reasons that bring out some of the commonality of human kind.

At other times, it becomes plain that the ‘chemistry’ isn’t working. While I was in Bosnia I experienced both senses. I felt comfortable in many strange places, even the TV station in the Serb stronghold of Pale. But I started to feel ill at ease on some of the main streets in Sarajevo towards the end of my tour because the attitude towards American troops had changed for the worse. Teenagers increasingly felt licensed to taunt NATO troops even though we were armed.

Which brings me to Afghanistan. A basic tenet of salesmanship is that the prospect must be listening to you and like you before they will seriously entertain a commitment of any kind such as a sale. Our tactical PSYOP efforts at the local level are dependent on the same principle. Given that Afghanistan’s villages have rejected outsiders for generations if not centuries, it is hard to accept the premise that we will succeed where others have failed. This is especially true when viewed in the context of the country’s government.

The village at the end of the line doesn’t have any reason to trust or rely on the national government, nor is there any historical precedent of having done so (with some minor exceptions). Consequently there must be a recognition that the historical approach doesn’t work.

The President appears to be backed into a corner. He cannot abandon the conflict in Afghanistan and he doesn’t have an exit strategy. Mr. Karzai has demonstrated he’s a politician – which means his loyalty is to his job so we need to execute a strategy that has an exit.

Based on all the above – seems to me we have to craft a hybrid strategy that:
· Accelerates the training and competency of Afghan military and law enforcement that would enable them to secure key areas, most likely the most populated.
· Selects areas to be protected based on the plan that their security would influence the population in other areas to become secure thereby denying the Taliban and Al Qaeda their foundation.
· Understand that the way to ‘win hearts and minds’ is a bottom up relationship building effort that usually rests on earning the respect of elders, which is not necessarily best done by a 20 year old.
· Recognize that the conflict is not the Afghan War, but the AfPak War where the stakes are higher because Pakistan and Afghanistan are inter-twined on a number of levels.
· Be aware that the stand-off drone war will not work and while it is essential to kill enemy leadership, the real goal is to deny the plant its nourishment so it withers and dies.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name – Do we need to change the PSYOP name?

Lately there is a great deal of discussion about changing the name of PSYOP because of the perception of its negative connotation and conjuring up images of evil propaganda rendered by the likes of Herr Goebbels himself.

The argument goes that ‘the winning of hearts and minds’ is a core effort on the world stage and is being waged from the mountains of Afghanistan to the streets of many nations around the world and that this global effort is being hampered in part due to the negatives associated with “PSYOP”.
While I wouldn’t argue that propaganda has a negative connotation or that the media and others will never miss an opportunity to trumpet the negative, I don’t believe that a name change is in the best interests of our national defense or the PSYOP community.

The notion of influencing behavior as a warfighting system is often a hard sell. Combat CDRs are used to measuring success in body counts and the “kill’em all, let God sort them out” philosophy. While PSYOP has been an important element in past wars, it is front and center today.

The quagmire that is Afghanistan has underscored the need to win the confidence of the local population as a condition precedent (sorry for the legal term) to stability and a foundation to dominating counter insurgency operations (COIN) and stabilizing the security of the country. I think it is fair to say that the “PSYOP guys” (even though many are women) enjoy a very positive reputation at the tactical level.

The challenge for PSYOP has generally not been at the bottom of the command pyramid, rather at the senior levels. Changing the name doesn’t alter this premise and in fact may make the challenge even more difficult since it takes time for a new brand name to gain recognition and acceptance.

It strikes me that Military Intelligence (MI) and the longevity of that Branch name is a good case in point. MI has not always enjoyed a positive image. Colonel Sam Flagg the paranoid MI officer on MASH was the embodiment of all that was wrong with MI and a recurring (6 times) visitor. The Viet Nam era didn’t help burnish the MI image – yet the name and the proud legacy that went with it remains.

While I am against a change of the name PSYOP, I believe we should adapt to the situation in naming organizations that perform PSYOP. If it makes sense to name the deployed organization a Military Information Support Team or a Combined Joint Military Information Campaign Task Force then let’s do so, but let’s not upend all that we have gained under the PSYOP banner with a name change.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why drive if you don’t know where you’re going? Or Rudderless in Afghanistan

I have had a nagging feeling that the Af-Pak War as dubbed by correspondent Michael Yon ( is a quicksand pit. The more you struggle, the deeper you sink. My sensitivity to the Af-Pak situation was heighted by my recent experience at DINFOS and by watching the PBS documentary Frontline on the evening of 13 October 2009 (
President Obama and his advisors are still pondering the strategy for Afghanistan. With apologies to Tommy Turtle who pondered why he could not run (he could not run because HE WAS A TURTLE!), there are a few things that are evident about this conflict:

1. A national government in Afghanistan is a-historic. This means it goes against the country’s history. The country is a collection of disparate tribes who sometimes ban together for their common good.
2. There way of life is alien to the American norm due to a mosaic of corruption, poverty, illiteracy, poppy cultivation, corruption and the less than second class citizen status of women.
3. “Success” in Afghanistan is more than a military effort it will require the national resole, political and public support and significant resources.
4. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is a NATO force; the reality is that it is very much a US Force.
5. The Taliban are not a homogenous, hierarchal enemy but a collection of clans, tribes and families with resolve, cunning, adaptability who have time on their side.

The lack of a strategy means PSYOP is ‘on hold’. Any positive momentum that has been achieved thus far is likely to be lost with the exception of much localized situations where the efforts have been focused on gaining and maintaining positive relationships rather than delivering an array of messages.

In my view the approach is to work backwards, think bottom up rather than top down. If the goal is to truly change the lives of the Afghan people, then specific tribal and matching geographic areas must be mapped out.

Next develop a desired end state for each area and formulate the plan and resources needed to get there. Each area would be considered a separate ‘project’ and served by a different project team. The team would include age appropriate representatives to work with the tribal elders and resources with knowledgeable and capable interpreters.

The team would then take the vision of the end state and adjust it for reality. We do not want to be in the drastic makeover business. Michael Yon describes Afghanistan as lunar and having been to the Craters of the Moon State Park ( I can tell you that means remote, desolate and primitive.
Our goal therefore is to look at each area and decide what the appropriate and reasonable goals are and identify the resources needed to achieve them. Examples might include reorienting local agriculture from poppy growing to something else by being cognizant of the seasons, the need for farmers to have year round income, the ability to market what is grown, etc. Other examples might include other forms of agricultural assistance.

Local projects would run parallel to a few, well chosen national programs such as training the Army and Police, establishing a functional justice system and upgrading the educational system.
But – no progress can be made until a strategy is set and I urge the President to remember that “Lite” is never as good as the real thing.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Teaching What You Know – The Ultimate Satisfaction

For the past week I have had the pleasure of being part of the JEPAC – Joint Expeditionary Public Affairs Course. The course is designed for officers who will be functioning as a part of a Joint Expeditionary Task Force. I was assigned two roles: J5 (Strategic Plans and Policy) and the Information Operations (IO) Chief.

As the J5 my job is to be the driving force behind developing plans and alternative courses of future action for the CDR. The IO officer is the Conductor of an information orchestra consisting of: PSYOP, Computer Network Operations (CNO), Electronic Warfare (EW), Military Deception (MILDEC), and Information Operations with an extended supporting cast to include Public Affairs, Combat Camera, Civil Military Operations, etc.

The students represented all of the services (except the Coast Guard) and the pay grades went from 1st Lieutenant (02) to Lieutenant Colonel (05) and of course, the levels of experience varied widely.

Setting the stage, this was the first time that the exercise included individuals who were nut purely Public Affairs Officers (PAO). The exercise started in a ‘garrison’ environment with the planning phase on a Friday, moved to the field on Monday and continued through Wednesday afternoon. While there was a skeleton structure of underlying operations and events, much of what went on was unstructured and a function of student response to the circumstances and operational tempo.

My role, and that of my colleagues, was to represent our respective areas (I love acting like a grumpy Colonel) and when appropriate to bring out teaching points and act as mentors. Frankly, there is no more of a satisfying feeling than to see a student learn from a situation, adjust their responses and shine as a result of your input.

It is also a satisfying feeling to confirm that you can function in a pressured environment and bring innovative ideas as well as experience to bear when needed.
As with any experience there are lessons learned. In my case, the old adage from Rogers’ Rangers “don’t forget nothing” applied. Since DOD doesn’t allow the use of thumb drives, I had to rely on my good friends to help me get materials I needed. Next time I’ll e-mail stuff to myself or cut a CD.

I also learned that packaged Tuna lunches are OK for a day, but lose their appeal 3 days in a row. The best chips to take to the field are Pringles because they don’t break in the box and you can buy small cans so you don’t eat the whole large can at one time. Resisting the urge to eat MREs (at 3,000+ calories) proved pretty easy and there’s nothing like a hot cup of chicken soup in the field!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Putting the Puzzle Together Backwards

Since Monday, 28 September 09 I’ve been part of a team of role players getting ready for an exercise. At first it seemed pretty simple. Follow the scenario, generate the appropriate paperwork and presto! As it turns out, it’s actually quite a bit more complicated than that. Since the exercise is the capstone event for a two week course, it’s designed to be a teaching vehicle. This means the process as a whole is more important than the authenticity of the individual parts.

When you are a small part of a large military operation it is easy to lose sight of the big picture because – you never see it! Each staff officer, unit and section arrives on the scene with their bag of tricks. They know their responsibilities and devote all their energies in their ‘lanes’.

The challenge of building a complex, time phased event within a civil military structure requires envisioning the big picture and then partitioning into functional and time segments. As it turns out it might have been easier to craft the military scenario than the information and learning scenario behind it. The challenge for the curriculum creator is to structure a world where a normal bit player is actually the center of gravity for the scenario.

The Public Affairs Officer (PAO) is a special staff officer to the Commander. More than that, the PAO becomes the trusted confidant of the CDR because the PAO is the ‘voice of the CDR’. Notwithstanding this exalted position, the PAO is a relatively minor player on the operational stage. Junior in rank and in staff standing, the PAO, has input into the courses of action of the operation, but has very little clout overall.

So, given the above, it becomes a daunting task to run the play and altering the roles of the actors. However, as with other projects, if you take enough diversified experience, focus them in a single direction, add a touch of structure by using a historic scenario and you have the elements to develop the alternative military civil military universe.

Rehearsals solidify how the players will work together the steady catalytic hand of the faculty directs the interaction and tah da– the stage is set!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Waffling on Afghanistan Strategy Impacts PSYOP – Belies Separate Nature of Two Missions

The recent waffling by the Obama Administration on the strategy for Afghanistan will have a significant dampening effect on the PSYOP effort. PSYOP, like marketing is cumulative. The nature of Afghanistan with its nooks and crannies of tribes and its unforgiving terrain makes the battle for mindspace even more troublesome than in Iraq. The time consuming task of relationship building is paramount.

It would appear that there are two alternative courses of action being considered in Afghanistan. Background can be found in a September 22, NY Times article “Obama Considers Strategy Shift in Afghan War” ( and elsewhere.

Counter Terrorist Strategy
The strategy shift advocated by VP Biden (how he has risen to the level of military strategist is beyond me) is to focus on counter-terrorism. Employ Special Forces, drones, etc. to root out Al Qaeda thereby making American safer from terrorist attacks. Apparently VP Biden proposed this strategy in March as well.
Concentrate on Population Centers
MG McChrystal has told his subordinates to concentrate on populated areas. Background found in the Washington Post article, September 22, 2009 “U.S. Commanders Told to Shift Focus to More Populated Areas” (

From a military perspective, it seems to me that the President needs to appreciate the fact that there are two different missions. While the end game of reducing America’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks may be the same for either approach -- there are still two missions.

The first mission is to locate and destroy Al Qaeda and their allies wherever they may reside. Media reports and conventional wisdom seems to indicate that this mission is centered on the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan and often shifts into Pakistani territory. The nature of PSYOP and other elements of influence in this mission are far different from the tasks in Afghanistan. Of necessity targeting in the anti-terrorist mission must be precise, the means varied and the ways innovative. PSYOP via advanced technologies coupled with CNO, EW and other disciplines ought to be aggressively employed. It could be argued that MG Chrystal’s Special Forces experience makes him the perfect orchestrator for such an effort.

The mission inside Afghanistan is quite a bit different. That mission, simply stated is to stabilize the environment within the country to insure that the Taliban is not able to assume control of any portion of the country that would enable Al Qaeda to establish and maintain a safe haven. This is the counter insurgency (COIN) mission and will only succeed if coupled with a robust PSYOP effort.

The challenge to victory is great since the Karzai government has done little to enhance its own legitimacy and to serve the needs of the Afghani people. Consequently, the diplomatic aspect of the Afghanistani mission is to foster good government in spite of ages of corruption and an apparently flawed election.

There is great peril should the Administration embrace the counter terrorism mission and ignore the counter insurgency mission. Ignoring the current flammable situation in Afghanistan and abandoning efforts to thwart the Taliban from gaining power footholds is tantamount to giving Al Qaeda and our other enemies a clear path to establishing safe havens. Once this happens, it will only be a matter of time until the terrorists reach the critical mass needed to launch another attack.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The National Intelligence Strategy (NIS) and PSYOP

As an Military Intelligence Officer it was my job to help the CDR make better decisions by providing my best analysis of what the enemy was going to do and recommend (if asked) how to thwart those efforts. In essence the Director of National Intelligence has the same job, but for the President of the United States.

Key documents can be found:
• 2009 National Intelligence Strategy:
• 2009 National Intelligence Strategy Fact Sheet
• 2009 National Intelligence Strategy Frequently Asked Questions

Since the NIS represents intelligence thinking at the highest levels, it’s useful to review it from a PSYOP perspective and see what PSYOP can learn from it. The intelligence vision (Page 2) has a great deal of relevance to PSYOP. First of all, PSYOP must be integrated running from the most tactical of operations up through strategic communications. We too, must be agile especially since our adversaries have amply demonstrated their ability to play beyond rules and blow up the box, never mind think out of it. While PSYOP must also exemplify American’s values, for us in the community, the context means employ PSYOP lawfully to help accomplish the CDR’s mission. More often than not, PSYOPers will need to gain and maintain the trust of foreign audiences and media in addition to functioning as the consummate professional American soldier.
In assessing the strategic environment, PSYOP needs to consider how to address some of the newer and more unconventional PSYOP adversaries. Non-state actors, insurgents, violent extremists and transnational criminal organizations pose significant threats to the US and our interests. Some of these, such as insurgents and violent extremists are already on the PSYOP radar screen because of their presence in active conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq. While others, the non-state actors and transnational criminals present a different challenge because they are more difficult to locate and are less susceptible to traditional PSYOP and (at least to my knowledge) not the targets of significant PSYOP efforts. Some of our adversaries are highly focused in their targeting – we need to consider this in our actions as well.

Strikes me that the PSYOP force is not quite prepared to address these manifold challenges in part due to the fact that President Obama has not developed a comparable and overarching Information or Influence strategy to facilitate the integration of all US government informational and influence efforts to accomplish a set of high level goals and priorities.

So, while the intelligence community seems to be moving forward in a more orchestrated manner than ever before, the same cannot be said for the US Governments information and influence instruments.

Friday, September 11, 2009

PSYOP Done Right in Afghanistan

The September 10, 2009 article, “Information Ops in Afghanistan: Call Haji Shir Mohamad ASAP!” in Politics Daily ( shows how local PSYOP can have profound effects if done properly at the local level.

The article describes how Lt. Joseph Cardosi's phone tree goes into action to inform credible local leaders as to what is really going on quickly and candidly. The fact that the good LT has a phone tree is a credit to his (and perhaps his predecessor’s) ability to develop and maintain a solid relationship with local influence leaders.

While the Taliban may employ low powered mobile radio stations to broadcast their messages, LT Cardosi’s phone tree can make the targeted phone calls to help insure that local leaders are informed. Complementing this ‘direct marketing’ activity is a more indirect media – radio.

Since the illiteracy rate is very high in Afghanistan radio is the local media of choice because its messages, languages and news can be targeted to a very local audience. PSYOP forces employ radio (typically FM) by supporting a radio station actually located within Combat Outpost (COP) Zormat near the village of Kowti Keyh. According to the article, the station is “run by locally hip Afghan DJs” and that “U.S. troops regularly give out hand-crank-powered radios to villagers.”

Having a more powerful transmitter than the Taliban has the effect of being able to over power (or jam) their signal as described by the intrepid reporter:” That's not the only way to neutralize "enemy propaganda.'' One night, Cardosi and I climbed up a two-story tower to see if we could get the Taliban on a portable radio. Sure enough, at 96.1 FM, a Talib's harsh voice emerged through the crackling static, reading a religious lecture. Smiling broadly, Cardosi climbed down and had the more powerful U.S.-backed station shift its broadcasting frequency slightly to drown out the Taliban signal.”

The combination of direct relationships, well powered radio and flexibility to shift frequencies to in effect jam the Taliban is a great example of doing everything right and ought to be emulated wherever possible with whatever local variations are warranted.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Strategic Communications: Funding Little Old Grannies Who Wear Veils

It’s very hard to find something positive to say about Strategic Communications these days. Afghanistan and Iraq dominate the headlines and make the world appear to be a very bleak place.However, there are a couple of bright spots for those in Strategic Communications willing to think out of the box and take a longer range view than tomorrow’s headline. The September 3, 2009 Arts Section of the NY Times featured an article entitled: Dubai Superheros: Little Old Grannies Who Wear Veils ( Photo: NY Times
Mohammed Saeed Harib nor Freej, the United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) and therefore very likely the Middle East’s first 3-D animated series may not be as well known as the Simpsons or South Park, but the potential for the Grannie Superheros is worthy of note because it indicates a societal maturation. Societies that have a means to look at themselves and raise issues through ‘characters’ are better able to deal with issues and inequities thwarting the appeal of fundamentalism.

During my service in Bosnia it was clear to me that a free and credible media was a fundamental cornerstone of any nation. Citizens need to be informed and be able to dialog about their societies.

The next level of sophistication is another way for society’s to view themselves and that’s entertainment as a vehicle to address social issues. Freej cannot attack issues head on like The Simpsons or South Park and must of necessity is an indirect approach.

Supporting an entertainment venture like Freej might not seem like Strategic Communication – but it clearly is because as Freej and other forms of entertainment open up issues for discussion and perhaps potential action they can facilitate the positive transformation of a society.

Over time sociological entertainment from the UAE would likely be exported to other areas of the region and perhaps even spawn copy cat programs that would have a local spin, yet still have the positive effect of expanding societal expression.

I should also point out that Mr. Harib attended Northeastern University in Boston which has itself evolved from a commuter based university built on balancing work experience and academic study to one of the top 100 universities in the US, and oh yes, my Alma Mater!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Crucial Time for PSYOP in Afghanistan

The September 3, 2009 Wall Street Journal ran the editorial “The Afghanistan Panic
We can still win a counterinsurgency, but not on the cheap” ( and on the same day, the Washington Post ran a similar editorial: “Setback in Afghanistan: The right response is not a retreat.” ( Other articles include the NY Times of September 7, 2009 “Crux of Afghan Debate: Will More Troops Curb Terror?” ( and the September 7, 2009 Miami Herald “Clear mission in Afghanistan eludes Obama” (

Photo from the Associated Press (Wall Street Journal) U.S. soldiers secure the site of a suicide attack in Mehterlam, the capital of Laghman province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009.

All of these address the need for more ‘boots on the ground’ as a means to implement General McChrystal’s latest strategy which is expected to center on protecting the Afghans against the insurgents.

There is a tendency to compare the current situation in Afghanistan with Iraq before the surge or with the quicksand like conflict known as Viet Nam. Resisting the urge for such comparisons, at least for the moment, let’s start out with what we do know:

1. Combat activity in Afghanistan is higher and more dangerous today than ever before.

2. The Afghan government is viewed as illegitimate and corrupt with the recent election serving more to degrade the government’s reputation with its people rather than bolster it.

3. Afghanistan is a combination of many different localities, each with its own tribal environment, level of security against the insurgent dejure, economic base and perspective on the Americans as the latest military force in the country.

4. The adversaries in Afghanistan have a primitive yet effective Information Operations campaign whereby they can quickly turn incidents such as air strikes and rumors into propaganda vilifying the Americans and reinforcing their high ground positions. Good example is the alleged hospital raid conducted by Americans (

5. Internet and media based messages (good or bad) don’t reach the average Afghan.

Given the above, there are a few things that ought to be done:

1. President Obama has to make it very clear that we are committed for the long haul and that our commitment must be matched by the wholesale cleansing and rededication of the Afghani government.

2. The nature of the mission and strategy in Afghanistan must be clear to everyone, especially to those on the ground so that an aggressive and responsive information engagement strategy and operational plans can be developed to support Commanders on the ground and up the chain of command.

3. DOD should consider fielding more Combat Camera units to capture video on the ground which can be used to confirm actual events and for training/lessons learned.

4. PSYOP needs to be integrated within a real time information engagement operating command section at the highest levels within Afghanistan (military and civilian). This section would have full has media reach via the with PAO. A dimension of the section’s responsibilities ought to be Pan-Regional and include access to all major Arab language outlets to include Aljazeera.
5. Bear in mind that only local relationships and credibility will impact the local village, orchestrate the tools of statecraft at the local level to reinforce the position of local leaders and influencers who are or can be induced to support the Afghani government and US efforts.

6. Should additional troops be assigned, insure that their PSYOP support is increased proportionally as well.

7. Focus on simplicity and attainable objectives at the local level.

Friday, September 4, 2009


I have just been advised that I have been selected to be the J9 for the annual Fall DINFOS JEPAC Exercise. I'm looking forward to it as a way of learning more about the role of the PAO and will enjoy being able to inject PSYOP into the play along with some other IO goodies if possible.

If you have participated in this exercise and/or have some comments, please note them in your comments and also indicate if you'd like me to share them or not.

Have a last great weekend of the summer of 2009.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Chairman Has It Right!

I don’t often find myself in very distinguished company, but I have to say that Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff got it right in his press release of August 28, 2009, From the Chairman – Strategic Communication: Getting Back to Basics (
DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/

There are four quotes that tell the story:
“It is time for us to take a harder look at “strategic communication.”Frankly, I don’t care for the term. We get too hung up on that word, strategic. If we’ve learned nothing else these past 8 years, it should be that the lines between strategic, operational, and tactical are blurred beyond distinction. This is particularly true in the world of communication, where videos and images plastered on the Web—or even the idea of their being so posted—can and often do drive national security decision making.”
“No, our biggest problem isn’t caves; it’s credibility. Our messages lack credibility because we haven’t invested enough in building trust and relationships, and we haven’t always delivered on promises.The most common questions that I get in Pakistan and Afghanistan are: “Will you really stay with us this time?” “Can we really count on you?” I tell them that we will and that they can, but when it comes to real trust in places such as these, I don’t believe we are even in Year Zero yet. There’s a very long way to go. The irony here is that we know better.”
“I would argue that most strategic communication problems are not communication problems at all. They are policy and execution problems. Each time we fail to live up to our values or don’t follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims weare.”
“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate.”
I have no doubt that these statements are right on the money. The question is – who is the Admiral talking to? He is the chief military advisor to the President. The Admiral rightly feels that the ‘strategic communications’ effort has become a nest of bureaucracies whose goals are to feather their nests anc create PowerPoint.

When he talks about “our actions” – exactly whose actions does he have in mind? Given the context of the remarks, one would have to argue that he was talking about USG actions in theater. I don’t think the Chief is talking to the military serving in the AOs. For surely the Chief can influence the actions of the military. I believe what the Admiral is really getting at is that the President needs to have a cohesive communications strategy and the organization and will behind it to get that strategy properly implemented. That the President needs to orchestrate the actions of the entire Executive Branch to walk the walk, not just talk (or PowerPoint) the talk.

Alternatively perhaps the Chief is really talking to Congress hoping that they will use their power in the checks and balances system to bring out the kind of change to the Administration’s communication efforts that today’s world mandates.

Whoever he’s talking to, let’s hope they listen!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

PSYOP for the Duration?

When you entered the military in World War II, you entered it “for the duration" meaning until it was over. General Petraeus appears to have this kind of dedication in mind as plans were announced on August 24, 2009 in the Washington post to open the Center for Afghanistan Pakistan Excellence to “train military officers, cover agents and analysts who agree to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to a decade” ( Arab News published an article derived from the Post Article at:

The center’s director, Derek Harvey a former Colonel who served with Petraeus in Iraq was described more as a homicide detective with an obsession for employing many sources to come up with a reasoned analysis. He described his concern with current intelligence methods to the Post:
"We have tended to rely too much on intelligence sources and not integrating fully what is coming from provincial reconstruction teams, civil-affairs officers, commanders and operators on the ground that are interacting with the population and who understand the population and can actually communicate what is going on in the street," he said. "If you only rely on the intelligence reporting, you can get a skewed picture of the situation."

To ferret out the possible implication to PSYOP its necessary to contemplate a few other statements:
1. Mr. Harvey said the new center would focus on integrating all sources of information to develop strategic products for both war fighters and decision makers in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
2. Asked whether the new training commitments suggest a long-term military presence in Afghanistan, Mr. Harvey said those decisions are above his pay grade. But he said, "Even if we downsize, we are still going to have investments in South Asia."

PSYOP and intelligence are inter-related. PSYOP like any marketing campaign needs to blueprint the prospect, that is understand what makes the prospect tick. By understanding the prospect it is possible to construct a campaign to achieve optimal results. Military intelligence work products such as those generated by the new Center will be a critical source of information for PSYOPers.

“Decision makers” in the context of Afghanistan and Pakistan must include those responsible for information engagement to include Department of State, Military PAO and PSYOP as well as warfighting Commanders. It makes a great deal of sense to have a PSYOP cell within the new center, one that could function as a ‘market research’ and propaganda analysis source for PSYOP efforts.
It is therefore no great leap of faith to conclude that part of the Center’s sphere of influence will include information operations especially PSYOP. Given that the center will have the responsibility, where will it get its PSYOP people?

The PSYOP community is challenged by today’s OpTempo. Does it make sense to divert existing personnel to the Center for the required 5 years? If so, where would they come from? PSYOP analysts are a small group as it is. They specialize by area already. Is there something to be gained by moving a current PSYOP analyst from Bragg or Tampa to the new Center or does it make more sense to recruit new analytical horsepower from the pool of military and civilians who have already served in the theater?
If people are pulled out of their mainstream career path, how ill 5 years ‘out of the loop’ affect their chances for career advancement?

My personal feeling is that a hybrid approach would work the best. Rotate a current senior PSYOP analyst through the Center on one year tours and recruit new PSYOP analytical talent to fill out the roster. This would provide a knowledgeable mentor force for the Center and would increase the overall supply of PSYOP analysts who can then move from the Center to other PSYOP or IO roles.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

24th Air Force Cyber Command – Wither PSYOP?

According to the August 18, 2009 San Antonio News:
“The 24th Air Force, headquarters for a new cyber command, has been activated at Lackland AFB.A ceremony activating the command was held today at the base, which was chosen over five other U.S. sites. The command will oversee efforts to prevent cyber attacks on military bases and systems……Local leaders predict moving the headquarters from Barksdale AFB, La. and adding 400 new positions will provide an economic impact of $30 million annually in salaries.” (
The DOD indicated that Brig. Gen. Charles K. Shugg, vice commander, Air Force Cyber Command (Provisional), Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, will be the new vice commander, 24th Air Force, Air Force Space Command, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas ( You can find his bio at:; photo courtesy of DOD
So what does this all mean? Size, or as in this case, rank matters, so let’s address that for a moment. If the Vice CDR is a one star, stands to reason the CDR will be a MG or two star. So that makes the 24th CDR comparable to a Division CDR. Experience has shown that your rank rather than your competence is your ticket to admission to the CDR’s inner circle. Consequently if PSYOP is to have a seat at the 24th’s Cyber table its representative would have to be at least an 05 or LTC because 04s (Majors) would just get lost in the shuffle.
The mission of the Cyber Command is to: “provide combatant commanders with trained and ready cyber forces to plan and conduct cyberspace operations, and to extend, maintain and defend the Air Force portion of the global information grid.” (source is the general’s bio cited above).
Assuming this is the Air Force component and cyberspace operations means offensive as well as defensive this all begs the question of how PSYOP and the other elements of IO fit in the picture. I’ll hazard a guess that if there is PSYOP representation at the 24th it might come from Air Force PSYOP resources with any Army PSYOP resources being junior in grade and responsibility.
Furthermore – strikes me there may be some very significant strategic challenges and command issues as the ‘big’ Cyber Command fleshes out at Fort Meade. There is no evidence that the President and DOD have established a a total cyber strategy: offense, defense and influence or that there is a top down chain of cyber command that reaches down from the White House and incorporates the influence side (DOD and DOS at a minimum) into the picture.
So, while standing up cyber resources is the right thing to do and this is surely the time, unless the White House stands up to the task of formulating an overarching information/cyber strategy the new cyber units are like aircraft without rudders.

Friday, August 14, 2009

New AF Small Unit Tactics Handbook: Good Job, But Weak On PSYOP

A number of the media covered stores about the release of Handbook 09-37, Small Unit Ops In Afghanistan (see for example: It’s been a slow week for PSYOP stories so I decided to track down a copy of this new publication and give it a look-see.
Overall I felt this was an incredibly well done publication. The style was inviting, there were some very good photos and above all it really did a fine job of conveying the humanity and passion of the Afghan people. The culture section in particular did a very solid job of explaining do’s and don’ts in an easy to understand and non-judgmental way. The emphasis is on remote villages, but soldiers assigned to urban areas can benefit from the guidance, checklists, CP info, etc.
The Handbook provides some very basic salesmanship guidance such as having predetermined Talking Points which should be used to convey very simple messages. The nature of the geography and village life and culture are very well portrayed. It also does well to convey the differences between Afghanistan and Iraq and the need to respect the adversary’s fighting skills, local area knowledge, etc.

Given that this is for squads and platoons, there is no mention of PSYOP at all. In terms of preparation and planning, the phrase ‘drinking from a fire hose’ would not be out of place to describe the amount of material presented.

One of the important nuances that are not addressed in the Handbook is the challenge of trying to collect intelligence while developing relationships. This is a complex problem. The leaders developing relationships must concentrate on that task and that ask only. It is hard enough to work through an interpreter to convey your true intent without trying to multi-task. My recommendation is to always work in teams. The principal team member concentrates on communicating while the others are performing observation and security duties.
Having said all this, the term “PSYOP” doesn’t even appear once. There is little attention paid to the importance of influencing people in the AO and there are no references on how to get PSYOP support through the chain of command or how to work with Tactical PSYOP Teams (TPT) should they appear in the AO.

We don’t think of PSYOP as an Infantry Company weapons system yet we are mindful of how individual or small unit combat mistakes can turn into fodder for enemy PSYOP and Strategic Communications in a heartbeat. There needs to be some PSYOP training in the handbook and the call for PSYOP fire should be as ingrained in the warfighter mentality as how call to for a Medevac. While I realize there is a supply and demand problem possibility, the fact remains that the ultimate victory in Afghanistan will be when the population is secure and self-sufficient.
Accordingly I offer a couple of recommendations:
1. SWC needs to provide a short insert concerning PSYOP into the culture section of the manual. This should include references and proper procedure for requesting PSYOP support through the Chain of Command.

2. SWC should consider posting a UTube video cover the above.

3. SWC should provide a curriculum to warfighter schoolhouses such as Fort Benning to include PSYOP in basic and advanced training.

4. A guidebook “PSYOP Skills for Squad Leaders” should be developed ASAP. It should contain very practical sales advice such as found in the book “Secrets of Closing the Sale” by Zig Ziglar.
5. A technique should be developed and standardized that depicts the local attitude with respect to ISAF and the Afghani government in a simple red, yellow, green methodology.
6. Request procedure for PSYOP support included as a part of Fire Support assets.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bill Clinton As A PSYOP Weapon

I’ll admit I was no fan of Bill Clinton when he was president. However, I did feel that his wife worked for and earned a reputation as a hardworking Senator for her adopted State of New York. As the NY Times ( reported his arrival at Pyongyang, North Korea it was clear to me that a charm offensive was under way.

Kim Jong-il is a tough nut and given his isolation and mercurial nature, nut is the right word. While the Obama administration claims Mr. Clinton’s visit is ‘unofficial’, it surely has been executed with the blessings of the White House and some shrewd maneuvering by Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State.

In selecting Mr. Clinton as the emissary they have given the Korean leader the subtle recognition he needs. As a former President, Mr. Clinton was a head of state and it would be fitting for Kim Jong-il to meet with him. Further, there can be no doubt that even in his ‘unofficial’ capacity Mr. Clinton has a direct link to President Obama and very strong diplomatic support from his wife.

In fact the selection is ingenious!

In addition to personifying the USG at a high level Clinton has the smarts and the reputation for personal charm that may be exactly the kind of influence weaponry needed to crack the wall in the souring relationship between the US and North Korea.

Military PSYOP can learn from this when the CDR has the charisma, the smarts and the balls to meet with their oppositions in conflicts other than war. One such GO is MG (R) David L. Grange. Grange was the CDR of the 1st Infantry Division in Bosnia. I interviewed him in 2007 while working on a project and learned how he leveraged his personal abilities to learn and influence his adversaries. Senior leaders should consider well the advantages and pitfalls of a personal influence strategy. It is not to be undertaken lightly.

A key best practice when engaging in this strategy is to bring along an observer who can record the event for the CDR and help assess responses and reactions in a more cool and objective manner than the CDR who is in a face to face influence operation. Another best practice is to understand some of the subtleties of salesmanship. One of my personal favorites is that it is important to get the person on the other side of the table to more or less like you as a person before they will actually start listening to you and your point of view.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Congress and Strategic Communications – Are They On The Right Track?

Today’s Washington Post covered comments made by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees concerning Strategic Communications. Rather than point to failings of the military I believe it shows that President Obama – one of the great info warriors of our time – is paying more attention to communicating with the American Voter than to the world audience. (see
(Pictured are Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Representative Ike Skelton, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee)
There were several key points raised by Congress in the article:

1. Strategic Communications Programs are too big, have grown too fast to allow effective oversight, it is impossible to determine whether the efforts are integrated within DOD or with the broader US government” and Pentagon planning “is insufficient compared to the needs.”
2. The military is producing propaganda and other materials that mask US government sponsorship and focus beyond traditional military IO – they are “alarmingly non-military propaganda, public relations and behavioral modification messaging.”

3. There needs to be a new legal review of the law prohibiting strategic communications (or PSYOP) accessible by American audiences.

Presidential Action Need to Command and Control Strategic Communications

Given that funding for Strategic Communications is rapidly approaching $1Billion and that there is no central control or coordination of these efforts across the USG it seems to me Congress is right on. There are other critical issues here though. First of all it appears that the President has not focused any attention on strategic communication. His information advisors are concentrating on making sure the Health Care Agenda goes forward and are paying scant attention to foreign audiences.

The President or his designated Information Leader needs to be the focal point for Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy because our efforts worldwide are moving to information engagement over kinetic operations and this trend is likely to accelerate over time. The President needs to be mindful of the previous criticism of USG information management and the disaster experienced by the Pentagon Office that sought to address this issue.

There needs to be an approved overall USG information engagement strategy and a designated leader for it reporting to the President. Only be applying the principle of unity of Command will the USG be able to effectively manage its information engagement efforts and determine the adequacy of planning and resourcing for the task.

Information Engagement Must Be More Than Military

Congress has missed the boat on the ‘military nature’ of strategic communications. DOD is the critical resource serving as a conduit of information to civilian audiences. US forces abroad are faced with the need to effectively communicate to foreign audiences on their own soil. This messaging is inherently non-military in nature. The so called ‘winning of hearts and mind’ is no longer the leaflet urging surrender. Rather the messages are support your government, help defeat the insurgents, explore possibilities for a more stable economy – the stuff of nation building and bolstering governments rather than the traditional messages associated with combat.

Information Laws Are Obsolete

The Internet Age has brought the world to smart phones, the notion of ideas being bound by traditional national borders is nonsense and the time has come to amend the laws restricting information engagement even if American audiences can receive the messages.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Threats Are Wrong in Afghanistan – Everyone Has Their Price

According to an article from CBS (see: the PSYOP Campaign surrounding the recovery of the captured American Soldier is employing a threat theme. The leaflets promise that those who harm the soldier or hinder recovery efforts “will be targeted”.

While I have never been to Afghanistan, I have been a long time student of conflict, PSYOP and persuasion. I believe the right approach is a reward. It seems pretty clear to me that the Afghan people are proud and independent. The Taliban success over the Russians is certainly powerful evidence that they are not easily cowered and will not succumb to threats.

The reward approach offers the ability to take advantage of available resources and has, in my view, a limited potential for a negative impact of increased resistance or generating hostility. A reward campaign would also have the potential secondary effect of generating tips or intelligence that might be useful for other purposes.

It is my impression that, overall, the Afghans maintain a negative impression of the allied forces. I don’t believe that leaflets picturing US soldiers in a positive light will be able to alter this impression especially when they are accompanied by threats of violence.

Even though recovery of the captured soldier is a high priority tactical operation, it is critical to maintain a perspective on long range goals and build a positive impression. The Allies must focus on maintaining a positive ‘brand image’. This image has to portray the Allied force as a resource for the Afghani people and a means to bring security, prosperity, and stability to the country.
Our efforts, especially the errant airstrikes have galvanized certain segments of the Afghani population against the allied efforts, if we lose focus and appear as a bully, any forward progress will be lost.

As Mao once said: “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.”, only by making the fish smell can the counter insurgency hope to succeed.

Family Day Regimental Activities

Apologies for missing last week, but I’ve been on vacation. Nothing like taking 3 generations across three states over 2 weeks to absorb time.

Recently I attended the Assumption of Command Ceremony for the 14th PSYOP Bn at Moffett Field. With the memory of Regimental Week still fresh, this event took on a special significance. MG Altshuler used to say that the AC “could fall out in the company street” while the Reserves cannot. The 4th POG has the advantage of being able to have all their troops meet in one place. Special events like Regimental Week capitalize on this.

The Reserves need to devote some dedicated time to appreciate the history and nature of the Regiment. It is also fitting and proper to recognize individuals who have excelled in PSYOP and those who have rendered exceptional service to the units and their families.

My thought is to set aside some time during Family Days or unit celebrations such as Thanksgiving to accomplish these goals. These events would be appropriate times to present the Bronze Level McClure Awards to deserving individuals.

A simple thought to start the week. I’ll post a more serious entry later on in the week