Tuesday, January 27, 2009

PSYOP Lessons Learned From Gaza

There have been a couple of very good articles on PSYOP in Gaza published in the last few weeks. USA Today ran “Cellphones Put to 'Unnerving' Use in Gaza” (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/wireless/2009-01-13-gazaphones_N.htm) The photo is by Abdalrahem Khateb, AP . The article addressed how both sides were employing cell phones, SMS and land lines in an effort to influence their opposition. A similar article, “The unreported battle with Hamas: psychological warfare” was published by Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1054916.html).

The third article the Economist, “A war of words and images” (http://www.economist.com/world/mideastafrica/displaystory.cfm?STORY_ID=12953839) claims that Israel had lost the propaganda war at the time of its publishing, 15 January 2009.

What can US PSYOP forces learn from the Gaza conflict that might serve them well in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond?

Lesson 1 – Be Realistic On Expectations – At least in your own mind.

I don’t have any inside knowledge as to the goals of Israeli PSYOP in Gaza. However I think It is it fair to say that the Israeli PSYOP target was as much the popular opinion in the West as the residents of Gaza. I frankly don’t believe it is reasonable to assume that a cell phone call or a text message will convince anyone to betray their neighbor. In fact I’m doubtful that tactical PSYOP campaigns aimed at civilians during kinetic actions will serve any purpose except to provide information for civilians on how to avoid being killed or injured. The horrific nature of urban close combat and the disruption of the civilian infrastructure are likely to be too big of an obstacle to overcome. Furthermore, the vehemence of beliefs was cemented long before the IDF rolled into Gaza.

Lesson 2 – Technology to Suit The Target

A useful lesson is that media must be varied to suit the target. While I don’t recall if any of the articles mentioned the age of the PSYOP targets, I suspect that the most fruitful target would be those engaged in active combat, smuggling, rocket firing or other acts of or in support of terrorism. This is likely to mean an audience between the ages of 13 and 40. Mobile phones and texting is the medium of choice and must be exploited. However, the product must be credible and appear to be correct in terms of jargon, style and content. Failure to understand the linguistic and local cultural nuances of the messages will instantly destroy their effectiveness.

Lesson 3 – There Are No Secrets

Sooner or later the true sources of all PSYOP will come out. PSYOP planners need to understand this principle up front. Exposure of sources can be OK if the time value of that source has expired, if the source and the medium in question are destined for long term use, than a very prudent perspective – should be employed. The arguments here will likely mirror the arguments used in the intelligence community where one side wants to employ the intelligence and the other does not because it would expose the source and render it useless in the future.

Every conflict yields lessons, let’s hope we learn some of them.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blogs and PSYOP

An article from the Christian Science Monitor caught my eye today. The January 20 article: Military brass joins wired troops with the sub-head: “Admirals and generals hope to connect with soldiers via their own Facebook pages and blogs. But will they tweet?”http://features.csmonitor.com/innovation/2009/01/20/military-brass-joins-wired-troops/

This got me thinking about the effectiveness of Blogs for communication and coincidentally for PSYOP. The article talks about how the GOFO (General Officers Fleet Officers) are hoping to use Blogs and Facebook to reach down through the depths of their command. Senior leaders almost never get a chance to reach their lower echelons in a regimented top down structure such as the military. These senior officers have recognized that the old “Company Bulletin Board” in the Day Room is no longer the way to reach soldiers, sailors, airman and Coast Guard personnel. Embracing the latest technology will provide a more up to date electronic conduit down the chain of command.

However, since their Blogs and pages are open to all and since the GOFO will be using these mediums to express their philosophy and goals it is reasonable to assume that these ‘transmissions’ will have a PSYOP effect on individuals from outside the chain of command who have an interest in what this senior leadership is doing.

I’ve been writing this Blog for over a year now and while I diligently check Google Analytics to measure activity, I’ve determined it’s very difficult to measure effectiveness. Every once in a while I get a comment in response to a post. Thus far I have posted every comment received. Almost all of them are anonymous – but thus far all have been worth reading.

My take is that if a Blog is to have an effect the reader must have some kind of personal connection with the Blog author. Of course, not a direct one – but a linkage of thought either positive or negative. In many respects I believe the old selling principles apply here. First the ‘buyer’ has to be listening to you and have a positive impression of you (perhaps even ‘like’ you as an individual) before you can hope to present your case.

As for Facebook, I’m still learning that one and I’ve only connected with people I really know. Perhaps the senior officers mentioned in the article such as Adm. James Stavridis, who the article states is an avid blogger (check out: http://www.southcom.mil/AppsSC/Blog.php?id=22 ) and who the article claims has over 240 friends on Facebook.

Bottom line: Blogs can be effective if the author sticks to what he knows and connects with readers.

Friday, January 16, 2009

PSYOP and Mexico

Joel Kurtzman of the Miliken Institute warns “Mexico’s Instability is a Real Problem postulates the possibility of a failed state on our southern border. (see http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123206674721488169.html)

This possibility is supported by no less authority than the Joint Forces Command’s report entitled Joint Operating Environment (JOE) 2008 (found at: http://www.jfcom.mil/newslink/storyarchive/2008/JOE2008.pdf) which says “In particular, the growing assault by the drug cartels and their thugs on the Mexican government over the past several years reminds one that an unstable Mexico could represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United States.”

Let’s explore a hypothetical scenario. Let’s suppose that two drug cartels decide that they have enough fire and economic power to take over a border city each. They target Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, CA and Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso, TX. Each city with a population of 1.5 million people and a comprabley large US city across the border. As it turns out San Diego has a large Navy population and Fort Bliss is not too far from El Paso.

Further let’s assume that the two cartels have signed a non-compete agreement with each other and have enlisted a variety of allied thugs who are only too happy to have exclusive territorial rights and are willing to provide men, guns and drugs to defend the newly won turf.

The Mexican forces prove unable to dislodge the cartels and the President of Mexico appeals to the US to help out.

Meanwhile, the cartels have already made forays across the border on both sides with a spike of violent crime reported on both sides of the border.

The following questions jump out:
How quickly could coordinated forces be brought to bear to address the physical threat?
What kind of information engagement would be mounted to attack the drug forces while assuaging and safeguarding the civilian populations on both sides?
How would the information engagement be coordinated so that all elements including CNA and CNE are employed?
How can the friction between PAO and PSYOP be minimized across all the players?

From a PSYOP perspective do you deploy the forces that are closest and most available (the Reserve Force) or do you deploy active forces from Fort Bragg?

If you decide that a combined PSYOP Task Force (POTF) is the right answer, who formulates the TO&E? To whom does its CDR report? Who should command it?

Who is in charge? State? Defense? The Governors of California or Arizona? Or will the newly elected President decide that he needs to be hands on. It certainly would be the first time that an ultra senior official felt they were smart enough and capable enough to direct what might ordinarily be a lower echelon campaign.

I’ll leave y’all to ponder these questions and for my US colleagues, I hope your team wins on Sunday!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Smart Power and PSYOP

Senator Hilary Clinton’s confirmation hearing included the call for the use of “smart power”. (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/jan/14/clinton-touts-smart-power-use/) (Photo courtesy of the Washington Times)

While the hearing was short on facts, on Tuesday Senator Clinton said: “"We are not taking any option off the table at all, but we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude toward engagement that might bear fruit,"

This statement seems to be in line with a previous statement made by Senator Obama in a Senate speech on March 6, 2007: “Win the Battle of Ideas: Defeat al Qaeda in the battle of ideas by returning to an American foreign policy consistent with America's traditional values, and work with moderates within the Islamic world to counter al Qaeda propaganda. Establish a $2 billion Global Education Fund to work to eliminate the global education deficit and offer an alternative to extremist schools.” (Source: www. iwar.org.uk)

Today’s post will speculate on what all this is likely to mean for PSYOP. But first, let’s recap a few things:

1. Senator Clinton comes to her new job with the experience of her Senate years, her exposure to the world stage as First Lady and of course with former President Bill Clinton. Her new boss comes to his new job with a sharp intellect, a solid knowledge of Constitutional Law, a feeling of mandate to implement change and an apparently keen sense of timing and respect for the need of evolutionary versus revolutionary change.

2. The Department of State (DOS) appears to have had its own challenges over the past years as the brouhaha over the inability to get enough Foreign Services Officers to deploy to combat zones has shown.

3. The Economy is putting pressure on the USG to trim its expenditures. History has shown that even Presidential Cabinets with the best of intentions often have conflict over how funding and resources should be allocated.

4. President Clinton and the military did not enjoy a very cordial working relationship.

5. Senator Obama appears to have started his military relationship off on the right foot and has undoubtedly won points by keeping SecDef Gates and Admiral Mullen in their positions in order to help insure a smooth transition from wartime administration to another.

6. No single point of contact really exists for DOD that can deal with issues from the strategic to the tactical.

7. Army PSYOP forces have been divided into regular and ‘special’. Regular supports conventional forces AKA ”the Big Army” and 4th POG supports Special Operations.

8. USSOCOM engages in Strategic Global PSYOP, 4th POG engages in global ‘special’ PSYOP.
9. Air Force and Navy have their own PSYOP capabilities and doctrine while the Army and the Marines share doctrine.

10. IO’s star seems to be descending and PAO continues to reign supreme and independent.

So – what does this all mean.

Need For Greater Coordination and DOS Imprinting

It is likely that the Obama administration, led by Secretary of State Clinton, would increase the resourcing for Public Diplomacy. The will likely lead to more strategic level work since that can be accomplished from the safety of Washington, DC.

An increase of strategic public diplomacy and the communications that go with it will require enhanced interaction between DOD and DOS. A suggestion to elevate tha management of the administration’s programs for both departments might be the establishment of key new roles at major embassies. SES-1 or 06 level individuals will be the DOS focal point for all in country activity to include DOD. These new focal points should also be empowered to manage PAO activities and should be DOS personnel or DOD personnel detailed to DOS with a rating chain solely within the DOS.

Furthermore, there needs to be a greater level of cooperation between SOCOM and State beyond today’s manning level to the point perhaps a limited number of SOCOM personnel could be housed in DOS offices to be in a better position to work with DOS personnel on formulating strategic and country plans and to spider web Executive Branch guidance through the PSYOP and IO chain of Command. SOCOM will also bear the responsibility of insuring that the organizations providing PSYOP support to Conventional Forces are fully tuned into to what is happening at the strategic level and that media intelligence, messaging, selected products and other tools/information is accessible to them.

At the tactical level DOD will still be bear the brunt of information engagement because they have the resources to provide their own security. DOD should work with DOS to insure interoperability of PSYOP/Public Diplomacy messages and products. Tactical PSYOP is likely to be stretched thinner than it is today as the number of places where their services are required will increase over time. While the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan may eventually diminish in scope, it is clear that other situations will arise to take their place.

Future conflicts may take the tribal model found in Afghanistan or the scattered urban model of Iraq or perhaps the super city battle grounds of the worlds’ most populous cities. The recent terrorist incident in Mumbai may be a precursor to similar actions in Jakarta, Lagos, Dhaka (Bangladesh), Cairo or Karachi or flair ups in Somalia.
Tactical PSYOP forces will continue to be stretched so that the Obama administration will need to be sensitive to ways and means of making the force more efficient without breaking it. As an example, it would be prudent to determine if the bifurcation of Army PSYOP Forces into separate 4 star commands makes sense in light of the anticipated threats and deployments.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Art of PSYOP

Tailoring your message to make it easy to understand and emotionally appealing is a key to success. The use of Assud the Bunny follows another Palestinan Character, Farfour the Mouse as a dramatic and powerful way to reach children and arouse sympathy from adults. See: http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/12672.htm. Assud also eats Jews see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jm8w7_P8wZ0,

Personification is a great way to crystallize a message in an emotional and powerful way. Subsequent to September 11 I felt that our global messaging should personify the Moslem victims and engage the world audience emotionally. This engagement could have been carried out at the strategic, operational and tactical PSYOP levels – but it didn’t happen.

As the USG becomes more heavily engaged in Afghanistan the nature of information engagement will of necessity morph into an aggregation of many rural target audiences (see my previous post on rural audiences) and a few urban ones.

Alternatively for the more sophisticated video or Internet audience, it is possible to employ different techniques of journalistic art to sway the reader/viewer. Recently I watched the documentary SOP by Errol Morris. The documentary covered Abu Ghraib through interviews with several enlisted soldiers and then BG Janis Karpinski. Interspersed with the interviews were digital photos taken by the soldiers and some ‘art’ that emphasized elements of the event under consideration.

The subtlety and starkness of the art reinforced the perception of horror of the incidents. Cleary the documentary was seeking to evoke emotions as well as just tell the story through the interviewees.

What does all this mean? It means that PSYOP faces global challenges in magnitudes that we have never experienced before. The exploding Middle East, the shifting of emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan, the ongoing terrorist threat and the vagaries of a new Presidential administration add up to the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

PSYOPers at all levels will need to increase not merely their global awareness, but their ability to absorb new cultures quickly and to create PSYOP products that reach the myriad of new audiences at all operational levels. Hopefully Secretary Designate Clinton will support the Public Diplomacy mission in tandem and partnership with DoD and that the Obama Administration will enlist talent from the commercial, academic and perhaps even the retired sector to shape the new information engagement environment.

PSYOP and Technology

Living in Silicon Valley has its advantages. One of them is being able to get into San Francisco in less than an hour. Through my computer forensics contacts (see www.talglobal.com) I was able to get a pass to my first ever MacWorld Expo. Admittedly the last time I had a Mac was in the era of the Mac512, but as a new iPhone user and gadgeteer I thought it would be worthwhile.

What does this have to do with PSYOP – plenty!

MacWorld is a Mecca for creative types. I felt that over 1/3 of the floor was dedicated to digital photography with ample representation from the likes of Nikon and Canon. There were lenses, and software and even an on-line publisher for photo books. Video was not neglected either and was ably represented by an array of cameras, software and accessories.

Apple in particular has done quite well to, as they used to say in IBM, “lower the skill level of the user”. Apple architecture allows non-technical people to accomplish incredible technically sophisticated feats. The Apple infrastructure is also simple enough to master quickly without the mumbo jumbo and angst generally associated with Windows.

Things that struck me as interesting from a PSYOP perspective:
1. Wireless Internet Cameras
2. Personal Video Glasses that allow the user to view iPod and other videos in a surrounding environment.
3. Wireless SIM card to transmit digital photos either to a computer or to an on-line service.
4. A myriad of video and digital photo editors.
5. Script writing software
6. Google’s free on-line sketching program
7. Outlining software for the iPhone
8. Whiteboard software for the iPhone

Today’s PSYOP soldier is a digital native – meaning they have grown up with technology. They are as comfortable sending a “text” as they are eating Pizza. These skills and the burgeoning technology supporting them are a boon to PSYOP. Rapid advances will continue to raise the bar on capabilities while lowering the cost.

The more critical aspect will remain to understand the culture and language nuances that make successful PSYOP products.