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.