Tuesday, April 28, 2009


There is a veritable frenzy of cyber command activity. The New York Times reported that the President will constitute a new Command, likely to be headed by LTG Alexander, Director of NSA. The new Command will have responsibility for “attack and defense strategies in Cyberspace warfare” according to the Times. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/28/us/28cyber.html?_r=1&hp)

Formation of the command is part of an extensive effort orchestrated by President Obama. By forming the command the President hopes to consolidate all cyber military efforts. This military consolidation is complementary to the new direction on civilian side created as a result of the “60 Day Review” completed for the White House on 17 April by acting Senior Director of Cybersecurity for the NSC, Melissa Hathaway (see http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/AdvisorsToConductImmediateCyberSecurityReview/)

Information technology (IT), especially as interconnected by the Internet, is the electronic lifeblood of developed countries. The critical IT infrastructure and key resources of nations are inviting targets because their damage or destruction would go to the nation’s very will to fight.

To say that doctrine with respect to cyber attacks is nascent would be kind. The fact is that the doctrine is either extremely highly classified or just plain doesn’t exist. Legal and political issues cloud a nation’s ability to respond in kind to a cyber attack. Notwithstanding a variety of computer ‘war games’, the US government’s use of cyber attack is not without precedent.

The NY Times article talks about hacking into Al Qaeda computers to alter “information that drove them into American gun sights”.

While I applaud the President’s efforts and can heartily concur that cyber attack and defense need to be placed under a single command – where does that leave PSYOP?

I have argued for several years that Computer Network Operations (CNO) can be an effective PSYOP weapon. It is also clear that the Internet has become a wide open medium for PSYOP messages whether websites, e-mail, SMS or even Twitters. However, there is no clarity nor comparable unity of command with regard to cyber PSYOP.

At the very least the new command should have a robust PSYOP element, likely headed by a Colonel. This element should be linked to the Joint Staff, SOCOM, ASOC and other service PSYOP Commands to insure that there is uniformity of messaging and that there is a mechanism in place to deconflict cyber and PSYOP activities for maximum reinforcing effect.

Another rub is the nature of cyber activities undertaken by the Combatant Commanders. Each is running their own website and perhaps other activities such as Blogs, Social networking pages, etc. Somehow there needs to be a central inventory of all these activities and a ‘Cyber PSYOP Operations Center’ (CPOC) that can provide a global view of these activities much as corporate marketing is responsible for providing a global picture of corporate marketing activities.

A Cyber Command is a good start, but let’s hope PSYOP is not left out in the cold.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Jamming The Taliban: A Good First Step?

The Wall Street Journal reported that US Forces are jamming Taliban FM radios and attempting to deny the Taliban use of Internet chat rooms. (See http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124001042575330715.html) The 18 April 09 article describes the use of jamming, more properly Electronic Counter Measures or ECM as PSYOP.

Photo of Army Tactical Jammer AN MLQ-24: http://www.emersons.net/worth-remembering-the-anmlq-34-tacjam.html

Technically speaking the use of Electronic Warfare (EW) to deny an adversary their communications is a PSYACT , an act designed to have a psychological impact. In the case of jamming, it is sometimes argued that the act of jamming confirms the success of the target’s efforts. In this case CENTCOM believes that denying the enemy their ability to communicate through FM broadcasting outweighs indirectly telling them that they have been successful.

This certainly makes sense since as we say in the law biz – res ipsa locquitir – the fact speaks for itself. The Taliban have been very successful in securing local support through thuggery. The use of village based FM radio is certainly a force multiplier from an information engagement perspective.

The geography of Afghanistan, like the geography of Bosnia is daunting. Mountains and valleys separate the country like the nooks and crannies of a Thomas’ English muffin. Independent FM radio stations are the ways that villages often hear the news and have given the Taliban a very cost effective medium for their messages.

Normally coalition forces seek their own influence by setting up their own FM radio stations. These stations generally offer a mix of music and messages and are designed to blend into the local radio spectrum. In Bosnia there was a NATO radio station in Sarajevo that covered that area with FM broadcasts. This station was manned and supervised by the HQ of the Combined Joint Information Campaign Task Force (CJICTF). This was proper in Bosnia since Sarajevo was not only the national capital, but a sort of city-state in its own right.

The case of Afghanistan is far more complex than Bosnia since there are few population centers and so many isolated villages. Conceptually each village requires special attention. The article talks about Chamkani, (readers interested in a 2007 first person account of Firebase Chamkani can check out: http://www.house.gov/marshall/Chamkani_Codel-pamphlet2007.pdf) and the voice of Chamkani a radio station covering the local area. Special Operations Forces have devoted significant attention to this are as documented in Special Operations magazine (http://www.soc.mil/swcs/swmag/09Jan.pdf)

The bottom line here is, if you are going to deny the enemy the radio (or television airwaves) then you need to fill in the vacuum you have created by harnessing them yourself.

Closing down the Internet communications is another matter. Somewhat akin to the game “Whack a Mole”, this requires more than content, it requires technical acumen and resources. Whereas FM radio operations can be delegated down to the PSYOP Platoon Level in many cases, this is not so with the Internet. Higher echelon capabilities will need to be employed to effectively deal with Internet communications such as websites and chat rooms. Further, since the Internet is borderless, there may be legal complications resulting from websites or chat rooms based in countries with strict laws regulating interference with computers and networks.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Arggh! PSYOP and Pirates

Somehow it seems fitting to Blog about PSYOP and piracy on the day that US taxes are due. The Pirates and the Navy’s recent rescue of a Merchant Marine Skipper have been all over the media. The pirates, however, undaunted by the sniper induced deaths of the colleagues, continue to ply their trade at sea capturing several more ships.

Sooner or later the subject of information engagement, especially PSYOP, will come to the fore. In a 4 hour drive today I pondered to say about the subject and while I don’t have an immediate or short term fixes I have some observations and recommendations. Since I’m not actively involved in today’s operations I have no personal knowledge of what is already going on, so here’s my two cents. It is important for me to point out early on that I don’t see the “Pirates” as a top down formal hierarchy, but as a loosely configured nest of criminal gangs where they have likely taken formal or informal steps to divide territories and potential targets among them.

1. Put The Navy In Charge

First of all the Navy is the lead and the Naval Special Warfare Command (http://www.navsoc.navy.mil/default.htm) should be the designated proponent for information engagement doctrine and TTP concerning pirates. Information engagement against this form of enemy must include the full range of options: PSYOP, CNO, Deception, EW, and deception. Furthermore, the Navy should immediately commission a study of pirate activity over the past 5 years to be able to dissect past attacks to develop taxonomy of the enemy TTP and a range of courses of action to employ against them.

Pirate operations should be included in any upcoming reviews and enhancement of maritime strategy for littoral areas as well as traditional ‘blue water’ operations.

2. Training

Naval officer and NCO training, especially surface warfare, electronic warfare, intelligence, and communications Navy Occupational Standards (NOS) should all receive cross training in the form of a mandatory information engagement module with a variety of case studies designed to challenge the students and incorporate a wide range of possibilities.

3. Numbered Fleet Ramp Up

Each numbered fleet should have a reinforced Information Engagement section headed by a Commander (05) with experience in the full range of information engagement operations. If the Navy is unable to fill these billets, then consideration should be given to rotating tours for Army PSYOP personnel, and in the event neither is available, retired personnel or contractors could be employed if necessary.

When necessary consider augmenting specific information engagement resources with other personnel who may be qualified by NOS, civilian expertise, cultural knowledge and/or other factors.

Numbered fleets should prepare information engagement contingency plans and should carefully consider who communications with media (especially non-US media) and what messages concerning the current action should be transmitted. This recommendation means that PAO is a critical element in dealing with the pirate enemy and must be given as much consideration as when to deploy snipers.

4. Include the Marines

In addition to Navy actions, Marines stationed on board vessels should be qualified in Marine Corps PSYOP TTP (which is the same as the Army’s).

As always, reader comments are invited.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Best PSYOP Requires Innovative People

The working group for the PSYOP Branch Medal, now dubbed the McClure Medal, heard a number of suggestions as to who should be the honor’s namesake. One of the name’s that came up was new to me – Arthur T. Hadley. Seems Hadley was responsible for putting loud speakers on tanks in WWII as a means to get the Germans to surrender. (See his book Heads or Tails and/or a 2006 article in the New York Times where he worked (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/25/opinion/25hadley.html?_r=1). Also check out “Combat Loudspeakers”, an excellent article by LTC (R) Dennis Bartow, President of the PSYOP Organization at www.psywarrior.com/combatloudspeakers.html

Photo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rS8nqBuvrBo
Dubbed the “talking tank”, the weapon’s principle was a simple one: bring the information weapon into the battle. It seems logical enough -- an enemy’s motivation to surrender is in the heat of battle when the danger is greatest. Hadley employed the appeal of the Geneva Convention’s protection as his key message.

One of PSYOP’s greatest challenges today appears to be applying information power against the terrorist strongholds along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. These are denied areas and the exact location of a target at any one time is likely to be elusive. If NATO forces could regularly ‘attack’ the hostiles with information in these highly elusive lairs, the impact is likely to be profound.

The headlines are filled with comments concerning drone killing attacks (for example see: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9903E4D9153BF936A15751C0A96F9C8B63&scp=6&sq=pakistan%20remotely%20civilians%20protest&st=cse). Even successful kinetic attacks can go wrong because the enemy is perceived to have an information advantage and able to turn most attacks into offenses against civilians raising the hackles of the population and negating some of the positive impact.
Going to back to Hadley for a moment, the first article I cited contains this description: “Our broadcasts, then, took on the following structure: first, we’d outline what we knew about the German position; second, we’d describe the weight of artillery and air power that was about to fall on them; finally, we’d end with assurances that those troops who surrendered would be well treated under the Geneva Conventions.”

Desert Storm showed the success of a ‘direct mail campaign’ where ordnance and leaflets were mixed in a dramatic application of Hadley’s WWII formula. Suppose we could do the same in the Afghani theater, except we mix up the payloads so that the enemy isn’t really sure whether they will be hit by explosives or leaflets or electronic messages or ‘greeting cards’ with pre-recorded messages.

Of course there are some caveats. First of all the campaign must have a desired call to action - we want the bad guys to do something. Can we give potential sympathizers a way out? Can fighters defect from these camps without being shot? Developing an exit strategy for our potential targets is perhaps one of the more difficult aspects of this idea – but it is certainly worthy of thought as is the modification of airborne EW platforms for tactical PSYOP purposes such as this one.

Comments invited.