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 http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-fg-afghan-taliban23-2009nov23,0,2892908.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 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/17/AR2009111703830.html?wpisrc=newsletter) 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' (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/06/AR2009110604207.html).

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 www.theflip.com) 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.