Friday, February 26, 2010

Shared Frequencies Can Lead To Interesting Dialogue

Back in the olden days of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT)(circa 1982) I commanded the 519th Army Security Agency Company. In those days Army Intelligence consisted of ASA which was the SIGINT/Electronic Warfare/Cryptographic arm and separate branch which dealt with Human Intelligence, Image Intelligence and Counter Intelligence. The ASA patch appears in this entry. It was sometimes referred to as either the “lightening fast chicken flicker” or the “Massachusetts Power & Light Company” (due to the ASA Training Center location at Fort Devens, MA)

During one of our Annual Training (AT) periods we took part in Exercise Celtic Cross held at Fort Hunter Liggett, CA. Our company was tasked to provide SIGINT support to the Marine Task Force which was the Red (Enemy) Force ‘fighting’ the Blue (Friendly) Force, the 7th Infantry Division.

As the CO I was based with the Regimental Task Force CDR, commanded by COL Henry C. “Hank” Stackpole III, USMC (who ultimately retired as a Lieutenant General). Marine officers are the hardest working of all services IMHO. As a part of the HQ I was actively engaged in the Command Operation Center’s (COC) operations. While visiting with the Radio Operators a number of them told me that they could overhear what the Army was saying on their radios because we all shared a limited frequency spectrum.
Marines are hard charging innovators; these radio operators became SIGINT operatives in a heartbeat and provided valuable information that helped us plan our operations against the Blue Force.

Fast forward to 2010 to an ABC article on February 25, 2010 entitled: Trash Talking the Taliban During Fights ( It seems that the Afghan national Army and the Taliban often find themselves on the same frequency. This strange turn of events offers a venue where debate, argument and old fashioned trash talking can occur.
It strikes me that this is a golden opportunity, an opportunity that needs to be exploited systematically as a credible and powerful means of influencing the Taliban. If it were my mission, I would recruit a select number of Afghan soldiers and have them specially trained by SF and PSYOP personnel. I would engage them in dialogue prior to the training to determine the nature of previous engagements and to ascertain what messages, appeals and arguments seem to have the most traction. I would then compile the best practices and most effective messages into a training program and perhaps into some audio or video CDs that could be studied at the student’s convenience. I might offer up the incentive of an iPod with MP3 files and videos as a means of encouraging Afghan personnel to take part in the trash talk offensive.

This is a cost effective and high impact program that needs to be implemented ASAP. Furthermore, research needs to be undertaken to see if there are any other current or potential areas of operation where similar influence offensives could be executed or planned for.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Family PSYOP

As a creature of Silicon Valley I’m often immersed in complex and sophisticated issues such as intellectual property theft, and teaching military intelligence subjects on-line. I’ve commented on rural PSYOP and urban PSYOP not to mention Cyber-PSYOP.

Over the past few weeks three deaths have hit my world. First there was the death of a fellow Red Cross volunteer with whom I had worked with occasionally, but who always set an outstanding example and could always be relied on to be a learned voice of reason. As a member of the Public Affairs team I was asked to write his obituary. I have written many pieces in my career but this was among the hardest. The task was to capture a life and a spirit in a few paragraphs that would be read by those who knew him and those who did not. It was a challenge, but I’m pleased to say that the result has received quite a bit of favorable comments.

The second death was that of COL (R) Jeff Jones. I had worked with COL Jones when he was the 4th PSYOP Group CDR and I was the 7th PSYOP Group S3 and stayed in touch with him over the ensuing years (see my previous posting). I reflected that it was indeed satisfying to see COL Jones presented with one of the first gold McClure awards for PSYOP excellence in June 2009 at PSYOP Regimental Week.

As close as I may have been with these men, it would be unexpected death of my brother in law, who I hardly ever spoke to that would cause the most direct involvement in my life. My wife and her brother had never been close and they hadn’t spoken to each other for the past two years when the call came in.

It was a Thursday night during February 2010 where snow storms had plagued the northeast and even Delta was forced to cancel 1,100 flights mostly due to weather at their Atlanta Hub. It was also President’s Weekend and the beginning of winter vacation for many schools. Flights were hard to come by and they were expensive – even the red eyes! Nevertheless we had to go and go we did.

The point is that, while it is all well and good to assess PSYOP on the strategic and operational level, we must address the audience with the most powerful direct influencer – and family is one of the strongest. The attachment to family and tribe as a superset of family is one that must be considered in each and every PSYOP work product and campaign. The temptation to go global must always be foregone to maintain local relevance and power.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

One Aw Poo Wipes Out 100 Attaboys and Provides Great Fodder for Enemy PSYOP

As aid workers flocked to Haiti in January 2010, the US military swung into full and prompt action. Public opinion was very heavily in favor of the US and efforts resulting in a much needed burnishing of US reputation in Latin America.
Regrettably actions by a Twin Falls, ID Baptist religious group (see have resulted in their arrest and being charged with kidnapping. The group claims that their only motive was to help the children. It should be noted that one of the attorneys for the Group is apparently Jewish since his Kippa is prominently visible. The nature of the charges and the inclusion of an individual who is or could likely be interpreted to be a Jew makes the incident ripe for exploitation.

Islamist fundamental groups should be salivating over the opportunity of getting a PSYOP “twofer”. They can hit two targets for the price of one. Not only can they strike out at American desires to wrest children from their parents and indoctrinate them in the Christian faith, but they can point to the ever-present ‘Jew ‘ orchestrating evil behind the scenes.

While I’m not suggesting that there is much that can be done to prevent exploitation of this unfortunate situation, some counter propaganda needs to be developed so that it can be used to circumvent, deflect and otherwise diminish the effect of likely enemy PSYOP attacks.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

No PSYOP Dimension to 2010 QDR – A Bad Sign

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) was released on January 26, 2010 ( For those of you unfamiliar with the QDR its purpose is described as “This QDR report and the preceding months of deliberation served two purposes: first, to establish the Department’s key priority objectives, providing context and recommendations regarding capability development and investment portfolios; and second, to communicate the Secretary’s intent for the next several years of the Department’s work.”

In essence the QDR becomes a roadmap for DOD. It serves as standing guidance on all matters relating to the execution of DOD missions from force development, to training priorities to logistics and procurement. It also reveals the personality of the DOD and strongly suggests where resources and emphasis will go in the coming year.

Unfortunately a word search of the 128 page document did not reveal any presence of either “psychological operations” or “strategic communications”. The 2009 QDR, as I noted in February 2009, mentioned PSYOP and strategic communications once each. While it may be a stretch to read into the lack of emphasis this year, it is worthwhile to consider what is actually in the document.

The QDR analysis strongly suggested that the Department must further rebalance its policy, doctrine, and capabilities to better support the following six key missions:
• Defend the United States and support civil authorities at home;
• Succeed in counterinsurgency, stability, and counterterrorism operations;
• Build the security capacity of partner states;
• Deter and defeat aggression in anti-access environments;
• Prevent proliferation and counter weapons of mass destruction; and
• Operate effectively in cyberspace.

Highlights included:
The QDR directs the following enhancements:
• Expand future long-range strike capabilities;
• Exploit advantages in subsurface operations;
• Increase the resiliency of U.S. forward posture and base infrastructure;
• Assure access to space and the use of space assets;
• Enhance the robustness of key ISR capabilities;
• Defeat enemy sensors and engagement systems; and
• Enhance the presence and responsiveness of U.S. forces abroad.
Through the QDR, the Secretary of Defense directs the following:
• Establish a Joint Task Force Elimination Headquarters to plan, train, and execute WMD elimination operations;
• Research countermeasures and defense to nontraditional agents;
• Enhance nuclear forensics;
• Secure vulnerable nuclear materials;
• Expand the biological threat reduction program; and
• Develop new verification technologies.

The ability to operate effectively in cyberspace was noted as an important area for attention. Cyberspace is already part of the terrorist Battlespace as our enemies continue to use the Internet for communications and recruiting. Our abilities and resources in this arena must be expanded and elevated to a ‘second to none’ position if we ever hope to stem the tide of terrorist recruitment.

It is also comforting to note that DOD has recognized that they need to improve a holistic governmental approach which includes “improving our partnership with the Department of State in conflict zones” given the state of this relationship and the compelling need to integrate influence operations across the strategic, operational and tactical levels this is a blinding flash of the obvious.

Overall this year’s document is disappointing and may signal a step backwards in the face of escalating threats requiring effective PSYOP and Strategic Communications.