Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In Afghanistan The Coffee Klatch is Mightier Than the Sword

As a native Brooklynite I have had a long standing affection for coffee. I enjoy everything from latte’s to Turkish Coffee (medium sweet just like Mr. Bond). More importantly I recognize the importance of social gatherings around one’s favorite beverage be it coffee, chai, tea, or beer. Social gatherings foster support and tribal elder support is the key to success in Afghanistan as pointed out in the USA Today Article on March 30, 2010 (http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/afghanistan/2010-03-29-Afghan-elders_N.htm).

While I applaud President Obama’s first visit as Commander-in-Chief, my marketing sense tells me that his visit was most likely more effective to the audience outside Afghanistan than it. First of all Afghanistan isn’t exactly a TV focal mecca so that the majority of the population is not glued to their TV sets watching the world stage. If they get their information over the airwaves it is more likely to come through the FM radio being filtered and polarized by the station’s management.

From an influence perspective this type of market means that the local officer or NCO in charge is going to be the key to success. It is my belief that all officers and NCOs should receive some form of sales training. When we deployed to Bosnia in 1997 I gave every soldier a copy of Zig Ziglar’s book Secret’s of Closing the Sale. An alternative is Willie Gayle’s book on Power Selling.

Afghanistan is the classic example of “all politics is local” and personal selling is the most effective form of PSYOP at the local level. The nature of the beast is that PSYOP personnel cannot be everywhere and the ‘winning of hearts and minds’ starts with the simple premise that people must like you as a person before they will listen to anything you have to say. Consequently the senior person on the ground must establish a rapport with the key local leader who, more than likely, will be the tribal elder or imam.

Unfortunately there is no easy way to do this, nor is there a simple, magic formula to train everyone to be able to relate to foreign audiences. I have found that Marines and Special Forces in general are far more adaptive than other service personnel and are able to adjust their behavior and approach more easily.

Success will come after the Afghans people feel like they are secure in their homes. Whether this feeling is a direct result of villages pushing out the Taliban, the Afghan government actually becoming an effecting governing force, or a combination of these and external forces, it is the feeling of security which will be a self-fulfilling prophecy that make the American effort in Afghanistan a success and differentiate it from past efforts.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Influencing Your Troops’ Mindset – A PSYOP of Sorts

My military service includes stints in Viet Nam and Bosnia. While in Bosnia during 97-98 I had the good fortune of being stationed at the NATO HQ in Sarajevo. However, in the course of my duties I did travel to the other Multi-National Districts (MND). The American base at Tuzla was particularly intriguing to me in its contradictions.

While everyone had to carry their personal weapon everywhere they went to include clearing the weapon before entering every building, there were quite a few amenities to offer a view of the US in Bosnia. As I recall these may have included a Baskin Robins ice cream store and a Burger King.

On Wednesday, March 24, the Washington Post ran a story about General McChrystal ordering the closing of many of the American lifestyle businesses at the Kandahar, Afghanistan Airfield. These included TGI Fridays (which doesn’t serve alcohol – that also being banded by McCrystal), Burger King, Coldstone Ice Cream and Subway.
While ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) members will likely grumble, this strikes me as the right thing to do on several levels. First of all, while I have never been to Afghanistan, it seems to me that anyone who is there has to stay focused on their mission and have their street sense on all the time. Secondly we have repeatedly stated that it is not our intent to remain in the country as occupiers and the high visibility of uniquely American institutions is bound to raise eyebrows. Third, interaction with local shop keepers and restaurants (even if they are on military bases) is a very comfortable and easy way to learn about the culture of the country.

Clearly General McChrystal doesn’t need an old retired guy to tell him well done, but in this case I’m delighted to do so.

Cyber PSYOP: Google vs. China

The recent “activity” surrounding Google’s China market search engine business and the Chinese government’s political, economic and technical actions to impose censorship on searches illustrates the critical nature of the cyber component of PSYOP and free information flow.

One of PSYOPs core principles is that truth is the best PSYOP weapon. The Chinese government goes to great lengths to insure that Chinese citizens only have access to truth that has been approved by the government and considered fit for consumption. Google has been an unparalleled success story and the wealth of its high tech founders is the stuff of legend. However, they have failed to learn by history.

I was quoted in Computerworld UK concerning the Google/China affair: “In Google's case, there are two aspects of why the Chinese government would pay special attention to Google: first of all open access to information is contra to the philosophy of the government of the People's Republic of China and secondly Google as a business offers lessons to be learned. Consequently it should be no surprise that Google has been attacked from inside and outside.” (http://www.computerworlduk.com/management/security/data-control/in-depth/index.cfm?articleId=3084; March 1, 2010)

From a strategic PSYOP perspective the Chinese of been able to: 1. harness their citizens to ‘protect’ the state, 2. muster significant technology resources and muscle to enforce their political will, 3. sacrifice short term economic gain for long term consistency, 4. Coordinate the disparate arms of government (foreign policy, economic development, military, and legal) to achieve an information objective that is part of their well understood governmental strategic communications strategy.

Taking the other tact for a moment, Google sought to evade China’s grip by redirecting searches from the Chinese Mainland to Hong Kong. Apparently they lost sight of the fact that in 1997 Hong Kong reverted back to the government of the People’s Republic. While Hong Kong retains traces of its former British governance and aspects of friendliness to the West, make no mistake it is part of China.

Google’s mantra of ‘do no evil’ smacks in some ways of the Star Trek Prime Directive (do not interfere with other cultures), however even this technological giant has met its match in the People’s Republic of China. The message for us is clear – we must develop an Influence Operations Strategy and President Obama must orchestrate its operations and tactics.

A small baby step in this direction would be to appoint a White House level coordinator along the lines of Howard Schmidt, the Cyber Coordinator. While Mr. Schmidt has no real authority he is a single point of contact and can act as a conductor to facilitate the performance of many players. Our global communications strategy deserves no less.

Friday, March 19, 2010

CyberWar is CyberPSYOP

Acts by governments against another government’s computers or private sector networks and systems within the critical infrastructure can be considered acts of war. Non-state actor attacks against these same targets can be viewed as terrorist or criminal acts. While the law may be unsettled, the psychological effect of any successful attack will be profound. For example see the Washington Post article of March 19, 2010 concerning attacking a Saudi Site (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/18/AR2010031805464.html)

Law makers and pundits alike are calling for a clear legal foundation that would facilitate apprehension and prosecution of anyone responsible for such acts. The recent calls for treaties or laws clarifying legal metes and bounds of the interaction of government (military and civilian government) organizations and commercial ones have mushroomed in March 2010.

But what of PSYOP? Clearly offensive Computer Network Attack (CNA) can have a significant psychological impact. However, due to the bifurcation of PSYOP and CNO responsibilities (SOCOM/STRATCOM) commonalities are hard to come by. Strangely enough, PSYOP and CNO share several things in common: 1. They are not mainstream warfighting tools , 2. They are ultimately commanded by 4* General Officers, 3. Doctrine is not widely circulated and 4. Many ‘ops’ are below the radar.

No future force is going to be single service and the overwhelming majority of future operations will involve more than one ally, both PSYOP and CNO will be have an increasing footprint in future conflicts. Given we like to ‘train as we fight’ the time has come to integrate both of these war fighter multipliers into exercises and training at all levels.

Just as FBI agents all need to be aware of the computer aspects of crimes, military forces must be adept at offensive and defensive PSYOP and CNO. Contingency planning must include counter propaganda and the full spectrum of CNO to include CNA and Computer Network Exploitation (CNE). I say this with tongue in cheek because many organizations have trouble keeping their systems and networks up without having to deal with hostile intentions. I can remember in the ‘olden days’ when before we could help units learn how to deal with enemy jamming – we first had to help them understand how to operate their FM radios!

The implication is that every level of training from initial specialty granting to senior officer training must include components dealing with PSYOP and CNO. Furthermore, a good portion of this training must be open ended – free flow so that creativity can be engaged to optimize the training and the effectiveness of the operations being planned within it.

Today’s world mandates we do this with great haste or risk being taken down by a more savvy and agile enemy – one that places results ahead of rules.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Strategic PSYOP at the Tactical Level

While today's headline may seem like a contradiction in terms, I can assure you, that it is not. I’m back at the Defense Information School (March 2010) working my second iteration of the Joint Expeditionary Public Affairs Course (JEPAC) exercise. The exercise scenario is such that actions by the US military can have a positive impact on global US reputation. However, the PSYOP involved are very much tactical in scope. In fact this hypothetical situation is very similar to the actual situation on the ground in Haiti.

In both situations the US military is engaged in what appears to be highly successful humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) operations. The Joint Task Force executing the operations were both literally cobbled together out of available resources to address their respective missions. This likely means that the emphasis on PSYOP forces would be tactical in nature and they would be tasked to perform missions associated with keeping the population informed, reducing interference with the operation and generally promoting the government’s actions.

These types of altruistic operations, borne out of a tragedy, can be very much ‘good news’ stories because they show how the United States is helping others without any sort of ulterior motive. Images of medical assistance, survivor rescues and of the resumption of normal life all reinforce a positive image of the US and our actions.

The challenge becomes to serve two PSYOP/Communications masters. On the one hand, the PSYOP force on the ground needs to focus on executing tactical PSYOP in support of the CDR’s objectives. On the other hand, there needs to be attention to the Strategic Communications messages which can be derived from the operation. From a PSYOP perspective the units on the ground supporting the task force are collecting the imagery and in some cases generating (or causing to be generated) stories in the local media and Public Service Announcements that showcase critical US messages.
The implication is that the PSYOP Task Force (POTF) must coordinate with the Joint Military Information Support Command (JMISC) out of SOCOM to provide them the input/feeds they need to harness this valuable content for Strategic Communications. It is further implied that the JMISC has open lines of communication with the Department of State so that the content can be employed in their Public Diplomacy efforts as well.

The Haiti operation may be an over simplified case in point because of its geographic proximity to the US. Hopefully the SOP exists to achieve this objectives in spite of the location of the operation whether Asia or Africa where the supply chain would not be as easy to establish and maintain.

The fragile nature of our global reputation demands that we are able to capitalize on our positive efforts whenever we can.