Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Furlong Affair: PSYOP and Intelligence – What’s the deal?

The New York Times among others has reported on investigations concerning alleged inappropriate activities by senior government official Michael D. Furlong (see Furlong, currently a Senior Level executive, is the Strategic Planner and Technology Integration Adviser, Joint Information Operations Warfare Command, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas (reference: is at the center of a swirling controversy as to whether or not he inappropriately used funds allegedly earmarked for information operations for unauthorized intelligence gathering through contractors. (Photo courtesy US Air Force)

Furlong retired as a LTC after serving in PSYOP slots among others. The controversy seems to imply that there is an unholy alliance between PSYOP (or information operations which appears to be used synonymously in most media pieces) and intelligence.

There are some key points that need to be made here. First of all, PSYOPers are not intelligence collectors. They may be trained observers who can report what they see, but they are not out to collect intelligence. Good PSYOP, like effective marketing and sales, is based on a solid understanding of the target audience, what motivates it, its leadership, what influences it and what are the best ways to appeal to that audience and convince them to behave in the desired manner.

Most of the time PSYOP intelligence needs are not the same as the CDR’s intelligence needs. The CDR’s Commander's Critical Information Requirements (CCIR) generally relate to the operations at hand. Most CDR (General McChrystal excepted) are solely interested in that information that will allow them to accomplish their direct mission which is usually kill or capture the enemy. Predilections that are important for influence purposes rarely make it to the CCIR list.

At the core of the Furlong matter is the allegation that he employed a media company, International Media Ventures ( as an outsource for intelligence operations. The company’s website proclaims that they are in the strategic communications, media and content businesses. A look at the “About” section and you discover that the company leadership is mostly ex-SOCOM types.
What’s the point? If Furlong was outsourcing intelligence, that’s a bad idea, if International Media Ventures was engaged in intelligence operations that’s stupid business because it compromises their ability to provide the kind of products and services expected in support of USG sponsored influence operations.

When the dust settles I am willing to bet that no laws will have been broken, however, the DOD ‘brand’ has suffered just as surely as Toyota is still recovering from their gas pedal issues. Perception is reality especially where PSYOP and influence operations are concerned. Practitioners are under a higher duty of care to insure that USG strategic communications and operational/tactical PSYOP are not tarnished.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Back From the Sea

I know you are all curious as to why I missed a couple of weeks. Uncharacteristically I decided to go on an adventure. The former CDR of the CJICTF (Combined Joint Information Campaign Task Force) organized a week long sailing adventure on a 210 foot schooner which was a replica of an 1880s schooner. (

The trip was billed as the Grumpy Old Men Bucket List Tour and consisted of mostly – Pretty Mellow Old Guys. We left Fort Lauderdale on Sunday the 18th and docked in Charleston on Friday 16 April. Consequently my efforts were focused on maximizing my preparedness for the trip.

From a PSYOP perspective I learned that a diverse group of strangers could work together in a common effort outside of their comfort zone. This underscores the power of face to face communication and the notion that deep down – we are all just people.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

PSYOPing Karzai With Grass Roots Politics

It’s now (April 2010) clearer than ever that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not the right man for the job and it is our duty as champions of democracy to help the people of Afghanistan replace him and his cronies with a leader and a government that will govern for the benefit of the people and not personal fortunes or ego.

Even the charismatic and charming President Obama has failed with Karzai. Karzai’s denouncements of the West – read that the US – are yet one more slap in the face. While I don’t generally quote Ralph Peters as a good source, I’m afraid I have to mostly agree with his April 6, 2010 article in the NY Post: “Karzai’s new low – We’re stuck with no Plan B” (

As it turns out, I have a plan B and a Plan C. Plan B is develop bottom up public support for a coalition government that will oust Karzai and replace him with someone is perhaps less corrupt and who can serve as a catalyst security and economic self-sufficiency from the village up. Of course this plan would require resources and assistance from the US and other sources – we know that and according to Peters, we have invested: “A thousand dead Americans and billions of dollars poured into a cesspool?”

Plan C is build an enduring self-sufficiency from the village level up.
This crossroads presents a unique opportunity for Secretary Hillary Clinton to engage the DOD to help her further the goals of the President and actually establish a foundation that would facilitate a withdrawal of US troops sooner rather than later. To do this a holistic information influence strategy would need to be developed that would combine direct and indirect communications channels and would (perhaps covertly) support appropriate Karzai opposition. In parallel, my Plan C calls for local campaigns to strengthen the local leadership so that they can govern in the absence of a competent national government.

Plan C is a good one because it builds from the nature of the Afghan people and their history. It also appeals to the independent nature of the local villages and, at the same time can negate some of the influence of the Taliban. This plan would require tight coordination through ISAF and implies an ISAF level task force that has situational awareness down to the village level and that has the authority to divert resources and concentrate efforts where they are likely to do the most good.

Peters’ assumption about our counter insurgency doctrine assuming a friendly competent government also seems unfortunately on the mark. Doctrine writers on all levels are on notice that they need to change the rules of the game so that we can as Clint Eastwood once said “Improvise, adapt and overcome” (attributed to his role as Gunny Highway in Heartbreak Ridge)