Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The PSYOP Brand – A Commercial Perspective

As a Reservist I have the privilege of orchestrating two parallel careers. As Colonel I served in both PSYOP and MI slots in a variety of settings ranging from SIGINT Platoon Leader to IO Officer at SOCOM. On the commercial side my career was concentrated in High Tech marketing. My last full time salaried position was with Symantec Corporation, the makers of Norton Antivirus. My first boss was the Executive VP in charge of “Brand and Communication”. He was hired by the CEO because while at IBM my boss demonstrated exceptional skills at Branding and Public Relations (Public Affairs or PAO in military jargon). Another of my VP bosses was an acknowledged leader in marketing techniques.

(Photo Source: China Wholesale Gifts)

I learned quite a bit about branding and marketing in my 6 years at Symantec. Above all - the purpose of the brand is to increase the value of the company and make it easier to sell products and services. Brands need to be easy to recognize, and simple to understand. The brand should convey the essence of the organization and its product or service at a glance.

In my view the issue at hand with branding for influence operations is as more the big picture than the PSYOP name change. Neither “Information Operations” nor IO is a well understood phrase or a lead element in most commands. While Senior Leaders and Commanders believe that it is important to prep the information battlefield and that the need to influence foreign audiences is greater than ever, it would be fair to say that IO is still a nascent discipline that has less than universal acceptance and is nowhere near on an equal footing as kinetic operations.

Most CDRs and staffs at the GOFO (General officer/Flag Officer) levels have not demonstrated the real desire or ability to orchestrate and coordinate information weapons systems. PAO remains aloof and dedicated to the purity of being the CDR’s voice; CNO remains a dark art practiced only by the chosen few and we in PSYOP are now running around like a dog chasing its tail self-flagellating over the name change.

Here’s the real deal – SecDef Gates and Secretary Clinton need to sit down and lay out the path for the use of information as a an instrument of US government (USG) power. It would be ideal for the President to provide his guidance, not because he is the Commander-in-Chief, but because his election shows a mastery of the information battle space. In any event their staffs need to clarify the jargon and doctrine across Strategic Communications down to tactical Military Information Support and cascade the results throughout the USG.

MG Csrnko and SWC need to work quickly with SOCOM to develop the common grounding for the PSYOP Community so that we can all move out smartly at the same time and start on the same foot.

Friday, June 25, 2010

PSYOP Name Change: A Historical Perspective

I've been getting a lot of traffic on the changing of the PSYOP name to MISO. Frankly the name change has been kicking around at the highest levels for some time. COL (R) Paddock, leading SOF historian, former CDR of the 4th POG and the first Honorary Colonel of the PSYOP Regiment among others has been a very vocal opponent, but the train has left the station.

While I'd like to be optimistic and appreciate the positive spin MG Csrnko put on the change, the practical side of me feels that MISO will not fare any better in terms of funding or standards and that the resources and changes that are needed will not be made.

The ebb and flow of PSYOP reminds me a lot of the SIGINT side of military intelligence. In the early days we were a cult behind the green door. As technology and tactics evolved it was clear that SIGINT needed to be spider webbed through the force and made quickly accessible at the lowest technical level without the shibboleths normally shielding it from the masses.

History has shown that tactical SIGINT has been a good thing yet moving it down the chain of command has not resulted in a diminution of the need for SIGINT specialists. The SIGINT specialty and the intelligence resources behind it has evolved in spite of what might be viewed as popularization.

The actions of our very senior leadership through and including SecDef Gates need to match the rhetoric surrounding the name change. As a minimum these steps need to include:
1. Reuniting all MISO under one chain of command - USSOCOM.
2. Establishing a flag officer led command at SOCOM that leads the strategic influence fight across the board.
3. A top to bottom revamping of MISO training to insure that every soldier with the MOS has the same skills.
4. Enhancing the training and scope of the MISO field to include cyber influence and personal selling/negotiation skills.
5. Integrate commercial on-line training as a part of the MISO professional education track to include reimbursement or payment of selected live and on-line training.
6. Insure that the new and improved MISO takes the lead in NATO information doctrine and TTP.
7. USSOCOM should embark on a vigorous Congressional information program to insure that all the key military committees are well informed concerning the criticality of influence operations.
8. ASOC/SWC to establish and maintain an exchange program with DINFOS wherein MISO and PAO officers and NCOs attend each other's schools and perhaps even acquire the respective MOS.

These just scratch the surface - but are all steps that need to be taken. Failure to follow-through will have a significant negative impact on the total force and in the long run, America's ability to dominate the growing information battlefield.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

MISO: Is it soup yet?

With lightning and a clap of thunder from the Pentagon, PSYOP is to be stricken from the Defense system just as the name Moses was removed from the legacy of Egypt. The Secretary of Defense has approved the recommendation to change PSYOP to Military Information Support and/to Operations (MISO). The Army Chief of Staff, General George W. Casey, Jr. has directed his staff to develop and orchestrate a plan designed to replace “PSYOP” with MISO in the Army (and presumably DOD) lexicon and branches.
Photo source:

The name change follows the recommendation of the DSLC or Defense Senior Leader’s Conference. This is a conference co-hosted by SecDef (Secretary of Defense) and the CJCS (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). Attendees typically include the Combatant Commanders, Service Chiefs and elements of the Strategic Planning Council. The meetings are held three times a year (Jan, May and Sep) and are executed by the Director, Joint Staff. For some key bullet points on DSLC see:
The name change has been an emotional topic and has been bandied about for years. On the one hand, “PSYOP” has a long and distinguished history with traditions and a nascent branch espirit de corps. On the other, demand for PSYOP forces is escalating and the optempo is breathtaking.
Lack of emphasis of influence operations by senior combat CDR and the bifurcation of PSYOP forces between SOF and Reserve chains of command continues to hobble efforts to optimize and standardize PSYOP training and operations. Key challenges are: elevate the status and importance of information support (PSYOP/PAO) to the force; optimize force development, command and control to deal with burgeoning demand, provide for future conflicts where cyber influence – especially on non-state actors is critical.

Perhaps the name change signals a renaissance of the influence profession and missions.

It is past time for the influence aspect of military operations to assume its rightful role as a leading element in today’s force. This implies strong senior leadership support in terms of resourcing and fast tracking the policy and doctrinal changes that are needed in today’s world.

The name change is a perfect reason for renewed efforts to ‘educate’ Congress on what we do why MISO is an important instrument of government power. As a non-lethal battlefield multiplier MISO can more positively impact world opinion of US efforts than kinetic operations.

As good soldiers we have been given a lawful order and must execute it. We need to put aside any personal feelings we might have about the loss of tradition, and consider how we can leverage the name change and the massive activity that is needed to revise ‘the system’ across personnel, operations, training and logistics required to effect the change.

This is also an opportune time for the re-design of the Information Operations (IO) playing and career fields. In particular the need to integrate PAO and MISO as synergistic tools for the CDR is critical. Renaming and repositioning MISO can be a catalytic process to help foster this process.

All of us in the community need to embrace the change regardless of our personal feelings and use this window of opportunity to strengthen the community – perhaps not so much for ourselves, but for those who will come after us.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

SOF Week 2010: The Only PSYOP is Being Done By Vendors

The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) kicked off its annual SOFIC Conference in Tampa on June 15, 2010. There were over 300 vendors exhibiting and exhibit staffers out numbered paying attendees to the parallel Small Business session on Tuesday morning.

Naturally the exhibits leaned heavily on lethality, protecting and transporting the force. Speakers were all focused on acquisition as the target audience was as much the vendors as it was the special operators who drifted in after lunch.

Exhibitors also included Special Forces from the United Arab Emirates as well as a contingent from the Dubai tourist bureau, but alas not one exhibit that dealt with PSYOP or even Civil Affairs.

Of course this was not a surprise to anyone – least of all me. The take away for me is that PSYOP lacks more than a single, unifying association, it lacks a business oriented association whose purpose is to support the PSYOP community by harnessing marketing dollars of the vendors that supply it.

PSYOP equipment and services are likely to account for a hefty business, but it is difficult to quantify it all. From a payroll perspective the Army alone as 3 PSYOP Groups with a total manning of 4,000 people. SOCOM PSYOP purchases are buried in the C4 (Command, Control, Communications & Computers) Program Office and must account for $100 million or more annually. The Army Special Operations (ASOC) budget for PSYOP equipment and services is likewise non-trivial, yet there is no trade association to catalyst the market or benefit from vendor dollars.

The closest thing to a trade event for PSYOP is Regimental Week, which heretofore has been the exclusive province of the 4th POG. The jungle drums are saying that the next PSYOP week will be in October 2010 at Fort Bragg. Hopefully the POGs, the JMISC are working together to insure an event that reflects and involves the entire community. Continued lack of community unity will result in PSYOP continuing to be the SOF step child.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Israeli Flotilla Raid: Military Victory – International Disaster

On May 31, 2010 the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) boarded the Mavi Marmara Turkish vessel carrying aid and people to the Gaza Strip. Israel has been enforcing a blockade to restrict access to the Hamas ruled Gaza strip. During the raid 9 activists were killed. The IDF gained control of the flotilla and the attempt to run the blockade was thwarted.

In the aftermath of the raid Egypt at least temporarily lifted the blockade on its borders, Turkey – Israel’s most critical Moslem ally, has threatened to cut off diplomatic relations, the UN Security Council is in a dither and world opinion of Israel declined again. (NY Times article on 1 June 2010:

On the surface you have to ask yourself “What was the Commander of the IDF naval commandos thinking and what was his mission?” The tactical answer would likely be that the mission was to stop the flotilla and to do so with a minimum loss of life on both sides.

Surely Israel intelligence knew or should have known that the vessels in the flotilla were armed with video cameras and that activists are called activists for a reason. Hamas and other terrorist groups are masters at orchestrating information dominance. This latest action is yet another example of their uncanny ability to out fox the craftiest of foxes.

Israel is a small country and their military has the luxury of smallness and closer ties to their Executive Branch than most other nations. However, it would appear that either they don’t have an integrated information engagement strategy or just don’t give a shit.

Assuming for the moment that the latter is true, then Israel is willing to concede the public opinion card to Hamas and has back door means for smoothing out their apparent diplomatic crisis with Turkey. Interestingly enough the death of the 9 activists has captivated media attention more than the deaths of 46 sailors on board the Republic of Korea ship Cheonan.

What are the lessons for US PSYOP:
1. Mission assessments and operations orders MUST include an information operations assessment to include likely enemy information engagement via the media and Internet.
2. PSYOP and PAO plans and annexes need to be flexible and adaptable.
3. Friendly alternative Courses of Action (COA) need to be developed that minimize the positive impact of enemy information operations.
4. Where possible involve forces from more than one nation in the action.
5. If possible, and in line with security considerations, embed a respected international journalist who can tell the story. Of course this is a calculated risk.
6. Make certain that the diplomatic chain of command is pre-briefed on the alternative COA and that their Public Affairs Officers (PAO) have prepared story lines.
7. If video is taken: the chronology must be visible, details highlight the storyline need to be emphasized.
8. If things go south – act quickly to minimize the negative media responses. Remember unlike chicken soup and wine – bad news does not get better with age.