Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Call Me Ishmael

The PSYOP name change continues to generate angst in the community. The Blog has received a very healthy selection of comments – all of which I have published so far. The comments are unedited to reflect the author’s thoughts, feelings and spelling.

I’ve spent the last 5 days immersed in a FTX as MISO Man – the influence subject matter expert. As such I’ve generated FRAGOs proposed campaigns, liaised with PAO and worked under the auspices of an experienced IO Officer in an environment simulating a Joint Expeditionary Task Force (JETF).

Outside of some tap dancing and explaining early on in the FTX, the name of my function appears to have absolutely no effect on my ability to develop missions and represent the influence world. I have employed commercial organizations as models to show how influence operations go straight to the customer (Marketing Communications) and information operations (PAO/PR) work through the media to get to the mind of the customer. Both disciplines work in concert to achieve the maximum reach and optimal effects.

Having said this, I suspect that the environment is too pristine. We have scant representation from the State Department and no contact with IOs, IGOs or NGOs. My gut tells me that the bland new name (MISO) would have a greater appeal with these non-military types than PSYOP. I also feel pretty strongly that it would be easier to explain the notion of MISO to a Congressional Delegation than it would be to explain exactly the same function and its importance while simultaneously laboring under the lingering specter of the negatives associated with PSYOP by non-military personnel.

We’re still early in the game and I’m curious if any of you out there have had any recent experience (or even past experience as a part of a Military Information Support Team (MIST)) that you can relate.

In the meanwhile – stay safe and keep the faith.


Anonymous said...

Great stuff sir,
Is there any solid rumors about the reserve units getting the hell out of USARC and back to ASOC? I'm in AFG and the rumors fly like bugs. Looking for some good intel.



Lawrence Dietz said...

@ SGT B,

As I understand it there are some discussions 'at high levels' about putting the two sides of PSYOP under the same chain of command. Not sure when or if this would happen even though it clearly needs to.

Salil said...

The problem here is that this marketing model for behavior change simply isn't accurate. We aren't trying to get the Taliban to buy a car, we're trying to get them to surrender, to change their core values, to adjust their entire paradigm. This requires an actual understanding of the culture as well as behaviorial science. We conduct Psychological Operations at the tactical level - not Military Information Support. We can, and do, change behavior without communicating information. Its well established that we have been losing the War of Ideas for years. Instead of moving towards sound science, which is difficult, we continue to burrow deeper into the grave by looking to ethnocentric marketing applications as our savior. Its honestly embarassing.

Lawrence Dietz said...


I respectfully disagree. We are in the influence business. We are trying to induce people to do something. Clearly the stakes are higher and it's not selling Coke, but there are striking similarities between the world of PSYOP/MISO and marketing, sales, etc. Of course Western consumer marketing techniques are not the only aspect of marketing. Face to face is crucial as well.

I believe it's always useful to learn from other fields.

Rick said...

I think one has to look at the material realities and differences between selling Americans coke and selling Afghans on a different way of life. The former is simply a matter of trying to shape a preference for a fully accepted cultural practice, the latter is trying to change a cultural practice. All data on culture change tells us that changing underlining cultural principles requires change in infrastructural realities of day-to-day life. Taste is rather subjective, but when it comes to survival, reproduction, food, and the like, there's nothing subjective about it. This is only a problem if we want them to change things like educating their women.
When it comes to turning them away from Islamist propaganda, there is a great deal of evidence that anti-drug campaigns don't work precisely because they don't incorporate any of the narratives or themes from drug taking communities. Because of this, they are foreign messages that sound like lies, because they generally are. It's the same here. We require a real understanding of local narratives in order to augment them in a way that will augment behavior. This is exactly what companies are doing now, because I've done it for them.


Lawrence Dietz said...

@ PSYOP SGT - Fully concur, you are spot on there.

Salil said...

I didn't say that marketing has no place, but please show me a single instance of where strategic level marketing campaigns have shown a measurable, and significant, change in behavior.

And take a walk through rural Afghanistan sometime and tell me how well marketing approaches work.

This world is *not* driven by the same consumerist impulses that the western world is, and until we, in the PSYOP community, stop approaching it in this manner, we will continue to lose the War of Ideas.

how many generals, SecDefs, and Presidents, do we need to keep telling us that we're losing before we stop doing more of what's causing this defeat?

Lawrence Dietz said...

@Salil - Frankly I think we are on the same page. I agree with all that you have said in this comment. May I suggest you take a look at some of my earlier postings dealing with 'rural' marketing and I think you'll see that we agree.

Salil said...

And so my original contention stands - the drift away from solid behavioral sciences towards marketing has happened because marketing is easier than science, the Army prefers less intellectual methods, and the people in charge have taken the path of least resistance, and now that this drift is complete, PSY-op is dead.

The Human Terrain System proves this, to a large degree. These academics have absorbed several of the functions that PSYOP is doctrinally SUPPOSED to be handling, augmented by the SSD.

In today's PSYOP world we arent even resourced enough to apply the simplest of quid pro quo LOPs with any efficacy.

With MISO the tactical side of PSYOP will end, and frankly, as much as the O's love their huge marketing campaigns, its the ground level tactical efforts that win the people, not TV commercials and billboards.

Lawrence Dietz said...

@Salil, While I believe influencing people doesn't require formal education in psychology, I concur with your opinion about face to face beats marketing in Afghanistan especially.

As to the Human Terrain System, I don't have any knowledge of what they are or were doing or their success rate or lack of it.