Thursday, December 23, 2010

Technology and MISO – Leverage or Wasted Funding?

This week’s post was inspired by two issues of the highly informative PSYOP Association electronic publication, Frontpost. In FPI # 1515 Wired magazine’s article on Battlefield Holograms is referenced (see and in FPI # 1518 an article from the BBC News about the Colombian government giving the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) a special present (see

Photo Source: Reuters via BBC website

Having been in high tech since the days of the punched card, and having seen technologies come and go, it would be fair to say that I am more than a little skeptical of technology in general, much less as an information weapons system. Holograms, 3 dimensional representations of objects or people can be projected to give the illusion that the object is real, while the technology is ‘cool’, I think the MISO application is limited as I will explain below.

It seems to me that this technology is as applicable to military deception as it might be to MISO under the proper circumstances and in fact, may be more useful in that area perhaps to deceive IMINT collectors, if the technology is that robust. Overall my instincts tell me that holograms would be most effective in a MISO application against technologically inexperienced targets such as those that might be found in rural Afghanistan. One of my sources who was stationed in Afghanistan for a year described several instances from his personal experience that lead me to believe this type of technology might work there. However, I believe its useful life would be quite short, and that the word would spread to the point that the technique’s effectiveness would diminish over time.

A far better application is found in the BBC article on the Farc. According to the article the Colombian Special Forces infiltrated the Farc’s area of operations (AO) and set up “a 25m (82ft) high tree with 2,000 lights”. The tree was surrounded by sensors, when movement triggered the sensors the tree lit up. I loved this one!
First of all it showed that the Colombian SF could infiltrate what might have been considered a very well defended position, secondly there is the emotional reaction to the sudden burst of light throughout the dark jungle and lastly, perhaps most significantly the symbolism of the tree generally makes people think of their homes, friends and families. The simple and powerful message: now is a good time to go home.

Kudos to the Colombians!

As 2010 draws to a close, I wish my brothers and sisters in the MISO community Happy Holidays and may 2011 be your most peaceful and satisfying year ever. Next entry will be in January unless something really cool comes up.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jiminy Cricket in the Form of a Non Government Organization

As many of you may remember, Jiminy Cricket was Pinocchio’s conscience. He helped to coach the puppet to be truthful so that the puppet’s dream of turning into a ‘real boy’ could be realized.

Today’s Washington Post featured an article entitled: “Obama says U.S. is ‘on track’ to achieve goals in Afghanistan” (see The President claims that the US is making progress, but as he noted "the gains we've made are fragile and reversible.". The President added …..Taliban momentum has been "arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible,"

Photo Source:

The impression of this rather strategic communication was to convey a positive view of where we are in Afghanistan. The target audience was of course beyond those fortunate enough to be at the White House. The target audience is world opinion.

When I see statements like this I become quite skeptical and while I have never been to Afghanistan, I have spoken to many who have been there, and my impression is that Afghanistan is a feudal state that has resisted centralized control of any type – whether driven by Afghanis or by outsiders for centuries. It didn’t seem quite right to me that we are succeeding were so many others have failed. So I dug a bit deeper.

Interestingly, another seemingly innocuous article popped up on my radar screen. The NY Times reported on 15 December 2010: “For Red Cross, Aid Conditions Hit New Low in Afghanistan” (see
The article quotes the Reto Stocker, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (a non-government organization with HQ in Switzerland): “By every measure that the Red Cross tracks, the situation has worsened throughout the country for civilian casualties, internal displacement and health care access and all of it is “against the background of a proliferation of armed actors,”.

Who is a reasonable person to believe? The President of the United States, a duly elected former Chicago politician or one of the world’s leading charities?

The point of this post is not to argue who to believe, but to point out that today’s information battlefield is a dynamic one where neutrals and friendlies can mute the impact of even the most carefully orchestrated campaign and where it is impossible to color bad news as good in the 21st century.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Iraq: Post War Proves More Difficult Than The War

The US has already downsized its efforts and removed ‘combat’ forces from Iraq. Conceptually the departure of US combat forces was supposed to signal a new era of self-sufficiency, security and prosperity for Iraq and is people. The new era part may be true, but the rest of it is clearly in doubt.
Photo Source:

While the world watches new hot spots like Korea, continually festering ones like Afghanistan while trying to digest supposed revelations over Wikileaks , US forces are still preparing to deploy to Iraq where the number of troops hovers around 50,000 -- PSYOP (Military Information Support) personnel are among them.

I believe the MISO job in Iraq will be more difficult that it was support tactical combat operations and I believe it will be even more nuanced that the Afghanistan mission. MISO works best when it is based on truth and where there is some leverage in the mind of the intended audience. Information support of any kind cannot fix underlying problems. It can help to highlight achievements and can accentuate positive while reducing the negative, but it cannot alleviate underlying problems.
There are four critical problems that need to be addressed by the US and our allies so that the Iraqi people at least have a fair chance to establish a stable and prosperous environment. Here are the issues as I seem them (not necessarily in order).

1. Dreadful Economy
Unemployment in Iraq is reportedly high and there has been no influx of new opportunities to give Iraqi’s jobs. Unemployment is exacerbated by the fact that many Iraqi’s were dependent on US forces or contractors to US forces for their jobs and these sources have dried up as well.

2. Governmental Impotence
The Iraqi federal government is still in political tatters and appears unable to address the needs of the population (electrical power likely still being a big issue). Regional and local governments are likely to be no better off.

3. Increased Secular Conflict
Sunni, Shia and others seem to be in a state of turmoil fanned by insiders and outsiders.

4. Outside Influence
There appears to be undue influence by outsiders, especially Iran who delights in seeing a weak government. The security vacuum has also reopened the door for foreign ‘fighters’ to return and foster havoc as well.

In my view there are a couple of keys to success that must be explored even in the face of these four significant challenges. First of all, the US needs to insure dominance over the TV airwaves inside Iraq. This means developing on-going and mutually beneficial relationships with local and regional TV broadcasters. These relationships might include sharing of advanced journalistic techniques and technology (which ought to be spear headed by the Public Affairs Office) and spreading around of advertising dollars.

Secondly, credible spokes people need to be recruited and nurtured. There is no shortage of physical danger in Iraq, but there always seems to be a small core of people willing to stand-up for their beliefs. These are valuable resources and must be guarded and protected.

Third, if ever there was a time for the other Cabinet Departments to pitch in, it is now. State needs to insure that there is no shortage of coordinated public diplomacy, while Treasury, Commerce and Agriculture along with DHS need to provide their expertise to help Iraq regain its national strength.

NATO and other allies should be doing their fair share. Fair share here can mean economic support as well as military boots on the ground.

Finally the President and his advisers need to afford the Iraqi AO the priority it deserves to preserve the hard hardened gains and investment in blood and treasure we have already made.