Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Information Support Operations An Afterthought At Best for Homeland Security

On May 21 & 22, 2011 I was an evaluator for an exercise which took place in a major city. The city is the hub of an 8 city Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI). Federal government grant money paid most of the bills and sponsors took care of most of the rest.

The exercise involved 4 Emergency Operation Centers scattered over the area and was a series of ‘lanes’ designed to test Police SWAT (Special Weapons & Tactics), Fire, Urban Search & Rescue (USR), Emergency Ordinance Disposal (EOD), Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Each lane was coordinated by one agency and evaluators came from far and wide.

By design, the event is overall very low key, although there was an initial press conference attended by the city’s mayor and other dignitaries which resulted in some coverage prior to the event.

Media access was limited during the exercise and there were scant posters or other indications of locations or tactical lanes. In short it was akin to a military operation where the name of the game is to keep the public out of the way to minimize interference with the operation and maximize Operational Security (OPSEC).

While I can understand this posture in terms of external information support, I felt I was in a time warp when it came to the exercise play. There was absolutely no attention to the potential negative effect of information operations either intentional or accidental. Just as in my early Army exercise (PRC-6 anyone?) days, guidance was put out that communications are not to be interfered with because it was hard enough to communicate during the height of battle without someone messing with you.

More importantly the notions of misinformation, hostile crowds and pesky reporters were not considered at all. As for presence, there was only a single Public Affairs Officer at the central EOC with a few of the agency PAOs training their principals, but not actively involved in the exercise.

On the Command information side, EOC communications were via a chat like software package called WebEOC. No video and not very much contemporaneous reporting from other sources contributed to the CDR’s situational awareness.

Given the 24 hour news cycle, the persistence of paparazzi, and the ubiquity of cell phone video cameras – this is a mistake. Our enemies are clearly not stupid and are likely surveilling soft targets as you are reading this. The inability to provide information support operations in homeland security is a vulnerability that is open to exploitation by our enemies. DOD and DHS need to take the initiative and incorporate the informational aspects of homeland security into their efforts and as key elements in the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) and a key factor in determining if the government got its money’s worth for its grant funding.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Satisfaction of Ceremonies

On Saturday, 14 May I had the honor and pleasure of attending the Assumption of Command Ceremony for the 14th PSYOP Bn held at the new US Army Reserve Center at Moffett Federal Airfield, CA. While the circumstances leading up to the ceremony were not positive, the fact that a new CDR has taken charge in a public ceremony in front of his troops should be comforting to all.

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In this case it was especially satisfying to me personally because the new Commander was a LT in the 12th PSYOP Bn during my Command tenure. I have had the privilege of mentoring many people young in the careers in both the military and commercial sectors. While commercial success is certainly laudable, it does not come with the emotional high that is attached to being asked to Command in the military.

There is more than a certain pride that accompanies the new Commander as he or she strides out to the center of the parade field and receives the guidon of his new unit from the Command Sergeant Major. The moment is marked with determination, satisfaction and emotion and signals to everyone that this is the new boss who is now responsible for everything the unit does or fails to do. Commercial bosses may get their bonuses trimmed or stock options cancelled or even fired, but they are not likely to be in a position where they routinely decides who will be put in harm’s way.

Military Commanders today, whether active duty, reserve or national guard are making these decisions as they fill their rosters of personnel destined for Afghanistan, Iraq or future conflicts. Commanders at Battalion and above are normally selected by a Command Selection Board of senior officers, being selected is an achievement, but it is not a guarantee for success.

To the New Commander: Best Wishes and God Speed!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

After Afghanistan Where Does PSYOP Go Next And How Do You Train For It?

OBL is dead and Congress is clamoring for a re-evaluation of the strategy in Afghanistan. While I’m clearly not an expert on that theater, and once I again I disclose that I’ve never been there, it strikes me that killing one guy, even one very important guy, should not call for a re-make of a strategy if the strategy was any good in the first place. Having said that – what’s next after OBL and Afghanistan?

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I believe that demand for contractors can be seen as a leading edge intelligence indicator of US involvement. I picked a well known contractor at random and tallied the total of openings by location: Iraq 42, Afghanistan 39, Kuwait 10, Africa 9, Balkans 5, and Latin America 2. Let me stress that these are not PSYOP/MISO openings, but general openings.

What does all this mean? I believe it means a couple of things. First of all, even with the end of ‘conflict’ in Iraq there is still a great demand for American support. While the number of troops might decline overall, there will be a constant need for Military Information Support Operations to inform and influence the population. The numbers in Kuwait and Africa portend that, like the Balkans, any one of a number of countries can go to crap in a New York minute.

For one reason or another we don’t seem to be training foreign forces on PSYOP/MISO which means that “we” have to do it.

Given that Reserves will bear the brunt of any support effort to the Big Army, or General Purpose Force, it follows that a major US military commitment any where will more than likely call for Reserve PSYOP participation sooner or later.

Can you train as you fight if you have no idea where you are going? In certain things I believe you can. Personal conditioning, marksmanship, combat driving and survival skills are paramount. The nuances of climate may have to depend on best guess, but it wouldn’t be crazy to train for extreme heat or cold and high altitudes.

From a technical perspective, Internet PSYOP as well as TV will be employed in selected AOs and it is possible to train on editing, composing, etc. As for being ready to go anywhere at any time, given the amount of potential locations and the language/culture variations, I think this may be difficult. Having said that perhaps learning about historically disadvantaged locations such as Africa and keeping up to date on the latest regimes in Latin American and perhaps ‘the stans’ and their brethren may make good sense. Comments invited.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bin Laden and PSYOP: Now What?

The successful raid in Pakistan conveyed several key messages: the US has a very long memory, the US will use time and treasure to hunt down their enemies, it is only a matter of time and or money before anyone can be successfully targeted and the President knows how to capitalize on military successes for the country’s and his own benefit.

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The Bin Laden raid can clearly be used as evidence in campaigns against other high profile targets. Campaigns like these would work best with frequency over a number of media. Individuals who rely on electronic communications, especially smart phones would be really good targets of this kind of campaign.

Models for this type of campaign include the recent examples of cyber bullying that have taken place in various parts of the country where teenagers have been subjected to a relentless barrage of messages and perhaps videos. Social networking sites of the target can be likewise exploited.

On a more global level, OBL has been elevated to martyr in various circles and his death the latest cause celeb as to why the West and all it stands for should be destroyed with no mercy. This Blog doesn’t usually deal with kinetic operations, but I would like to note that I believe that it is reasonable to assume that there will be independent, mini-Mumbai like attacks against soft targets in the West sooner rather than later.

Tactical PSYOP/MISO communicators should consider using the OBL raid when appropriate – I suspect this would be most effective in face to face communications.