Friday, October 28, 2011

Newspapers and MISO

Military Information Support Operations (MISO) professionals have to keep up on media trends since the media is one of the tools of our trade. On the evening of 27 October 2011 I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by an old newspaper pro. Leigh Weimers (see

He retired from the San Jose Mercury News in 2005 after a 47 year career there, the last 40 years of which were spent writing a very popular column on San Jose happenings. When Weimers joined the paper there were about 125 people on the news end, at the high point of the paper’s circulation, just before the Dot Com Bust, the staff had mushroomed to 625. San Jose’s population was about 100,000 when Weimers started and it’s over 1 million today and ranked as America’s tenth largest city. Interestingly enough the paper’s news staff is less today than it was almost 50 years ago.

Photo Source: Leigh Weimers Blog

While it wouldn’t be prudent to extrapolate US newspapers in general or the San Jose Mercury News in particular to any other geographic area, especially areas of operation outside the US, it is always useful to learn about history and trends.

First of all Weimers believes that ‘young’ people (meaning 20 – 45 I suppose) are not reading actual newspapers but are getting their news on line. I would have to say that my personal experience is that this assumption is mostly true and holds true for most countries where I have traveled in Asia and Europe as well as the U.S.

Large metropolitan newspapers have suffered badly because their classified ad revenue has declined in favor of free Internet advertising such as Craig’s List,, Linkedin, etc. Weimers said that 70% of the paper’s revenue came from classified ads. Free is a pretty good price and according to Weimers no one is willing to pay for quality journalism. Since it would be hard to have the same level of resources with such a reduced revenue level.

In our world, we come across nations where the media is run by the government – that’s who paying for it. At issue on the ground is how much credibility and influence that media has on its readers when everyone knows the state is not an impartial reporter nor concerned with winning many Pulitzers.

Some publishes like Rupert Murdoch are seeking to exploit electronic media. The Daily ( is specifically designed for the iPad. Subscribers pay about $40 a year. Reports about the venture launched in February 2011 indicate that the project isn’t even close to breaking even. Of course iPad owners are an elite group and even a small population of them may be desirable to certain advertisers and in some cases may be targets of focused MISO efforts.

Selected publications that have established news niches like the Wall Street Journal may be able to make the leap to pay for content because they have developed a following. Weimers cited that only 14% of iPad owners pay for their news.

For others, local focus is the key. By covering news that is not covered elsewhere: city council meetings, county political news, local sports, obituaries, etc. small papers, especially rural ones are able to survive as business ventures.

For MISO the implications are clear:

1. CyberInfluence (CyIn) must be as much a core part of our tool box as leaflets and loud speakers.

2. There is no substitute for the team on the ground learning the nature of the environment.

3. Local media will likely be the most effective at the tactical level, but must be carefully studied through the appropriate cultural and linguistic filters to determine where and how it fits in the mix.

4. Age demographics are key.

As always, reader input invited.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gray PSYACTs and the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Recently I did a posting on Black Propaganda based on a publication I bought on my recent visit to Bletchley Park early in October 2011. In that posting I asserted that in today’s world it is quite difficult to shield a ‘true’ source for any length of time.

Along the same lines several publications published stories that indicated that certain NGOs or philanthropic organizations were secretly funding the protestors of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Whether those stories were a result of bad analysis and/or lack of fact checking or planted to discredit the protestors as tools of the, or even whether or not there is some truth behind them remains to be seen.

However, we now are seeing several articles such as these cited below proffering ‘mea culpas’.

Soros: not a funder of Wall Street protests

 and some media self-flagellation at:
From a MISO standpoint, the battle for influence, like kinetic battles ebb and flow. Today’s news wafts
away quickly as it is replaced by more interesting and more powerful images, events or reports.

Let me offer an unpopular view for a change. In fluid situations perhaps it’s a good idea to potentially
employ gray PSYOP and PSYACTs as a tactic to break the adversary’s momentum, perhaps like drawing
a penalty in sports that halts the other team’s offense and gives your defense a chance to regroup or
takes the crowd out of the game.

Timing of these injections is critical. It is also critical to insure that you have your counter plan ready
so that if the gray stuff is traced to you or your source you can quickly acknowledge,
employ proper counter measures.
As always, Reader comments invited.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The PSYOP of Protests - Occupy Wall Street Applied

There has been much ado about the “Occupy Wall Street” Movement here in the US during September and October of 2011. The late night news on 12 September had extensive coverage of how the ‘movement’ was spreading throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

As it turns out, I was attending the 1st San Jose Cyber Security Summit at the San Jose, CA City Hall. After watching the news last night I was more than curious to see the extent of the protest live. I took the photo in today’s posting using my iPhone, so I can assure you it was not retouched in any way. It turns out to be a ‘long shot’ with the tent accommodations of some of the protestors in the foreground and a bunch of ‘protestors’ about 75 feet away near Santa Clara Street, the main thoroughfare near the City Hall.

If the effect makes the entire effort look sparse – it’s because it was! This is in stark contrast to the tight shots being used on TV last night which gave the viewer the impression that there were quite a bit more protestors than in reality.

What’s all mean? Gatherings of crowds can serve useful purposes of anyone who is astute enough to photograph them in a way that supports their case. Magnifying the size and scope of a gathering serves to amplify the message. This amplification can serve to stimulate recruitment, increase media coverage, provide useful ‘background roll” for later use or all of the above.

Merely showing a group of people protesting doesn’t prove anything by itself. Analysts would have to look at the objective size of the crowd, their demographics, trends in the previous days or weeks and compare this analysis with other similar situations.

For influence professionals it’s a gift! Images of various demographic groups, particularly individuals whose image clearly portrays a specific group can be very effective in promoting one’s cause. Counter propaganda analysts need to not only perform the objective analysis , but determine the potential uses our enemy could make of the images and recommend what the best counter messages might be.

In the Internet age the local protest can turn into the strategic message very quickly.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Black Propaganda: It Worked in WWII – Would It Work Today?

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of visiting Bletchley Park, the home of the UK WWII Codebreakers. I purchased a monograph “Black Propaganda” by John Pether which discusses the British Black Propaganda (BP) efforts against the Germans in WWII. For those unfamiliar with the term, there are three classes of propaganda:

1. White – true source readily identifiable

2. Black – designed to represent other than the true source

3. Gray – no indications of source.

Photo Source:

During WWII Britain conducted a three pronged BP effort. They employed radio stations, printed matter and agents to foster a number of their influence goals such as creating resistance to the occupying forces and undermining the ‘quisling’ Nazi-supporting governments established in occupied countries.

Let me pose the question: if we arbitrarily divided target sets into urban and rural, is it possible that BP campaigns using the same media as well as more high tech media in appropriate markets (mobile phones, Internet, fax, e-mail, etc.) would be effective today?

My gut reaction is that they might be effective for very short period of times, but not in the long run. Furthermore, the negative impact of exposure would undermine whatever credibility the BP campaign promulgator might have had in the first place.

BP might be appropriate to achieve a very limited tactical objective such as trying to get an enemy force to behave or not behave in a certain manner for a short period of time.

Overall however, I believe as Gartner Analyst Richard Hunter put it, we live in “A World Without Secrets” (Available from Amazon at:

The close knit nature of tribes in rural target areas and the ultimate exposure of almost anything by Internet savvy Bloggers and others seem to guarantee that keeping sources secret over long period of times is not nearly as easy today as it was 50 or more years ago.

Reader comments earnestly solicited.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

MISO and the Generation Gap

For the past week I have been attending an elite information security conference ( in Ireland. Unlike most cyber security conferences which are mired in technical details, this one explores higher level issues.

Photo Source:

One of the more interesting topics was the nature of personal privacy or the lack thereof on the Internet. A key side bar was the fact that the younger generation has little or no concerns and is given to texting and social networks for even the most intimate communications.

There are a number of important PSYOP principles that flow from these trends. First of all, as Sun Tzu would advise - know your target. This means campaigns addressed to younger audiences probably should be crafted by that age group.

A second observation is that lack of expected privacy opens up a significant opportunity for the potential use of deception in the IO campaign.

Thirdly, denial of electronic communications can mean infliction of a high level of stress and anxiety.

Consequently, campaigns targeting any age specific population group should employ a collaborative environment that includes people within the target age categories in addition to appropriate linguistic and cultural knowledge. If such a mix is not available, then it is highly recommended that rigorous pretesting be employed prior to launching the campaign.