Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Another PSYOP Contractor in the Spotlight – Not In A Good Way

This being Thanksgiving week here in the US I was worrying that I would not be inspired enough to make my more or less weekly Blog posting, but thanks to USA Today – I was wrong. 

Today’s (20 Nov 12) USA Today published the article “Pentagon overseas propaganda plan stirs controversy”. (see http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/11/19/pentagon-overseas-communications-strategy-stirs-controversy/1715741/)

This article like many other USA Today articles in the past focuses on US “propaganda” and the contractors that provide services to the government. This time the center of attention is the Boston based Rendon Group and its founder, John Rendon. According to the article, “Since 2000, the military has paid the Rendon Group more than $100 million to help shape its communications strategy, analyze media coverage, run its propaganda programs and develop counter-narcotics efforts around the world”.

I’ve heard John Rendon speak and he is indeed someone who knows marketing and his company has provided the government with a lot of services over the years, chiefly in Latin America as I understand it.

What’s interesting about the article?

1.       How is the article positioned to attract readers?

The article screams “propaganda” which is always a red flag and a universally negative word. It leads with the fact that allegedly Rendon’s company once “weeded out reporters who wrote negative stories in Afghanistan and helped the military deceive the enemy in Iraq”. As to deceiving the enemy – are you kidding me? That’s the right thing to do, as for weeding out reporters, apparently the reporter has never worked in Commercial companies where public relations people do this all the time.

      Is there something inherently wrong in outsourcing tasks?

Inherently any organization should be free to work with vendors who it feels can help the organization. As the war in Afghanistan winds down anyone who thinks that ‘green suiters’ aren’t going to be replaced by contractors to some extent should look for a really cheap bridge in Brooklyn.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen’s quote from a year old interview was injected into the article “"I really do not like the term at all. It confuses people," Mullen said. "It means all things to all people. It's way overused and way overrated. I literally try never to use the term. We communicate as much if not more by our actions. I have become particularly concerned at a time that resources are so precious. It has become a thing unto itself. It is taking resources from the fight, I don't have time for it." I think he was right and that USA Today was trying to imply that these contracts are a waste of time and money.

In short – PSYOP work is put under yet another grey cloud. Members of Congress who are scurrying about looking for ways to save money who read the article are apt to go on a PSYOP/MISO cost cutting witch hunt – yet again.

The need for systematic and aggressive education for the public and Members of Congress seems to escalate any day. Hopefully, the nascent Regimental Association will consider this challenge as a part of their charter. However, serving military need to tread with care if they intend to work with Congress as there are legal and career implications.

Let us all take a moment and give thanks for what we have and our ability to enjoy it in peace. Peace that has often come at a high price to those who serve. To those of you serving today – my thanks and I salute YOU!

Photo Source: http://www.prwatch.org/node/4954, a 2006 article about John Rendon, “John Rendon’s Long, Strange Trip in the Terror Wars

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

US Military and African News Websites

One of our readers has brought to my attention an article from the Army Times, “US military behind Africa news websites” (see http://www.armytimes.com/news/2012/11/ap-us-military-behind-africa-news-websites-111312/).

The article addresses the US run web sites and there is a healthy dialogue about the effectiveness of these operations.

Worth a look.

And thanks @Anonymous.

The Lovelorn General and PSYOP

Unless you live in a cave, in which case you wouldn’t be able to read this anyway, the big news is the resignation of CIA Director, GEN (R) David Petraeus over an affair he had with a younger woman. While I will leave the national security implications and the “should his clearance be revoked” discussion to others, it is worthwhile to consider the PSYOP implications. 

It turns out that the discussion would center on the perceptions of the intended audience. One wag in today’s San Jose (CA) Mercury News told the story of the French diplomat who was ensnared in a ‘honeytrap’ by the KGB. When confronted with the pictures of himself engaged in love acts with a woman not his wife, the diplomat replied “I’ll take two prints of that one and three of the other.” Meaning of course, the no one in France could possibly care.

In translating that to the Petraeus incident – which of our many adversaries would want to use that kind of story as a message and what would be the point? As card carrying infidels Western Nationals, those from the US in particular, are expected to engage in what others may regard as deviant behavior, so how valuable is one story?

Since the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, there is no likelihood of blackmail, so the criminal aspect is moot as well. 

We should consider domestic adversaries for the moment as well. If the General was closely associated with one major party or the other then the games would begin much as they did when former President Clinton had his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky 15 years ago.

As with the Lewinsky story, the Petraeus brouhaha knocked some other stories off the front pages. Stories like the lingering misery from Hurricane Sandy and others were pushed to the back. Sometimes that in itself is a good thing. For example back in 1997 while I was in Bosnia one of the Persons Indicted For War Crimes (PIFWIC) was arrested. Ordinarily this would have been big news and a potential catalyst for domestic disturbances. Luckily this happened when the Lewinsky story did and scant attention was paid to said PIFWIC.

Thus far it would seem that the General Petraeus story is mostly a domestic one, but I’d be curious to hear what the readers think.

Photo Source: http://www.mercurynews.com/nation-world/ci_21987486/generals-petraeus-allen-both-backed-socialites-twin-sister

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cultural Affinity – Sometimes It Just Works

For the past three days it has been my distinct pleasure to visit Paraguay. While I really haven’t seen very much of the country, it has been one of those rare trips where everything seems to just work .

After an incredibly long set of flights which included a seat mate who was, as we use to say, “falling down drunk”, who tripped over me twice and stole my sleeping blanket during the flight. My Spanish was adequate enough to get through immigration without a hitch.

Sure enough there was a car, driver and escort at the airport to meet me. After the driver helped wrestle my bags into the trunk we learned that the car was locked and the keys were in it. He quickly got a second car and I was at my hotel.

The best hotel in Asuncion, Paraguay is the smallest Sheraton Hotel in the world. However a new “Loft” similar to the one in Arundel Mills, MD is under construction along with a new World Trade Center. This says something if you are sensitive to the implications.

The people are incredibly warm and friendly. After I purchased some post cards in a mall shop, one of the store’s clerks was kind enough to take me to the post office after it became clear that I couldn’t make out the Spanish instructions I was given. After we went through the door marked “Do Not Enter” and down a corridor with no signs it was a good thing he helped me out.

The food is marvelous, especially the fruit and meat. I was even able to find a very respectable version of a NY Deli favorite, tongue, which was served on a portable charcoal grill. At my dinner last night the pate was some absolutely incredible chicken liver as it might have been served in Brooklyn. A very nice complement to the pork medallions which were slow kicked for over 7 hours.

I was in Asuncion giving a set of two presentations on Cyber War and Cyber Crime and the interpreter was a delight to work with. Even though she was an attorney like me, she also had a great sense of humor and our timing together was quite good. While I suspect she told the audience when to laugh a few times, we did get marvelous reviews.

The point of the story is that for PSYOP/MISO relating to your audience is key. Sometimes it takes an incredible effort to try and understand things from their point of view and other times, like this week, it just works.

Photo Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d8/Paraguay_flag.png

Monday, November 5, 2012

“Radio Training” Part of US Handoff in Afghanistan

Imagine how my funny bone was tickled when I saw an article on npr.com entitled” U.S. Handoff In Afghanistan Includes Radio Training” (see: http://www.npr.org/2012/11/04/164205769/u-s-handoff-in-afghanistan-includes-radio-training).

The article describes the “Radio in a box” concept where by the Afghan Army helps to broadcast political shows, music and messages according to the article. There is even a new job title in the Afghan Army, “Information Dissemination Officer”. In addition to active participation in the messaging cycle, the IDO is also responsible for propaganda analysis and other related tasks.

Given the nature of what is being broadcast, one would have to conclude that the US/NATO equivalent would have to be MISO, InfoOps or PSYOPs depending on which force you are talking to.

What is even more interesting is that the IO of the 173rd Airborne Bde BCT appears to be the coach for the operation. The fact that the BCT can muster such an individual and an 04 to boot is commendable.

Interestingly I suspect that the Afghans will face many of the same challenges with their new mission as those forces with more mature MISO capabilities. Getting the buy in and support of Commanders up the chain and insuring that the political masters aren’t offended at the same time are no easy tasks.

Of course the new information disseminators are faced with the same challenge as the rest of us – how do we know when our message is being effective?

In another Afghanistan related development, I am pleased to announce that the 15 (UK) Psychological Operations Group has been awarded the prestigious Firmin Sword of Peace by the Ministry of Defence (see http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/DefenceNews/HistoryAndHonour/FirminSwordOfPeaceAwardedTo15ukPsychologicalOperationsGroup.htm?goback=.gmp_910477.gde_910477_member_179222180).

A hearty cheer to our UK colleagues!