Friday, March 29, 2013

Map PSYOP: Still A Good Technique

One of the more interesting scenes in the book “Catch 22” is when the bomber crews decide the best way to avoid flying a dangerous mission into enemy territory is to get the Germans to think that the front line has been moved. So they change the front line on one of the maps knowing full well that a German spy will see the new line and report back to his HQ.

Sure enough, the spy takes the bait. He reports where the Americans are showing the front line and the HQ Staff figures that their map must be in error and orders the troops to pull back behind the ‘true’ font line.

Obviously Catch 22 was required reading for the PRC Strategic Influence Operations team. According to the Bangkok post of 29 March, the Indonesians are protesting the map that the PRC is using on its passports. (see which is also the photo source.)

The Chinese are masters of nuance and have been for thousands of years. By printing their perception of borders the Chinese have cleverly managed to tick off one of their Asian neighbors.

Assuming that the move was intentional, this illustrates how the Chinese leadership, department of state and other ministries have all cooperated to influence the outside world at little or no cost. Something that perhaps we could all learn from.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The PRA – Ready for Congress?

The PSYOP Regimental Association is on its way. For years the PSYOP Community has been served by two different associations. The PSYOP Veterans Association (POVA) composed of Viet Nam Veterans and whose main concern is their annual reunion. The PSYOP Association (POA) has been more of an educational resource sponsoring the acclaimed electronic Front Post. Neither accumulated a critical mass of membership nor were they influential in the grand scheme of things.

The new PRA is based at what one of my CDR’s used to call “the center of the universe” – Fort Bragg. The serving MISO Community is driving the train as it should be. (See If you are a part of the PSYOP/MISO world, you need to support the PRA because it is positioned to accomplish the mission of sustaining the esprit of the Branch, something the other two societies could not.

The PRA’s by-laws start out:
Section 1: The Association is a Veteran Service Organization. Accordingly, the purpose for which the association is formed are:
(1) Foster tradition, history and camaraderie among all Officers and Non-commissioned Officers; Active Duty and Reserve; Civilian and Retired; Printers, Broadcasters, and Graphic Designers that have contributed to the success of the Psychological Operations Regiment.

(2) Educate the PSYOP force and circulate professional ideas through publishing a regular Association publication available to all members and by hosting professional lectures to further educate members of the PSYOP Regiment.

(3) Recognize excellence within the PSYOP regiment through the Regimental Award, recognizing outstanding Soldier efforts in the POQC/SC, AIT and PSYOP Soldiers and NCOs of the year.

(4) Commemorate fittingly the memory of Psychological Operations troops who have paid the ultimate price in defense of American ideals.

(5) To be a source of pride and esprit de corps for all Psychological Operations / Military Information Support Operations units.

While I know the PRA is just starting out – there are two key elements missing: educating the “Big Army” and informing Congress. The former can certainly be accomplished by serving MISO personnel, while informing Congress cannot. Serving military have certain restrictions that likely include lobbying. 

Over the years budget battles have required a presence in the Halls of Congress. The Air Force has earned a well-deserved reputation for being help to farm the funds they need while the Army in general has not. Given that the Reserve Force is still part of the “Big Army” and that the funding challenges of the past will seem like child’s play compared to the post-Afghanistan world, someone, likely an Association has to carry the PSYOP mantle to our elected officials. Perhaps the PRA can carve out part of its membership willing to take on the task – if not, don’t expect MISO to be treated kindly over the next decade.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

First Lady Folk Singer To Project “Soft” Power

Peng Liyuan, the wife of the pending Chinese President, Xi Jinping will purportedly be taking a more active role on behalf the PRC. The Financial Times of March 13, 2013 (see: wrote a column on how the folk singer first lady will be part of the new President’s arsenal and a new personification of the Chinese government.

This approach is quite a departure from the past and in my view, a pretty good idea on a lot of levels. First of all, by having his wife travel with him he won’t hear her complaining about his travels. More importantly, putting a soft (and attractive) face on a government that has generally been labeled in less than flattering terms is a proven technique.

We live in a visual age. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other channels are the direct links to much of the world’s population. US Presidents have had mixed success in promoting their wives as alternative faces of America.

Michelle Obama has been a rousing champion for her husband and a credible, likeable and seemingly omnipresent alter ego. She has appeared on everything from children’s TV shows suck as “I Carly” to the Academy Awards. She is photogenic, strong and appealing, yet projects a ‘soft power image’.

Hillary Clinton on the other hand has faired far better since moving out from her husband’s shadow while the Bush wives never seemed to ruffle the airwaves.

If the new Chinese President is savvy enough to harness his wife’s star power and charisma, this may be an intelligence indicator that the strategic influence battle is about to be taken in a new direction.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Can you always trust the human map?

On March 4, 2013 Robert Fisk wrote in the Independent “Alawite history reveals the complexities of Syria that West does not understand” (see

Fisk is a Beirut based journalist who argues that the West has all too often relied on purist maps that neatly divide the world into clean areas. I think he knows  what he is talking about, because I can recall that the maps in Bosnia were pretty crisp in the sense that Bosniaks (Moslems), Croats (Catholics) and Serbs (Orthodox) were all in their clearly delineated areas after the conflict subsided in Yugoslavia, while the same maps prior to the conflict did in fact show a Mosaic.

Fisk points out that Westerners will sometimes rely on purist maps because it might politically incorrect to do otherwise or alternatively because no one really knows what the population looks like in the first place. I would have to say that I certainly agree with Fisk’s last point. As it turns out most conflicts don’t take place in areas that are economically robust. This means that commercial entities are not really interested in what is going on with that particular segment because the segment doesn’t have the money to buy anything that the commercial sector wants to sell.

This translate into not only a dearth of information about the population, but even less reliable information about the media because no one cares who is watching what TV station or listening to which radio station because the ratings don’t translate into sales.

Influencers of all stripes know that a key first step in formulating a plan is understanding who you are going to communicate with and what is the best way to reach them.  For MISO, PSYOP and Public Diplomacy this means working at ground level probably with trusted citizens or others with a proven understanding of the AO to develop this sort of road map. 

While we all sing the praises of Open Sources and the information explosion of the Internet, this doesn’t mean that the right information will be available when you need it. Innovation and the ability to assimilate the lay of the land under austere conditions and time pressure remains a core skill of the influence profession.

Photo Source: