Friday, May 31, 2013

Syria: An Interesting PSYOP Puzzle

As the two year struggle continues in Syria, the stakes appear to be growing. Reports indicate that Russia is or will be supporting President Asad with weapons and the Lebanese based Hezbollah is heavily committed to his support as well. The US and the EU have so far remained on the side lines for the most part, but as we know all too well this can change at any moment.

The Influence War goes on almost below the radar as media, politicians and others try to push their respective agendas. Internet research revealed an article in a publication I’ve never heard of with a very intriguing May 31, 2013 headline: “The BBC Promotes Assad Propaganda in Syria Reports”  (see:
Another article on 20 March  2013 was “Syria ‘chemical’ attack leads to propaganda war” (see:

Thanks to the Internet almost anyone with an Internet connection can be a cyber-journalist. Of course there’s no guarantee that anyone will read what’s out there, but there is a possibility that a person of influence would use your material to support their points much like traveling executives use in-flight magazines as a source of brilliant ideas that they inflict on their staff when they get back to the office.
I have devoted the lion’s share of my posts to offensive influence operations, today I’m offering a change of pace, it is Friday after all. Media or Propaganda Analysis if you prefer is an essential part of what we do, and as intelligence professionals rate their sources, so should we.

In the case of these two articles, I didn’t have a clue as to the nature of “the algemeiner”, so I did a bit of digging and found that it bills itself as “The fastest growing Jewish newspaper in America, the NEW Algemeiner serves as a valiant media voice addressing the most compelling issues of our time, with vision, integrity and moral clarity.” and is based out of a PO Box in my old home town, Brooklyn.

The Gulf Times is based out of PO Box in Doha, Qatar. They describe themselves a group of good citizens who were inspired by patriotism to establish the Gulf Publishing and Printing Company. Who describe themselves this way - “It is fair to say that our Company is a cornerstone of the Qatari information media. Since its inception it has been dedicated to reflecting events at home and abroad. Always, our watchwords have been truth and accuracy”

A couple of key points. First of all, I have no idea if either or both are purely objective given the nature of the two articles I picked out more or less at random. Secondly both of these publications are likely to have their readership who were attracted to them because of their coverage and its appeal. Third, it is likely to be a very difficult task to start a publication – digital or print – from scratch so that we need to understand this new class of publications and determine the best way to work with them or credibly counter them in order to accomplish the mission.

Note: The two cited publications are also the respective photo sources.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Shoemaker’s Children Are Barefoot – Reprise

On November 20, 2012 I wrote about how one of the MISO Contractors was in the spotlight and not in a good way. The source of that article was an article on the Rendon Group. On May 23, USA Today ran “Report raps military propaganda efforts as ineffective” (see – which is also the photo source)

Once again, USA Today is selling papers at the expense of our Community. This time they are using a GAO Report as the source. After a bit of Googling I found what I believe is the text version of the report at:
But as PSYOPers (MISOoers just doesn’t sound right) let’s deal with the perception the article is likely to create rather than what the actual text does or does not say.
The key points of the article can be plugged into a couple of major topics.

1.       Measures of Effectiveness and ROI
“Pentagon propaganda programs are inadequately tracked, their impact is unclear, and the military doesn't know if it is targeting the right foreign audiences.” While the report says some of the military's propaganda teams have succeeded in the 22 countries, "it is unclear whether MISO activities are effective overall." The Pentagon can't measure the effects of propaganda programs well enough to know where to allocate funding.

2.       Management and Planning
The Pentagon and Congress "do not have a complete picture" of the efforts and the funding used to pay for the programs.
Lacking goals, the Pentagon does not have "reasonable assurance" that it is putting resources into countries that need it.
"websites have the potential to unintentionally skew U.S. policy positions or be out of step with other government efforts in a particular country."

3.       Resources
It also relies heavily on contractors to produce advertising, leaflets and radio broadcasts, many of them unattributed to the U.S. government because locals do not trust western influence, senior military officers told USA TODAY last year.
The report also pointed out that its reserve forces may not be adequately trained or equipped.

What of this is new news?

MOE – still chasing that rabbit down the rabbit hole. MOE is hard especially in combat areas and when your goal is long range change of behaviors.
MISO in today’s world is a bottom up endeavor inside and outside the MISO chain of command. This being the case it is no wonder that DOD doesn’t have a notion of the big picture – there isn’t any. There is on overall “Corporate” Influence Plan under which the lower echelons are supposed to nest.
WRT resources, DOD cannot possibly staff up to provide every kind of influence support in every language in all media, consequently there is a need for contractors. The real issue is given the byzantine nature of government contracting are we doing as best as we can to manage the contractors?

As for the RC, hopefully the path to put them back under the SOF umbrella is well under way.
Reader input encouraged.

Thoughts on what to tell a PSYOP Graduating Class are welcome as well.

Friday, May 17, 2013

MISO and the “New” War in Afghanistan

The NY Times among others have been touting that Special Forces will play the lead role in Afghanistan after conventional forces are pulled out. (See for example “Afghan Commandos Step Their Combat Role” at:; which is also the photo source.) The Times pegs the Special Operations force to be about one third of the total in February 2014 which means it will be a greater percentage of the force as the pull out progresses.

This particular article talks about the extensive training facilities built to train Afghan Special Operations and the training they are given. Like other media, the Times notes that “advising local military units on the front lines and hunting down top insurgent or terrorist leaders – will become the major focus of the alliance’s effort here either until American troops are withdrawn by the target date of December 2014 or the Afghan government asks them to stay past then.”

MISO provides support to US SOF and given the close relationship of the active duty MISO Forces and their SF kin on Fort Bragg, there is more than likely cross fertilization from one community to the other. 

MISO support to SOF operations clearly goes beyond Afghanistan and is a crucial element in the overall mission mix and arguably US Foreign Policy. But where does this concentration on SOF leave the rest of the force?

At one point the reigning philosophy was that RC MISO would support the “Big Army” while active MISO would support Special Operations. If the conventional force needed immediate MISO support, the active force could be applied there until the Reserve force could cover down – at least that’s the theory.

I’m wondering where we stand today. Have we (including SWC) learned the lesson of transitioning our doctrine and training from today to tomorrow? Are we growing a MISO force that is equally at home in a media dense urban environment and in a developing nation still struggling to give its population adequate drinking water?

MISO is a growth industry.  Events in Syria, Africa and elsewhere are simmering indications that influence operations are ongoing by our adversaries and enemies. It’s only a matter of time before US forces, SOF and Conventional are engaged in new AOs, perhaps areas where we haven’t been before. Will we be ready or will we be experts on Afghanistan?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Advanced PSYOP Targeting: iPads

Although I have been a part of the high tech world since the punched card era, I rarely become enamored with technology. Sure I liked the idea of schlepping a sewing machine sized computer on a cart and calling it a “luggable” and I was on board for early laptops including testing out encryption on the TRS80.

The Nexgov posting “iPhones and iPads Poised to Win Key Pentagon Security Nod Next Week” (see: – which is also the photo source) did strike a responsive chord for me.

I’m on my second generation iPhone and bought my first iPad at the end of 2012. I constantly marvel at the elegance of the technology, but beyond the glitz is a competitive war the likes of which the world has not seen because there are literally thousands of Aps fighting for your attention and your wallet.

From a MISO perspective the iPad owner is more than likely to be one of the elite unless the AO is a very developed and Internet savvy one in general. The power of imagery is one of the ways that set the iPad (and to be fair many of his competition) off as a medium. We’re talking the full range of senses here meaning that video and sound are a part of the game.

Consequently there are a number of MISO challenges in targeting such an advanced device:
1.       Credible Source – the target has to go to the message even if it’s a txt and a link.
2.       Timing – the pace of the iPad and smartphone centric worlds is staggering and missing a window by a few moments could prove disastrous.

3.       Dazzle – the message has to grab the view.
Some Aps may be good development tools, but since iPad like most other Apple products requires either a rabbi to tell you the secrets or the laborious process of divining out the proper Ap and how to use it. You can short cut the process a bit by getting one of your youngest relatives to test a bunch for you. They’ll think it’s fun and you’ll save a lot of time.
As always – reader comments encouraged.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Muzzling Media Muddles Mission

The revocation of broadcasting licenses of 10 TV Channels by the Iraqi government is an indication that the Shiite-led government feels it is losing ground against the rival Sunni faction. It may also be a sign that attempting to control media can no longer be done locally (see

A good part of my time in Bosnia as a part of the NATO Combined Joint Information Campaign Task Force (CJICTF) was spent dealing with media. This ranged from learning about the importance of pirated Venezuelan TV soap operas to inciting riots against NATO forces by local radio stations.

For the most part Iraq is an urban AO and as such is more influenced by media than Afghanistan. While the broadcasts may be transmitted locally, they originate outside the country so that the revocation merely affects local reporting. The revocation of course does not impact an Internet based media or messages delivered via smart phones.

The revocation can also stand for the proposition that sectarian strife is only minimally impacted by influence operations and that people are pre-disposed to believe negative reporting about long standing grudges.

The challenge for influence operations professionals becomes to ‘move the needle’ so that the population is more able to receive ‘true’ views of what is going on so that they can make informed decisions notwithstanding the ethnicity of the people in it. Perhaps everyone should listen to the song “Everyone is a little bit racist” from the musical Avenue Q. Check out the video at: Song starts about a minute into the video.