Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Chinese Web Propaganda Machine

I had intended to take this week off from posting, and in general IT publications are pretty boring. However the article “Hacked emails reveal China’s elaborate and absurd propaganda machine” (see - below the Computer Associates Ad and also the photo source) seemed to be the exception to both.

The kind of effort described by the article is a long term effort best employed against connected and mainly urban societies. These kind of efforts are also typical of environments where government controls or seeks to control the information environment.

While direct conflicts may not take place in these government controlled areas, it makes sense to understand how these tactics work and how they could conceptually be adopted or altered for our own advantage. For example would the same workers change their allegiance for 75 cents a posting rather than 50?

Happy New Year to one and all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What's In A Name?

“Words matter in ‘ISIS’ war so use ‘Daesh” was the head of an OpEd piece from the Boston Globe (see: In September FRANCE24 decided to use Daesh as well.

Words matter as we learned during the initial MISO naming melee. Whether calling an enemy organization a name they dislike can actually make some sort of impression is another thing,

Of course the name ‘ISIS’ is intended to convey an official status for what the terrorists hope will one day be recognized as a legitimate caliphate.

According to FRANCE24 (see: which is also the photo source.
“Daesh is a loose acronym of the Arabic for “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham).Use of acronyms is rare in the Arabic world, with the notable exception of the Palestinian group Hamas (Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾiSlāmiyya).  First used in April 2013 by Arabic and Iranian media hostile to the jihadist movement, Daesh became a name commonly used by the enemies of IS, notably forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as activists and less fanatical rebel groups also fighting the Damascus regime.
A principal reason for using the acronym was to remove the words “Islamic” and “State” in reference to the group in a bid to stop Muslims in war-torn Syria and beyond flocking to its ranks.
Defiance and disrespect
It is also considered insulting, and the IS itself doesn’t like the name Daesh one bit.
Beyond the acronym, “Daesh” sounds lie the Arabic “Daes”, meaning “one who crushes something underfoot” as well as “Dahes”, which means “one who sows discord”.”
I am not a scholar of the Middle East and so I cannot vouch for the correctness of the French assertions. I am only pointing out that words matter and that it’s worth considering using what influence we might have in a way calculated to give our enemies the least possible comfort.

All of my best wishes for the 2014 Holidays and for a peaceful, healthy and rewarding 2015.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sponsored Content = Propaganda?

Like  many of you I get a fair amount of e-mail, some of it informational, some of it news, etc. Foreign Policy magazine is a magazine favored by policy wonks. I get a couple of their newsletters - the item in red caught my attention today.

The sponsor of the red item is "US/UAE".

Propaganda or just some good information?

You be the judge.

A New HQ Is Not Enough

Interestingly enough after I published today's post I came across an article by UPI "Why the US is losing the war against the Islamic state. They boiled it down to: "The Obama administration has preferred rhetoric and half measures so far because it was unwilling to re-engage in Iraq. Rhetoric is no substitute for action. To defeat IS decisive leadership and determined commitment are essential. Otherwise, the fight against IS will not be won.


On December 5, 2014 the Washington Post published an article: “New US Military Command Established for Iraq and Syria Operations” (see “

The article indicated that LTG James L Terry was designated CDR of Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) – Operation Inherent Resolve in addition to his current duties as CDR of the Army Component of CENTCOM (ARCENT).

According to the article LTG Terry was supposed to provide a briefing on the changes engendered by the new Command on Friday the 5th. A check of the Pentagon issued a Press Advisory that noted that the briefing had been postponed until December 18, 2014 at 10 AM EST. (See:

Given the challenge facing him, LTG Terry is wise to gather his thoughts and resources first, figure out what impression he wants to make on the world stage, then enter it.

The NY Times published the map a right to show ISIS controlled areas in November 2014. It’s no coincidence that ISIS’ AO is Syria and Iraq. It’s also no secret that ISIS is a new kind of enemy, one that is borderless, and in many ways amorphous.  (See:

Appointing a single CDR to deal with this threat is in keeping with the principle of Unity of Command and makes a great deal of sense on many levels. The rank of the CDR indicates a Corps Level Command which Normally implies a pretty big HQ element.

In this I would argue that smaller would be better. Operations against ISIS need to be characterized by swiftness and flexibility. The enemy has interwoven itself into the civilian population and can ebb and flow within the population, as it needs to in order to defeat allied efforts against them.

Non-kinetic efforts are absolutely critical in this battle.  They need to be a key element of all operations conducted in the AO. Consideration needs to be given to the implications (in the minds of the civilian population) of all acts conducted in the AO.

The PSYOP support must be equally supple. The range of MISO resources needed to support this new type of CJTF is mind-boggling. On one hand tactical elements are needed as is normally the case and on the other, strategic resources need to be on call to deal with events that have global significance such as murder of hostages, massacres and the like.

GO HQ are often lumbering beasts often encumbered with big staffs and meetings upon meetings. This one needs to be different.

Reader feedback encouraged.

Friday, November 21, 2014

False Tweets = Cyber PSYOP

I’ve posted about cyber influence before. When an event happens that confirms or reinforces some of what I’ve concluded I like to post that reference as well. Anti-virus vendor Sophos publishes an almost daily blurb called “Naked Security”. The November 20, 2104 editions featured an article “Hackers Blamed For Unusual Tweets..” (see: which is also the photo source.)

The substance of the article is: “TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson and Colombian militia group FARC may not have much in common, but this week they were linked by headlines blaming hackers for potentially embarrassing Twitter messages.”

The article addresses how hackers can take over a Twitter account and broadcast their own content to the detriment of the target. In some cases the hacker will identify themselves either directly or indirectly by virtue of the message, in others the hacker is content with remaining unidentified.

These attacks can be broadly staged such as against governments or large companies, or they can be tightly focused on particular individuals.

Depending on the nature of the target, more harm may come from the publicizing of the attack rather than those who follow the target’s tweets. The Twitterverse (if there is such a word) is a community of followers and perhaps some analysts, but IMHO is not indicative of the general public.

In some locations Twitter users are likely to be younger, perhaps more affluent and perhaps more educated. Also I suspect there is a higher density of media types involved as well.

Reader comments appreciated.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Comics: The Real Super Heroes of Middle Eastern Influence?

Many of us will admit that ‘comics’ were a big thing in our lives at one point or another. Today’s comic reader is more likely to be a 20 or 30 or even 40 something than they are to be a teenager especially if we are talking about the Middle East.

The Economics of November 8, 2014 ran an article “Laughing at the humorless” (see:, which is also the photo source) which addressed how the “region’s comics have long used subtle satire to criticize their authoritarian regimes, yet with little success in effecting change.

The Middle East is certainly nothing to laugh at, especially these days. Much of the cultural and sociological norms there remain a mystery to Western audiences even those charged with influencing the region.

It strikes me that comics can be an effective way to gradually influence behavior. If I could wave a magic wand I would create a credible lead character whose trials and tribulations are captured in comics that are easily related to by a Middle East audience.

We talk about videos going viral and getting hundreds of thousands of views, I wonder if support to rising comic authors makes sense as a logical part of US Middle East influence efforts.

Comments are very much encouraged.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

MISO and the American Embassy: Two Peas In The Same Pod?

As many of my loyal readers know, I have been participating as the IO SME in a number of exercises which project me into the role of MISO Task Force CDR and PSYOP Evangelist. On the iteration which ended today I had the good fortune of working “an old hand” from the Department of State who provided invaluable assistance and guidance with this post.
The ‘influence war’ is fought with all of the instruments of national power. For MISO this means we must work very closely with the  Department of State’s Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs whose major efforts “include public diplomacy outreach, which in turn includes communications with international audiences, cultural programming, academic grants, educational exchanges, international visitor programs, and U.S. Government efforts to confront ideological support for terrorism. The Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs oversees three of the State Department’s bureaus -- Educational and Cultural Affairs, Public Affairs, and International Information Programs -- as well as the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications.  The State Department has some of their own acronyms, and the shorthand for the Under Secretary and the three bureaus is “R.”  With Foreign Service officers in the Political, Economic, Consular, and Management “cones.” Public Diplomacy officers also participates in foreign policy development.” (See: 
State’s concept of Public Diplomacy bridges public affairs, advocacy, and influence – with an eye both on short- and long-term effects.  Among themselves, Public Diplomacy officers wrestle with old and new concepts, including “evaluation,” “metrics,” “branding,” “narrative,” “storytelling, and “messaging,”
At first glance many of the functions and programs of Public Diplomacy look like they parallel MISO missions, so it makes logical sense for the two organizations to work together in a synergistic way. Some Embassy Public Affairs Sections host Military Information Support Teams.  While MIST may deploy with their own specific mission set (such as counter drug operations), doctrinally the MIST works for the Embassy PAO in the Public Affairs Section.
In some Embassies, Public Affairs Sections have offices in buildings without access to classified communications.  (Most of their work is public, open, and unclassified.)  Given that a MiST may require access to military communication channels, teams may spend time both in the Public Affairs Section and the office of the Defense Attache (DAO or DATT), and there is occasional tension from the arrangement.  Still, MISO personnel work as part of the Embassy team. This means that MISO personnel need to understand the Embassy’s organization and roles and be comfortable working outside the military chain of command.  Some personal “diplomacy” helps MIS teams work on programs that mesh with Public Diplomacy’s goals.
Military Information Support Teams (MIST) often work with Embassy personnel to provide research and other resources in a peacetime environment. They can meet with students, media, or other groups helping to augment a typically short staffed information section.  A MIST has its own travel budget, and it can draw on many resources (e.g. funding, Reachback, in place contracts, etc.) to implement a project or a communication program.  During operations MISO can supplement the Embassy in a number of ways. The can facilitate research on issues and audiences, and they can develop what Public Diplomacy people call “programs.” 
Assignment to a MIST can benefit MISO personnel by exposing them to the diplomatic world, the full range of U.S. departments and agencies that form a Country Team, and offering a complementary perspective on influence operations.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Media Savvy Enemies


PSYOP and our influence colleagues are on the pointy edge of the digital spear. The media savvy enemy is becoming more of the norm than the exception. It is no secret that ISIS and other terrorist groups are adept at employing the internet for their own purposes.

“The Islamic State’s Media Warfare” is described on the Monitor Website at: (which is also the photo source). The article talks about how ISIS’ media managers are very careful in staging their work.

Unlike some of our enemies in the past, ISIS is well funded and apparently has not problem attracting the talent needed to carry our their media strategy. According to an expert quoted in the Monitor article “Analyzing the latest videos broadcast by the group shows that they have cutting-edge tools and professional operators. I have to say that they are generous when it comes to their media machine, and they pay good money to professionals.”

According to the article there are two media divisions. Al-Furqan is focused on military warfare while Al-Itisam is “dedicated to social and religious activities and sermons”. At first glance this seems to recognize the attitudinal difference inherent in the two different audience.

ISIS’ strategy also shows an appreciation for some other fundamentals such as the personification of the movement’s leader as the caliph and showing the human sides of their fighters are not accidents, but part of an overall strategy designed to positively position the movement.

We can expect to see more in the way of digital media from ISIS and others. This means that we need to step up our game in terms of counter-PSYOP. Major tasks at end are to reduce the effectiveness of enemy recruitment operations and to dry up the pipeline of Western country citizens supporting the jihadist cause. This also includes convincing those that have already embarked on this journey to reverse their path and to return to their former lives.

The enemy has also recognized the need for more OPSEC as evidenced by release of directives and documentation by ISIS on how to avoid SIGINT efforts. (See:

Never a dull moment in PSYOP – is there?
On a personal note, I’ll be working another exercise next week as the IO SME. Nothing like a bit of immersion to stimulate the creative juices.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ebola Education: Natural PSYOP Mission

The core of PSYOP is to influence behavior. In the military context we talk about influencing the local population in the AO to behave in a manner that does not interfere with or perhaps aids a CDR’s military mission

Education, generally for security and health reasons comprises a major PSYOP mission set. While I was in Bosnia we had a number of campaigns about mine awareness. These campaigns were designed to educate the local population, especially children about the dangers of unexploded ordnance.

Reaching children can be especially challenging so the PSYOP team worked with DC Comics and employed Superman to help explain those dangers. (Photo Source:

Ebola prevention and detection is a similar mission. The growing task force in West Africa will find that prevention and early detection are the primary defenses against the epidemic. Fortunately, there are a number of organizations such as the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that have already developed useful material. (Photo source:

A major challenge is to localize the material, supplement it with locally relevant information and insure the widest possible distribution. Media employed will likely include television, radio, print, shortwave, internet and, in some cases, loud speaker.

It would also be useful to recruit credible, well liked, and well known spokes people who can had power to the message and help insure that recommended actions are taken.

Reader feedback and updates are encouraged.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Too Many Targets: Challenge for PSYOP and EW

One of the topics on everyone’s mind at the recent Association of Old Crows (the trade association for EW vendors and their customers) was  “Managing The Chaos of Electronic Warfare” (see:  (see: which is also the photo source.

The point of the article is contained in one key paragraph:
Once upon a time, the “ducks” we had to keep track of were relatively few and well-defined: Soviet air-defense radars and headquarters radio transmitters, for example. But today there are more cellphone users in Afghanistan than people who know how to read, and some of them are Taliban, using those cheap, low-power, and widely available civilian systems to coordinate military operations.”

An incredible array of potential targets which is the same challenge facing PSYOP  as well. The information battlefield is strewn from rural, undeveloped lands where literacy rates approach 100% to urban mega cities where mobile phones are almost ubiquitous as cockroaches.

Given the tightening budget noose and the constant struggle between domestic and defense needs, the PSYOP Community faces the daunting challenge of being prepared to tackle the range of information landscapes without the luxury of planning that went into previous war planning efforts.

Large national potential foes such as the USSR and North Korea spawned libraries of contingency planning, OPORDERs, exercises, etc. Today’s political and economic climate does not foster such background type planning. While templating might have worked to lay out how a Russian Division might have been deployed, there is no such template for how non-state actors such as ISIS fight or communicate or what axis of influence may exist.

How do we meet these challenges?
1.     Stay informed – be aware of how the world’s events are taking shape.
2.     Employ non-US sources to appreciate viewpoints outside the US.
3.     Recognize the evolution of information channels in the same way we understood Lines of Communication, Main Surface Roads, etc.
4.     Work with individuals or groups that were a part of the target or at least have the capability of mirroring target response.
5.     Travel when you can – doesn’t matter where, just as long as it’s somewhere you’ve never been. Look, listen, eat and enjoy. You’ll be absorbing the culture as a by-product of your adventure.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Multi-national PSYOP – Will It Ever Work?

The headline of a Stratfor Report struck me: “Divisions Could Weaken U.S.-Led Coalition in Iraq and Syria” (see:, which is also the photo source.)

Working with other NATO Officers in Sarajevo was one of the highlights of my military career. Military people share a bond, regardless of country and strangely enough I felt that officers of the same rank faced many of the issues regardless of their country.

While we all worked well together at the personal level, each of us at our CDRs and their bosses and their bosses, etc. Ultimately each nation had an agenda and set of goals that were shaped by their political leadership.

If the nations all agreed on an end state it would be easier to put all of the allies on the same page. General  (R) Allen, USMC offered the following as a desired end state: ‘Territorially intact and sovereign Iraq, governed by the government in Baghdad, that governs all Iraqis, not just one sect, not just one confession.’ “‘And in Syria,’ he continued, ‘we're seeking to create the capacity within the Free Syrian elements and the Syrian opposition so that, first of all, they can defend themselves from the Assad regime and from the other al Qaeda oriented organizations in the battle space.’ “ (see:

Conceptually a strategy would be developed to achieve this end state and would orchestrate the ‘ways’ and ‘means’ to get there.

Would an accepted end state and a strategy mean synergistic influence operations? I don’t think so. Unlike combat operations where the Chain of Command has the vision and the final say, influence operations go through a tortious development and approval phase. 

I have personally been in meetings with GOs who felt endowed with super human, almost divine judgment as to what needed to be changed in the PSYOP product or campaign they were being briefed on. Multiply this single GO by one per ally and you get quite the convoluted mess.

Bottom line: effective multinational influence campaigns are synergized and deconflicted at the Operational Level so that dynamic and responsive influence products can be fielded quickly. This assumes that higher echelons have approved metes and bounds describing what is and is not approved in products and that approval has been delegated down to the lowest level prudent under the circumstances.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Where is PSYOP in the ISIS Strategy?

While it is disheartening to see that Defense doesn’t make the cut for  “Top Issues” at the Whitehouse (see:, if you do some searching, you can find President Obama’s Counter-ISIS strategy at:

There are two areas where PSYOP could be employed:

1. Exposing ISIL’s True Nature: Clerics around the world have spoken up in recent weeks to highlight ISIL’s hypocrisy, condemning the group’s barbarity and criticizing its self- proclaimed “caliphate.” We will work with our partners throughout the Muslim world to highlight ISIL’s hypocrisy and counter its false claim to be acting in the name of religion.  

2. Disrupting the Flow of Foreign Fighters:  Foreign terrorist fighters are ISIL’s lifeblood, and a global security threat—with citizens of nearly 80 countries filling its ranks.  Over 100 foreign fighters from the United States have traveled or attempted to travel to the conflict.  On September 24, the United States will convene an historic Summit-level meeting of the UN Security Council, focused on this issue.

Interestingly enough there would be no clear delineation as to what echelon will fight the influence battle. One could argue effectively that the influence battle has to be fought at the tactical (local), operational (regional) and strategic (global) levels. 

To be effective the efforts would have to be international in nature and fine tuned with the language and cultural nuances necessary to give them credibility. It would also follow, as I’ve posted before, that credible spokes people need to be employed at all levels.

Both of these influence battlegrounds will require synergistic efforts in traditional and on-line media. Local efforts will have to be tailored to the literacy and technology environments on the ground. Urban areas may gravitate to cell phones and TV while rural areas will lean towards face to face and locally fine tuned other products.

Both of these efforts are long term and both will have to adapt to the changing environment in order to be effective. It is also implied that Department of State and DoD are working in tandem to avoid information fratricide.

If it were me, I’d have a small, independent cell working at CENTCOM with a DC LNO empowered to develop and release a full range of influence weapons without going through the normal excruciating approval process. 

It might also be useful to have a complementary NATO cell which might be better able to work with European and Middle East influence challenges and media.

In any event – autonomy and responsiveness are the keys to success in dealing with the type of asymmetric enemy ISIS represents.

Friday, September 19, 2014

ISIL Softer Touch Video Approach

About a month ago, on August 21, 2014 I made a posting about the brutal murder video (see: In that post I talked about audience impact.

There is no doubt in my mind that ISIL is an adaptable enemy and, like any creature trying to insure its own survival, has made adapted to deceive its enemies and elude destruction.

Perhaps recognizing that there will always be a slice of the population that will believe what it wants to believe and who can be easily swayed, the group has turned its video strategy around by using a journalist prisoner spokes person, John Cantlie. (See; which is also the photo source).

Cantlie is a prisoner and while clearly under stress, he comes across in a matter of fact like manner. According to the NY Times article Cantlie promises that there will be further videos coming along that will help explain the ‘truth’ from ‘the other side of the story’.

The video is anything but homemade. The quality is good and there is a news-like professionalism to it. The implications of the video are important.
1.     The Internet is a global medium, one whose images are credible to at least a slice of the audience.
2.     If you are hoping to influence people that you are merely being an objective speaker, professional caliber production is a must.
3.     Personifying your cause with a likeable spokesperson is a solid and proven technique.
4.     If you promise more, you will need to deliver.
5.     This propaganda offensive will likely result in attitudinal gains by the enemy.
6.     Direct countering may be not be productive because the affected audience will believe only what it wants to.
7.     The technique is a good one and may be adapted for friendly usage. This might be appropriate in looming urban battlegrounds where credible spokes people may be able to directly influence the population on behalf of the coalition.
8.     PSYOP Task forces must have preplanned how to produce their own videos and must have skilled personnel working with spokespeople to insure they are at their best.
9.     Contracting with professional studios and production resources close to the battlefield may make more sense than reach-back if the appropriate resources are available.

Let’s see what the next installment will bring.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mega City MISO: One of the Next Frontiers

The Army feels that Mega Cities will be among the next major battlefields. Mega Cities are defined as cities with 20 million or more people. (see:

In addition to dense populations, these cities would likely house significant masses of vulnerable populations. They would be served by all manner of major media to include TV and would likely overflow with mobile phones.

Notwithstanding their size, these population centers would like have informal or formal ethnic areas some of which evolved from internal migration, probably from rural areas and others may have developed due to international immigration both legal and not.

If the city is a battlefield, then it would be reasonable to assume a lack of government control, problems with infrastructure, and warlord or criminal organizations pretty much prowling around at will.

Implications for PSYOP here are huge.

Technology will be paramount with mesh networks and other ad hoc means of communications sprouting in ways not even considered today. Traditional media, especially ethnic and language appropriate TV will be important as well because of the loyalty that some TV programs and personalities engender and because of the power of imagery.

Individuals will more likely be connected to each other with mobile phones. Even the poorest of areas will have mobile phones even if they are shared much in the same way that party lines (old analog lines shared by several subscribers) used to be in the olden days.

From a content perspective “reachback” may be critical to develop and deliver the quality and quantity of products needed for operations in such an AO.

Given that no existing military has fought battles in this AO it would be appropriate to develop Command Post Exercises (CPX) based on a few cities. This would give a concrete basis for influence preparation of the battlefield. My nominees would be:
·      Jakarta
·      Karachi
·      Manila
·      Sao Palo
·      Mumbai
·      Bangkok
·      Lagos
·      Tehran

Be advised that the Regimental Blog will be in Italy for the next two weeks, so don’t be too surprised if we’re ‘dark’ for a bit.

Photo is of Lagos, Nigeria from Wikipedia.