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.