Monday, June 22, 2015

Weaponizing Arab Humor

I confess, I subscribe to the NY Times printed edition. I often consider myself an expatriate New Yorker and relish reading the news about New York City from the Grey Lady herself.

On Saturday, June 20, 2015 I came across the article: “Satirical News Show Finds Humor in Gaza, Even if Hamas Rulers May Not” (see: While looking for the URL to pass along to my readers I came across a similar article on the CNN website: “Saudi TV series deploys new weapon against ISIS: satire” (see: which is also the photo source).

The NY Times article covers Akram al_Sourani the show’s writer and his approach to satirizing the government(s) in Gaza while the CNN article covers a TV series which has drawn attention – both good and bad. The CNN article also quotes a former State Department Official (Michael Rubin) as saying that humor needs to be a part of the strategy against ISIS.

I have had the good fortune to present in a variety of international venues. Most of these have been either information security or legal related although I have had my share of NATO and other military presentations.

While many ‘experts’ caution against the use of humor, I have found that humor can work well most of the time. Interestingly enough attorney jokes seem to be popular even in some Asian countries where you wouldn’t think that was the case.

The implication for PSYOPers is that we should be encouraging satirical talent if we can. We must always be mindful of a negative taint that can be attached to any association with Americans. However, people are people and the fine art of influence ultimately rests on being able to connect with your audience.

Humor, especially when created by the audience themselves, is an exceptionally potent weapon and should, as noted by the CNN article, be a key part of the arsenal of those standing up to our enemies and the enemies of peace and prosperity.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Poetry and Music: Keys to Defeating Daesh?

The Havok Journal, an on-line publication featured an article entitled: “Jihadis, Poetry and the Ongoing Bromance of ISIL: Are We Sending The Right Message?” (see: which is also the photo source.)

The main thesis of the article was that dominating the information high ground against Daesh will require taking the offensive with the poetry and music that is a part of the Arab culture. In support of this position, the article states that Osama Bin Laden was recognized for his eloquence of the classics and postulates that poetry is the way that Daesh communicates.

The author notes: “Rather than littering Raqqa, as we recently have, with pamphlets full of cartoons and meat grinders to try to push disenfranchised Muslim youth or already hardened ISIL fighters away from the cause, we should engage them in dialogue they understand and inculcate.[7]  Suggesting that Uncle Sam should sit down and pen ISIL a poem to open up dialogue seems like a ridiculous stretch, but if we put this responsibility in the hands of those capable of crafting the right message, perhaps we can take this understanding of culture and use it to our advantage.”

Is this really “a ridiculous stretch”? I frankly don’t think so. The essence of communication is that the messages are in tune with the receiver’s system. Deciding what media to deliver the message is a different decision than what the messages ought to be. Leaflets may or may not be the right medium in that particular AO, however, we must not lose sight of the fact that the messages are more important.

Understanding the culture is a prerequisite to crafting and delivering effective messages. Having said this, truly understanding a culture is not a trivial matter or a quick undertaking. One needs to enlist not only the reservoir of published material, a degree of immersion, preferably with a group of knowledgeable and cooperative ‘natives’ of that culture is another key ingredient.

Given that we will be engaged for quite a long time, this investment seems not only prudent – but, necessary.

As always, reader comments encouraged.

Friday, June 5, 2015

PSYOP OPSEC and an IT View of Today’s Influence Landscape

I have often posted about Social Media as an important PSYOP medium. However, I haven’t addressed the down side of Social Media very much. An article in the June 4, 2014 Aviationist is quite to the point: A U.S. Air Force Intel team turned a comment on social media into an airstrike on ISIS building (See: which is also the photo source. )

According to the article:According to Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, airmen belonging to the 361st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, at Hurlburt Field, Florida, were able to geo-locate an ISIS headquarters building thanks to a comment posted on social media by a militant.
As Carlisle explained to Defense Tech:
“The guys that were working down out of Hurlburt, they’re combing through social media and they see some moron standing at this command. And in some social media, open forum, bragging about the command and control capabilities for Daesh, ISIL. And these guys go: ‘We got an in.’ So they do some work, long story short, about 22 hours later through that very building, three [Joint Direct Attack Munitions] take that entire building out.”

Many of us know that many senior CDR, especially Generals think they are experts at everything including PSYOP.  Many of us have been in AOs where GOs have run their own influence campaigns and have engaged in operations with any regard to the psychological impact of those actions. Add this to the challenges of enforcing universal OPSEC up and down the chain of command and there is a real recipe for disaster.

Tactical teams in particular need to be sensitive to the influence activities of their supported commands and insure that the MISO chain of command is informed so that they in turn can work through the supported command’s higher HQ to provide the appropriate guidance.

Another View of the Influence Landscape
As many of you know, I have spent my civilian career in the high tech world. One of the journalists who I respect and have followed for years recently wrote a blog entry about Wag The Dog – one of my favorite post Bosnia PSYOP type movies. Check it out at: