Monday, November 28, 2016

Shifting PSYOP Emphasis from Asymmetric Threats to Peers

 While the threat from terrorists and other asymmetric enemies remains real and potent – there is great concern about historic and new peer-sized threats. The maturation of the cyber domain as a battlefield has brought with it a resurgence of nation-state enemies and adversaries.

Chief among them is Russia. On November 1, 2016 Reuters reported “UK spy chief sees growing threats from Russian cyber- attacks, espionage” (see:

In the days of the Cold War it was relatively easy to stereotype the Russians as illustrated by my friends to the right: Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale and Fearless Leader; characters in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series.

The Russians have always understood the need to control information that has also become a strategic imperative that they have passed along to other countries within their political umbrella. The article notes that cyber attacks and espionage are increasingly being used to advance Russian foreign policy goals.

There were a number of media reports indicating that the Russians had the capability to hack voting systems and thereby impact the US Presidential election.

The PRC has also been reportedly active in cyber attacks, while perhaps not as subtle as their Russian counterparts, PRC hackers also represent a state sponsored well-resourced and sophisticated threat.

The implications for US political and military strategies are profound and the election of an avid Tweeter as President may actually be a positive sign for PSYOP. President-elect Trump, for all is other characteristics, is far more aware of the power of mass media and the importance of Social Media.

Perhaps his new cabinet will be directed to formulate an influence strategy that will meld all of government’s influence resources – military and otherwise – as well as dedicate the cyber resources necessary to support such a strategy.

Photo source:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

PSYOP Comes To The Presidency

It is pretty clear that the President Elect understands the principles of PSYOP and marketing. Simple, direct messages targeted at a clearly defined audience combined with concentrating your efforts where they will do the most good appear to have been keys to his unexpected success.

Task and Purpose a military oriented site published an article (see:; which is also the photo source) which, in my view sums up how the President Elect defeated the ‘establishment’.

The article and the campaign contain great lessons for PSYOP, but the end results and the new Administration’s ability to craft a cohesive and workable political strategy and the military strategy behind it remain to be seen.

The article summed up Mr. Trump’s success in one sentence: ““He benefited from a very easy to understand and appreciate message: ‘Make America great again,’ ... That’s not about Donald Trump; that’s about the American worker who used to be punching in at the textile plant.”

Voters, especially those whose manufacturing jobs, and the economy surrounding them understood the Message, agreed with it and voted for the Messenger.

We also learned that celebrity is perhaps more important in the U.S. than any sort of qualifications or experience. To be fair, Mr. Trump is a showman, and he may stand for the proposition that there are limits to political correctness.

Mr. Trump also knew his target. While the media proclaimed that his sweet spot was “non-college-educated white voters”, anecdotally I know quite a few ardent Trump supporters who are indeed college educated and the numbers are far too big to include only this group.

Trump targeted the voters who make up the majority of the electorate and according to the article, Secretary Clinton was not able to garner the kind of support that President Obama did either in the black or Latino community.

Mr. Trump also did very well in the ‘up for grabs’ states. I’ve often posted about needing to concentrate on those on the fence rather than trying to move those on either end of your message’s spectrum.

The Clinton campaign also had some PSYOP examples, unfortunately, not many of them are good ones. Her campaign seemed to appeal to educate elites and was more often focused on Secretary Clinton herself. The “I’m with her.” didn’t resonate because, only a few wanted to be and they were concentrated in the liberal blue states.

The next test for Mr. Trump will be to appoint competent and experienced people to help him guide the nation and to control his mercurial nature. He may surprise us all, or in 2020 the US will tell him “You’re fired!”

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The PSYOP of Elections

With the 2016 US Presidential election only 5 days away and media of all sorts bombarding us with exhortations to vote their way, I thought it appropriate to make a few comments about PSYOP in the context of political influence.

Rather than descend into the cesspool like depths of the media barrage in the Presidential race, I felt it more instructive to look at a particular piece. There are 17 Propositions on the California ballot this year – not counting local ones. They range from repealing the death penalty to deciding whether starts in porn flicks should wear condoms.

Behind every proposition there are people with an agenda. While some propositions are clearly worded, others are not. Wording can obfuscate the true purpose of the proposition or can be a legislative hodgepodge of sentences thrown together.

To the right is a typical direct mail piece. The focus is on personalizing the proposition in a way
that the voter identifies the picture with the proposition. In this case we have a likeable enough looking family. Since there is no Dad in the picture we could also jump to the conclusion that this is a single Mom raising three young children. The child on the right is missing her front teeth possibly indicating that she is a second grader or in need of some dental help.

Proposition E is a San Jose Measure that would require businesses with over 35 employees to offer extra hours to part-time workers before hiring new ones.  While the motivation behind the measure might be to give a break to those part time workers who work multiple jobs and don’t have benefits, this is not the case according to the major local newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News which said “Voters are likely to approve this feel-good measure, but it would be a mistake. It adds record-keeping burdens and lawsuit risks no other city in this county places on industry — at a time when San Jose is already is struggling to attract business and build its tax base. Vote no.”  (See:

In addition to personifying the message, the direct mail piece offers some general innuendos at the top right. By agreeing with these oversimplified statements the reader/voter might very well want to ‘help out’ by voting yes, which, according to the facts (or the newspaper) would be a mistake.

Hopefully the election will be over soon to clean up the airwaves.