Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How do you influence the PAO?

The October 17, 2016 Defense News ran an article “DoD is Losing the Online  Fight to Win Hearts & Minds” (see: http://www.defensenews.com/articles/dod-is-losing-online-fight-to-win-hearts-and-minds; which is also the photo source).

I was attracted to the article because of the title and expected to see yet one more treatise on how the overpaid contractors charged with executing the DOD on-line influence war  were not doing their job. Interestingly, the article makes the case that a major problem with the US on-line influence programs is the resistance from Public Affairs.

The article describes how NATO is trying to recognize the significance of the influence issue by forming a strategic communications directorate and that the US is the only holdout. The article’s author, Robert T. Hastings should know about Public Affairs because among other assignments he served as acting secretary of defense for public affairs from 2008 to 2009.

PAO has generally taken the view that they must remain and chaste and pure, avoiding any taint of ‘influence’. Having had the opportunity to work Joint Exercises at DINFOS, the DOD school that trains Public Affairs Officers, I’m of the opinion that the ‘new generation’ of PAOs has a much more profound appreciation for social media and the on-line world than their top brass.

The inability to integrate PAO efforts into the influence fight dilutes our influence efforts and has to stop, the sooner the better. While I’m generally not one to editorialize, the DOD is a pretty simple organization; it works from the top down. SECDEF needs to bring MG Malcolm B. Frost, Chief of Public Affairs (see: https://www.army.mil/info/institution/publicAffairs/chief/)  into his office along with General Raymond A. Thomas III, CDR, USSOCOM (see: http://www.socom.mil/Documents/Command_Bios/Gen%20Thomas%20Official%20Bio.pdf) and have an open discussion about DOD’s need for unity of effort with regard to Public Affairs.

The buck has to stop somewhere, and it looks like it needs to be at the top or we will continue to lose influence ground to our enemies and adversaries.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Self-Help PSYOP Against North Korea

The NY Times, October 15, 2016 US print edition ran an article “Subverting North Korea, One Bundle of Leaflets at a Time”. The Asian version ran a day earlier and lead with “A ‘Balloon Warrior’ Subverts North Korea, Thousands of Leaflets at a Time" (US version at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/15/world/asia/south-north-korea-balloon-drop.html?_r=0, which is also the photo source.)

In the day and age of Tweets and FaceBook it’s somewhat refreshing to see old school operations. According to the Times, Lee Min-bok is a North Korean defector with a self-avowed mission to foster popular subversion against the North Korean government.

Mr. Kim’s efforts do not receive any government support. Rather he supports himself through lecture fees and receives donations from various groups. According to the article, A Japanese group because they want him to send leaflets to help find Japanese citizens in North Korea. Other donors include Christians who provide Bibles and food.

Kim summed up his efforts this way “My leaflets are a poison for Kim Jong-un’s regime, because they help North Koreans wake up to his lies”.

The leaflet bundles are high enough to avoid small arms fire. Kim has developed is own ‘timer’ that opens the bundles allowing the leaflets to drop down.

While Kim receives security support from the Republic of Korea, his efforts are chiefly his own and is only job.

While we can only assess Mr. Kim’s production and not his effectiveness, his story is an interesting one. On the launch end Mr. Kim choses to assume a low profile and not launch from villages or populated centers so as to avoid conflicts.

One wonders if this type of grassroots approach could be adopted in other areas, especially where a regime controls the information channels. Of course leaflet drops are wind dependent and the receiving terrain must be open enough to allow the leaflets to reach their targets.

Readers are invited to contribute any other examples of Self-Help PSYOP.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

ISIS Propaganda Drooping? Does it really matter?

On October 10, 2016 the NY Times ran an article “ISIS Media Output Drops as Military Pressure Rises, Report Says’ (see:  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/11/world/middleeast/islamic-state-media-propaganda-isis.html?_r=0)      The article as based on a report prepared and released by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center at West Point which you can find at: https://www.ctc.usma.edu/v2/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/ISMedia_Online.pdf and is the photo source.

My gut tells me this is perhaps another incident where we have confused Measure of Production (MOP) with Measures of Effectiveness (MOE).  The article cites the following statistic: “At the peak of the Islamic State’s media output, in August 2015, the group released more than 700 items from official outlets in Syria and several other countries. During the month of August 2016, after a year of airstrikes and other assaults, that number had declined to under 200, according to the study.”

It is interesting to note that ISS favors pictures (59%) and Twitter (Photo) (30%) over Video (10%) according to the reports’  analysis of type of state media release from January 15 through August 2016 (page 31 of the report).  

Military and Governance appear to be the two most favored themes as show in another diagram from the report and a subsequent diagram shows that the production of these two these were virtually the same since January 2016.

While this analysis is helpful, does it help the Commander assess how strong his opposition will be?

The report has no illusions of grandeur and notes in its conclusion “In addition, this paper has not given insight into a critical component of understanding the efficacy of the Islamic State’s media success.” Isn't this what we really need to know? While we can feel good if ISIS production declines, we can conjecture that this means they feel they don't have the 'products' to sell anymore, they are still pretty good at the influence business.

Media exposure, especially visual media is like tooth paste, once its out, it doesn’t go back into the tube. The ISIS propaganda campaign has been relentless. It is reasonable to believe that there has been a cumulative effect of this intense effort. Audiences, especially those that have a higher propensity to be influenced have been effected and will continue to be effected even if the production numbers continue to decline.

While I certainly commend the report and its authors for their extensive analysis, if I were called into the CG’s office and asked “what does this really mean?” I’d have to respond: “Sir, we really don’t know. Perhaps the pace of new recruiting will abate, but those who were influenced by the early high production numbers are not likely to change their minds because ISIS is producing less propaganda”.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

PSYOP History – Hanoi Hannah Passes Away

Tokyo Rose (see: http://www.biography.com/people/tokyo-rose-37481) was a footnote in history to we veterans of the Viet Nam Conflict. It’s probably fair to say that Hanoi Hannah is the same to Post 9/11 veterans. The NY Times featured an obituary of Trin Thi Ngo, better known as Hanoi Hannah in its 5 October edition (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/05/world/asia/trinh-thi-ngo-hanoi-hannah-vietnam-war.html, which is also the photo source.)

John McCain was one of her regular listeners although not by choice because loudspeakers were prominent in the prison where he was a POW.

Personification is a great influence tool that I have written about on a number of occasions including last week’s posting on what local TV producers are looking for.

Female voices were generally used because it was felt that since service members were predominately male, they would be more favorably inclined to listen to a female voice.

Popular music was played but the goal of the content was to wear down their listeners. Hanoi Hannah used to read the names of recent American KIA as a part of her broadcasts in an effort to demoralize her listeners.

More recently there was Baghdad Betty. She was not very competent according to then LTC Jeff Jones, CDR of the 8th PSYOP Bn who said: “Her broadcasts proved the Iraqis didn’t understand us at all," Jones said. "Her ignorance was pervasive. She was never sure of her sources, and broadcast old information based on dated news." (See: http://www.leatherneck.com/forums/showthread.php?6011-What-ever-happened-to-Baghdad-Betty). Jones went on to be CDR of the 4th PSYOP Group and ultimately Defense Attaché to the French Embassy. It was my pleasure to nominate Jeff for the Gold McClure Award, which he received shortly before his death.

While the PSYOP Regiment is a relatively new entity in the US Army we owe it ourselves to be mindful of our history and to learn from it – both good and bad. While we don’t want to fall into the trap of being prepared to fight the last war, we don’t want to repeat the same mistakes either.