Thursday, December 7, 2017

Propaganda and Diplomacy: Russian US Election Influence

The NY Times, December 5, 2017 on-line edition ran an article “Russia Designates U.S.-Backed Broadcasters as ‘Foreign Agents’ (see:, which is also the photo source). Interestingly enough the same article appeared in the December 6, 2017 print edition as “Russia, Retaliating, Targets U.S.-Based Broadcasters”

The article cites a 6 January intelligence report “Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution” (which you can find at: . The Key Judgment found on page iii of the report is:
“Russia’s State-run propaganda machine contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.”

The report cited several points that my Blog readers might find of  interest:

By their nature, Russian influence campaigns are multifaceted and designed to be deniable because they use a mix of agents of influence, cutouts, front organizations, and false-flag operations. Moscow demonstrated this during the Ukraine crisis in 2014, when Russia deployed forces and advisers to eastern Ukraine and denied it publicly.  (Page 2)

Russia’s state-run propaganda machine—comprised of its domestic media apparatus, outlets targeting global audiences such as RT and Sputnik, and a network of quasi-government trolls—contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences. State-owned Russian media made increasingly favorable comments about President-elect Trump as the 2016 US general and primary election campaigns progressed while consistently offering negative coverage of Secretary Clinton. (Page 3)

Putin’s public views of the disclosures suggest the Kremlin and the intelligence services will continue to consider using cyber-enabled disclosure operations because of their belief that these can accomplish Russian goals relatively easily without significant damage to Russian interests.  (Page 5)

RT's criticism of the US election was the latest facet of its broader and longer-standing anti-US messaging likely aimed at undermining viewers' trust in US democratic procedures and undercutting US criticism of Russia's political system. RT Editor in Chief Margarita Simonyan recently declared that the United States itself lacks democracy and that it has "no moral right to teach the rest of the world" (Kommersant, 6 November). Page 7)

It is important to point out that Russian propaganda efforts are aimed at further their economic goals as well as pointed out in this comment on Page  8:
RT runs anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health. This is likely reflective of the Russian Government's concern about the impact of fracking and US natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom's profitability (5 October).
The Russians understand the importance of social media as shown by a chart on Page 11 which featured this chart:

The implications for the PSYOP community are clear – we need to be as familiar with nation sponsored, strategic communications as we are with leaflets. The importance of Social Media such as Twitter and Facebook when combined with the visual power of well-viewed videos such as found on YouTube cannot be underestimated.

The Blog and I are taking a well deserved hiatus. We’ll be backed after the New Year.

All the best to you and yours for the New Year.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC): Islamic Country Alliance Against Terrorism

I was attracted to a full-page ad in the NY Times, of November 26, 2017 placed by the IMCTC, an organization that I hadn’t heard of until I read the ad. As it turns out Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia was hosting the first IMCTC Conference today (See:

The array of members is pretty impressive as you can see with the Flag display above and the member listing below. These 41 countries are looking to the IMCTC as a coordinating force as “"pan-Islamic unified front" against violent extremism.”
(see: which is also a photo source)

The alliance was announced in 2015 under the auspices of Prince Mohammed, whose rapid ascent since his appointment as heir to the throne in June has shaken the political scene across the region.”  However, this is their first meeting. This alone tells me something.

The alliance is focusing on four domains: Ideology, Communications, Counter Terrorist Financing and Military. The Communications objectives could well be the foundation of Allied PSYOP Efforts pinned on three principles:
1.     Counter enemy influence efforts.
2.     Promote positive values.
3.     Communicate through credible influencers.

In reviewing their military objectives, it would seem that the Coalition’s goals are similar to allied efforts. The member nations are generally Sunni-majority or Sunni-ruled countries. General (R) Raheel Shareer formerly Pakistan’s Army Chief) indicated that support would be primarily intelligence sharing and capacity building.

The Coalition was conceived and started by Saudi Arabia. Can it emerge as an “Islamic NATO”? See:

Anyone who has ever served in a NATO billet knows the organization is its own beast. While some nations appear to be better represented than others, NATO forces are truly multi-national military forces when they deploy. There are always conflicts among national interests, and NATO appears to have been able to absorb them.

Once can’t help wondering if the same sort of unity would be possible in the IMCTC.

Reader comments are invited!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Social Media: The Elephant of Influence

I have been a reader of the Economist since 1997 when I was in Bosnia. The situation on the ground there was so complicated that the only way I could figure out what was really going on was by reading the Economist, albeit over a week late.

The impact of Social Media is another one of those topics that requires neutral and comprehensive attention. The November 4, 2017 edition of the magazine ran an in-depth article “I can haz all your votes” (see: which is also the photo source) which struck a chord with me since I’m teaching a graduate course on Propaganda and Disinformation for American Military University.

The article analyzes the role and impact of Social Media in the political arena. Some governments such as the Philippines and South Africa (according to the article) have made very good use of Social Media as a way to spread false narratives and bolster the government’s hold on power.

Russia of course is the leader in harnessing Social Media having employed the full range of Social Media techniques in the Ukraine, France, Germany and influencing the American Presidential election.

My personal experience in recent disaster confirms that Social Media often has more impact and reach than ‘traditional’ media. The article notes that from a quantitative perspective Social Media is virtually everywhere as more and more smart phones are connected. While this may not be the case in every area of operation, it is certainly the case in populated areas.

The article cites a variety of motivations for the use of Social Media besides political gain and makes some very interesting comments about what sells best on Social Media: Humor and Outrage. Both of these have been prominent in Social Media campaigns ranging from the Arab Spring to Hillary Clinton. President Trump, it is conceded is a master of outrage in the way his Tweets can ride the outrage or inspire it.

Noting that Facebook and Google account for about 40% of America’s digital consumption it is no wonder that these companies are under attack to do more about controlling what’s out there. The sheer volume of Social Media content is mind-boggling and it would appear that there is no real way to tame the beast whether technological or regulatory.

The message for PSYOP is clear – Social Media is the Elephant in the Influence Living Room!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

YouTube Should Be in Your PSYOP Toolkit – It’s in the Russian’s!

We all know that a picture is worth 1,000 words. In a previous posting I addressed the trend of video becoming the most powerful and popular means of influence … chiefly through Social Media.

As it turns out YouTube is a pretty good tool for amateurs and professionals alike. On October 23, 2017 the NY Times published an article “Russia’s Favored Outlet is an Online New Giant. YouTube Helped” (see:, which is also a photo source)

The article focuses on the cozy relationship between Russia’s state owned RT outlet and YouTube.

I’d like to offer a more personal perspective. As an instructor for American Military University I was asked to develop a course called “Cyber and the Intelligence Cycle”. It was a two pronged course that looked at the use of the intelligence cycle against cyber targets and the use of cyber tools to enhance the intelligence cycle. A requirement of the development was that I had to provide “20 minutes of entertainment” each week for the students. I decided to employ Camtasia a program that allows me to record what’s on my screen (PPT) and a voice over.

Then I had set of pretty large files that were often impossible to send anywhere – enter YouTube. I could simply upload the files to YouTube and provide links.

A similar situation happened recently when I found myself with a couple of very important video recordings on my iPhone6. A blessing of being an all Apple user is that photos and videos from your phone magically also appear on your iMac. Once that happened it was a simple matter to upload the videos on to YouTube.

YouTube also offers several alternative levels of classification so that you can offer some of your work to the general public, but keep some accessible to only select audiences.

Oh I would be remiss if I didn’t give a giant Hoo Aah! To my good friends at SOCOM for returning unit designations back to PSYOP. Glad to see y’all had a good does of common sense!

Reader input, as always invited.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Chief Speaks About Adversary Propaganda – But Can He Really Do Anything About it?


On September 26, 2017, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, USMC
testified before the US Senate Committee on Armed Forces (see:

Part of his testimony appears below:
Do you think that the Department of Defense needs to better integrate its capabilities and planning for cyber operations and information warfare?

Yes. The Department must improve our ability to exploit the potential of cyberspace as a pathway for Information Operations to drive adversary perceptions, decisions, and actions (or inaction) in ways favorable to our strategic ends. We must also improve our ability to reassure friends and support allied and partner military efforts to defend against and defeat adversary propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation, much of which is delivered via cyberspace.

If so, how would you recommend that this goal be achieved?

Cyberspace is one of many domains through which we can conduct Information Operations. In order to improve cyber-enabled Information Operations, we should continue to prioritize growing and maturing our cyber forces. We are working toward this goal by integrating our approach to the information fight from the ground up, building Information Operations and cyberspace doctrine, guidance, and tasks into our strategy development and execution orders, adopting an active and innovative approach to improving understanding and fluency in the domain, and developing new operational and organizational constructs and advanced tools designed to keep pace with the environment and the threat.”

I have repeatedly commented on my perception of the schism between cyber operations and MISO. While there is no denying that cyber is a significant IO vector and that Social Media is evolving to be more important than broadcast media, I have not seen any evidence that DOD is on top of this challenge.

While there is a published DOD Cyber Strategy from 2015 (see:, there doesn’t seem to be a coherent strategy for US government wide Strategic Communications or influence, nor does there seem to be a current DOD wide MISO  strategic plan, nor any documentation on spider webbing MISO and cyber influence capabilities throughout the Force.

In June 2016 DOD published the “Strategy for Operations in the Information Environment” which you can see at: However, this document is also short on specifics and of course, was published under the former Administration.

A couple of thoughts on what needs to happen.

1.     We need a coherent, US government wide strategy recognizing that influence and counter disinformation and propaganda must stretch across all Federal Departments and resources.
2.     DOD needs to emphasize the need to put MISO and Cyber Operations resources at the point of the kinetic spear. Meaning that the Marine Corps and Army Forces should be augmented with tactical Influence Operations forces.
3.     Career tracks should be established across the force to cross train selected personnel in Public Affairs, MISO and Cyber Operations. This force should also include highly qualified personnel from other Federal Departments such as Department of State, Commerce, Treasury and Energy.

Reader comment invited.

Monday, October 16, 2017

PSYOP For Good

From 11 – 15 October 2017 I served as a Public Affairs Manager for The Red Cross out of the Disaster HQ in Sonoma, CA. My time was divided into working with the media, managing the team’s efforts, drafting messages and documents along and, of course, ‘other duties as assigned’.

It turns out that PSYOP soldiers make pretty good Red Cross volunteers. The combination of ability to work under pressure, living in less than ideal circumstances and the skills of our profession make for a great combination.

I urge all of my colleagues to go to to explore opportunities to serve the community.

Some observations:
1.     Disasters bring communities together.
The outpouring of local and Event Based Volunteers (EBV) was incredible. The Red Cross received over 10,000 applications from EBV in the first week and was able to put over of 500 of them to work.

2.     Social Media Is The Jungle Drum of the 21st Century
FaceBook and Twitter were the main lines of communication. Fire Departments, Law Enforcement, traditional media, groups and individuals all took to Social Media to find out what was going out and/or to express themselves.

3.     Incorrect and negative information seems to travel faster than good news.
There is apparently a great deal of truth behind ‘misery loves company’. It must be human psychology – but bad news seems to go viral much more quickly than positive news.

4.     Broadcasters tend to take Sundays off.

5.     The public still does not understand the nature of the military
Today’s military enjoys more popularly and support than the military force has in years. Our long-term commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq have garnered a place of honor and respect for our military force in the eyes of the American Public. The California National Guard has been supporting the rescue and relief efforts in many ways from manning security posts to directing traffic.

Yet some members of the public are concerned about soldiers ‘with machine guns’ are walking around. (Of course the weapons in question are not ‘machine guns’ but M16s or M4s).

Community service is a rewarding and satisfying way for military personnel to harness their skills and experience to make their communities a better place. Consider how you might get involved.

(Photo source: The author.)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Smart Toys: New PSYOP Vector?

I’m attending, an information security conference outside of Dublin where I'll be delivering a presentation on SCADA Lessons Learned and the IoT. One of today’s speakers gave an outstanding presentation on Smart toys to include their potential vulnerabilities.

The speaker addressed classes of threats with an emphasis on nation states and sexual predators as the most likely and most dangerous. I envisioned another scenario, one where a specific geographic area, say in the Middle East, is controlled by a jihadist terrorist group. In this case it strikes me that it would be relatively easy to do some research and find toys that can be hacked to transmit jihadist propaganda.

Alternatively, we were told that some toys can transmit conversations in their presence that are in turn monitored for ‘key words’ related to sexual abuse. Jihadists could use the same technical capabilities to ferret out those who are disloyal to them and/or engaged in acts typical of infidels.

Reader comments invited and encouraged!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

PSYOP Training A Battlefield Multiplier Against Extremists

Busy week on my end, getting ready to start two new on-line class on 2 October, supporting the Red Cross, working a large set of client projects and getting ready to head to London and

Thanks to Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy “Seen on the Web” (#85), September 16, 2017 for the article triggering today’s post.

MISO personnel are working with the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UDPF) to help them learn the non-kinetic skills needed to conduct successful influence campaign. (See:, which is also the photo source).

The MISO element of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) conducted a four-phase course to the UDPF. The phasing is interesting on it’s own:
1.     Phase 1 – US led and US assisted.
2.     Phase 2 – U.S. taught and UPDF assisted.
3.     Phase 3 – UPFD taught and US assisted.
4.     Phase 4 – UPFD taught and UPDF assisted. US personnel serve as observers, controllers and trainers.

The article quotes Maj. Allan Kitanda, UDPF Psychological Operations staff officer, who said that the U.S. contribution to the mission of neutralizing and containing VEOs like al-Shabaab and Boko Haram has been “immense.” He asserted that the U.S. government’s participation in cultivating the UDPF’s psychological operations is critical in preserving civility amid necessary kinetic forces used by AMISOM to battle VEOs.

The article also notes:
“Most recently, Soldiers of the 346th Tactical Psychological Operations Company (Airborne), out of Columbus, Ohio, have been facilitating the third phase of the program for UPDF members at the Uganda Senior Command and Staff College.

“We increase AMISOM capabilities by certifying UPDF instructors on MISO, thereby creating a self-sustaining program in the UPDF,” said Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Hurst, the tactical detachment’s noncommissioned officer in charge. “We use a training program that takes the UPDF from being trained by U.S. forces to being trained by their own forces.”

According to Hurst, the goal upon reaching phase four, “is to have the UPDF be self-sustaining and able to teach and implement psychological operations in support of AMISOM, as well as other operations against violent extremist organizations.”

It’s gratifying to see the Reserve PSYOP force in play for an appropriate, challenging and important mission.

Monday, September 11, 2017

MISO Malpractice: The Latest Leaflet Debacle

Apparently it was amateur hour in the leaflet production campaign in Afghanistan. The was dropped in Afghanistan in early September 2017 broke some of the most basic rules by quoting the Quran. (see:, which is also a photo source). 

IN addition to the suicide bomber noted above, additional reaction is shown in the picture at left (photo source: At issue was the use of words from the Quran in a leaflet. Frankly, you would have to be living in a cave for the last 16 years if you didn’t realize that the Islamic faith takes their Holy Book and their Prophet far more seriously than other religions.

The Charlie Hebdo killings in 2015 (see for example: and the 2012 incident where US troops burned the Koran (see: are only two of the incidents that serve as very good bad examples and should have put everyone on notice of what to expect.

Know your audience is the first rule of PSYOP/MISO and of course any influence operation. The blatant ignorance displayed by the leaflet creators and those in the approval chain should be considered MISO malpractice.

The FindLaw Legal dictionary defines malpractice as: “negligence, misconduct, lack of ordinary skill, or a breach of duty in the performance of a professional service (as in medicine) resulting in injury or loss” (See:

If these leaflets were created by an outside contractor, this type of malpractice should be considered a material breach of their contract.  The contract should be terminated immediately and consideration should be given to litigation for damages to the Coalition campaign and reputation.

As for the notion of yet more cultural training – it strikes me as playing training whack a mole. When military personnel deploy they go through a pre-deployment training and certification. Current deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan must have training on Islamic traditions and protocol to include role-playing situations designed to illustrate the right and wrong ways to work in theater.

There is simply no excuse for this type of ineptitude, especially in our longest running AO!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

FaceBook – the Not So Secret Influence Tool

I admit I’m somewhat of a FB junkie. I’m on the site at least a couple of times a day.

And, like most of us, I have read about how the Russians purportedly influenced the US election by amplifying the views of  the ‘right’. An example I read today was a September 6, 2017 article in the NY Times “Fake Russian Facebook Accounts Bought $100,000 in Political Ads” (see: addresses one facet of the Russian campaign.

I frankly didn’t get the importance of FB as an influence medium until August 30, 2017 when I was asked to be the Red Cross spokes person (I’ve been a Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer for years) at the San Francisco ABC Affiliate’s Day of Giving in support of people effected by Hurricane Harvey.

In addition to taking donations and pledges over the phone, my job would be to be a Red Cross voice if needed on camera. Since the last time I had been in a TV studio was in 1997 in Pale, Bosnia, I was rather looking forward to it.

The actual ‘shooting’ schedule for the news was somewhat of a moving target, but I was told that we would be doing a segment on FaceBook Live.

Imagine my surprise when I was escorted to the FaceBook Live control room at the station. During the telethon I was fortunate enough and delighted to be on FBLive with Spencer Christian, one of the station’s key weather people.  (Photo source this week: FaceBook shots take by the Author)

Unlike ‘real’ TV interviews that require heavy cameras, FB Live needs only a phone. Of course, having a quality microphone dramatically improves the overall quality of the experience by raising the caliber of the sound.

For those of us in the PSYOP/MISO world, this underscores the importance of the Internet as an influence medium. It also means that we need to always be on the lookout for people that can be effective and credible spokespeople.

An unfortunate downside is that tactical CDR at all levels may assume that they are PSYOP experts and take to the airwaves themselves. History has shown that this is generally not a good idea, but as we have discussed on the POVA page on FaceBook and elsewhere, there is not too much you can do other than damage control.

Now, more than ever, we need to pay more attention to Social Media and its role in our respective influence campaigns. As always, reader input invited!