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: http://econ.st/2iZ0ZQK 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: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/23/technology/youtube-russia-rt.html?_r=0, 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?

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On September 26, 2017, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, USMC https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Dunford_APQs_09-26-17.pdf)
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: https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/2015/0415_cyber-strategy/Final_2015_DoD_CYBER_STRATEGY_for_web.pdf), 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: https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/DoD-Strategy-for-Operations-in-the-IE-Signed-20160613.pdf. 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 www.redcross.org/volunteer 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 www.cosac.net, 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 www.cosac.net.

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: http://bit.ly/2yAhB8d, 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 http://bit.ly/2gYdTkw) was dropped in Afghanistan in early September 2017 broke some of the most basic rules by quoting the Quran. (see: http://nyti.ms/2eSdknQ, which is also a photo source). 
leaflet

IN addition to the suicide bomber noted above, additional reaction is shown in the picture at left (photo source: http://nyti.ms/2eSdknQ). 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: http://nbcnews.to/2xgTmxG) and the 2012 incident where US troops burned the Koran (see: http://bit.ly/2wlsGb4) 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: http://dictionary.findlaw.com/definition/malpractice.html)

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

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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: http://nyti.ms/2eJpGyw) 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.

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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!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

PSYOP is Sensory – Ask Iran!


I have been teaching on-line for American Military University since 2008. During that time I have had to take many professional development courses about how people learn.

There are those who learn by sight (visual learners), some by touch (kinesthetic) and those who learn by sound (audio). The best way to impart education is by a combination of senses to appeal to the widest group of learners and reinforce the message.

Apparently this concept is not lost on Iran as noted in a NY Times article from August 27, 2017, “Iran Retools Its Propaganda With Rap Videos”(See: http://nyti.ms/2iHiBDF; which is also the photo source).

Iran now also seems to believe that chanting is not nearly as powerful as rapping and the You Tube is mightier than the sword seem to be corollaries as well.

The article notes that the raps don’t appeal to everyone, but there doesn’t seem to be any question that they are effective for the target group. Terrorists typically target young people between 18 and 26. (see Huffington Post at: http://bit.ly/2wT5xkP).

Appealing to multiple senses and personifying the message are proven techniques for education and marketing. Our adversaries are very capable of adapting. As technology advances, removing yet more barriers to mass communication, MISO/PSYOP will have to continue to adapt as well.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cuban Sonic Weapon Aimed at US Embassy?


On Monday, June 5, 2017 I posted “Is it time to retire Loud Speakers in Favor of LRAD?” More recently there have been a number of articles concerning hearing and other medical problems being experienced by employees of the US Embassy in Cuba. You can find one such article from Task & Purpose at: http://bit.ly/2ivTmEh.

I am in no way saying that a Long Range Acoustical Device (LRAD) was or could have been used to create these medical issues. One expert quoted in the article was quoted as saying that there are no devices that could possibly create the systems of hearing loss, mild traumatic brain injury, nausea, etc. from an acoustic device. The expert felt that since there are no such devices that can cause acoustical damage without being herd, this was a non-story.

Another article in the UK based Guardian says “16 people were affected by unexplained problems at Havana embassy” (See: http://bit.ly/2gcQwDy, which is also the photo source)

Sources say that the ‘incidents’ started in September 2016 and ended this April.

Thus far there is no firm resolve as to what caused the medical issues or even if there was a common cause. However, wouldn’t be interesting to ‘infect’ foreign citizens in your country as a means of discouraging their presence? Could you also employ stories about such incidents as propaganda encouraging foreign citizens to stay home?

All of this would be great fodder for Social Media whether true or not and of course from a PSYOP or counter propaganda perspective, we don’t care if it’s true, only the impact.

Monday, August 14, 2017

We Need MISO For Every Line Unit – Including The Nation Guard

I had the honor and pleasure of spending time with the members of the 40th Infantry Division of the California National Guard and their employers while serving as an Outreach Advocate for the DOD Employer Support of the Guard & Reserve program.

The Division will be sending a contingent to Kandahar province in Afghanistan to bolster Operation Resolute Support and the training mission there. (see: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_52060.htm?selectedLocale=en; which is a photo source).

The Divisions G3 who will function as the CJ3 once deployed gave an unclassified briefing about the Division’s mission. Essentially they are supporting the training efforts for the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP).

Of necessity division personnel will be going ‘out of the wire’ to help facilitate and conduct training. I have no personal knowledge of the Force make-up over there, however, I do know that there is no organic MISO in the National Guard and I’m pretty sure that USAR and active MISO do not train with them on a regular basis.

This is a mistake. MISO Tactical Teams are specially trained to work with the local population and help form positive opinions in support of deployed forces. They are also able to work with local media (if there are any) to help them understand the nature of the local population.

While MISO and Civil Affairs personnel are not intelligence collectors, they are knowledgeable observers who can provide meaningful and insightful information to intelligence and operations personnel.

As the OpTempo continues to ramp up, consideration should be given to augmenting units who go out of the wire with MISO personnel. Perhaps the best way to start is by joint training opportunities in CONUS and overseas.

(Other photos are from the author.)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Counterespionage – An Indicator of Effective Influence?


The July 19, 2007 edition of the UK publication Telegraph (see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/19/eu-employing-counter-espionage-tools-brexit-talks-amid-fears/, which is also the photo source) ran an article “EU employees espionage tools at Brexit talks amid fears of British spying”. The article talks about the security concerns of the EU BREXIT negotiating team.

The implication is that the EU is concerned that Britain would employ unfair means to learn about the plans and intentions of the EU team. Is it possible to interpret this in another way?

Increased security efforts reflect a fear that the ‘enemy’ is gaining an advantage in the ‘battle’. In this case the battle is over the terms of the British exit from the EU.

In other situations, Venezuela for instance, increased actions against opponents are often cloaked in security terms when the real motivation is that the enemy force is winning the influence battle in the mind of public opinion.

Reader comments invited.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Are "Moose & Squirell" in TV Business?


Everyone knows that Rocky and Bullwinkle were the good guys and that Boris and Natasha were Russian spies, but did you know they also battle for global TV ratings? (Photo Source: http://beliefmakers.blogspot.com/2013/02/say-moose-and-squirrel.html)

The June 17, 2017 Economist ran a small article “Current Time” (see: http://econ.st/2tdxf6t; which is also the photo source.) The article profiles what they term “America’s answer to Russian propaganda”. In the olden days of the first Cold War the cross border propaganda battles were the stuff of legends.

America’s government sponsored broadcasters of Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were the US’ way of providing the truth to citizens of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Block to counter the powerful effect of Communist propaganda.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) (see: https://www.bbg.gov/) is hoping to counter recent Russian propaganda momentum with a 24-hour Russian-language TV channel called Current Time.

You can find out about Current Time at their rather drab website: https://www.currenttime.tv/p/6018.html.

It was reported that Current Time videos were viewed 40M times on line during May 2017. Current Time like its sister networks, as government sponsored entities are governed by US law which says they must “provide objective journalistic coverage, on topics consistent with American polices and values”.

In general I am not a proponent of government run communications. For one thing viewers (or listeners) realize the station’s source and regard it with a grain of salt. In addition it seems pretty clear to me that the kind of programming fare offered by government run organizations cannot compete with entertainment from the private sector.

Yet millions of dollars are budgeted for these efforts. If any of my readers have any feedback on their effectiveness, I’d appreciate a comment or two.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Blog Entry 500: The Rumors of the Demise of the “Caliphate” May Be Greatly Exaggerated



This entry marks the 500th entry into the PSYOP Regimental Blog. In December 2007 I took electrons in hand in a way that I hoped would help to advance the state of Psychological Operations (PSYOP). As the then Honorary Colonel of the PSYOP Regiment of the US Army I thought it was my duty to use my writing talents to highlight develops in PSYOP now referred to in US doctrine as Military Information Support Operations (MISO).

At first I thought this auspicious 500th post should wax eloquently about the last ten years and offer some Gandalf like insight into the future as expressed by the past. Then I realized that while I write the Blog party because I like to, I write what I want because, someone has to.

One of my favorite authoritative publications is the Economist. On July 7 they published an article “the Islamic State nears its end” (see: http://econ.st/2ufdHlZ, which is also a photo source). The article addresses Mosul, Iraq of today and how the failure to heed lessons learned from previous failures in Iraq (and elsewhere) may lead to yet other variations of jihadist or radicalism. The Economist has no illusions that a military victory is not an end, rather it is a beginning. Just because an enemy force does not have a of ground to call its own, doesn’t mean that it is defeated.

Task and Purpose, another one of my favorite sources, printed an article covering the interview that SecDef Mattis had with an enterprising High School student (see: http://taskandpurpose.com/high-school-interview-james-mattis/; another photo source). One of the key points he made during that interview was “I don’t care for ideological people. It’s like those people just want to stop thinking,” Mattis said. “I think ideologies can be countered by showing people a better education and hope for the future by learning how to get along with one another. And for all of our problems in our country, we’re probably still the best example of that in the world.”

The SecDef knows that ideologies are not defeated with guns, rather these evil ideas only fall by the wayside when they are no longer relevant and abandoned by their former believers.

Helping audiences recognize that democracy and the freedoms of speech and religion that come with it provide a lifestyle in which individuals, families and communities can thrive is a major step forward to eliminating terrorism. Helping convince people is what we in the PSYOP community do. I hope that the Regimental Blog, in it’s almost 10 year and 500 posting history has had a small part in furthering that goal.