Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Is PSYOP Ready to Support Civil Authority Information Efforts?

Doctrinally  PSYOP/MISO forces are authorized to provide support to Civil Authorities in time of emergency. The doctrine is found in Joint Publication 3-28 Defense Support of Civil Authorities 29 October 2018 ( Chapter V, Section 6 Public Affairs c. CAIS (on page V-11)“Psychological operations (PSYOP) forces can be employed domestically for CAIS under direction and authority of a designated lead federal agency (LFA) or civil authority. When executing CAIS activities, PSYOP forces are restricted by policy and SecDef guidance to only broadcasting and disseminating public information. When authorized for employment in this manner, PSYOP forces utilize their media development, production, and dissemination capabilities to deliver public or other critical information during domestic emergencies. Their mission is strictly to inform, and all CAIS efforts should be coordinated with ongoing military and LFA PA efforts. The LFA is the approval authority for all products conveying the lead agency messages.” (Reference: Chapter V V-12 JP 3-28)

Thus far, PSYOP forces have had only limited experience in these matters. For a look at how support was rendered after Hurricane Andrew, here’s the link to SGM (R) Friedman’s story:

My perspective on the issue comes from my position working for a NGO. During the past few years I have had the opportunity to deploy as a Red Cross Public Affairs Officer (PAO). In particular I provided PAO support during the San Jose Flood (February 2017), the Santa Rosa Fire (October 2017), The Mendocino Complex Fires (August 2018) and the Camp Fire (December 2019).

In the following paragraphs I’ll cover some of the issues surrounding the information environment in disasters based on my personal experience.
Let me emphasize that my work here was totally Red Cross work, there was absolutely no military connection whatsoever except my hat. I found that most people relate very well to retired military.

San Jose Flood of 2017

The San Jose Mercury News, “San Jose mayor: Clear ‘failure’ led to record flooding” ( see:; the source for the map is the City of San Jose, CA.)  What made this particular disaster unique was the fact that it impacted two entirely different ethnic communities, the Latino community and the Vietnamese community. Each of these communities had their own broadcast, print and social media outlets. Working with them required an understanding of the underlying culture and language as well as a knowledge of their particular community was impacted.

Mendocino Complex Fires

Lake County has had a great deal of experience with wild fires. The graphic shows the almost 350,000-acre area burned by the Mendocino Complex Fire. (source: Clear Lake is the body of water dead center of the map.

Community radio was a highly trusted medium. My Red Cross Boss asked me to investigate the nature of information being broadcasted by 88.1FM. KPFZ ( from Lakeport, CA (on the southeast end of Clear Lake. As you can see, it was right in the heart of the area impacted by the fire. With studios in downtown Lakeport, CA they have a diverse programming portfolio and are highly trusted, in particular they appeared to be the most highly regarded by residents of Red Cross Shelters.

My role was to be the Red Cross Ambassador on live, unscripted ‘talk radio”.

The Camp Fire

The deadliest fire in California history accounted for 85 fatalities. That fire started on November 8, 2018. I arrived there just before Christmas. While my role in the previous disasters was more direct since the recovery effort was just beginning, the Camp Fire was different. My role was to provide PAO support to the 700 or so residents of the Red Cross Shelter at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico.

There was very little media interest by the time I arrived in late December. My role was more of a catalyst for the media. For example, I helped the Chico based Enterprise Record understand the rules of interviewing people in Red Cross facilities and helped their reporter and photographer during the researching and interviewing.

Chico Enterprise Record, “An evacuee’s Christmas: Just another day“ see:, which is a photo source.

Interestingly enough I was engaged through the Red Cross National HQ to work with the advance planning for a major article for Vogue magazine. One of their staff came out a couple of weeks prior to the scheduled shoot. I gave him a detailed guided tour of the facility and made sure he understood the nature of the rules for shelters and protecting resident and volunteer privacy. The article appeared in early March at  “This Side of Paradise” (see:, another photo source)

As you can see, there are some very significant challenges working to support Civil Authority Information efforts. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the PSYOP/MISO force has had sufficient training and exposure to be able to just jump right into these kinds of missions.

Reader comments are of course very welcome!

Photos are identified with sources, those that are not are the author’s personal photos and subject to Copyright protection.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

It’s Not The Headline That Should Get Your Attention: AI and Cyber Influence

Sometimes it’s not the headline that should cause concern, but the text. Lately I have been doing quite a bit of research in the area of Cyber Influence. So when I saw an article “New research generates deepfake video from a single picture” (see:, which is also a photo source), I was naturally intrigued.

Apparently, it is relatively easy to create a fake video of a subject when there is a great deal of footage of that subjects. This is the case of “creepy video amalgams of Donald Trump and Nick Cage”(see:, another photo source)

This technique would seem to work most of the time from a PSYOP perspective since government leaders are often a subject and in the case of ‘generic’ images, file photos or other widely available material would be a good source.

However, this particular article concerns a technique that the Samsung AI research team (more about this in a moment) called “one-shot learning. In essence faces have key features or landmarks which the software “can then use as anchors when creating deepfake videos of new targets”. If you are a real geek and are interested in the details, you can check out their paper “Few-Shot Adversarial Learning of Realistic Neural Talking Head Models” at, another photo source.

Talk of technology is all well and good and should be noted and understood. However, what I found to be the most interesting aspect of the article was the note in passing “Samsung Research’s Moscow-based AI lab”

Samsung of course is a Korean chaebol or family-controlled companies. You can learn more about “Money, Power and Family” in a NY Times Feb. 17, 2017 article which you can find at: (another photo source).

As a Brooklyn born, former Military Intelligence Officer who is also an attorney, I’m a bit skeptical by nature, so it struck me as rather interesting that the team publicly exploring and reporting on this kind of research is based in a nation state (Russia) that is well known for using cyber influence to impact other nations in a variety of ways.

If this is their public information, one wonders what is being held back. There is also the ever-present money motivation of global for profit organizations – will they sell their technology to anyone? Is that appropriate given the intended use? Looks Cyber Influence is the digital wild west out there.

Reader comments also invited.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Drones Drop Anti-Semitic Flyers in Sacramento

Drones were used to drop Anti-Semitic flyers on at least two targets in Sacramento. One target zone was an Ariana Grande concert (see:, which is also a photo source). 

There was coverage by a local TV stations and by the Sacramento State Newspaper, the State Hornet (see: and local TV station KTVU (see: also a photo source) 

The Hornet reported “A drone dropped flyers featuring swastikas and anti-media sentiments over Sacramento State’s annual “Bites on the Bridge” Farm-to-Fork dinner held Friday on the Guy West Bridge. Flyers were also dropped near the Golden 1 Center on Friday, where hundreds were gathered waiting to enter the stadium for an Ariana Grande concert.
Not all of the flyers had the same design – one flyer featured several anti-media statements placed over a red X and phrases like “stop the TV whore takeover” and “the press is the enemy,” and another flyer featured a swastika.”

Social Media and more sophisticated kinds of technology based PSYOP tend to dominate the news. It is important to remember that there is always room for some good old-fashioned leaflet drops.

While it would be hard to tell if the actual content of the leaflets was positively received by anyone who picked them up, it is fair to say that the impact of all the media coverage might have yielded the perpetrator media coverage for his vile efforts than the actual leaflets themselves.

Technology is proving to be a great leveler in the PSYOP world as more and more groups and individuals are employing various kinds of technology for their own ends. We may see more of this type of PSYOP as organizations beef up physical security for events as a response to the epidemic of shooting incidents.

Friday, April 19, 2019

When Tactics Are Restrained – Resort to Grand Strategy

Japan’s Constitution was written after WWII in such a way as to comfort the victorious allies that Japan would no longer be an international military power. The Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) have been slowly evolving into a force that can address threats abroad as well as threats to their Homeland.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken steps to broaden the rules of engagement for the SDF. The Economist of April 17, 2019 had an article: “A new front: Japan’s Self-Defence Forces are beginning to focus on China”. (see: which is also a photo source).

Among the ‘psyacts’ undertaken by the SDF is country’s largest warship, the Izumo (see:, another photo source). The article covering the vessel showed that the Chinese indeed were paying attention. “On 25 March 2015, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) commissioned the JS Izumo (DDH-183), lead ship of her class and the largest surface combatant of the JMSDF. Designated as a helicopter destroyer, the Izumo-class was built as an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platform. With this new ship reinforcing the Japanese arsenal, the Chinese quickly considered the ship as a “war potential“, claiming that she was an “aircraft carrier in disguise“. The ship indeed bears a strong resemblance to an aircraft carrier, just like the previous Hyūga-class.

Other steps include the capabilities of their F-35 and dramatic increases in cyber warriors from 150 to 500 over the next five years according to the Economist.

Of course, the article also points out that according to one Western diplomat “Japan has not fired a shot in anger in seven decades”. From a PSYOP perspective, it’s pretty clear that the Chinese are sitting up and taking notice whether or not Japan’s newly invigorated SDF ever fires a shot or takes a casualty. After all, isn’t that why PSYOP is all about?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Operation Comes Before Support

OK, I’ve been off line for a while, but in my defense, I have been pretty busy. My presentation on Cyber Influence at the RSA Conference ( was well attended. Given that most of the attendees were cyber geeks, I was a bit surprised when two bearded gentlemen approached me afterwards and told me they were in the Air Force and they enjoyed my talk. Sure, Air Force, like I’m in the Bolshoi Ballet.

(At right, General Patton studies a map of France. Source:

After a week of catching up I was off for a 2-week exercise at a DOD School that trains special staff officers. For the past decade I have been pleased to serve in a CPX as the IO SME/J39 on a replicative staff of a MG. The goal of the CPX is to give new staff officers and senior NCOs the experience of working on a General Staff. Where, while they will get private time with the boss, they have to work with and through a staff most of whom out rank them by several grades.

The staff, like any other mini-civilization has its own rules. Some of these rules are written somewhere, while others are not – you simply learn them by doing. Far better to learn at the school house then in the midst of a conflict.

The exercise replicates a deployment of an Army Brigade Combat Team (BCT), a Navy Carrier Strike Group and a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

The scenario builds from a cascade of news items through mounting tension and problems leading up to a Presidential order to deploy and an ensuing operation to support a friendly government. The exercise is 6 days long.

Experience has shown that this type of immersive learning experience is difficult for many students to absorb, so the faculty decided to split into a 3-day planning phase and a 3-day execution phase.

Naturally, the prelude to the execution is an Operations Order (OpOrd). The boss receives an OpOrd briefing approaching 100 slides.

Key to success for all of us supporting the CDR is that we have to understand that Op Order, who the players are, where they are moving or supposed to move, who are the bad guys, what are the potential problems and obstacles, etc. All of this is a prerequisite to being able to formulate individual function/specialty plans to support it.

The students also need to understand that no matter how many stars the military CDR has, they are not the senior executive in country – that is the Ambassador or chargé d'affaires who is the President’s direct representative.

The influence operations team needs to recognize how and where to learn about the environment on the ground from a media and communications perspective. Here again, experience appears to be the best teacher.

As the MISO/PSYOP advocate and lead disciple I have to also be able to express how all the IO elements reinforce each other and the importance of information synergy versus information fratricide.

Students with little or no exposure to MISO/PSYOP often have some very false preconceived notions that are adjusted based on their experience with IO working groups, Joint Planning Groups, Joint Targeting Groups and other aspects of the exercise.

Needless to say – understanding the operation is at the core of all this and cannot be taken for granted.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Cyber Influence: Is it PSYOP or is it Cyber?

One of my sources referenced an article in The Epoch Times (see:, which is also the photo source.)

The lead paragraph sets the stage:
The U.S. military needs to upgrade its psychological operations as adversaries take advantage of cyberspace to ramp up psychological warfare on the United States. Yet the military faces a difficult landscape to up its game, based on remarks by several current and former Special Operations officers.”

While much of it is somewhat ‘old news’, readers may find the Transcript of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES UNITED STATES SENATE UNITED STATES SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND’S EFFORTS TO TRANSFORM THE FORCE FOR FUTURE  SECURITY CHALLENGES (see: of interest, it’s only 60 pages.

Here are some things that struck me:
1.     The experts quoted are all SOF or former SOF.
2.     There is agreement that there needs to be more effective cyberspace influence operations.
3.     Privacy protections limit influence operation effectiveness.
4.     The Global Engagement Center was funded at $160 million under the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (see:

Here are some items that are missing:
1.     The Global Engagement Center is actually part of the Department of State:
2.     The Global Engagement Center has been criticized and hobbled. Both Vanity Fair and the NY Times have published articles. (see for example: and
3.     The President has given the military more authority to launch cyber attacks. (see:, also a photo source)

If we step back and take a look at the bigger picture, we see that:
1.     There is no overall, government wide cyber influence strategy.
2.     Cyberspace operations or cyber attacks are like the kinetic actions of the physical world, yet there doesn’t seem to be a non-kinetic or influence targeting balance.
3.     Both PSYOP and offensive cyberspace operations seem to be considered as independent, general short term, and perhaps even tactical level operations rather than longer-term operational level or on-going strategic efforts.

As the new Congress settles in and the partisan climate continues, we should be very concerned that the critical nature of Cyber Influence Operations will continue to be ignored. Some organizations are claiming victory in thwarting alleged Russian efforts to impact the midterm elections. Hard to know if they did or didn’t, but rest assured our enemies are busily at work on their operations to influence our Presidential nomination and election process.

Reader comments invited. If you’re attending the RSA Conference in San Francisco, I’m performing on Tuesday, March 05, 14:20

As always, reader comments are encouraged.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

Cyber, Cyber Everywhere But Not a PSYOP to Think!

The Army’s Cyber Command (ARCYBER) continues to ‘march’ forward in its mission of bringing cyber capabilities to the tactical CDR. Much as I have predicted, cyberspace operations are following in the footsteps of SIGINT as the migrate from behind the ‘Green Door’ to the field. The trigger for today’s posting is a January 31, 2019 article from the Army which you can see at:, and which is also the photo source.

There are also some parallels to the PSYOP world as reach-back is a key component of the resource.

The article goes into detail to describe “the Cyberspace Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) Support to Corps and Below (CSCB) program created in response to a directive by the Chief of Staff of the Army to build unit cyber capacity and help the Army to operationalize cyber.” The essence of the mission is to develop the organization and reach-back resources needed to support the cyber mission.

But what is the cyber mission? Ultimately cyber, like any other battlefield system, must focus on making the CDR more successful. Clearly ARCYBER is well positioned to throw electrons around the battlefield, but what about ideas and impacting behavior?

Once again, I’m more than a little concerned that there does not appear to be any attention paid to the concept of “Cyber Influence”. CDRs must dominate the information domain – which is more than cyberspace but impacting the space between ears of the enemy.

The real cyber-battlefield is for “hearts and minds.” Our enemies are good at this as shown by Russian voter influence and ISIS propaganda. US efforts don’t appear to be nearly as successful. This session will explore the fragmentation between cyberspace operations and Psychological Operations (PSYOP). I will be delivering a presentation on Cyber Influence at the RSA Conference in San Francisco on 5 March 2019, you can see a sneak preview of my talk at: