Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Booming Job Market For PSYOPers

 





In case you are thinking about transitioning from PSYOP, it looks like your skill set is in high demand. The NY Times online edition, 25 July 2021 and the 26 July 2021 print version ran an article "Disinformation for Hire, a Shadow Industry is Quietly Booming". (See https://nyti.ms/2Wu7EcX, which is also a photo source.)

The essence of the article is that the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook incident has stimulated disinformation into a big business. While nation states such as Russia, Iran and China among others employ shell proxies, now this service is available to anyone who will pay for it. According to the article, "The result is an accelerating rise in polarizing conspiracies, phony citizen groups and fabricated public sentiment deteriorating our chared reality beyond even the depths of recent years".

The article summarizes the business this way:

"Private firms, straddling traditional marketing and the shadow world of geopolitical influence operations, are selling services once conducted principally by intelligence agencies. They sow discord, meddle in elections, seed false narratives and pus viral conspiracies, mostly on social media And they offer clients something precious: deniability."

Business is so good that some experts believe that the for profit disinformation segment is actually bigger than the government proxy segment. It's quite the global business with Oxford University (UK) researchers believing that operations were run in at least 48 countries.



I'll leave the bulk of the article to your reading, but let me offer two final paragraphs in conclusion:
"But governments may find that outsourcing such shadowy work also carries risks, Mr. Graham Brookie, direct of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab said. For one, the firms are harder to control and might veer into undesired messages or tactics. For another, firms organized around deceit may just as likely to turn those energies toward their clients, bloating budgets and billing for work that never gets done.

As always, reader comments encouraged, but --- no resumes please.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Creative Economy –leading edge PSYOP or a fad?

 

You often hear the expression “follow the money”. In case you are interested this goes all the way back to the movie All The President’s Men and meant you can figure out political corruption by analyzing money transfers.





 

Venture capitalists (VCs) are considered among the 21st century’s major money sources. According to the July 12 NY Times (see: https://nyti.ms/3i5wgjj, which is a photo source), “The online influencer culture is starting to draw serioblogus interest from big venture capital firms. But the real money could be in digital tools, not the personalities.”

 

The VCs are creating an investment boom in the ‘so-called creator or influencer economy’.

The creator economy is named for social media ‘creators’ who are people that monetize their on line persona. I should point out the creators are generally young (under 30?) and digital natives – meaning they grew up with high speed technology.

 

The article continues “The creator economy, which provides digital tools to influencers and helps them run their businesses, is a huge, largely unexplored market.”  VCs have reportedly invested $2 billion into 50 creator-focused startups so far this year.

 

Two companies mentioned as provided tools are Dispo and Poparazzi.

Dispo is a photo staring ap which is considered a rival to Instagram.

Dispo as an invite-only picture sharing ap and you can learn more about it at:https://cnb.cx/3yR4z4A

 

Poparazzi (http://www.poparazzi.com/) is another tool mentioned and it is an app that mimics the concept of paparazzi because it is a photo sharing ap that encourages the network of friends to share photos among the group. The Apple App store features it here: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/poparazzi/id1513680970 (also a photo source)

 

Another tool, Sub-stack (https://substack.com/) allows writers to set up paid subscriptions to newsletters. It also provides authods with an on line platform that can provide analytics, and design tools.

 

The TikTok platform is generally given credit for jump starting the creative economy and contines to be the most popular downloaded ap (see: https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/tiktok-continues-to-hold-its-position-at-the-top-of-the-monthly-app-downlo/601414/, which is another photo source).

 

The implications for PSYOPers is that new tools can help turn anyone into an online personality. This means that the on-line influence playing field is continuing to level and that adversaries can be expected to mount effective influence campaigns with very limited budgets.


Thursday, July 8, 2021

Iran Disinformation Points Way For Near Peers and Others

 

The NY Times June 30, 2021 On line edition ran an article: “Iran Disinformation Effort Went Small to Stay Under Big Tech’s Radar” (see: https://nyti.ms/2SXGrh, which is a photo source)

 

According to the article “Over several months, Iranian agents had infiltrated small WhatsApp groups, Telegram channels and messaging apps that Israeli activists used for intimate discussions among dozens to thousands of people.”

 

There are several ‘intelligence indicators’ in this small sentence. The first of which is that disinformation is not the exclusive domain of top level threats. Secondary and near peer adversaries are able to harness this cost effective influence weapon.

 

Secondly, even seemingly secure applications such as WhatsApp are subject to compromise.

If Iran can do this then certainly it is within the capabilities of others such as North Korea and a number of non-state terrorist actors such as ISIS.

 

The ability to send focus, point to point, messages is a critical tool because the combination of text and images will cause the recipient to pause at a minimum, if not accept the message as true, not so much because of its content, but because of its trusted delivery path.

This adds a new wrinkle to influence operations and further democratizes the cyber domain battlespace.

 

You can fin an in-depth summary of the Iranian Cross Platform Influence Operation at: https://bit.ly/3yu13No. 

 

Among the survey’s conclusion is: “The direct approach to Israeli citizens, made through internal protesters’ WhatsApp groups, represents a dangerous escalation of methods. Establishing a personal connection with unsuspecting citizens is a novel technique and is suspected to be merely the tip of the iceberg regarding methods of foreign intervention in Israeli democracy.”

The penetration of WhatsApp can also yield interesting intelligence as the interloper is now inside a trusted virtual perimeter. This threat was confirmed in the NY Times article cited below: “In these closed messaging groups, people tend to trust one another and share more freely because there is a feeling that they share the same politics, and that the app itself is secure and safe,” said Gonen Ben Itzhak, an Israeli lawyer who once worked for Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency. He was among dozens of Israelis who said the Iranian efforts had targeted them.

 

The App also provides top cover while websites can and are targets for government action. On June 22, 201 the NY Times ran an article, U.S. Seizes Iran-Linked Websites at Key Point in Nuclear Talks (see: https://nyti.ms/3qT3fvi, another photo source) which describes the US Justice Department actions after the recent Iranian election.

 

The message is clear for PSYOPers – be prepared on all fronts and don’t count seemingly less resource endowed enemies and adversaries out.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Of Course The Taliban Are PSYOP Experts! They Don’t Have Much Competition!

 

I ran across an MSN article dated June 22, 2021. “The Taliban Are Winning the War of Words in Afghanistan as morale falters” (see: https://bit.ly/3qmDhQt). The article began:

“As Afghanistan’s armed forces cede and regain ground in the searing summer offensive against the Taliban, they are losing a propaganda war that is affecting the morale of a fearful population waiting for reassurance that the insurgents won’t overrun their country.”

 

Just for fun I decided to do a Google Search on “Taliban war of words”.

And, what do you know, I came across another article “Taliban Propaganda: Winning the War of Words?” (See: https://bit.ly/35Kv7Ic), This one was written by the well respected International Crisis Group and published on 24 July 2008. It begins:

“The Taliban has created a sophisticated communications apparatus that projects an increasingly confident movement. Using the full range of media, it is successfully tapping into strains of Afghan nationalism and exploiting policy failures by the Kabul government and its international backers. The result is weakening public support for nation-building, even though few actively support the Taliban. The Karzai government and its allies must make greater efforts, through word and deed, to address sources of alienation exploited in Taliban propaganda, particularly by ending arbitrary detentions and curtailing civilian casualties from aerial bombing.”

The Taliban dominance of influence operations should come as a surprise to no one.

The fact that the media is latching on to their dominance in June 2021 should also not be a surprise.

The Marine Corps Intelligence Activity commissioned the Rand Corporation to produce an analysis of “U.S. Military Information Operations in Afghanistan; Effectiveness of Psychological Operations 2001 – 2010”, which was published in 2012.

While the reported covered both successful and unsuccessful information operations, their general conclusion was:

“If the overall IO mission in Afghanistan is defined as convincing most residents of contested areas to side decisively with the Afghan government and its foreign allies against the Taliban insurgency, this has not been achieved.” (see: https://bit.ly/2TW4mhs, which is also a photo source).

On April 14, 2021, President Biden spoke from the Roosevelt – the Treaty Room in The White House where he said “We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal, and expecting a different result. 
I’m now the fourth United States President to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats.  I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”

(See: https://bit.ly/3xGJFEC

There should be no surprises here. Recapping some reasons why:

1.     The Taliban have always had a more streamlined approval cycle.

2.     There was no real unity of command of influence operations.

3.     There was neither an overarching communications strategy, nor a practical plan.

4.     The Afghan government was barely able to govern, let alone develop and execute a communications strategy.

5.     The Taliban have done a marvelous job of exploiting their home field advantage.

6.     The US withdrawal will undoubtedly lead to more Taliban military victories which they will no doubt exploit.

7.     The tribal nature of Afghanistan does not lend itself to high tech social media efforts while the global stage is great fodder for them.

Many of us were trained using “Leadership Reaction Drills” where unit leadership rotated among the members of a group. At one point we were asked the question we all dreaded “What now Lieutenant?”

I’d ask President Biden, Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin the same question ‘What now’?

Photo Source of President Biden & President Roosevelt: https://abc3340.com/news/connect-to-congress/gallery/biden-hails-house-passage-of-19t-virus-bill-now-to-senate

 

 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

What Does Vlad Putin Know That Joe Biden Doesn’t?

 

On May 19, 2021 I read an article from Politico about the current Pentagon weighs keeping Trump-era change to ‘psychological operations’ (See: https://politi.co/2S8fS8q). The article leads with:

“In the final months of the Trump administration, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper quietly moved to let the military run influence campaigns — often called “psyops” — more quickly and with less time for input from the State Department.

The policy change, which eight people described to POLITICO, highlights tension between military leaders and diplomats about how the U.S. handles gray-area operations that fall short of all-out war.

And now, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is weighing whether to maintain the change in policy, according to a senior defense official.”

This kind of BS has been going on for years. The beltway battle for influence supremacy keeps on between DOD, the Department of State and who else knows what other government agencies.

Meanwhile, in a land far away, there is a different approach which seems to be far more effective.

Another article from May 17, 2021 proclaims:

Psy-ops in high places Putin’s new science adviser to Russia’s National Security Council is a military intelligence agent accused of spreading disinformation about the coronavirus” (See: https://bit.ly/3oz1Hp7 which is also a photo source).

 

The site “The Real Russia Today” claims that Russia’s Military Unit 55111 is the focal point for Russian disinformation campaigns and that one of their deputy commanders, A.G. Starunshky is highly placed in the Science Council of the Russian National Security Council.

 

The article stated that “In July 2020, citing sources in the U.S. government, The Associated Press and The New York Times both reported that Starunsky was a GRU officer involved in disinformation campaigns, including the dissemination of fake stories in English about the coronavirus. American journalists linked Starunsky to the website inforos.ru, which allegedly answers to the GRU.”

 

On October 8, 2019 The NY Times ran “Top Secret Unit Seeks to Destabilize Europe, Security Officials Say” (see: https://nyti.ms/3oMlW2R, which is also a photo source).

 

Frankly it doesn’t matter what 55111 does or doesn’t do. I think the point is that Mr. Putin is a former MI guy (like Marines, there are probably no former MI guys) and as such recognizes the power of information as an offensive and defensive tool.

 

The continuing internecine battles within the US Federal government indicates, that the US hasn’t grasped the importance of this position.

 

As always, reader comments invited.

 

 

 

 




Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Musical Movies Part of China’s All Government Approach to Propaganda

 


China spares no efforts to get their point across. They have mastered the art of weaving the information related capabilities together in an unmatched tapestry of propaganda.

 

Probably the most interesting and most powerful is the effort to counter the criticism of and change the perception of China’s treatment of the Muslim Uyghur minority.

 

This was chronicled by the NY Times in its April 5, 2021 online edition and the print edition of April 6, 2021. (See: https://nyti.ms/2Ovbnn1, which is also a photo source).

 

The Chinese employ every method they can. The picture above shows a propaganda sign in Xinjiang.

 

According to the Council on Foreign Relations “More than a million Muslims have been arbitrarily detained in China’s Xinjiang region. The reeducation camps are just one part of the government’s crackdown on Uyghurs.”  (See: https://on.cfr.org/3rT5cqo, which is another photo source). The March 1 article highlights three key points:

  • About eleven million Uyghurs—a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic group—live in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
  • The Chinese government has imprisoned more than one million people since 2017 and subjected those not detained to intense surveillance, religious restrictions, forced labor, and forced sterilizations.
  • The United States sanctioned officials and blacklisted dozens of Chinese agencies linked to abuses in Xinjiang. In 2021, it determined that China’s actions constitute genocide and crimes against humanity.

The Sound of Music it's not - but maybe you can fool some of the people some of the time. The Business Insider (see: https://bit.ly/3dHbIvi, a photo source) headed their April 6, 2021 article "China made a 'La La Land' - inspired propaganda musical about the life of Uyghur Muslims, which omits all mention of mass surveillance and oppression. 

The “Bollywood” style musical is designed to portray an idealistic picture of the Uyghurs and their loving assimilation as part of China. “The notion that Uyghurs can sing and dance so therefore there is no genocide — that’s just not going to work,” said Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American lawyer and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington. “Genocide can take place in any beautiful place.”

 

The movie is thorough in it staging. While it tells the story of three young men from different ethnic groups – Uyghur, Kazakh and of course the majority Han Chinese, it does a great job of eliminating any hint of Islamic influence because … “Young Uyghur men are clean-shaven and seen chugging beers, free of the beards and abstinence from alcohol that the authorities see as signs of religious extremism. Uyghur women are seen without traditional head scarves.”

 

The movie is only one element of the campaign. Social media is particularly active on FaceBook and Twitter.

 

Not even textbooks are spared and are also a target of the propaganda. The China Global TV Network (www.cgtn.com) or CGTN released a documentary purporting that textbooks which had been approved and used in Xinjiang elementary and middle schools for over a decade were suddenly deemed subversive.

 

The People’s Republic certainly knows how to synergize their information related capabilities to push their point across.

 

From the relentless nature of the campaign, it would appear that the PRC is far more concerned with Measures of Production (MOP) rather than Measures of Effectiveness (MOE). Perhaps an indication of how the program is not working would be the population count of the reeducation camps shown on the map and photo below.

 


As always, reader comments invited.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Your Health is a Disinformation Target


 

In early March 2021 there were a number of reports about Russian, Chinese and Iranian disinformation efforts all designed to cast doubt on the effectiveness of vaccines for the COVID virus.

 

A base source of information appears to be the Alliance for Security Democracy (see: http://bit.ly/3s9zuGx, which is also a photo source. Their website states their mission as: “The Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), a nonpartisan initiative housed at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, develops comprehensive strategies to deter, defend against, and raise the costs on autocratic efforts to undermine and interfere in democratic institutions. ASD has staff in Washington, D.C., and Brussels, bringing together experts on disinformation, malign finance, emerging technologies, elections integrity, economic coercion, and cybersecurity, as well as Russia, China, and the Middle East, to collaborate across traditional stovepipes and develop cross-cutting frameworks.”

Their report was noted by USA Today among others as a source. Some of their key findings were:

·      While there were few instances of any studied country promoting verifiably false information about vaccines, reports of safety concerns related to the administration of certain Western-produced vaccines were often sensationalized while downplaying or completely omitting key contextual information. For example, Iran’s Arabic-language Fars News Agency tweeted that the Pfizer vaccine “kill[ed] six people in America,” omitting (and never correcting) that four of the six people who died during the vaccine trial had received a placebo and that authorities determined there was no causal connection between the vaccine and the deaths of the other two participants.

·      Pfizer received by far the most unfavorable coverage of any vaccine, particularly from Kremlin-funded outlets and Iranian state media and government accounts. Of the 50 most-retweeted tweets mentioning Pfizer posted by Russian state media outlets, 43 (86 percent) mentioned either an adverse reaction to the vaccine (including deaths) or negative information about the company itself. In Iranian government and state media tweets, 92 percent of mentions of Pfizer were negative. But the notion that Russian, Chinese, and Iranian diplomats and state media outlets seek to disparage and undermine Western vaccines writ large is not entirely accurate, as coverage of Moderna’s vaccine was mixed and reporting on Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine was largely neutral or positive.

·      Russia was the most likely of the three studied countries to suggest linkages between the Pfizer vaccine and the subsequent deaths of vaccine recipients. Of the 209 tweets from Russian, Chinese, and Iranian accounts that mentioned Pfizer and the words “die,” “dead,” or “death” in the same tweet, 111 (53 percent) were from Russian state media outlets.

·      Russia and China aggressively promoted their own vaccines, but not one another’s. In Russian tweets that mentioned a vaccine by name, just over 6 percent mentioned one of the two Chinese vaccines. Similarly, in Chinese tweets that mentioned a vaccine by name, just under 3 percent mentioned Sputnik V. By comparison, our control group of global media accounts mentioned Sputnik V in 6.5 percent and the two Chinese vaccines in over 8 percent of tweets that mentioned a vaccine by name.

As Psyopers we look at the motive – the why behind the disinformation. In this case, it may all be about the money!

One of the report’s authors, Bret Schafer “said the stakes are incredibly high as countries like Russia and China compete to distribute their own vaccines to the developing world. …When you look at their effort to get the vaccine approved in Mexico and Latin America, that’s a big economic win for them … but it also gives them diplomatic leverage as well,”