Monday, May 22, 2017

SOCOM Deployments: A Predictor Of Future Combat


I spent more time than usual in front of my computer today and as a reward left my more enjoyable and interesting e-mail for the end of the day. I was struck by the juxtaposition of two articles. The first was from the May 17, 2017 Task & Purpose, “5 Maps that Show The Military Hotspots The US Military is Deployed Right Now” (see: http://bit.ly/2raCZjY; which is also a photo source. As an analyst I tend to look for things that are unusual.

Top of the ‘unusual’ list is the deployment of 300 Marines to Norway. The Army’s list showed a deployment of 3,500 in Poland. These two deployments are clearly meant to counter a perceived Russian threat and/or to make a statement about one. Given the headlines of actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria – these two stood out.

On the Navy list I was somewhat surprised to see that the USS Carney Ross is deployed to South Sudan. I thought South Sudan was land locked which would make it a bit difficult to deploy an Arliegh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer inland.

As it turns out, this potential anomaly tied into the second article from Task & Purpose on May 18, 2017 “Report: SOCOM Has More Troops in Africa Than Anywhere Except the Middle East” (see: http://bit.ly/2qOKJaf; which is also a photo source.)

One could view the non-SOCOM Deployments as actions that are in play. Meaning that these conflict areas have enough going-on that it is necessary to station conventional forces. The Marines and the Navy, generally viewed as more mobile can be shifted to other locations more quickly.

However, the biggest takeaway is that SOCOM forces are a ‘preview to coming attractions’ and portend where the next major deployments can be expected to take place. BG Donald Bolduc, head of SOCAFRICA’s thoughts were summarized as ““Africa’s challenges could create a threat that surpasses the threat that the United States currently faces from conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria,” Bolduc warned. He went on to cite a laundry list of challenges with which he and his personnel must contend: ever-expanding illicit networks, terrorist safe havens, attempts to subvert government authority, a steady stream of new recruits and resources.”

Reader comments, as always are encouraged and I’m especially curious as to feedback on the Carney Ross.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

On-Line Education For Terrorists & Wannabes


I have been an on-line instructor for American Military University since 2009. My students are not easy to categorize except they are mostly either serving or former military or individuals seeking to break into the intelligence community as a career.

AMU and its parent, APUS, offer asymmetrical courses. This means the students and the instructors are not on-line at the same time. The materials started out like traditional, brick and mortar schools meaning they were a combination of documents and books.

Video is generally considered a way to make the ‘classroom’ more inviting. I fact, when I developed a course for AMU entitled “Cyber & The Intelligence Cycle”, my supervising Faculty Director told me I had to provide 20 minutes of ‘entertainment’ for the students. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll send you a like to one of the PPT lectures that I recorded with my voiceover.

Apparently the use of videos in on-line education is an international trend. While researching for this week’s Blog post I saw some information about Wilaya Ninwa, the propaganda arm of ISIS. In rummaging around the Internet I came across a new source (see: http://bit.ly/2qt4rIv, which is also the photo source).  The reference to the trigonometric formula that the tangent = the opposite/the adjacent was not lost on me and indicates a unique analytical perspective.

They featured a 35 minute video among others. The referenced link offers some analysis of the video as well as some clips.

I was struck, not by the fact that they were using videos, but the length. Given the probable target demographic I was quite surprised that the video is over 10 minutes long. Perhaps this because the video is meant to be a recruiting tool or a subliminal persuader and not a being a training vehicle.

As I learn more about video, it appears that 10 minutes is the sweet spot. I’d be very interested in learning what readers have to say on the subject.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

“The Truth” – You Can Make Fun of the Truth!


With apologies to Jack Nicholson, AKA COL Jessup, USMC (see: http://bit.ly/2pyEKCd), sometimes you help people handle the truth through fiction and even satire.

Duffleblog.com is in my opinion, one of the more acerbic and generally accurate satirical military sources. However, I’m often reluctant to repost or ‘Like’ their posts because candidly I think some people who are not familiar with the military will take the posting as ‘real’ rather than the satire it is.

They outdid themselves with “Pentagon Creates New Meme Warfare Center to Counter Online Propaganda” (see: http://bit.ly/2qUGxXb, which is also the photo source).

First of all the dateline is Fayetteville, NC the home of Fort Bragg which houses the Army Special Operations Command, parent of active duty MISO and the US Army Civil Affairs and PSYOP Command, parent of USAR PSYOP (not called MISO yet).

Fittingly the lead quote contains a misnomer. It says ‘make them go virus’ instead of ‘viral’ implying that the writer doesn’t know anything about the subject matter. They proclaimed that the boss of this organization would be a 65-year-old two star (Major General). I did a bit of research and it appears that for the mandatory retirement age for General Officers is 62 (see: http://tfumux.wikia.com/wiki/Average_ages_per_rank_in_US_Military).

MG Farmer has two strikes: he’s over the mandatory age and given the rest of the article – doesn’t really know very much about the Internet or popular culture. The implication may be that while DOD, and the Army in particular, may recognize that something is important and requires attention, the response isn’t always well thought out or appropriate.

The point for MISO/PSYOP professionals is that you can often use fiction to do what non-fiction cannot. A prominent former White House Staffer under several Presidents once told me ‘you can say more with fiction than you can with non-fiction’.

Enjoy the Food for thought.

Friday, May 5, 2017

PSYActs – What you do effects your audience.


Once upon a time, in a far away land called IGMR (Indiantown Gap Military Reservation) an intrepid young Army ROTC cadet was leading his squad down a road when an enemy tank rumbled out in front of us. That event had quite a psychological impact.

Fast forward to March 2017 when the same cadet was a retired Colonel SME orchestrating an influence campaign designed to convince an adversarial military CDR not to lead a convoy on an attack mission. While the 'shock action' of tanks was not appropriate, one avenue that open was to have a couple of ‘fast movers’ fly over the convoy sending the not so subtle message – if you move forward, the next time these jets won’t be so benign.

There is a great deal to be said in favor of non-lethal action to get results. One technique is to employ lethal weapons in a PSYAct – a psychological action – designed to send a strong sensory message.

One of my favorite military sources is “Task & Purpose”. Their May 5, 2017 e-mail included  F-35 Pilot Shares How Stealthy Fighter Psychologically Wrecks Enemies” (see: http://bit.ly/2pOoAX8; which is also the photo source)

In the article the author describes “a sense of dread” which is precisely the kind of impact you want to have on an enemy. The message sent by the F-22 was “you can’t find us, you can’t fight us.”

Other PsyActs do not have to be as dramatic. While I was in SFOR Bosnia US personnel were generally dressed in ‘full battle rattle’, meaning helmet, flak vest, etc. The British on the other hand were not.

In a confrontation the Americans had little in the way of non-lethal options while the British Army could simple go to their vehicles and ‘suit up’ in their battle gear sending a pretty strong message.

The bottom line is that all manner of influence can be employed and the psychological impact of kinetic weapons in a non-lethal message can be quite effective.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Everyone’s A Critic


I spent a fair bit of my career in marketing. I often said “marketing is like drumming, everyone thinks they can do it”.  In today’s 7x24 social media world any one can be a critic. In it’s   April 27, 2017 print edition, The Economist ran an article “The declining quality of Venezuela’s Propaganda” (see: http://econ.st/2oUcdHF, which is also the photo source).

The article addresses how even a totalitarian regime can fall on its sword when it comes to Social Media. Nicolas Maduro, the country’s president is trying to paint a positive picture of life there, much to the dismay and consternation of Venezuelans.

The power of images is reflected in the comments noted in the article. In particular pictures of obviously well-fed government officials does not play well in a country where poverty and food shortages have flourished in the past two years.

From a PSYOP/MISO perspective the message is pretty clear – you can’t turn an elephant into a giraffe. Influence campaigns need to be grounded in truth. Campaigns that are predicated on falsehoods will be quickly exposed and discredited.

While this principle has been around for a while, the 21st Century Social Media explosion has reinforced it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Politicians Can Be Part of a PSYOP Campaign – Whether They Realize It Or Not

Many of us remember then President George W. Bush declaring victory in Iraq under a “Mission Accomplished” banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln in San Diego on May 2, 2003 (see: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/mirror-mirror-on-the-wall/comment-page-14/?_r=0, which is also this picture’s source.)

This week Vice President Pence decided to break protocol and, according to various media, stare down the North Korean troops at the DMZ (see: http://thefederalistpapers.org/us/new-video-shows-pence-stare-down-north-korean-troops-at-dmz, which is also the photo source.) The picture is actually a still taken from the CNN video. 

Antics of one type or another across the DMZ have ranged from the comical to the tragic and the Vice President’s face making is just one of the latest. On April 29, 2016 Task & Purpose ran a story “North Korea Whines About US Troop Faces At Its Border Guards” (see: http://taskandpurpose.com/north-korea-whines-us-troops-making-faces-border-guards/, which is that photo source.)

Of course, one could also conclude that neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Pence were posing for our adversaries but were courting the American Public.

Mr. Pence’s rebellious (if you could call it that) seems to follow the pattern of the new Commander-in-Chief, that is act first and think later. This time there doesn’t seem to be much of a downside. However, it is fair to say that actions by Heads of State and other senior government leaders, whether attended or not, can have significant impact due to the 7/24 news cycle and social media.

Images can be taken out of context and used for purposes quite opposite of their original intent. A little forethought can prevent our adversaries from getting even more information ammunition.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How You Look Matters




One of my favorite military sources, Task & Purpose featured this little video about a Florida Police Department and their mission to combat drugs in their Florida County (see: http://bit.ly/2o6A6eE; which is also the picture source).

While the Sheriff certainly has the best of intentions, he and his deputies  come across as something between King Cobra’s gang (see picture at left; source: http://bit.ly/2o5Ojrx) and ISIS. The climax of the video when he and his coterie march off doesn’t help either.

An unfortunate fact of life is that many people will judge you by how you look. Many of us remember our mothers checking us out before we were permitted to leave. Some of us of have wives who fulfill the same purpose today.

In the MISO/PSYOP world there are two contexts WRT appearance.

1.     The Audience
You need to dress to have your audience feel positively about you. In sales training we often say “the prospect has to be listening to you and like you as a person before they will consider buying anything from you”. In the case of an audience that you are attempting to influence, such as the population of Lake County, you need to adapt your uniform to engender the trust of the people you are attempting to serve, yet adhere to appropriate force protection measures.

A very good example were the Brits in Bosnia. While the US troops were always in “Battle Rattle” – meaning helmet and body armor, the Brits were not. They wore soft caps and no body armor. This means if they came across a situation where a non-lethal response was preferred as a first step, the could upgrade to body army and helmets as a way of showing business.

Clearly this lesson was lost on Lake County. Of course it’s possible that the Sheriff thought only the bad guys would watch this video and get scared, but of course, that would never be the case in today’s world.

2.     The Supported Unit
MISO never works alone. We are always supporting a unit wither SF or Conventional and we need to look like we are a part of that unit in the military context.

Any potential negative impact of the Sheriff’s video may not be known, but it is at least a pretty good example for instructive purposes.