Monday, February 12, 2018

“Honey – are you home from the War?”


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I have often said that the funniest stuff is never made up.

Of course, I come from a Western mentality and my household doesn’t run like they did in the 1950s where Dad worked and Mom stayed home to cook and clean and otherwise feather the nest. While I was aware that Al Qaeda groups didn’t think much of women and their role in warfare while others embraced them as warriors, it didn’t occur to me that these two views would play themselves out in terrorist media wars.

Imagine my surprise when I caught the article “How to please your holy warrior’ in the February 3, 2018 of the Economist. (see: http://econ.st/2BUCf7M, which is also the photo source).

The article addresses the al-Qaeda published magazine for women called Beituki (“Your Home”). Rather than grab your rifle and kill infidels, the magazine urges““Make your house a paradise on earth,” it advises. “Prepare the food your husband loves, prepare his bed after that and do what he wants.”

The Al Qaeda view is contrary to ISIS and the Taliban who believe that women should be out there creating mayhem, just like their male counterparts. Rather than showing women in action, Beituki shows neat designer homes and domestic bliss.

While trying to find the actual Beituki website, I came across another reference which prepared an ‘infographic’ of their concept of the Al Qaeda magazine which you can see here and at: http://bit.ly/2G7QPag.

Unfortunately there is no data available to determine which of these competing views is more popular – go out there and shoot or stay home and cook.

There is a key message for PSYOPers though and that is you can’t take your own viewpoint as the most popular one or the perspective that will be embraced by your target audience.

Reader input invited.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Books – Key to Afghan PSYOP?


The 4 February 2018 NY Times ran a front page article “though Most Afghans Can’t Read, Their Book Trade is Booming” (see: http://nyti.ms/2FLxHOY) which is also the photo source).

According to the article, there are only two things that Afghanistan does not import: opium and interestingly enough – books! While only 40% of Afghans are able to read, apparently that 40% reads quite a bit. One Afghan publisher describes the situation like this: “Publishers are all trying to find new books to publish, young people are trying to find new books to read, writers are looking for publishers. It’s a very dynamic atmosphere. And it’s something independent, with no foreign assistance.”

Kabul has 22 book publishers and 60 registered bookstores serving a population of over 5 million. Of course it’s not all blue sky. Translating a book from other languages can be problematic and, as to be expected in a country bereft with corruption, there is an increasing number of pirates who can sell 4 times as many copies as the legitimate publisher.

Given that the readers of books are exactly the kind of audience you would like to reach, does it make sense to foster publishing books that support the American messages?

As it turns out self-help books, especially those offering to help the reader get rich are popular. The article notes that Ivanka Trump’s “Women Who Work” is very popular, especially among female readers. That book was panned in a New Yorker Review in May 2017 (see: http://bit.ly/2nG1eTF).


Nevertheless it is refreshing to read something that is not focused on Social Media and perhaps, just perhaps helping get the message across with an old fashioned book is the key to influence in Afghanistan.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Animals & PSYOP


I was struggling to come up with a posting for this week when I happened on this article from Task and Purpose. (see: http://bit.ly/2DGhVsj) The content of the article doesn’t matter it was this picture that I had in mind.

Most people, including Indiana Jones, hate snakes and spiders. Many people even have what others term irrational fear of animals such as spiders and will go to great lengths to avoid them. Why not simply harness common and dislikes of animals to bring a message across?

Of course, animals are not all universally loved or hated. Dogs for example are treated very well http://bit.ly/2Fky3Mk) and in China they are struggling with canines as cuisine (see: http://cnn.it/2EevU5M).
in most Western countries – see author’s dog photo While in Arab cultures, dogs are regarded as impure (see:

Units have adopted animals for their crests and emblems. The tiger can be found on many such crests as shown in this simple Google search “tigers on military crests”.

Animals can also serve to inspire and help people identify with stories. There is of course the very famous and very smart pig, Wilbur who is schooled by his friend Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web. The point is that animals can help a PSYOP campaign or they can serve to quickly turn the audience off.

Animations or cartoons of animals can also be employed in PSYOP when appropriate and to appeal to target audiences that perhaps are not as literate in the language of the land.

Creative PSYOPers know that they need a variety of tools and techniques at their disposal to be successful and appeal to their designated audience. Judicious use of animals can be one of those tools.

I have to cut this short, Max needs his walk.

Note: cited articles are also photo sources.




Monday, January 8, 2018

China Turns to Private Sector to Jazz Up Propaganda


The December 2, 2017 print edition of the Economist ran a short article “Happy Bunny” which you can find at: https://www.economist.com/news/china/21731828-communist-partys-publicists-can-afford-relax-bit-how-private-sector-helping-china (which is also the photo source). The article addresses how Chinese state media is working with the private sector to liven up their propaganda.

Given the often wooden and stoic nature the PRC’s state propaganda, it’s no wonder they decided to outsource some of their efforts. Of course cooperation between the government and the private sector takes on different dynamics then in other countries.

Private sector in the US comes in many flavors. The most obvious are the entertainment juggernauts in movies and TV (broadcast and streaming). Cooperation and interaction between the entertainment industry and the federal government peaked during WWII.

At this point in time (as evidenced by last night’s Golden Globe Awards see: http://bit.ly/2CTuNdu) the entertainment industry appears to be righting the wrongs of past years and striving for independence.

The other aspect of the private sector is of course are defense contractors. The US has had mixed results by outsourcing PSYOP to commercial entities. The media is quick to publicize government contracts for influence operations and generally opines that the millions of dollars spent on these contracts was a waste of money.

The PRC’s efforts are certainly a proof of concept that working with the private sector can help improve the effectiveness of influence operations.

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: http://nyti.ms/2nIuUlF, 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: https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf) . 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: https://www.geo.tv/latest/169540-pm-abbasi-coas-reaches-saudia-arabia-to-attend-imctc-conference)

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: https://imctc.org/English 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: http://theduran.com/can-imctc-become-islamic-nato/

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: 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!