Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NATO Joint Senior PSYOP Conference – Consistency in A World of Turmoil

From 31 October through 3 November I am having the pleasure of attending the 24th Annual NATO Joint Senior PSYOP Conference. Hosted by the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), the event is attended by representatives from over a dozen countries.

This year’s conference is focused on navigating social media and the hosts have gathered a diverse group of speakers from the military, commercial sector, and academia to provide the attendees with a broad range of thought provoking information.

I’m posting at the end of day 2 of 3 and ½. Here are some of the key points you may find of interest:

· Researchers are studying the social media aspects of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement to see if there are any lessons learned or techniques that should be considered for future operations.

· An interesting angle on analysis is to figure out “what does the enemy worry about” and what don’t they want their audience to believe.

· There will always be no shortage of pictures or video because the population at large is recording what they see.

· Russia is not censoring the Internet, but is using organized crime as a proxy and entertainment (porn) to assuage their population.

· Contractors on the battle field are a fact of life.

· Common causes/issues behind the Arab Spring include:

o Governments rife with patronage and corruption

o Economic problems

o Inability for populations to effect change in their government

o A large and discontent young population

· Al Qaeda’s messaging is becoming irrelevant

· Some in mass movements (Occupy, Flash Mobs) may be motivated by the sense of a fulfilling experience – not necessarily any causes or deep meanings.

· Behavior changes can often be initiated through small, incremental steps.

· Conflicts occur across a ‘difference’ boundary, in other words a divide.

· NATO may be well known, but what it stands for is not. NATO needs to ‘re-brand’ itself so that the current generation knows why NATO exisits.

· Cyber conflict and incidents dos not have to be waged by governments, but cyber war does.

· Afghanistan isn’t a 10 year war, but 10 one year wars due to rotation of personnel.

· Relationship based societies do not want to be re-cast into transaction based societies.

· There is a difference between teaching and fostering learning.

· Trust is a cornerstone.

· New strategies and operational concepts/techniques need to be developed to allow forces to be in the fight, but not at the fight. (Witness Libya)

· Cyber War is a legal quagmire.

· Cyber War effects may be flu like rather than measureable like body count.

· Cyber War will likely be a prelude to kinetic war.

· Cyber Influence (CyIn) requires all source battlefield preparation.

· CNO require technology profiling of the battlefield.

My service at the NATO HQ in Bosnia was a great experience for me because I had the rare opportunity of working side by side with military and civilian personnel from throughout the NATO alliance. Shared experience builds more than bonds, it builds the kind of relationships that are needed to fight and win today’s and tomorrow’s conflicts.

As always, reader input invited.


Voodoo said...

So much of what you're commenting on are postulates that have been accepted for quite some time. The question is, what are we going to do about it? how can we avoid fighting 10 1- year wars? How can we create (recreate) a true level of competency in our PSYOP units? how can we bridge the gap between the often-discussed Tactical level focused on true measurable behavior change, and the strategic focus on big pretty advertising and marketing?

The fact is that no major power will ever look to unseat the US in a direct military confrontation as long as insurgency is a proven method.

Our naive desire to pretend that fighting insurgencies is a "choice" is going to seriously degrade full spectrum military capabilities going forward.

Anonymous said...

Voodoo - you are correct in your summation, and the fact that this "Senior NATO PSYOP Leadership" conference and chili cookoff injects old knowledge is part of the problem.

Rest assured, brother of influence - that there are committed professionals at the mid leadership level who are working day and night to right the wrongs, place systems into action, and ensure that the lessons learned are available for the emerging threat.

Until more PSYOPers are getting published and documenting their lessons learned - this community will always have someone else telling us what we do, how we do it, how we fail, and then tell us how to do it better.

Even unifying the Commands won't rectify that situation.

Lawrence Dietz said...

@Voodoo and @Anon,

Part of the challenge we face is that there is scant knowledgeable and experienced (dare I say) PSYOP experience at the highest levels. Sure, there are a few 06 and 05 slots in the Pentagon, but there are no GOs, nor a bevy of high ranking and placed civilians who can carry our messages forward.

On several occasions in the past I have advocated 'grass roots' action where AC and RC PSYOPers establish solid working relationships with their elected representatives and key staffers. This would at least give PSYOP some visibility in key committees and at times for critical budget actions.

However, it is easier said than done, and frankly needs to be DC centric. This is a job for an Association that is savvy on how to do things on the hill.

@Anon is on the money WRT publishing, the more we get out there, the better.


Voodoo said...

So, we all agree on the what - the question is how.

I know one of my senator's military staff, and was made aware that they and the senator (who sits on a key COM) didn't really have any insight into what was going (I actually pointed them to this blog to take a look) not just in our community, but in the NG SF and USAR CA branches.

I had a discussion with a reserve Lt Col who worked for the OSD as a civilian whose first question to me was 'oh, you were just in Afghanistan? How did the whole 'beard shaving' debacle work out for you guys?' He explained to me that at the highest levels they were bringing in cultural experts to explain the significance of beards to Generals who just laughed it off. Despite knowing that its simply a fact that to be taken seriously among Pashtouns in southern AFG you need to have a beard, period, know-it-all brass just waved it off and handicapped the influence fight (not that anyone who lives outside the wire really cares about the ivory-tower dictums anyway).

I have plenty of papers and research from my academic work that could potentially be published, but the question is, in what journals? PO is supposed to have a journal, right, but does it really exist?

And then what about OPSEC? I could talk about enemy-behavior shaping, but when you explain HOW you manipulate, it becomes that much more difficult to manipulate.

That being said, I'm currently working on an MA thesis that might be able to be significantly broken up into a series of 'influence as main effort' articles.

So we've established the what - what are real actionable avenues of how?

Voodoo said...

And this elicits the question - given the huge disconnect between the strategic and tactical side of PSYOP - why isn't there a NATO tactical psyop conference? Why are these senior conferences limited to O-5's and E-7's, who are so far removed from the fight they argue that a TPT has nothing to offer during an insurgent guerrilla attack? Sorry Mr Dietz, as someone who has been in that situation more than once, the issue still grates on me, despite your mea culpa and concessions.

When was the last time one of these senior conferences spent more time trying to figure out how we can better shape behavior, and less time patting each other on the back for advocating western-style marketing approaches?

Lawrence Dietz said...


I can't speak for anyone but myself here. I frankly don't think anyone has given any thought to a broader base constituency for conferences.

The best attempt, thus far, has been the 4th POG (now MISG) hosting of PSYOP Regimental Week which involved all ranks.

Let's not be naive, there is also an issue funding travel for large numbers of soldiers. Perhaps SWC could host a conference with the flavor you are proposing.


Voodoo said...

Regimental Week isn't close to what needs to happen.

We've established that there's a huge gap between the knuckle draggers on the ground (the PSYOP ones with MA's and PhDs), and the O's that attend things like the NATO senior conference. The JSOU, and SWCS, should be working to bridge that gap.

I would personally recommend 2 conferences a year, bringing senior leadership (including our 2 stars) and Jr. NCOs together, wearing civilian clothes, no rank, where the ability to articulate one's points carries all the weight, not the birds, leafs, or rockers on your chest.

These conferences don't have to big - 20-30 total should be fine.

So - where's that PSYOP Professional Journal anyways?

Lawrence Dietz said...


Appreciate the suggestion. The tenor of your comments appear to be arguing for the democratization of the military. There is always an undercurrent of O v E theme - care to elaborate? BTW the NATO conference attire was civilian.

Who would determine who gets to go to your proposed NCO Conference? How do you ensure that the best and the brightest get to attend, not those with the best connections. What is the appropriate host and how could they justify the funding?

As for Perspectives, the Journal of the PSYOP Association, you would have to check with the Joseph Meisner who publishes Front Post (the frequent e-mail) and Perspectives.


Voodoo said...

From what I can tell, Perspectives has been out of print for years now?

I'm not really arguing for the democratization of the Army, I'm arguing for facility of information transfer. In democracy each individual is vested with equal power - I'm simply arguing for a manner in which to better inform senior leadership, which seems, as far as I can tell, to be massively disconnected from the ground reality.

Its the NCO's job to shape Officers, but if officers eliminate access and refuse to be shaped, we have a problem.

This would also provide a method of giving legislative access to the community - inviting Congressional staff to these conferences, so they can get a real handle on what the capability is, and where it needs to be.

As far as selections go, a combination of unit nomination and applications should suffice. This isn't a one-year fix, its an ongoing process.

That being said - what the NATO conference showed is that there's a pretty good grasp of most of the failures - what it fails to do is illustrate that anyone is providing a way forward.

Again - we've known for half a decade or more that we're fighting Afghanistan one year at a time - why is that still going on?