Polite propaganda

rush radio journal image

My podcast diet continues to grow.

I recently finished the first three episodes of the RUSI Journal Radio – each focusing on different aspects of information warfare.

The Royal United Services Institute is a UK-based think tank. It turns out they have a bunch of different podcasts.

Here are the first three:

Episode 1: The Realities of Information Warfare

Episode 2: Emotion as a Policy Tool

Episode 3: 21st Century Propaganda

I especially enjoyed the discussion in episode 2 regarding measures of effectiveness (and the fact that they are often meaningless).

While discussing atmospherics, the host asks “how do you measure it?”

It’s hard. It’s not something easy, especially in a discipline or in an environment such as policy-making where we like things to be quantified. We want metrics to be able to show that something has impact.

But having worked in politics and policy for a few years, I’ve come across people, often politicians, strategic communicators, very good strategists, who have this innate and intuitive sense of ‘this is the mood right now, this is the moment, something has changed.’

Claire Yorke, Emotion as a Policy Tool, ~5:00

The conversation moves onto the qualitative aspects of analysis – which is something that doesn’t lend well to putting numbers on a chart. We trust this analysis because it comes from someone who has put in the work and has studied the subject matter over time.

We shouldn’t need to be wowed by the methedolgy.

We can measure things this way, and yes, it is subjective. But that’s ok.

So to measure it is subjective and we have to be comfortable with the ambiguity and the subjectivity of it.

This podcast also has the calmest, unimposing intro music of any I’ve heard. A welcome break from the hum of impending doom that begins most American security-themed podcasts.


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The Third Person Effect

men reading newspapers on a train

People tend to overestimate their confidence and ability in things and discount the same in others.

We see this most clearly in driving confidence and ability.

73% of Americans believe that they are a “better-than-average” driver.

Instantly, we know something must be wrong.

There is a similar phenomenon in psychology called the third-person effect.

“…people will tend to overestimate the influence that mass communications have on the attitudes and behavior of others. More specifically, individuals who are members of an audience that is exposed to a persuasive communication (whether or not this communication is intended to be persuasive) will expect the communication to have a greater effect on others than on themselves. And whether or not these individuals are among the ostensible audience for the message, the impact that they expect this communication to have on others may lead them to take some action. Any effect that the communication achieves may thus be due not to the reaction of the ostensible audience but rather to the behavior of those who anticipate, or think they perceive, some reaction on the part of others.”

The argument here isn’t that propaganda works. The argument is that there are many people who believe propaganda doesn’t work on them, but they have concerns that it works on others.

That concern may lead the same enlightened people to take action which ultimately makes the propaganda effective.

In Davidson’s paper, he cites a couple of examples from military history that takes advantage of this. One is very similar to the technique Saddam Hussein purportedly used during the Iran-Iraq War to ground the Iranian F-14 fleet.

The History of the Psychological Warfare Division, Supreme Headquarters, Alled Expeditionary Force (Bad Homburg, Germany, 1945) tells us about Operation Huguenot – a project for undermining the efficiency of the German Air Force by suggesting that German flying personnel were deserting in their machines to the Allied side.

The Psychological Warfare Division history tells:

“The dividends from this operation were expected not so much in the actual number of desertions as in the effect of the countermeasures which the German authorities would be induced to take against glying personnel… sharpening up of anti-desertion measures and instructions to field police to keep a suspicious eye on everyone – a course which would have serious effects on morale. Also, the promotion of officers on account of reliability rather than efficiency (p. 53).”

The Third Person Effect in Communication

It wasn’t about actually getting Germans to defect. It was about getting the German military to take action – unnecessary, painful action – to prevent defections from taking place.

The lesson here, as is often the case when it comes to propaganda, is to exercise patience, discretion, humility, and trust.

Patience to not react just because something happens in the information environment.

Discretion to be selective about what levers we choose to pull if and when we do react.

Humility to acknowledge that we are all vulnerable.

Trust in each other that they can do the above as well.

No matter how smart we think we are, or how immune we may be to the effects of slick marketing, social media algorithms, or plain old-fashioned propaganda, we are all made up of the same stuff as the person next to us.

We’re all vulnerable. Understanding that is the beginning of beating it.


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Administrative Warfare: Deception + third person effect

iran f-14 winnie the pooh posing

The use of deception and the third-person effect to exploit an administrative process for military advantage.

He knew that they were paranoid.

He knew that the Iranians guarded their oil facilities with their F-14s, and his Air Force [the Iraqi’s] was terrified of dog-fighting the F-14s because at the time the F-14 was pretty much unmatched as a fighter aircraft.

So he figured the best way to get our aircraft to strike the oil refinery is to get the F-14s out of the air and the only way to get them out of the air is to ground them.

We don’t have the means to strike their airfield, so he called one of the Gulf leaders, I’m not sure if it was the Saudi king or somebody else, and he essentially told them, “Hey, we have received intelligence that an Iranian F-14 wants to defect in a couple of nights and they are going to come to your country, so just keep an eye out – there’s an F-14 coming.”

[Saddam] knowing full-well that that Gulf leader was going to leak that information to the Iranians – they did.

The Iranians heard ‘one of your F-14s is going to defect.

They panicked and put all of the F-14 pilots in jail, and while all the F-14 pilots were in jail being investigated for a possible treason plot, Saddam struck the oil refinery.

Aram Shabanian, How the Iran-Iraq War Shaped the Modern World, Angry Planet

Photo source.


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Ok, but what should the Army do to combat this?

quake 3 arena logo

Good episode of The Convergence Podcast last month. Guests were Joe Littell and Maggie Smith, who recently co-authored a good article on information warfare for the Modern War Institute.

In the podcast, they discuss the article and its implications for the military.

What I like about both the article and the podcast is that we are hearing directly from practitioners – in this case in the fields of psychological operations and cyber.

Often – and especially as of late – we are hearing everyone’s opinion on these fields, whether they hold expertise or not.

One thing that I think gets to the crux of many of the military’s issues in dealing with information warfare came in the form of a question. After a long back and forth on some of the background concerning information warfare on a grand scale – political polarization, distrust in media, misinformation/disinformation, etc – the host poses the following question?

“How does the Army combat this?”

It’s not a bad question – and it is literally referencing the problem addressed in the guests’ article. The issue here is the solution to the problem goes way beyond the scope of what the Army can do. Even those tiny parts of the Army that deal exclusively with these issues.

What is the role of the Army? To win our nation’s wars.

We do ourselves a disservice if we ask it to do more than that.

There are limits to what the military can achieve in a traditional sense. Look at Afghanistan.

But there are also limits to what the military can achieve in an irregular sense. It doesn’t matter what combination of tactics, techniques, or tools you can pull together. There are extreme limits to what can be accomplished when dealing with the complexities of the human condition.

Thinking that it’s possible to fix everything, that we just haven’t discovered the right tool or educated the right people in the right way is dangerous.

This isn’t a cause for cynicism. Rather, it’s a cause for critical thinking and clearly understanding the role of the military and executing accordingly.

And pushing back when asked to do the impossible.

Lastly, there was a good conversation towards the end on the need to move away from the terms misinformation and disinformation. I agree. They are used everywhere now, mostly interchangeably or without a clear meaning.

Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re going anywhere. For what it’s worth, this is how I think of them.

For those who hang in there until the end, you’ll learn a couple of interesting facts about Joe and Maggie.

“Hangin’ with railbait like you is gonna lower my rep.”


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Administrative Warfare: Fake Bomb Threats

the city of kyiv at dusk with no lights

Read this yesterday afternoon about the ongoing “hybrid” war taking place in Ukraine.

Another new tactic, according to Ukrainian authorities, is bomb threats.

Ukrainian police said there were nearly 1,000 anonymous messages in January, mostly by email, falsely claiming bomb threats against nearly 10,000 locations, from schools to critical infrastructure.

Kateryna Morozova’s 7-year-old daughter called her last month asking to be collected from school as teachers had told her to leave quickly. A teacher soon said on a messenger group that there had been a bomb threat against the school. Children who had been swimming had to grab what clothes they could and rush outside into the cold and snow, she said.

Russians Have Already Started Hybrid War With Bomb Threats, Cyberattacks, Ukraine Says, Wall Street Journal

Many places have automatic procedures that take place when a bomb threat is received. This is easily exploitable by someone willing to take advantage of it.

This is a form of administrative warfare. That is, tactics that take advantage of administrative policies and procedures that can wreak havoc at minimal cost.

There are lots of possibilities for this kind of warfare.

The only limitations are willingness and imagination.


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The Truth Sandwich

you have to beLIEve me

Last week I wrote about the illusory truth effect – the psychological phenomenon wherein a lie that is repeated – even in refutation – is more likely to be remembered than the truth.

It turns out that there is a counter to this – the “truth sandwich.”

How to use it?

  1. Start with the truth. This is the frame.
  2. Introduce the lie – clearly stating that it is a lie.
  3. End with the truth.

It doesn’t always work. Especially if the recipient is no longer engaging in critical thought.

But for those who might be swayed, those who are still among the few willing to be wrong from time to time, it may nudge them towards the truth.

In the race to correct false information, the lie often gets too much air. You have to frame it in the right way.

And even then, most of the time the lie is not even worth refuting. Patience and trust will win the day.

Leaders – especially military leaders – need to suppress the urge to “do something” all the time.

“How are we countering this!?” screams the agitated military leader.

“We’re not, sir. It’s nonsense. And it will pass.”


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Term Warfare

a list of terms for low intensity conflict

A dual release episode from the Cognitive Crucible and the Phoenix Cast.

In this crossover episode of the Phoenix Cast and Cognitive Crucible, John Bicknell is joined by John Schreiner, Kyle Moschetto and Rich Vaccariello. The podcast hosts discuss why they started their respective casts, how they view competition, the key take-aways of their casts, the top must listen episodes, and the other podcasts they listen to.

#78 PHOENIX CAST DUAL RELEASE

I think I’ve listened to a Phoenix Cast episode before, but I wasn’t a subscriber. I am now.

Two things that I took away from this episode. The first is the idea that podcasts like these are a form of “PME” – professional military education.

That seems like a no-brainer – of course they are. But there are still a lot of folks out there that don’t listen to podcasts – which is fine. It’s a form of media – but not everyone is into it.

The second thing is the concept of “term warfare.” This is something we see all the time these days when we’re trying to describe some niche element of warfare.

Credit to David Maxwell.

We should be careful when trying to introduce a new term into the already crowded military lexicon. There’s probably already a term out there that describes whatever you’re thinking about.

On the other hand, sometimes we do need a specific term. Sometimes that term matters.

Sometimes we should split. And sometimes we should lump.

I’ve got a few of the Phoenix Cast’s episodes in my queue. The focus of their podcasts is more cyber/IT – which is good, because I don’t get enough of that.

And speaking of “term warfare” and cyber – this is a reminder, cyber isn’t PSYOP. Cyber isn’t “IO.”

It is its own thing. And you have to understand it.


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An information “something” article that gets it right

trivial information is accumulating every second, preserved in all its triteness

A great, tightly written article over at MWI that looks at information through the “man, train, equip” construct of preparing the Army for war.

While emphasis on operations in the information environment and the cyber domain are certainly increasing, the balance of the military’s attention remains focused on force-on-force engagements during declared conflicts. Much of the time, information and cyber are given supporting roles for kinetic operations but recently, US Army Cyber Command announced a shift in focus from information warfare to “information advantage” for “decision dominance,” and is working to bring the concepts to the forefront of how the Army fights.

RETHINKING “MAN, TRAIN, AND EQUIP” FOR INFORMATION ADVANTAGE, Modern War Institute

Co-written by a PSYOP and Cyber officer, no less – folks in the game.

What I love about the article is that it’s not about the shiny stuff or promising some panacea through the right combination of “words and images.” The Army’s mission is to win land wars. Everything supports that. Instead of focusing on how this or that “information” tool can be used to support that, they focus on demonstrating how information already plays a key role in recruiting, training, and equipping the Army for war.

They talk about disinformation campaigns that target the military.

They talk about how lies spread faster than truth, the so-called ‘illusory truth’ effect.

How should the Army deal with this?

They write:

Specifically, to become proactive in the information environment, the Army needs to understand and predict how and what our competitors and adversaries are going to say, and be ready to deploy solutions ahead of, and in response to, competing and malicious narratives. One solution is teaching critical-thinking skills and inoculating the force by teaching soldiers to become more thoughtful consumers of media and information, especially regarding social media.

I love this.

Critical thinking is key. This isn’t going to be solved by artificial intelligence – at least not anytime soon. We need humans in the room who are astute across multiple domains and who understand the potential impacts of publishing that “edgy” Tweet or highlighting that training or social event.

This has application at both the individual and organizational levels.

Yes, we’re talking about “optics.” Optics are easy to dismiss, but they are actually important. What isn’t optics after all?

Doing the right thing is also important. We need critical thinkers who understand which way to lean at a given time. Is the juice worth the squeeze? What are the potential second and third-order effects?

That’s hard. That takes time.

On training, the authors write about how just about everything we do is now exploitable. Training is not just training anymore. It’s operations.

Specifically, they write about the Jade Helm exercise in 2015 which was the canary in the coal mine.

The information warfare tactics used against Jade Helm could be applied throughout the world, whenever and wherever the US military trains with partners and allies. In fact, we should assume those tactics will be used in the very locations that US servicemembers may be fighting the next war.

The idea of perfect secrecy is diminishing. If we want to compete, we need to recognize that now and start playing the actual game instead of the one we want to play.

Again, they offer a solution:

To gain and hold information advantage, the Army must assess the information environment before, during, and after domestic exercises—just as it does internationally—to understand the narratives surrounding the training and troop movements and to predict, preempt, and ultimately prevent false narratives from taking hold.

They close with the following:

Ultimately, the Army has taken the first steps toward recognizing the vulnerabilities inherent to the ubiquity of the information environment by pivoting away from information warfare—a term that preserves the peace-war dichotomy that is irrelevant in competition—toward achieving information advantage—a term that appreciates the information environment’s moral and cognitive aspects and its relevance to military readiness.

I’m growing to like the term “information advantage” as I get to understand it better. And couching it as they did – a term that “appreciates the information environment’s moral and cognitive aspects” – helps in understanding.

However, information advantage is such a big tent that it starts to lose some of its meaning. There are terms that we should lump and terms that we should split.

Information warfare is something that can be “done” – it’s an activity.

Information advantage – as I understand it – is a state, a confluence of things that puts a decision-maker in an advantageous position.

Information Advantage: A condition where a force holds the initiative in terms of relevant actor behavior, situational understanding, and decision-making through the use of all military capabilities.

What I’m saying is that I don’t think information advantage replaces information warfare (or psychological warfare). It’s something different, something bigger.

Kudos to the authors for a terrific, thought-provoking article.


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In future war, we’re all getting canceled

a fictional female marine in a swamp

A great piece of #FICINT that captures what I think will be a defining element of future war – and competition – smear war.

“All this is very fascinating, general,” she said. “But I think we could benefit from some clarity on how else you plan to change the Corps. Is it your intention to keep female Marines dressing differently from males? Do you want to keep female Marines ‘in a box’, so to speak?”

#CANCELMOLLY

We already see this happening domestically. Our society is very comfortable weaponizing benign information.

Is it really a stretch to think our adversaries won’t do the same?


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PRC Info-Ops – in their own words

Wow.

Written by the PRC’s National Defense University (NDU) faculty, with assistance from the General Staff Operations Department and the Academy of Military Sciences, this text contains instructional material for NDU Commander’s Course, Staff Officer, and PLA-wide Information Operations Advanced Studies Courses. Forward looking, and deliberately very comprehensive on concepts of information operations at the campaign level in the joint form, the 2009 edition contains extensive review/revisions from its previous publications.

In Their Own Words: Lectures on Joint Campaign Information Operations

What a great project. This stuff is out there and available. This is professional development. It’s not necessarily going to be a “fun” read or one that you need to do.

But if you’re a professional, it’s one that you absolutely should do.


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