Psychoacoustics

young mantis helicopter metal gear solid v

What’s one thing that has an outsize effect on influence and emotion but doesn’t get the respect it deserves, especially in the security space?

Music.

Fascinating episode of the Cognitive Crucible:

During this episode, US Army Sergeant Major Denver Dill discusses how music and the arts can be used as tools of influence. Our wide ranging conversation covers the role of music in military operations to the theme park experience to movies to sports.

#91 DENVER DILL ON THE ARTS AND MUSIC, Cognitive Crucible Podcast

We know that effective propaganda goes after emotions, not logic. Now think of any movie you’ve watched and the way that you can be compelled to feel a certain way with the right sound or chord.

Combine music with moving images and now you have a powerful tool for influence.

Don’t believe me?

In the episode, they discuss the role music can play in influence, especially on the active battlefield. As an example, they mention the use of bagpipes as a tool of intimidation. The ominous and unsettling sound of bagpipes was used to confuse and strike fear in enemy troops.

More examples where you can see music at work – in this case, to increase anxiety – are the films of Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, Inception). Here is a good write-up about the “Shepard tone” which is deployed effectively in those films.

Shepard tone, huh?

Anxiety attack at the ~:22 mark.

This is an area that needs a lot more research.

What other ways can sound and music be applied to the modern battlefield?

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That’s just Joe

cobra unit metal gear solid 3

Episode 93 of the Cognitive Crucible podcast. This one on information operations and the law.

If interested, I’d pair this episode with this article on the same subject from earlier in the year. Both the podcast and the article discuss similar things (free speech and the ickiness of influence operations).

Tell me the below isn’t true.

Before, if you had somebody with an extremist view, they were on the soapbox in the town square, and everybody knew – ‘that’s just Joe, that’s who he is.’ But now, the Joe in each village can link up with all the other Joes in every other village and reinforce each others’ extremist ideas and thinking.

Todd Huntley, Ep 93, The Cognitive Crucible

It is one thing to have the weird guy in your family obsessed with conspiracy theories. It’s another to have that same guy link up with others across the country and across the world.

And even that seemed to be ok for a while, so long as it seemed mostly like a nerdy hobby.

But when it mutates into action, that’s when it becomes a problem.

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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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“We can’t kill our way out of this”

mr. sulu with kobayashi maru screen in the background

Just finished the latest Cognitive Crucible episode with Ori Brafman (The Starfish and the Spider).

Whether you’ve read the book or not, if you have been in or around military circles for the past twenty years you’ve likely heard the thesis regarding human networks.

Towards the end of the episode, during a discussion about how the military has or has not changed, Ori, quoting military leaders he interacts with, says something which I’ve heard over and over again – also for the past twenty years:

We’re not going to be able to kill our way out of this battle. Lethality is no longer the way we’re going to be able to fix this.

~33:30 mark

He then goes on to talk about whether this might mean we need to do more/better IO, cyber, etc.

We’ve heard this line “we’re not going be able to kill our way out of this” or “kill our way to victory” a lot. And it’s usually a line that is lauded because it seems to indicate the person speaking it understands that the conflict is rife with human dynamics that need to be addressed.

And if we can pull the right levers and adjust the dials just right we can turn this thing around.

I have another take; if the problem we’re facing isn’t one that can be solved with a military solution then perhaps we shouldn’t be using the military to solve it in the first place.

When you mix flawed strategy with gung-ho leaders you get the GWOT effect.

Those leaders – who are intelligent, patriotic, and care about victory – will tear down the world looking for a way to win.

But it’s often a case of the Kobayashi Maru. These are no-win scenarios. It’s like showing up to a baseball game with a basketball team. Sure, you can retool and retrain and take all of the baseball lessons you can – maybe even hire some baseball consultants – but you’re still going to be a basketball team playing baseball.

The best you might be able to do with all of that hokum is keep things going for a while.

“Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow….”

Don’t be fooled – the proximate thing keeping things together in these situations is most often the presence of traditional military capabilities.

And what happens to all of that when those traditional military capabilities are suddenly removed?

In fairness, our system is such that when called upon to execute a mission as part of a greater strategy, you do it. And you do your best to make it work and get results.

But I don’t think we should conflate recognizing the lack of military solutions to a problem with some sort of epiphany that might lead to victory.

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Flying the F-35 and making YouTube videos

a aircraft from a computer game

This was a different kind of Cognitive Crucible episode. Not really focused on information warfare, but information processing.

During this episode, after a couple war stories, US Air Force pilot MAJ Hasard Lee discusses how the F-35 is embedded with technology which tends to reduce operator cognitive load and maximize human sense making. Our conversation also touches upon “chair flying”–a mindfulness practice, human-machine interface, g-force effect on the human body, dehydration, along with other physical and mental training initiatives which may optimize for better peak performance. The conversation concludes with a brief discussion about Air Force COL John Boyd and the OODA loop.

#71 LEE ON THE F35 AND COGNITIVE LOAD

It’s an interesting episode – especially the vignettes about what it’s like to sit in the cockpit and do the work.

But I found myself more interested in the fact that MAJ Hassard Lee helms an incredibly impressive social media empire. Check out this video below from his YouTube page (175k subscribers).

I find this interesting because he’s not alone. If you start poking around, there are lots of these military-themed influencer pages across the services.

I’m in my own little Army bubble but there is so much more of this going on out there.

It’s refreshing to see, and whether we like it or not, it’s the future.

The ease and comfort that younger generations have with “putting it out there” isn’t a fluke.

You can rage against the machine and fail, or embrace it and win.

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Lumpers and Splitters

a robot spider logging

Good episode from the Cognitive Crucible featuring Mike Vickers.

During this episode, the Honorable Dr. Mike Vickers provides his thoughts on a wide range of strategic issues–all of which have connections with the information environment. Mike makes the case that America is like the cyclops in Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. Like the cyclops, the United States is being blinded and deceived by clever adversaries. Mike also discusses China, India, Estonian technology implementation, the authoritarian-democracy trade off, and international relations theory. He also gives a nuanced examination regarding “whole-of-nation” sloganeering. On one hand, Mike discourages simple phrases that might promote inadequate solutions; on the other, he does agree that we are at a point where we need to cohere around a national strategy and direct our instruments of power productively–including our citizenry.

#63 VICKERS ON IO AND THE CYCLOPS

As I wrote about in my most recent newsletter, there are a lot of hucksters out there when it comes to the information space. Just because you use the internet (too) doesn’t mean you understand how all of this stuff works. It’s great to hear an episode (like this one) where it is clear the guest completely gets it.

I especially enjoyed Mr. Vickers punctuating the fact that there is a difference between “cyber” and “information operations.” He correctly points out that many people – commanders especially (my thoughts, not his) – tend to lump these two things together.

And they are not the same.

Cyber is more tech-based.

Information operations are more people-based.

Sometimes it is good to “lump” things together, as we seem to be doing right now with the whole “information advantage” concept.

Sometimes it is better to “split” things apart.

On this topic (cyber/IO), we should be splitting, because the expertise required to do either is vastly different.

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POWs in the Digital Era

line of american prisoners of war
Source: National Museum of the United States Air Force

This is the second Cognitive Crucible episode I’ve heard that features Professor Jan Kallberg and COL Stephen Hamilton from the Army Cyber Institute. The first discussed the idea that service members are all very likely targets of foreign influence operations – regardless of whether or not there is active armed conflict.

In this recent episode, they go a step further and discuss the need to prepare for a future where our POWs (prisoners of war) will be further exploited through the use of enhanced deep-fake technology, deception, and instantaneous communication.

More importantly, they discuss how our own institutional structures can be exploited at home by the same.

During this episode, Prof. Jan Kallberg and COL Stephen Hamilton of the Army Cyber Institute return to the Cognitive Crucible and discuss prisoner of war (POW) considerations in the digital world. After Jan recaps his recent article, In Great Power Wars, Americans Could Again Become POWs, the conversation covers the will to fight, cognitive preparation of the battlefield, and ways the enemy might harvest information about service members in advance to identify exploitable information. Both Jan and Stephen give some policy suggestions, as well.

Cognitive Crucible, #58 Kallberg and Hamilton on POWs in a Digital World

This is the type of warning that should scare you. It’s nightmare fuel.

Some things I found particularly interesting:

  • Our personal information is already out there

When social media started to emerge over a decade ago, general security guidance was to avoid putting personal information out there, be mindful of what you’re doing online, and increase your privacy settings.

Good advice, to be sure.

Further, some advised not having social media at all, while others warned that not having social media in an increasingly connected world seemed suspicious.

Well, now we’re at a place where whether you want your “stuff” to be out there or not, it’s out there. If an adversary (or a troll, or harasser) wants to scrape the internet for your stuff, it’s not hard to do.

And for the generation growing up in the shadow of all this, there will be even more “stuff” out there for the foreseeable future.

The genie is out of the bottle. It’s not going back in.

My take – this is over. We’re moving toward a society where the ability to maintain pure privacy is ending. There is little we can do at the individual level to protect ourselves completely. When you combine the growing digital ecosystem with nefarious cyber activities of state and non-state actors, our default position should be that “our information is going to get out there.”

Accept it, plan for it, and move on.

We’re really starting to put this thing together. Researchers and practitioners are weaving a quilt of what information warfare is likely to look like in the near future. It’s already happening, but we haven’t quite got it all figured out yet.

Personally, I think it’s important that we start talking – and implementing policy – that will defend us from this. We can’t just warn that it’s going to happen. We will be caught off guard if we are not prepared.

  • POWs have congressional representatives

This was very spooky. The guests discuss the fact that in future-war, there may no longer be a need to have a POW make a public statement disparaging the United States or the war effort. A hyper-realistic fake could be easily created and beamed out to the world.

That captured service member has a congressional representative somewhere back home. What happens when these POWs are exploited with the intent of influencing domestic politics? What happens when a reporter asks Congressman X what she is doing about the captured soldier who comes from her district?

What is her statement when a dramatic video is released of that servicemember begging his congressional representative – by name – to end the war?

What happens when public pressure is placed on that same congressional representative – from her constituents – to “do something” about this?

  • Television is an instrument that can paralyze this country.” -General William Westmoreland

There was a quick discussion on how what we are seeing now in the information age is just an extension of what we started to experience during the Vietnam War. When there are pictures and images, we pay attention. As much as we like to think we are rational creatures, our decision-making process – even at the strategic level – is often guided by emotions, “optics,” and a burning desire to “control the narrative.” These are often not rational decisions, but decisions that seek to please some interest.

How would things be different if there were no dramatic images? No compelling video? If you had to read the results of overseas operations the next day in your local newspaper, splayed out dispassionately?

I think we would address things more rationally. But I’m not certain that our decisions would always be “better.”

Again, the genie is out of the bottle. There is a role for education. There is a very important role for leaders (at all levels) to be patient and take the longer view. But there is also the realization that words, images, and video matter.

” Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America – not on the battlefields of Vietnam.”

Marshall McLuhan
  • A picture is worth a thousand words
1st Lt. Anthony Aguilar wears the ballistic protective eyewear that prevented a bomb-fragment from possibly damaging his eyes when an IED detonated near his Stryker vehicle while on patrol in Mosul. (Photo by Company C, Task Force 2-1, Feb. 2006.)

COL Hamilton discussed an anecdote from a deployment where he witnessed the rapid purchase of a particular type of eye protection after one of the Generals was shown a picture with a piece of shrapnel lodged in the eye protection that would have almost certainly caused tremendous damage to the soldier’s vision. All of the statistics and lab reports in the world might not move someone to action. But a single image that demonstrates the effect might do the trick.

I don’t like it either – I wish we could be more Spock-like and make decisions based on the evidence.

But there it is.

This was a good episode – one that should have us thinking, and more importantly, moving towards crafting policies and procedures to prepare us for the kinds of deception and smear tactics we’re likely to see in both in the day-to-day operations of Great Power Competition and in the next shooting war.

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Smith-Mundt as Counter-Political Warfare

a jacked senator armstrong standing in front of an american flag

Glad to see Matt Armstrong on a recent Cognitive Crucible podcast – this one on his passion project, the much-misunderstood “Smith-Mundt Act.”

If you’ve been around the “information operations” space, the Smith-Mundt act is usually taught during a class on “authorities.” There will be a slide that usually includes some text lifted from the act and then a “bottom line” that the US government is prohibited from informing/influencing/targeting/propagandizing/etc domestic American audiences.

Next slide, please.

Once that nugget buries itself into someone’s head, it gets carted out usually as a bulwark to doing anything in the info-space.

“Yes, but don’t forget the Smith-Mundt act…”

The history of the actual legislation is much more nuanced. Instead of “prohibiting” domestic dissemination, it was actually intended to “allow” dissemination abroad (by the State Department) as a direct counter to burgeoning Soviet political warfare.

“…we have nevertheless been too preoccupied in the past with feeding the stomachs of people while the Soviets have concentrated on feeding their minds.”

1947 European CODEL (MountainRunner)

If we’re going to conduct political warfare effectively, we have to understand this history. This is wonky territory, but that’s ok, because as Matt states in the episode, this stuff starts with President of the United States. It should be wonky – it’s incredibly important.

Anyway, the episode is worth your time – especially if you are an information warfare practicioner, or more importantly, if you are (or will be) in a position to make command decisions in an operational environment. You, more than anyone else, can make a huge impact if you understand what you can do – which is a lot.

Some interesting tidbits in this episode:

  • Opening: Defining “public diplomacy” and why that even matters
  • ~18:00: Smith-Mundt as a way to counter Russian political warfare
  • ~19:00: “We feed stomachs, the Russians feed minds…”
  • ~19:30: The importance of strategic vision – “We used to have an idea of where we were going…”
  • ~23:00: Our system is obsessed with bueracractic responsibility as opposed to methods, means, and outcomes – and this is bad
  • ~28:00: On the “terminal limits” of PSYOP leadership – if PSYOP officers terminate at the O6 level, can we really make a difference?
  • ~28:30: It is an unfortunate truth that the person who is most likely to influence an operational commander’s decision making is not the PSYOP officer giving advice on the psychological impacts of activities and operations, but the PAO, or worse, the JAG
  • ~37:00: “Stop it policy” – we are too reactive. Instead of seizing or defining the narrative, we are constantly reacting to nonsense in an attempt to “make it stop”
  • ~41:00: We need to get way more comfortable making mistakes – let subordinates fail in the IE – it’s ok – our adversaries are doing it every day
  • ~45:00: What even is “propaganda?”

Also, towards the end Matt references the fascinating topic of a PSYOP officer who wrote a book shortly after WWII arguing that influence operations should be banned via treaty. I’m now officially on the hunt for it.

It’s a great episode. Check it out.

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“It is happening right now”

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

Another good episode from the Cogntivie Crucible. And the second podcast I’ve heard featuring LtGen Lori Reynolds (first here, from the Irregular Warfare Initiative).

LtGen Lori Reynolds leads the Marine Corps’ modernization efforts related to operations in the information environment. During this episode, our wide ranging discussion covers competition, professional military education, authorities, technology, and partnerships.

The Cognitive Crucible Episode #38 Reynolds on Operations in the Information Environment

LtGen Reynolds does a great job wrapping up the totality of the world we live in today, especially as it relates to media literacy and the fact that we’re all “in the game” when we have a smartphone in our pocket.

The nightmare quote:

“This whole idea of algorithmic warfare, it can be benign, or it can be malign, but it is happening right now. And it’s happening on your personal device.”

Following up.

“If we think that our adversaries are not going to come after the United States military and impact our will to fight, we’re wrong.”

It’s refreshing to know we’re taking this seriously. The tough part is building the education, infrastructure, and systems to be ready before the “Pearl Harbor” of this style of warfare occurs.

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The Red Queen Hypothesis

simple drawing of alice and the red queen

A lot of Alice in Wonderland this week.

During this episode, Mr. Shomit Ghose of ONSET Ventures outlines the difference between marginal and disruptive innovation. We also talk about the embodiment of the Red Queen Hypothesis and the OODA loop in today’s competitive business climate where companies are expected to innovate quickly in order to stay ahead of their competition.

The Cognitive Crucible Episode #36 Ghose on Disruptive Innovation, Amazoogle, and Entrepreneurship

A good, short episode from CC. Here’s the Red Queen Hypothesis from Ghose’s paper:

The Red Queen Hypothesis was put forward by University of Chicago biologist Leigh Van Valen in his seminal 1973 paper on “A New Evolutionary Law”.  In this hypothesis, Van Valen posited that organisms must constantly adapt and evolve because they live in an ever-evolving ecosystem, competing for survival against other ever-evolving organisms.  Everything is competitive, and nothing is constant; it’s explicitly a zero-sum game, and stasis means extinction.  Just as in the Red Queen’s quote to Alice in Through the Looking-Glass.

In business, the Red Queen says that it’s not enough that your company is running as fast as possible, you need to run fast relative to your competition.  With data-driven Amazoogle business models moving at breakneck speeds, how fast is your company running?  If you’re not positioning yourself to out-Amazoogle your Amazoogle competition, then you’re positioned for irrelevance at best and extinction at worst.

The Red Queen and the Inevitability of the Amazoogle Business Model

What is the competition, and what are they doing?

It’s not always going to be possible to beat the competition – they might be bigger, faster, more lethal – or maybe they play by a different set of rules.

If you can’t outcompete them with raw power, then you have to turn to innovation.

I appreciate this quote from the article.

 â€śThe railroads are in trouble today not because the need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, even telephones), but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry wrong was because they were railroad-oriented instead of transportation-oriented; they were product oriented instead of customer-oriented.”

 Theodore Levitt, “Marketing Myopia”, Harvard Business Review, July-August 1960

A narrow focus on the thing you do versus the field you’re in will eventually stifle you. Something – or someone – is going to figure it out. Unfortunately, many of us (myself included) tend to get focused on the important skills that got us to where we are. We’re good at them. They are tried and true – if I can just squeeze a little bit more out, I can get better.

That will work, to a point. Then it’s time to get disruptive.

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