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A Blog on Understanding, Informing, Empowering, and Influencing Global Publics, published by Matt Armstrong

Mexican narcos step up their information war

The GlobalPost has an interesting article by Mike O’Connor on the expanding manipulation of the press in Mexico by a drug cartel. This escalation in information warfare by the Zeta Cartel moves beyond intimidation to block certain stories as the cartel issues stories to discredit their enemies and build “credibility” of their friends. From Analysis: A PR department for Mexico’s narcos:

Instead of reporting on crooked public officials or the growth of organized crime, newspaper editor Martha Lopez runs press releases from the Zeta cartel. …

She said the gang has established its own public relations arm that issues stories the local papers are under orders to run, or else journalists will get hurt. …

There are two editorial lines in the press releases. According to Lopez, the Zetas write their “stories” to make the Mexican army look bad. The army is deployed in the state to help fight the Zetas. So the Zetas send stories about army human rights abuses. “Some of those stories are accurate in a small way, but they are exaggerated. Sometimes they are not true,” Lopez said.

And, then, Lopez said, the Zetas want to make the local police look good. “They protect the police because the police are their allies,” she said. “We get stories about how the police or the chief are so wonderful, especially the chief.”

Influence and Propaganda Conference this week

2010iandpadThis week is the Influence and Propaganda Conference in Verona, New York, outside of Syracuse. Put on by the IO Institute in partnership with the MountainRunner Institute, the conference will be a frank and open discussion on the nature, purpose and format of propaganda and activities intended to influence. This conference comes at a critical time as the volume and quality of disinformation and misinformation increases in an environment that empowers virtually anyone. The gatekeepers of yesterday, governments and major media, are increasingly bypassed, ignored, reactionary or co-opted as today’s information flows across geographic, linguistic, political and technological borders with increasing ease and speed.

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Life from inside the storytelling machine: an author offers caveats on influence tools

By Dr. Amy Zalman

The inside cover promise to "unveil the workings of a ‘storytelling machine’ more effective and insidious as a means of oppression than anything dreamed up by Orwell," was incentive enough for me to pick up and start reading the recent English translation of French writer Christian Salmon’s Storytelling: Bewitching the Modern Mind.  Even more compelling for this reader: the ‘storytelling machine’ in question is one that I have been working in for the last  five years, as a proponent of the use of narrative as a tool of influence in U.S. strategic communication. 

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Event: Influence and Propaganda Conference

imageThe Information Operations Institute, in partnership with the MountainRunner Institute, invites you to attend the Influence and Fighting Propaganda Conference.

Identifying and countering propaganda and misinformation through dissemination that avoids the label of propaganda will be the key themes of the event. Discussions will explore who, how and why can people or groups be influenced, and difference between engagement from the lowest to the highest levels of leadership.

Russ Rochte, retired US Army Colonel and now faculty member at the National Defense Intelligence College, and I will co-moderate a panel on the media exploring the tension between "Media as an instrument of War" and the journalist’s traditional obligations to the truth, objectivity, informing the public, and verification. What is the impact on the media’s relationship with itself, its readers, and its sources as the media struggles for mind-share and relevance in a highly competitive environment of diminished resources, intensified news cycles, and direct audience engagement by news makers, and pressure to de-emphasize journalistic ethics. What constitutes the media and how does an organization like Wikileaks change the environment? How does this show in the natural conflict between the government and the media and how is it exploited by America’s adversaries?

This will be a two-hour panel, October 14, 10a-12p, with:

  • Wally Dean, Director of Training, Committee of Concerned Journalists (confirmed)
  • Jamie McIntyre, Host: "Line of Departure", Military.com (confirmed)
  • Dana Priest, Washington Post investigative reporter (invited)
  • Bill Gertz, reporter for The Washington Times (confirmed)

The agenda for the conference is below.

Event website is here
Date: October 13-15 (2.5 days)
Location: Turning Stone Resort, Verona, New York (map)
Registration Fee: Students/Faculty: free; Government: $50; Military: $25; Corporate/Industry: $200
Registration: online or PDF

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9th Annual Information Operations Europe Conference

imageThe 9th Annual Information Operations Europe takes place 29-30 June 2010 at The Bloomsbury Hotel in London. The conference will provide information operations case studies from Afghanistan, future plans from the UK and an examination of New and Social Media from the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, the US Defense Department, NATO, and Canadian Forces, and others.

Day One – 29 June – starts with three keynotes from the UK MoD followed by 40 minute presentations by Sarah Nagelmann and Matt Armstrong. The UK MoD presentations look at the purposes, capabilities, and challenges of strategic-level information and influence operations. Sarah will discuss the new media strategy for NATO SHAPE and EUCOM. Matt will discuss the modern Now Media environment, with attention to Wikileaks, an interesting non-state global influencer.

Other presenters on Day One include Matt Bigge (“Technology Based. Human Enabled: The Future Of Cultural Information Engagement”), George Stein (“The Influence And Intelligence Opportunities Of Virtual Worlds”), Ed O’Connell (“Informal Network Analysis And Engagement In Conflict Zones”), and David Campbell (“Innovative Use Of The Media For Outreach In East Africa”).

Day Two – 30 June – is heavily focused on Afghanistan, with case studies and lessons learned.

See also:

The VOICE Act: Victims of Iranian Censorship

Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), chairing a hearing with four past and present Under Secretaries for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, mentioned the VOICE Act in his opening remarks. From my experience, unless you’ve sat in on one of my presentations sometime in the last eight months, odds are you don’t know what it is. The VOICE Act is a product of Senators in the Armed Services Committee: John McCain (R-AZ), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Robert Casey (D-PA).

(Interesting note: Senators Kaufman and Wicker – plus Senator Jim Webb – are the only Congressman (House or Senate) that are on both an armed services committee and a foreign relations (Senate) or foreign affairs (House) committee. These two Senators chaired the recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing titled The Future of Public Diplomacy.)

The VOICE Act, also known as the Victims of Iranian Censorship Act, was passed by the Senate in S. 1391 on July 23, 2009. It passed the conference between House and Senate armed services committees on October 8, 2009 and with the President’s signature on October 28, 2009, it became Public Law 111-84: the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010.

The VOICE Act is a notable (and rare) example of Defense Department-focused entities – the armed services committees – authorizing substantial funding for the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. However, the $55 million (details are below) authorized is not yet funded. In what could have been a very visible demonstration of putting his money where his mouth is, to the best of my knowledge, the late Congressman John Murtha (D-PA), chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, did not push to fund the VOICE Act despite saying the State Department should be doing more.

The VOICE Act is on the books, but it lacks funding.

So what does the VOICE Act authorize? On his website, Sen McCain touts the VOICE Act as “bipartisan legislation that will help strengthen the ability of the Iranian people get access to news and information and overcome the electronic censorship and monitoring efforts of the Iranian regime.”

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Defense Department releases its Section 1055 report on strategic communication

According to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, the Defense Department was required to provide a report on

the organizational structure within the Department of Defense for advising the Secretary on the direction and priorities for strategic communication activities, including an assessment of the option of establishing a board, composed of representatives from among the organizations within the Department responsible for strategic communications, public diplomacy, and public affairs, and including advisory members from the broader interagency community as appropriate, for purposes of (1) providing strategic direction for Department of Defense efforts related to strategic communications and public diplomacy; and (2) setting priorities for the Department of Defense in the areas of strategic communications and public diplomacy.

This report (PDF, 660kb) is known as the 1055 report, after the section of the NDAA that called for it.

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Ridicule as Strategic Communication

Kristin Fleischer at COMOPS comments on friend Mike Waller’s suggestion in Fighting the War of Ideas like Real War that ridicule is a “secret weapon worse than death.”

Although the suggestion that ridicule and satire are legitimate tools of strategic communication might receive some – dare I say it – ridicule, Waller’s argument is a good one. Ridicule and satire have a long history in warfare, and they have been deployed both offensively and defensively. In the U.S., ridicule was used in the Revolutionary War, both to mock the British troops and to raise the morale of the American fighters. In WWII, domestic use of ridicule targeted Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. In a more contemporary example, Waller cites Team America: World Police as an example of effective parody of Islamic terrorists and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.  While a movie that features graphic sex between puppets might not have universal appeal, Waller is correct in pointing out that prior to the movie, American audiences would likely not consider the Korean dictator someone to laugh at.

Waller’s suggestions regarding the strategic use of ridicule are an expansion of arguments he andothers have made about the importance of language use in ‘the war of ideas.’ In ‘buying into’ terrorist’s language – especially by using terms such as jihad and mujahidin – Waller argues that the U.S. and its allies, “ceased fighting on our terms and placed our ideas at the enemy’s disposal” (p. 54). If this is a war of ideas, and words are weapons, then we need to be using the right ammunition, so to speak. …

This is not to suggest that the threat of terrorism is non-existent or a call to underestimate Al Qaeda’s ideological appeal or material capabilities, and Waller is quick to point out (correctly) that ridicule can be as dangerous as any kinetic weapon when improperly deployed. In the nine years since September 11, however, far more people in the United States have died of heart failure, diabetes, or car accidents than terrorist attacks. Given this, pointing out that Americans statistically have more to fear from a cheeseburger than a ‘guy in a cave’ is not only true, it’s good strategy.

Read the Fleischer’s whole post here.

Inspector General’s report on Information Operations Contracts

OD IG 09-091_Page_01Last month the Defense Department’s Inspector General issued the first of three reports, D-2009-091: Information Operations in Iraq (2.2mb PDF), on a series of contracts issued to support information activities in Iraq last year. Congress requested these reports after Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus wrote about the awarding of up to $300 million in information operations contracts over three years to four private firms last year in "U.S. to Fund Pro-American Publicity in Iraqi Media".

Arguably the goal of the contracts to "engage and inspire" Iraqis to support the US and the Iraqi Government should have been led by the State Department’s public diplomacy, a practice which used to include such goals as "bolstering moral and extending hope". But for a variety of reasons – ranging from incompatibilities with modern requirements and current sense of mission, leadership, and capabilities – the void left by inaction and the dismantling of America’s arsenal of persuasion in terms of theory and practice, has been filled by the Defense Department. The DOD, who until recently rejected the term "public diplomacy" as something only the State Department did, developed the yet-to-be-well-defined rubric of strategic communication which reflects a subtle but significant difference between the State Department and the Defense Department.

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BBC: Taliban slick propaganda confronts US

From BBC’s website a report from BBC Persian and Pashto:

The second front in the conflict between the Taliban and their enemies in government is the war of words – and in recent months that battle has intensified.

The Taliban have a sophisticated public relations machine which is making it harder for governments and their international allies to win the ever-important propaganda war.

The insurgents are keen to exploit a sense of alienation among people, fostered by "bad governance" and "mistakes" made during military operations.

Civilian casualties in American air strikes and the violation of local traditions including house and personal searches create an atmosphere where Taliban propaganda can take root.

Afghan political commentator, Rostar Tarakai, says that it is the simplicity of the Taliban’s message that makes it most effective.

"They talk about occupation, they highlight the fact that foreign troops are killing Afghans and raiding their homes – and it works," says Mr Tarakai.

The whole article is well worth reading as it highlights the sophistication of the Taliban. Talk about multiple media, this is the first report I’ve seen that really gets at the expanse of Taliban communication techniques.

See also: