For well more than a decade, Korea experts who specialize in international media have been examining the impact of foreign broadcasts and DVDs on users in North Korea. They have done so through a combination of in-country surveys and debriefings of defectors from North Korea, refugees and travelers abroad. In annual reports, Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders invariably have ranked that country as having the “least free” media in the world. Yet the curtain of near total silence appears to be opening as never before in North Korea.
What if you put neuroscientists, social scientists, conflict resolution experts, and diplomats together in a room? Is there something to the “human dimension” of conflict that the science of the brain can inform the art of conflict resolution and mitigation? The Project on Justice in Times of Transition, in partnership with the SaxeLab at MIT, launched the initiative “Neuroscience and Social Conflict: Identifying New Approaches for the 21st Century” to find out.
The first meeting was February 9-11, 2012, at MIT in Boston. PJTT and SaxeLab brought together a high-level group of experienced leaders from the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Central America with conflict conflict resolution experts, social psychologists, and leading neuroscientists to survey the latest findings in neuroscience and brain research to brainstorm and exchange ideas for addressing conflict.
I attended the February meeting and it was an eye-opening few days that started early and continued over dinner into the night. The presentations were honest, devoid of grandiose assertions of magic bullets, and each were followed by collegial discussions fueled by fresh questions and ideas.
Rebecca Saxe, the Director of SaxeLab, highlighted some of the general assumptions most scientists looking at conflict and conflict resolution share:
People respond to conflict as human beings and there is some generalized experience that can be captured
Behaviors can reflect emotions, associations, norms, and narratives that are not accessible through cognition or introspection
People resist changing their minds and simple persuasion is almost never sufficient to make them change
The science presentations shared research on how particular parts of the brain were involved with specific behavior and emotions, such as fear. Discussions included the role of humiliation in perpetuating war, motivations for “prosocial” and empathetic behavior, group norms, among others.
The acknowledged drawback of some of the existing scientific research is the “normal” person for much of the brain imaging is an MIT student, which all acknowledged is not a true representation. The scientists were eager for advice on how to modify their experiments to test on relevant questions, topics, and people.
The first meeting left all of the participants more interested than when the meeting started. Follow up ideas include:
Convening a second meeting to inventory key areas of research relevant to conflict resolution
Studying specific conflict resolution approaches to test assumptions underlying various established methodologies
Exposing leading neuroscientists to active conflict resolution and negotiation situations
It has long been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what words to which people? The pixels or streaks of paint of an image is the only commonality shared by different audiences. The context in which they are received and interpreted matters. Beyond the intended framing, including words or other images, personal and shared history, language, current or developing narratives, and other inputs, both direct and indirect, all matter in the impact of a picture.
On March 16, 2012, Georgia State University, in conjunction with the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College, convened a conference entitled Visual Propaganda and Online Radicalization. This public event followed two days of working meetings between the conference’s speakers and others from a variety of disciplines to better understand the role of images, still and moving, in recruiting, radicalizing, and mobilizing support. Also discussed was the possibility of over-analyzing images.
Conference day presentations are available here. Speakers included David Perlmutter, Scott Ruston, Anne Stenersen, Carol Winkler, Hussein Amin, Saeid Belkasim, Cori Dauber, Doug Jordan, Jad Melki, Shawn Powers, and me, Matt Armstrong.
My presentation was “Now Media, Identity, & the Marketplace for Loyalty.” Video of my part of the conference, which was a quick 15min, is here. This presentation will be more fleshed out elsewhere, including a book chapter Shawn Powers and I are writing presently named “From Nation-State to Nations-State: Conceptualizing Radicalization in the Marketplace for Loyalties.”
In the case of over-analysis, there was an interesting discussion on the use of fancy Islamic calligraphy in logos or brands of insurgent or terrorist groups. The meaning of these texts were analyzed but elder native Arab speakers from and living in the Middle East dismissed some of the conclusions. The contention was the youth cannot read the script or don’t bother to read it. The result is the calligraphy is better interpreted as a picture rather than text. The meaning is derived from the appearance of the image framing the logo as religious, Arab, or something else based on its similarity to other script, or all of the above.
The product of the working meetings will be book from the Strategic Studies Institute on visual propaganda.
Since 9/11, the U.S. Government has invested heavily in technology-based solutions to understanding, informing, and influencing people around the world and across a variety of mediums. Many of these efforts were sponsored by the Defense Department for reasons that include major appropriations by the Congress, a capability (and culture) of contracting, a capability (and culture) of development, and an imperative for action (non-action may result in an unnecessary death). In 2009, the Defense Department’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO) surveyed the landscape of science and technology programs intended to support Strategic Communication with the purpose of identifying gaps between capabilities and requirements as well as suggesting areas of improvement.
The 2012 report is based on interviews with experts inside and outside government, surveying programs, and reviewing academic and professional literature. Gaps identified in 2009 have not been closed over the past few years, according to this new report.
McCants further identified areas where the Government has made limited research & development investments not addressed in the earlier report. There additional areas include technologies for facilitating and managing online engagement and persuasion campaigns. The specific report headings are:
Survey and validation theories and techniques for influence in the digital realm
Target audience analysis, trend monitoring, and source criticism
Online measures of effectiveness
Training in techniques of communication and persuasion in the digital realm
Immersive virtual environments and simulation games for non-military purposes
Persuasive technology on mobile devices for encouraging positive behavior
Crowd sourcing for problem solving and accountability
Studying adversary use of social media
Technology for promoting freedom under repressive regimes
Expanding investment in emerging technologies
This report acknowledges the importance of engagement, empowerment, and cultivating relationships over simply better targeting of messages. The report reinforces the 2009 statement that there are no silver bullets.
“Despite the focus of this report on technology for communication and persuasion, such technology will only succeed in advancing U.S. interests if it serves well-informed policies; if the senior makers of those policies use and understand the technologies themselves; and if the practitioners carrying out those policies remember that putting a human face on an institution’s words and actions and establishing positive relationships — on and offline — with people working toward shared goals matter more than the substance of any particular message. Ironically, digital technology is making this human connection more possible now than at any time in the modern era.”
The survey of current programs included in the report continues to use the taxonomy of program developed for the 2009 report: Collaboration, Discourse, First Three Feet, Infrastructure, Modeling and Forecasting, Psych Defense, Social Media, and Understanding. The inventory reflects an increased understanding of the communication environment and suggests. Out of the some 30 programs listed, only one is at the State Department (the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication, or CSCC) and arguably a benefactor of S&T investment rather than a product of S&T investment.
(Full disclosure: I was a co-author of the 2009 report and consulted on the 2012 report.)
I cannot think of any books about warfare’s future that come across as hard-hitting, full of actionable pragmatism, and deeply humane all at the same time. But Behavioral Conflict: Why Understanding People and their Motivations will Prove Decisive in Future Conflict is all three. The authors, both career members of the British military, Major General Andres Mackey (Ret) and Royal Navy Commander Steve Tatham (who I count as a friend, having met him in Ankara a few years ago), make their case by drawing on a combination of their own experience, case studies and close analysis of how communication actually factors in war.
By Cliff W. Gilmore
Michael Hastings’ most recent attempt to unseat a U.S. general alleges members of the military illegally used Information Operations (IO) and Psychological Operations (PSYOP) activities to shape the perceptions of elected U.S. officials and senior military leaders. Many respondents quickly addressed a need to clarify lines between various communication activities including Information Operations, Psychological Operations (recently re-named Military Information Support Operations or MISO), Public Affairs (PA) and Strategic Communication (SC). Amidst the resulting smoke and fury both Hastings and his detractors are overlooking a greater underlying problem: Many in the military continue to cling with parochial vigor to self-imposed labels – and the anachronistic paradigms they represent – that defy the very nature of a rapidly evolving communication environment.
The allegations highlight two false assumptions that guide the U.S. military’s approach to communication in an environment defined not by the volume and control of information but by the speed and ease with which people today communicate with one another. This article identifies these assumptions and recommends several actions to avoid yet another Battle of Hastings by eliminating existing stovepipes rather than strengthening them. The analysis presented here is grounded in two key established Truths.
This morning, I was on the radio show The Takeaway, a co-production of WNYC Radio and Public Radio International, to discuss non-military options for the U.S. in Libya.
My comments focused on the empowerment of Libyans by enabling the acquisition and dissemination of information. In other words, freedom to get and give information creates not only knowledge of the environment, it lays the foundation for an open society. The actions of the Libyans must be by and of the Libyans. The only substantial role here, at this early phase of the establishment of a new state, for the United States (or the West in general), is one of facilitator. The Libyans must pull themselves up.
The United States is considering a range of options to deal with Libya, including military action and sanctions. However, there’s another possibility for Libya: an information campaign and the Pentagon has reportedly explored at the option of jamming Libya’s communications so that Gadhafi has a harder time talking to his forces. Matt Armstrong,lecturer on public diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and publisher of the blog MountainRunner.us, takes a closer look at how an information campaign might work in Libya.
The segment is about than seven minutes long and my conversation with host John Hockenberry, begins at the 1:30 mark. Listen below or go to The Takeway.
Yes, it was recorded live at 6a Eastern Time, making it 3a where I am…
The recent Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings has brought to the surface a debate over the difference between “inform,” “influence” and the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. In his article “”Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators,” Hastings relies heavily – if not entirely – on the statements by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holmes concerned over his orders while at the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan.
As I noted in my recent article “Mind Games: Why Rolling Stone’s article on the military’s domestic psy-ops scandal gets it so wrong” (No, I did not come up with either the title or subtitle), what “Another Runaway General” highlights is the deficit in the training, definition, and tactics, techniques and procedures of the informational functional areas in the military. In other words, who does what and why continues to be a confusing mess within the Defense Department. The result is continued confusion and stereotyping both inside and outside the military on the roles, capabilities and expectations that create headlines like “Another Runaway General.”
While the prospect of an officer trained to manipulate psyches using those skills on elected members of Congress is galling to some within the military, others wonder whether it was an innocent mistake or even all that wrong.
Context is key, says Matt Armstrong, a specialist on military strategic communications with the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California.
Rolling Stone claims that Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who is in charge of training Afghan troops, asked his team of PSYOP officers to create profiles of a visiting congressional delegation, including their voting records, “likes and dislikes,” and “hot button issues.” It’s a common request of public affairs officers, who routinely put together dossiers that include a biographical sketch and articles written by visiting officials, for example.
“You could argue that he was just being prepared,” says USC’s Mr. Armstrong. …
According to Rolling Stone, Caldwell asked Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, a National Guardsman and MISO specialist, “How do we get these guys to give us more people? … What do I have to plant inside their heads?”
Was that an explicit request for ways to manipulate the visiting senators? Caldwell “may simply have meant, ‘I want to know what Senator McCain was thinking, so I can answer his question,” says Armstrong. …
On January 25, 2011, Secretary Gates signed a memorandum (hereafter 1/25/11 memo) entitled “Strategic Communication and Information Operations in the DoD.” The memo signals that the Pentagon’s “E Ring” is finally emphasizing the need for reform of interagency strategic communication (SC) and military information operations (IO). It’s frustrating that after eight years of irregular warfare in southwest Asia, it took an Act of Congress (literally) to sharpen the minds and pencils of the Pentagon to take the problems. And now, Secretary Gates’ memo claims credit when it shouldn’t, takes for granted one of its most controversial statements, plays-up one minor bureaucratic re-organization while glossing over the disestablishment of a vital SC and IO problem-solving office, and most concerning may be too late to affect meaningful change in Afghanistan.
The long-lasting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to increased inquiry into the concepts and practices of counterinsurgency (COIN). Eric T. Olson, in his work, focuses on the importance of reconstruction attempts in COIN operations and discusses the role of military. The author served in the U.S. Army for over three decades and retired as a Major General. Currently, Mr. Olson is an independent defense contractor and works with Army brigades and provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) who are preparing for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. As the title suggests, his monograph considers such reconstruction attempts to have uttermost importance in successful military operations.
Mexico’s cartels are increasingly using refined information operations (info ops) to wage their war against each other and the Mexican state, as noted in a recent post “Mexican narcos step up their information war” here at MountainRunner. These info ops include the calculated use of instrumental and symbolic violence to shape the conflict environment. The result: attacks on media outlets, and kidnappings and assassinations of journalists by narco-cartels to obscure operations and silence critics. Editors and journalists turn to self-censorship to protect themselves; others have become virtual mouthpieces for the gangs and cartels, only publishing materials the cartels approve. Cartels are now beginning to issue press releases to control the information space–through censorship and cartel co-option of reportage. Finally, the public, government and even cartels are increasingly using new media (horizontal means of mass self-communication) to influence and understand the raging criminal insurgencies.
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.”
This is the first in a series of posts that will explore our world of disappearing boundaries – from geographic to linguistic to time to organizational – that create new opportunities and challenges to agenda setting and influence. Wikileaks, as an exemplar non-state actor in this world of “now media,” requires analysis beyond the superficial and polarized debate common in today’s coverage of both the organization and the material it disseminates. The MountainRunner Institute is working to convene a series of discussions with experts across the spectrum, including (ideally) someone from Wikileaks, to discuss the role and impact of actors like Wikileaks and the evolving informational and human landscape. If you are interested in more information or in participating, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Continue reading “Wikileaks as an exemplar of Now Media, Part 1”→
As Matt has repeatedly noted in this space and elsewhere, “American public diplomacy wears combat boots.”1 That is, the Department of Defense (DoD) employs the majority of the resources (funding, manpower, tools, and programs) used for U.S. government efforts to inform, influence, and persuade foreign audiences and publics. Most of us agree that this is not the ideal state of affairs. The Department of State (DOS) or other civilian agency should have the preponderance of the United States’ capabilities in this area. Both the White House and DoD concur.2
Congress would also like to see DOS doing more in this area–and DoD doing less. To date, most of the congressional attention has focused on DoD. Section 1055 of the 2009 Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act called for reports to Congress from both the White House and DoD on “strategic communication and public diplomacy activities of the Federal Government.” DoD information operations (IO) were attacked by the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which slashed the proposed FY 2010 appropriation for IO by $500 million. (See the mountainrunner discussion “Preparing to Lose the Information War?“)
Human influence is the linchpin that binds military activities together and relates those activities to the efforts of other governmental and non-governmental agencies. People, not infrastructure or equipment, present problems in any given country and people will inevitably solve them. Recognizing this truism, our challenge is to accept and understand the need for us to influence the lives of others, and to develop some level of expertise and collaboration in doing so. Continue reading “Understanding Influence Operations: A Gastronomic Approach”→
The Navy Strategic Communication Workshop (SCW) is a three‐day workshop designed to help commands in the development and implementation of a Strategic Communication planning process. Participants are encouraged to attend as part of a command sponsored team of three to five members, led by a senior executive (Flag Officer or Senior Executive Service member). Ideally, teams include a diverse mix of functional area responsibilities. Teams are asked to bring strategic plans or change initiatives that might require a strategic communication component. Through a combination of classroom presentations and facilitated breakout sessions, teams will be able to apply new skills and techniques to advance their plans.
My talk is titled “The New Information Environment” and will cover the information-centric “now media” environment of borderless news and audiences, dynamic and voluntary “diasporas” (my favorite depiction of this challenge is the image at right), and the organizational and conceptual confusion that abounds across the Government on the requirements, responsibilities and authorities to be effective in this environment. Of course I’ll talk about Wikileaks weave in that The New York Times has more Twitter followers than print subscribers, .
“The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armory of the modern commander.” – T.E. Lawrence
Lawrence’s words continue to ring true. In conflicts from the First World War to Korea; from Vietnam to the Gulf War, the nation that wins the information battle tends to win the larger war. Today, America and her partners are engaged in a fight that is every bit as important as its earlier wars: ensuring that Afghanistan is secure, independent, and free of the forces that launched attacks on the people of the world on September 11, 2001. It is a contest that requires painful sacrifices of blood and treasure but one that, if the lessons of history hold, can only be won on the information battlefield.
NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) and its partners have been charged with assisting the Afghan government in building the capabilities and capacities necessary for the Afghan National Security Force to defend their homeland. While many of NTM-A’s efforts focus on enabling the Afghans to pursue the physical battle – improving skill with weapons, providing leadership and tactics training, and constructing logistics and intelligence systems – the organization has invested significant resources into assisting the Afghans in carrying the information fight to the Taliban and the nation’s other enemies.
City University London is hosting a conversation with Wikileaks front man Julian Assange on 30 September 2010. The event, titled Too much information, security and censorship in the age of Wikileaks, will ostensibly ask several questions stemming from the sensational release of tens of thousands of internal military communications, labeled the Afghan War Diaries by Wikileaks:
Was this a victory for free expression? Or a stunt that put hundreds of lives in danger? Is censorship a necessary evil in wartime? And will mass leaking of information change journalism?
To be sure, this was not an exercise of “free expression.” An expression would be the labeling and framing of the material. The purpose was, as Wikileaks purports is their mission, to create transparency for the purpose of accountability. City University should then ask if this mission was accomplished and, if so, was there a cost? The questions must move beyond what Assange says he wants to achieve and challenge him on the results he gets.