A Strategic Perspective on “Information Warfare” & “Counter-Propaganda”

On Wednesday, March 15, 2017, the Emerging Threats & Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee convened a hearing entitled “Crafting an Info Warfare & Counter-Propaganda Strategy for the Emerging Security Environment .”

I recommed watching the worthwhile conversation. Below are my prepared remarks given at the top of the hearing.

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Sputnik: ‘RT as a Foreign Agent’ is about BBG scaremongering for more money

In case you missed it, see my RT as a Foreign Agent. This was a follow up to Edward Delman’s article at The Atlantic which asked whether RT is a lobbyist based on a suggestion from a member of the Russian Duma. Ilya Ponomarev, currently in exile in California due to his opposition to the invasion of Crimea, had said that RT was not a media organization. ‘I think it’s a lobbying tool,’ he told Buzzfeed, ‘and it should be regulated as a lobbyist rather than media.’  Continue reading “Sputnik: ‘RT as a Foreign Agent’ is about BBG scaremongering for more money

RT as a Foreign Agent

In July 1941, the Nazi news agency Transocean, was convicted for failing to register as an agent of a foreign government. Recently, a member of Russia’s Duma suggested that a Kremlin organization operating in the United States be designated as a lobbyist under the same law. In response to Ponomarev’s allegations, Edward Delman looked at this idea in The Atlantic. Delman suggested that Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) are some kind of analogues to RT. Continue reading “RT as a Foreign Agent

Russia’s War on Information

Source: Russia Today, downloaded Jan 4, 2011
Source: Russia Today, downloaded Jan 4, 2011

Read my December 15, 2014 article at War on the Rocks where I describe the threat posed by the Kremlin’s propaganda and influence activities. It is a brief overview of Putin’s purging of internal dissent and independent thought and efforts to create confusion, chaos, and subversion across Russia’s near-abroad and everywhere else. 

The best counter to propaganda is truth and transparency, not more propaganda. Honest, unbiased facts coupled with unimpeded discussion by an informed citizenry is the most powerful weapon against the Kremlin’s disinformation that drains the future from Russia’s people and threatens Russia’s neighbors. … This is not about Russia Today. This is about Russia’s tomorrow.

Read the whole article here

Visual Propaganda: a cross-disciplinary conference on the influence of images

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.

Revising Information Operations Policy at the Department of Defense

SCIO_25Jan11.PNGBy Michael Clauser

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.

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Cartel Info Ops: Power and Counter-power in Mexico’s Drug War

By John P. Sullivan

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.

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Wikileaks, Assange and the UN, an example of propaganda

The Wikileaks community and Wikileaks watchers are actively and likely inadvertently the myth that Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder and front-man, is giving a “keynote” at the UN this week. They are forwarding a Tweet from @Wikileaks that includes a link to a Reuters “Factbox” article that appears to indicate Assange is speaking at the UN. In fact, he is not giving the “keynote” or otherwise speaking at the UN Human Rights meeting but at a press conference put on by the International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights (IIPJHR), a nongovernmental organization registered in Switzerland. A minor detail.

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Understanding Influence Operations: A Gastronomic Approach

By Robert Schoenhaus

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

Influence and Propaganda Conference

IandP Conference Sign The Influence and Propaganda Conference continues tomorrow. Today’s discussion was fantastic with valuable insights from Todd Helmus, Ted Tzavellas, Steve Shaker, Adam Pechter, Bryan Rich, Michael Dominque, Steve Luckert, Lee Rowland, Glenn Ayers, Glenn Connor, Tim Hill, Cliff Gilmore, and Al Bynum.

Tomorrow is another day beginning with a presentation by Brad Gorham. This is followed by arguably the best panel of the conference: the media panel co-chaired by Russ Rochte and myself. The panel will include Jamie McIntyre, Bill Gertz, and Wally Dean. Following this panel is Mahan Tavakoli, Nancy Snow, Mike Waller, Amy Zalman, Cori Dauber, Carol Winkler, and Jim Farwell. Friday, the last day, has Brian Carlson, Evan Mitchell Stark, Joel Weinberger, John Foxe, and Wil Cunningham.

The conference is presented by the IO Institute, in partnership with the MountainRunner Institute. The IO Institute will post a transcript after the event.

Follow (and catch up) on live tweets from the event with the hash tag #iandp.

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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Event: Influence and Propaganda Conference

The 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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Treble Spyglass, Treble Spear?: China’s Three Warfares

chinese_chess “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” -Sun Tzu

Timothy Walton has an interesting paper entitled “Treble Spyglass, Treble Spear?: China’s Three Warfares” (385kb PDF) in the Winter issue of Defense Concepts, a journal put out by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. 

The paper essentially describes the Chinese as adjusting military strategy to incorporate all of the elements of power. In the U.S., this is called DIME, for Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economic (or the expanded version that never gained the same traction: DIMELIF, DIME + Finance, Intelligence, Law Enforcement). Still, if you are interested in China, this is worth a read.

Other resources on the subject I strongly recommend are:

Excerpts from Walton’s paper:

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Senate to define who is a journalist?

Charlie Savage reports at The New York Times that Democratic Senators proposed legislation to legislatively define who is a “journalist.” Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) drafted an amendment, likely to the “Free Flow of Information Act of 2009” (S. 448), that would apply the “media shield” to protect sources only to “traditional news-gathering activities and not to web sites that serve as a conduit for the mass dissemination of secret documents.

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Al-Shabaab receiving support from U.S. citizens and others in the U.S.

In a press conference today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department unsealed four separate indictments charging 14 individuals in Minnesota, California, and Alabama with terrorism violations, including providing money, personnel, and services to the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. An indictment in Minnesota charged 10 men for leaving the U.S. to join al-Shabaab, an organization with ties to al-Qaeda, as foreign fighters. In Minnesota alone, 19 have been charged with material support of al-Shabaab. Two women, naturalized U.S. citizens and residents of Minnesota, were charged with raising money to support al-Shabaab through door-to-door solicitations and teleconferences in the Somali communities in Minneapolis, Rochester, and elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada.
Holder noted that members of the American Muslim community “have been – and continue to – strong partners in fighting this emerging threat” through denouncing terrorist acts and those who carry them out, as well as helping law enforcement disrupt plots and radicalization.

As laudable as these efforts are, they happen too late in the process of radicalization. Facts about Somalia, al-Shabaab, and the region are too often ignored by the mainstream media and largely unavailable to these communities, even those actively engaged online.

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Event: Influence and Fighting Propaganda!

The IO Institute, in partnership with the MountainRunner Institute, presents a conference on Influence & Fighting Propaganda on October 13-14 at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, NY.

The Information Operations Institute of the Association of Old Crows cordially invites you to attend a conference focusing on influence and propaganda.  Influence – what are influence factors, who can be influenced, how and why can people or groups be influenced, what are different approaches to influence and how is influence accomplished and how is it different at the personal level all the way to the national level?   Propaganda – what it is, enjoy a presentation of real examples of famous propaganda by infamous propagandists, discuss how we counter it, is it still going on today, how do we fight misinformation and how do we disseminate a meaningful message avoiding the label of propaganda?

On October 13 and 14, at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, NY. Check below for the agenda. Online registration will be available soon.

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Obsolete arguments to keep an obsolete law

By all means, let’s keep a law designed for another era on the books because, well, it’s there. That’s the argument many have offered in defense of the restrictive provisions added to the Smith-Mundt Act in 1972 and 1985. My friend Kim Andrew Elliot makes this argument while reviewing the Defense Department paper on strategic communication I posted this week.

"Understand the difference between public diplomacy and strategic communication. For the former, the audience is outside the geographic territory of the United States. For the latter, the audience is global. Science and Technology solutions do not generally discriminate based on geographic location, nor should they. The domains of strategic communication can not be limited to those with public affairs authority – everyone should be viewed as a strategic communicator."
Brilliant. This report has found a way to work around the Smith-Mundt clause prohibiting the domestic dissemination of public diplomacy. Just call it "strategic communication."

Kim’s statement is based on the belief that American public diplomacy is unfit for American audiences because it is a) deceitful, b) illegal influence, or c) damaging to the domestic news market. None of these are valid reasons today. 

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FCC to Probe “Hidden Hand” Analysts

The Federal Communications Commission is looking into whether the Pentagon’s program to use and leverage retired officers as “message force multipliers.” David Barstow broke the story in The New York Times earlier this year. Today, writing in the Congressional Quarterly, John M. Donnelly’s reports the FCC launched a probe to “address congressional questions about a Pentagon program viewed by some lawmakers as propaganda.”

The FCC is looking into whether TV networks and certain on-air analysts broke the law by failing to disclose to viewers that the apparently independent analysts were in fact part of a Pentagon-funded information campaign, a spokesman for the commission said.

“What I can confirm is that the enforcement bureau at the FCC is looking into this matter, and I can confirm that they have sent letters in connection with it, seeking information,” the spokesman said late Tuesday, without elaborating on when the inquiry began or who its targets are.

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