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

When do we start the honest debate over the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act?

Sardonic? Ironic? Satire? Which word best fits the the lack of serious debate over the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act and the realities for which public diplomacy and international broadcasting are required and operate? See my post at the Public Diplomacy Council about this. 

What is it about U.S. public diplomacy that we must hide it from Americans? Is it so abhorrent that it would embarrass the taxpayer, upset the Congress (which has surprisingly little additional insight on the details of public diplomacy), or upend our democracy? Of our international broadcasting, such as the Voice of America, do we fear the content to be so persuasive and compelling that we dare not permit the American media, academia, nor the Congress, let alone the mere layperson, to have the right over oversight to hold accountable their government? [Read the rest here]

Also, see Josh Rogin’s Much ado about State Department ‘propaganda’.

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.

Russia Today (RT) expands into San Francisco, claims ratings success in Washington and New York

As the debate over whether Al Jazeera English should be available in the United States continues, Russia Today, the Russian government’s international news channel, quietly makes inroads across the United States. Kim Andrew Elliott, audience analyst at the International Broadcasting Bureau, a unit of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, draws our attention to a press release from RT from 11 February 2011:

RT, an international TV news channel, has launched its English-language feed, 24×7, on San Francisco’s major cable provider, Comcast, which brings it to approximately 4 million viewers in the San Francisco metro area.

In the U.S., RT is carried by cable networks in New York, NY; Chicago, IL; Washington, DC; and in Los Angeles, CA. …

Nielsen Media research showed RT’s average daily audience in Washington, DC, as exceeding that of Deutsche Welle, France 24, Euronews, and CCTV News, the English-language Chinese news channel. In New York metro, the Nielsen survey indicated that RT’s daily audience exceeds the average daily audience of Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera English and CCTV News.

Almost one-half (42.6%) of RT viewers* in Washington, DC, and in New York, NY,** appreciate RT’s critical take on news of the day, as well as its different stance from the mainstream media, and see it as a reliable alternative. The majority (87%) of respondents consider mainstream TV channels, such as CNN and BBC America, to be partisan. …

RT, an international TV news channel in English, Spanish, and Arabic is carried in the US by cable TV providers in Washington, DC; New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; San Diego, CA; and now in San Francisco, CA.  GlobeCast WorldTV, a satellite provider, makes RT available elsewhere in the U.S.  RT broadcasts 24×7 from its studios in Moscow, Russia, as well as from Washington, DC, in the U.S.  All of its content is available live at www.RT.com.

It is ironic that foreign governments, be they China or Russia or Iran or the United Kingdom, or terrorists, can freely broadcast to Americans – increasingly from studios within the U.S. At one time, such foreign government material was officially considered propaganda. Today, it is only the U.S. Government media that is considered propaganda and off-limits to audiences who request them. Isn’t it time to revisit this?

See also:

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.

Continue reading “Cartel Info Ops: Power and Counter-power in Mexico’s Drug War”

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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