Small Wars Journal

To Respond to ISIS and Hybrid Warfare We Need to Invest in POPINT

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 8:49am

To Respond to ISIS and Hybrid Warfare We Need to Invest in POPINT

 ‘People aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ People are people, and they respond to incentives. They can nearly always be manipulated — for good or ill— if only you find the right levers’.

-Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner in “SuperFreakonomics” (2009)

Interview with Commander (rtd) Steve Tatham, PhD, RN by Octavian Manea

Cdr. (rtd) Steve Tatham is the Director of Operations at IOTA-Global Ltd, a specialist civilian Information Operations company and is the contracted subject matter expert for Strategic Communication and Target Audience Analysis at the NATO Centre of Excellence for Strategic Communication in Latvia. He hold’s a Ph.D in the use of Strategic Communication and Target Audience Analysis in mitigating future conflict and is the author of many books and papers on StratCom and Influence issues. His publications include: ‘Losing Arab Hearts & Minds: The Colaition, Al-Jazeera and Muslim Public Opinion Iraq 2003’,  ‘Behavioural Conflict: Why Understanding People’s Motivations Will Prove decisive in Future Conflict’ and ‘The Solution To Russian Propaganda is not EU Or NATO Propaganda but Advanced Social Science To Understand And Mitigate Its Effect In Targeted Populations . His most recent paper Using Target Audience Analysis to aid Strategic Level Decision Making” will be published soon by the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S Army War College .

Q. What is the relevance of behavioural conflict for the future of warfare?

I think that understanding behaviour – latent or exhibited – as opposed to obsessing over perceptions or opinions is so important, particularly if western political appetite continues to be for a small military footprint on the ground and increased use of UAVS / drones. Understanding populations, properly, allows you to exert influence; influence may be communications, it may be a show of force, it might something completely counter-intuitive. In the UK and across NATO the word ‘influence’ is used a great deal –The trouble is it always done so in the form of a ‘noun’; yet almost no one has any sensible idea of what that really means and how to achieve it.  The ‘how’ to achieve it – the ‘verb’ of influence - is through hard social science, primarily group and behavioural psychology. It's certainly not a few leaflets or a video on YouTube with a clever narrative. 

We don't seem very good, institutionally, at learning lessons; we identify them ok but our structures, our bureaucracy and the way we manage our personnel mean that identification is rarely translated into learning and downstream application.  We can see that in the campaigns in Syria; the dropping of attitudinal leaflets such as ‘The Meat Grinder’ are exactly the type of campaigns that were waged in Afghanistan and Iraq. They largely didn't work then and in my view they won’t work now. You don't have to take my word for it -  read the RAND report about US IO in Afghanistan from 2001-2010; its says it largely failed and I agree with that. Read the comments of innumerable senior officers, of multiple post op tour reports. They all say pretty much the same thing.   And I find this really depressing, particularly when you look at the huge amounts of money that have been spent on communication’s campaign.

It should by now be clear to all that just because a nation has the biggest army does not mean it has any guarantee of success in particular types of conflicts; Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza – these all show the limits of conventional military power. We need to find other ways of achieving the effects we seek and influence is in my view an obvious method. But there persists a naive view that somehow you can make adversaries and undecided populations ‘like you’ if you can change their attitudes somehow they will stop fighting. I don’t see that  -  can you envisage any circumstance when changing an attitude or an opinion is enough? I can’t. In our business there is always a behaviour attached.  We need to start understanding behavior far more. For me, its not opinions, its not perceptions, its not attitudes – its behaviours. Period.

Q. Question: You don't seem to have much time for advertising and marketing companies.

I respect what they do in the commercial world but I am unimpressed with most of what I have seen when they work in conflict environments. The nature of advertising is either about informing a large audience about a particular product or service that has become available or is about brand differentiation. It is about saying why ‘this’ brand of toothpaste is better than the other one. Both are attitudinally based. In the end there is a relatively tiny percentage of the people that see that advert on the TV and actually convert that to purchasing. But if you can move your products sales by 1 or 2% that is considered a success.  If you use the same brand of toothpaste for years and years you may change to another if, for example, there is a ‘three for one offer’ of another brand or if your supermarket has run out of your current one.  But are we really going to be swayed by pictures of ocean breakers and surfers? Maybe I don't know my toothpaste very well but in 47 years of brushing my teeth I have never experienced the sensation that current toothpaste advertising tells me I will!   Besides that is not we are about in conflict environments. We have huge groups of people that we need to influence. And it is their behavior that matters. That is the key thing. Understanding that behaviour is hard – but possible.  But it takes science; Science to understand it and science to change it – not advertising creativity.

Q. Iraq and Afghanistan showed that warfare in 21st century is population-centric. Influencing people as a key audience/audiences and variable of the battlefield was essential. It is an increasing realization that people and the human-domain (as current US doctrine calls it) is a constant feature of the post 9/11 campaigns. What are some of the big lessons we need to take from these specific campaigns that are still valuable for the future of conflict? We have a large group of officers whose formative experience is related to post 9/11 campaigns.

It is very interesting the way you phrased the question. You said there is increasing realization that the human domain is very important. That implies that there is something else more important. There isn’t. It is the single, most important issue that has to be dealt with. Since the root cause of all conflict is people, understanding people better must be the starting point if we are to prevail in war. If there was no human domain, there would be no conflict or an issue for us to be dealing with. There is nothing more important than the human-domain.

Tanks, satellites, intelligence, ships, jet fighters none of that is more important than understanding the human domain. Unfortunately that single fact remains lost in our respective militaries. We’ve seen recently that the US human terrain teams which were an attempt to understand populations –unfortunately they didn’t work that well – have been killed off. It is a tragedy that we lost that capability. The capability should have been improved, developed, invested in. It wasn’t working very well, but it was better than what we had before. We have a whole generation of officers whose war-fighting experience is the failure of the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq (and we should not try to hide from that because I always think you can learn as much, if not more, from failure than success).We have officers who may have done one, two or three tours in Iraq or Afghanistan or in some other places that will look at this and ask-why were we so unsuccessful? We were unsuccessful and will continue to be so,  because we are not investing in properly understanding the human-domain.

Q. You once said that “influence is achieved using a combination of kinetic and non-kinetic activity”. That is exactly the language that General Nick Carter is using today when he is advocating an Integrated Approach to warfare where “regardless of the type of conflict, we must seek to have a physical and cognitive effect on the enemy, but also concurrently (and deliberately) to influence other key audiences, such as local political actors, the local population, one’s indigenous partners and broader allies”. Does this mean that influence has finally become mainstream? And is the so-called 77th brigade or the SAG (Security Assistance Group) the right answer?

I know that the ideas we advanced in behavioral conflict have now become embedded within doctrine in the UK. The focus on behavior and human domain is becoming more important in doctrine.  For example, take the UK Doctrine note: “Decision Making and Problem Solving: Human and Organizational Factors”. That is an unusual piece of doctrine that 10 years ago we would never seen. I think that is a result of the work Andrew and I, and a number of other influential people, undertook when we were serving. 

Q. In Ukraine and on the NATO’s Eastern Flank we see this emphasis on information warfare, psy-ops and the increasing relevance of non-military means in influencing key target audiences. What is the role of influence in Russia’s hybrid warfare?

One issue here is the tyranny of terminology. It’s a huge problem. We have terms like influence, psy-ops, information warfare, information operations, StratComm, public diplomacy. Nobody really knows what on earth is going on. This is very unhelpful and that is why I opted for using the term influence (by which I mean the verb of influence).

What Russia has been able to do through the Gerasimov doctrine is to properly articulate and resource the place of influence in an operational design. We still continue by and large – with some notable exceptions, the 52 brigade deployment to Afghanistan in 2007/8 was the best example recently – to place these ideas on the periphery of the mainstream operations. Russia didn’t. If we look at the presence of the little green men in Crimea that was the epitome of Maskirovka and Reflexive Control. Everyone knew that they were Russians and yet NATO decision making went into paralysis. It was a masterpiece, a master-class in directed, controlled, planned information operations. And we’ve seen them testing this in Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008 but we can actually track back the traces of Maskirovka to at least 1917. The point is they continue to develop these ideas and operationalize them properly in a way that we haven’t. They’ve succeeded in placing influence at the center of military operations, but if you look at the NATO’s efforts they are vested in very traditional Public Diplomacy and reputation management, all of which sits outside of the International Military Staff and operations.  Russia has been industrious in embracing new technology, they’ve resourced it with both manpower, with senior officer attention, they have not been frightened to deploy it and they’ve been prepared to take risks.

Q. Who are the relevant audiences for Russian IO? What are the key constituencies of the Russian IOs? What are the vulnerabilities Russian IO are targeting in the West or the NATO’s Eastern Flank? For who is the Russian propaganda believable? I realize how difficult it is for the people living in Russia to make the difference between deception, manufactured propaganda and the facts because of the absence of alternative independent media. But who in the West or the Eastern Flank is buying it?

Russian propaganda doesn’t work on it’s own. Effective propaganda has to have something to work upon. It also has to resonate with its audience. It has to feed on something that is real. In Eastern Ukraine there were a lot of issues. Unemployment, poor-life prospects, corruption, lack of public services, poor education, fear of the EU, historical legacies, all these issues provide the raw material with which a clever information campaign can work with. On its own, Russian propaganda is not going to succeed. It has to have something to work with to be credible. Russian influence campaigns may use lies and fabrications but they also target specific known vulnerabilities in societies and we forget that, or dismiss it, at our peril.

Much of Russia’s propaganda is crass and clumsy; heavily doctored images, fake CIA operatives; the recurring use of the same actors in different scenarios and armies of trolls. I think most of this is largely ineffective although the western media seems utterly fixated upon it. However, what is not covered in the media is that Russia deploys much more sophisticated and subtle propaganda in place such as the Baltic States, propaganda which targets very real vulnerabilities. Understanding the population groups that are being targeted and understanding why is key to mitigating the effects of propaganda.

We also need to remember that Russian propaganda is as much directed at the internal Russians audience as it is to external ones.  Russia has succeeded in insulating its boarders against alternative narratives and using domestic media to support and bolster the cult of President Putin.  Indeed it is probably in the domestic space that Russian propaganda has been most successful.

Q. It is said that subversion & clandestine networks are the first line of the offensive in the hybrid warfare. What role should POPINT play in the internal front of the non-linear warfare? How does POPINT differ from HUMINT? Who should be involved in POPINT?

POPINT – Population Intelligence – or Advanced Population Analytics. – are the terms we use to describe what we do in IOTA-Global and SCL, our parent company It is very different to HUMINT. When we think of HUMINT we think of agent handlers and individuals in very small groups of people. When we think of the HUMINT campaign that was conducted in, for example, Northern Ireland it was all about British agents running individual IRA members and informers who were for whatever reason sympathetic to the British side, or who would take money, and who helped us subvert the IRA operations. We were learning in detail who the particular individuals were and in the end we knew every IRA Commander, almost every member, we knew where they lived, what their jobs were. We knew a lot and yet for the massive amount of the HUMINT that we had the campaign still continued for 40 years. In the last few days of the Vietnam War the US were producing vast amounts of intelligence paperwork every week. They knew everything about the enemy with one  obvious exception: how to win.

HUMINT works with individuals in small groups, it is about individuals and what they are seeking to do. In Afghanistan we exploited HUMINT through the use of DNA, through the use of fingerprints.

But POPINT is much more sophisticated. It is about understanding much larger groups, how people coalesce into groups, what their drivers are, the de-motivators and motivators of the group existence, in short it is about understanding the group behavior. Critically it is a diagnostic methodology – not just a descriptive one. It is also not focused solely on the enemy – the population are a vital component of POPINT. The thing about POPINT and groups is that people self-define the groups. POPINT is all about understanding  the groups that people define themselves within – not which we wish to place them in. Are the groups defined by language, by level of violence, by education, are they only motivated by ideology, or motivated by money or social media? The point is that we have to understand all these linkages in order to understand what motivates the group and groups in order to mitigate or promote certain behaviors.

Take ISIS as an example. The West’s collective response is currently mass social media campaigns and leaflet drops alongside more conventional kinetic responses.  But what do we really know about ISIS?  For example, do we know the answers to the following questions: what language do ISIS fighters speak – Arabic? English?, Urdu?; Are ISIS fighters literate – if so, what language; Do ISIS fighters self select themselves into different groups? Are some groups more willing to engage in extreme violence than others?; Are there any rivalries between groups? Is money a motivator?  What pulls do family and friendship networks have on ISIS fighters, if any?  What don't ISIS fighters like about being in Syria and Iraq? What do they miss, if anything, from their homelands?  Without this type of knowledge any communication campaign rely on guess work and creativity and I don't believe that is enough surety in today’s conflicts – but I do think it is why our communication campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone so badly in the past.

Q. How should military organizations, including NATO, adapt to influence the perception of non-military audiences? What do we need to create a proper POPINT capability?

There are a number of components to that.

First of all, you need intelligent customers. This requires senior officers to be prepared to understand what influence is and to take risks – General Andrew Mackay was prepared to take risks in 2007 by making it an influence based deployment. You need senior officers that think out of the box. That is an over-used phrase and I have never met some who has not professed a willingness to do so – I just don't see that much evidence of it happening!

Secondly, we need a strategic environment that places influence not at the periphery of military operations, but potentially at the center of the operational design just like the Russians did in Crimea.

Thirdly we need to have an environment where it is safe to fail, where you can take risks, where you will be supported and where people recognize that this is a detailed methodical process. It is not like blowing stuff up.

Fourth, we need to take a long and not a short view. It cannot be in the way that it was in Afghanistan, where we had a commander for 6 months – focused on having success in his term  - who after the period will move on and somebody else will take over. It has to be people who prepare to set the building blocks in place for campaign that may take many months possible years to come to fruition, but they have the ability and the wisdom to see that they have value. We didn’t have that in Afghanistan.

Fifth, we need people that know what they are talking about. I recall a conversation with my military career manager just before I resigned and he asked what posting he could give me to retain me in the service. I told him I wanted to fly helicopters. He said: “But you cant fly”. That's right but for the last ten years I have worked alongside engineers, gunners, pilots, logisticians and infantry who within days of taking up the IO position are apparently ‘experts’. Well if works for them I am sure I can fly a helicopter.  The subject was quickly dropped and I am now a civilian! The point is we have to get professional and start posting people to appointments who have experience and knowledge not just enthusiasm – particularly senior officers

But above all else the single most important thing we should do is to employ real science in understanding audiences long before we try to communicate or influence them.

Q. In your latest paper you talk about Competitive Interference and old style diplomacy.  Does the same apply also to warfare, in the sense that we still have a classic/traditional/kinetic representation of warfare?

Let me give you an example. I recall that the American Army marched a division through Eastern Europe.  I am wondering if anybody conducted any research with the populations of those areas, in advance, to determine if that was a really good idea or not? Superficially it looks like a good idea – a good political and diplomatic initiative to show determination, commitment and resolve. It is saying to Russia that NATO is serious. But what about that segment of the population that is actually causing the trouble in those respective countries, that doesn’t relate to NATO and is actually susceptible to Russian propaganda, that is deeply uncomfortable with European integration? Arguably all we’ve done with conventional diplomacy is to reinforces the Russian propaganda amongst the key target audiences. In my view policy makers and strategists need to have a greater degree of inquisitiveness. 

Q. Talk a bit about the social science behind POPINT. What are some of the theories that should guide us in understanding and ideally changing the behavior of groups/audiences?

In the book we recorded that prior to our Afghan deployment, General Andrew and I looked at the doctrine and went around the UK MOD and we found nothing that would tell us how to run an influence based campaign/deployment. So we had to revert to business and scientific literature and to decide if any of that would be helpful in the military context: Homo Economicus-rational choice theory, nudge, prospect theory, the framing of choices – we spent time trying to understand all of these ideas and then see if they could map across to our environment. We found many that did and some that did not. We also found that to use them successfully we had to reconfigure our C2 structure.

After the Afghanistan deployment, which has become characterized by the use of influence techniques to successfully retake the town of Musa Qala, we realized that all of these were helpful because they were all based on proper science, although in many instances repackaged for broader market appeal. So we realized that we need to understand the underpinning science much more.

So, as we looked at the science we found really important concepts; for example, locus of control (an individual’s perception of where control over events of their life resides and how much they can change their future); the propensity for change, a parameter that indicates the extent to which that audience is predisposed to seek change for its own sake; normative affiliation, a parameter which measures how individuals conform and identify to groups. Slowly we were starting to understand that there are a whole series of parameters that can be measured (and in my company we use the Behavioural Dynamics Institute methodology which has 45 measurable parameters) and used to understand what motivates group behaviour.

What astounds me is people’s unwillingness to use science but they are willing to jump in with randomly created solutions on the basis that they must work because they come from advertising companies.

I often liken this to the story of Sir Frank Whittle who first presented his design for a jet engine to the British Government in 1929. It was turned down for funding on the grounds of impracticality (displaying the same long-term strategic vision that the British Admiralty showed in 1901, when they turned down a de­sign for submarines, proclaiming them "underwater, underhand and damned un-English"). Thankfully, Whittle persevered, and in 1930, he patented the design himself, having sunk all his personal funds into research. In 1934, with the patent up for renewal, he again applied for the British government sponsorship, and again he was declined. Luckily, he managed to raise £2,000 in private finance and continued his research. In 1937, after eight years of further research and development, he again offered the project to the British Government, which again declined to assist him. It was only in 1939 that a single government official, at personal risk to his career and reputation, backed Whittle's invention and lobbied in the corridors of Whitehall for its funding. The result of all of this procrastination was that the British jet aircraft only finally entered operational service at the end of the Second World War but rather scarily, and very nearly, did not enter at all.

About the Author(s)

Octavian Manea was a Fulbright Junior Scholar at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (Syracuse University) where he received an MA in International Relations and a Certificate of Advanced  Studies in Security Studies.


Behavioural Conflict

Sun, 09/20/2015 - 11:11am

In reply to by davidbfpo

Dear DavidBFPO

What I am talking about in this interview is absolutely nothing to do with adverting or marketing or political campaigning. You are absolutely right - they have failed again and again in conflict environments. I have written two books and nearly 30 papers on why POPINT (although I didn't always call it that to be fair!) is not advertising and marketing techniques. And you are right POPINT didn't work in Afghanistan because it was never used - despite my best endeavours top convince ISAF that it should be at numerous meetings in Kabul and elsewhere.

Please see, for example, some of my past work at:……


Mon, 08/31/2015 - 12:26pm

Isn't POPINT in reality a variation on commercial advertising, if not political advertising? How effective has that really been in altering behaviour.

As SW Forum readers will know I am not persauded that 'Advanced Population Analytics' have worked in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. In both countries there was data to analyse, but it was not in English, it was not written down let alone electronically recorded.

Is POPINT really an attempt to use what we know in places we do not understand?

It is curious that in the Afghanistan intervention no-one bothered to check the data in the imperial age India Office records on what made Helmand Province work (see Mike Martin's book). Nor asked the Afghan NDS to look at their copious records. Not even the ex-US irrigation engineer who worked there was asked.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 08/29/2015 - 2:29am

To get this article refocused onto the core issue at hand--informational warfare and cyber warfare/cyber crime are the two key elements in the so called Russian non linear warfare or what many are calling hybrid warfare but really it is nothing more than a strategic UW strategy designed to win without a massive conventional confrontation. BTW it fits the IS, Iran and China as well.

One will notice that even from Russian governmental and military sourced materials on information warfare—Russia is in clear violation of their own doctrine towards the Ukraine—again the timeframe of 2008-2011 is in fact interesting since Russian non linear warfare and or the term New Generational Warfare ---is basically a Russian strategic UW strategy-- was also evolving during the same timeframe.

And if coupled with

National Defence Academy of Latvia
Center for Security and Strategic Research

Russian Information Warfare----taken from page 14----

The conceptual views also offer a number of important definitions, some of which are worth quoting in extenso (Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, 2011) (all from § 1):
Military conflict in the information space [voennyi konflikt v informatsionnom prostranstve] is a way to resolve conflicts between or within states by the use of information weapons. An information weapon [informatsionnoe oruzhie] is information technology, means and methods that are used in order to wage information war.

Information war [informatsionnaia voina] is a struggle between two or more states in the information space with the goal to damage information systems, processes or resources, critical or other infrastructure, to undermine political, economic and social systems, to destabilize a society and a state by massive psychological influence on the population, and also putting pressure on a state to make decisions that are in the interest of the opponent.

The information space [informatsionnoe prostranstvo] is the sphere of activity related to forming, creating, converting, transmitting, using and storing information to influence both individuals and society, information infrastructure, and information itself.

Both designed to support but not only-----deception on the operational level [operativnaia maskirovka].

Concerning the influence aspects of information war, it is thus worth looking at some wordings in the “Concept for the security of the society of the Russian Federation”, published in 2013 (Government of Russia, 2013):
One of the main sources of threats to the security of society is the extremist activities of nationalist, religious, ethnic and other organizations and structures aiming to ruin the unity and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, and to destabilize the domestic political and social situation in the country. The spread of extremist sentiments among the youth is of particular concern. Members of extremist organizations actively employ modern technologies, including the information and telecommunications network the Internet, to spread extremist material, to attract new members into their ranks, and to coordinate illegal activity (§ 11).

It is noteworthy that these wordings appeared after the events of the Russian 2011–2012 election cycle, with its large-scale popular protests against the rigging of elections and the corruption of those in power, and the corresponding government crackdown against the opposition after Putin was reinstated as president. For a further analysis of these events, see Franke and Vendil Pallin (2012).

Taken from page 19—

Since 1998, Russia has sponsored a series of resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly, called “Developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international
security” (UN GA, 2014). The fact that Russia has chosen the United Nations General Assembly First Committee, which deals with disarmament, as the forum in which to push these questions is interesting.

As part of this work, a draft “Convention on international information security”, intended for widespread adoption by the countries of the world, is being promoted by the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, a). The Russian-language version is available on the website of the Russian Federation National Security Council (Ministry of
Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, b). This draft convention was originally made public in Yekaterinburg in September 2011.

In the context of information operations, it is instructive to consider “the main threats in the information space that could damage international peace and stability” enumerated in the draft convention (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, a) (all from article 4):

1) the use of information technology and means of storing and transferring
information to engage in hostile activity and acts of aggression;

2) purposefully destructive behaviour in the information space aimed against critically important structures of the government of another State;

3) the illegal use of the information resources of another government without the permission of that government, in the information space where those resources are located;

4) actions in the information space aimed at undermining the political, economic, and social system of another government, and psychological campaigns carried out against the population of a State with the intent of destabilizing society;

5) the use of the international information space by governmental and non-governmental structures, organizations, groups, and individuals for terrorist, extremist, or other criminal purposes;

6) the dissemination of information across national borders, in a manner opposed to the principles and norms of international law, as well as the national legislation of the government involved;

7) the use of an information infrastructure to disseminate information intended to inflame national, ethnic, or religious conflict, racist and xenophobic written materials, images or any other type of presenting ideas or theories that promote, enable, or incite hatred, discrimination, or violence against any individual or group, if the supporting reasons are based on race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, or religion;

8) the manipulation of the flow of information in the information space of other governments, disinformation or the concealment of information with the goal of adversely affecting the psychological or spiritual state of society, or eroding traditional cultural, moral, ethical, and aesthetic values;

9) the use, carried out in the information space, of information and communication technology and means to the detriment of fundamental human rights and freedoms;

10) the denial of access to new information and communication technologies, the creation of a state of technological dependence in the sphere of informatization [informatizatsiia], to the detriment of another State;

11) information expansion, gaining control over the national information resources of another State.

Eve Hunter with Piret Pernik
April 2015
The Challenges of Hybrid Warfare
ISSN 2228-2076

Taken from page 4:
Tactical Convergence: Information Warfare

Information Warfare takes on a different meaning in the Russian Federation. While in the West there is an emphasis on information “operations” as distinct from concrete acts of war, Russian doctrine specifically talks about war. Information war is defined as follows:

“Confrontation between two or more states in the information space to damage the information systems, processes and resources, which are of critical importance, and other structures, to undermine the political, economic and social system, and effect massive brainwashing of the population for destabilizing the society and the state, and also forcing the state to make decisions in the interests of the confronting party.”

Interestingly enough, Russian infiltration of Ukrainian social media and networks would, under this definition, constitute information warfare.

BLUF----if one really intensively studies the Russian open sources Russia is actually following now the concept of a "permanent war" even in peace time --thus if there is a "permanent war one needs a permanent enemy".

This is a major difference from the Soviet Union foreign policies of the Cold War.

That enemy in the eyes of Russia as seen through the lens of Putin is the US and it blames literally ALL the ails of the world front and center on the US with it's evil driving force "neo-liberalism".

Neo-liberalism as Russian translated means rule of law, good governance and transparency---and Putin is correct--these three things are the death of the current Putin regime and he fears them as a vampire fears the sunlight.

Translated this means he is in total fear of a Maidan occurring in Moscow.

The massive series of security law changes, the total control now placed over the media and internet are strictly designed to shut down the flow of information to the Russian civil society in order to prevent a Maidan--ALL done not before the Ukrainian Maidan events but started one month after Crimea.

While the idea of "understanding populations, properly, allows one to exert influence," this would only seem to be true only if one, likewise, clearly understands, again properly, (a) to what purpose one is exerting influence and, likewise, (b) to what purpose one's opponent is exerting countervailing influence.

With regard to this necessarily understanding of "purpose" (ours and theirs), consider the following:

OUR job today, during the current Cold War 2.0, is much like that of the Soviets/the communists during the first Cold War (Cold War 1.0), to wit: to (a) transform outlying states and societies more along one's own political, economic and social lines and to (b) integrate such transformed states and societies more into one's own "international community."

THEIR job today -- during the present Cold War 2.0 -- is much like that of the U.S./the West during the last Cold War (Cold War 1.0) -- this being, to PREVENT, CONTAIN and/or ROLL BACK such transformations and assimilations as one's opponent wishes to achieve, is achieving or has, in fact, achieved.

By preventing one's opponent from achieving its desired "transformations and assimilations" (or by limiting or reversing same), one hinders one's opponent from gaining -- via these efforts -- greater power, influence and control in various regions of the world. (For example, in one's own "backyard.")

ISIS in the Middle East and elsewhere, and hybrid warfare employed by the Russians and others, are examples, I suggest, of our opponents attempts to PREVENT, CONTAIN and/or ROLL BACK our efforts -- in their "backyards" and elsewhere -- to:

a. Transform outlying states and societies more along our modern western lines,

b. Incorporate such transformed states and societies more into our "international community" and to, thereby,

c. Gain greater power, influence and control in various regions of the world.

These such U.S./Western post-Cold War objectives are what our opponents seek to prevent/contain/reverse.

Now that we have properly addressed the "purpose" of both our and their influence and other operations, then might we say that we can -- only now -- properly discuss such things as "behavioral conflict," POPINT, etc.? Thus:

a. Not in a sterile, "vacuum-like" definition/academic setting,

b. But, rather, in the specific context of today's events, to wit:

1. OUR attempts to achieve our post-Cold War political objective (expansion: of our way of life, our way of governance, etc.). And

2. THEIR post-Cold War efforts to achieve their countervailing political objective (prevention, containment, roll back -- of our such expansionist efforts and designs -- and especially in such places as their own "backyards")?

From this critical "purpose" prospective, offered by me above, to see how "understanding populations" -- for example, those who are identified as "conservatives" and those who are identified as "liberals" -- might be extremely important and useful information. This, given the fact that those identified as anti-change "conservatives" might be considered, in the Cold War 2.0 context I have offered here, our "natural enemies?" (And, correspondingly, how these self-same anti-change "conservatives" might be seen as the "natural allies" of our "obstructionist" opponents?)

Outlaw 09

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 7:22am

Perfect example of just how Russian “weaponization of information” works.

A US Democratic Congressman entered single amendment to the DoD Defense Funding Bill indicating that the unit below which he called “a white supremacist neo Nazi group” should receive no US military training and or military equipment—social media immediately discovered that this Congressman had never been in the Ukraine, knew nothing about the Azov volunteer BN and had gotten all his information from a local media source—THEN it was discovered also via social media that a US lobbyist and his firm had close ties to the Congressman and had received PR funds from Moscow.

THEN in the recent Normandy Four meeting Putin demanded a “sign of good faith” from the Ukrainian side and that as a part of that good faith they should pull out the Azov BN which had been fighting and virtually defeating attack after attack on the area they were defending-- the seaside town of Shyrokyne strategically critical to the defense of the Ukrainian city port of Mariupol where they had been in heavy fighting for over six months.

While the Ukrainian military command argues that it was a “normal” rotation it is now well known that the US applied unilateral appeasement pressure to force that pullback on the Ukrainians. Especially from the Russia side who also “accused” Azov of being a” Nazi BN”.

I had posted a number of serious comments on this sudden desire by the Obama administration to conduct a “sign of good faith” deal in hopes that this would appease Putin.

REMEMBER it was Obama in 2014 who publicly stated for all to hear and see—“we will judge Putin on his actions not his words”. Well in front of rolling Russian TV camaeras the Russian troops pulled back all of 1.4kms the Ukrainian side 15km.

AND since the pullback the UAF has taken loses and wounded by constant shelling and ground attacks in the area of the so called DMZ.

So does anyone notice the relationship between Russian money flowing to the US and then a US Congressman suddenly becoming a massive knowledgable expert on Ukrainian internal affairs all gained from a single media source, to Putin demanding a pullback to Obama caving into that demand.

All in the open and clearly recognizable---“weaponized information warfare” at it’s best.

As War Escalates, Ukrainian Volunteer Battalion Remains Sidelined

Nolan Peterson / @nolanwpeterson / August 27, 2015

URZUF, Ukraine—The vehicle yard at the Ukrainian National Guard Azov Battalion’s base here looks like the set of a Mad Max movie.

There is a semi-truck tractor covered in welded black armor parked next to a fleet of busses, minivans, pickup trucks and hatchback Volkswagens all painted in camouflage patterns—some sporting bullet holes. The up-armored semi-truck tractor was used when the Azov Battalion stormed Mariupol in June 2014 to take the city back from separatist control.

While Azov members or their supporters donated most of these civilian vehicles, the Ukrainian government has also supplied hand-me-downs from the Soviet era, including T-64 tanks and Soviet armored personnel carriers, called BTRs.

Azov’s T-64 tanks, armed with 125-mm guns, were mostly built in the 1980s and have upgraded armor and targeting and communications equipment. One tank has deep gouges in its armor from combined Russian-separatist machine gun fire. All of the armored vehicles are being repainted in Azov’s distinctive camouflage pattern (the soldiers call it “za za style”) and unit symbol.

Sign Up

The Ukrainian government supplied the armored vehicles as part of the Azov Battalion’s incorporation under the Ministry of the Interior as an official National Guard unit earlier this year. (The unit began as a civilian paramilitary group during the 2014 Maidan revolution.)

“In the first days, the separatists couldn’t even take apart a rifle,” said Azov’s 42-year-old deputy regiment commander at Urzuf who goes by the nom de guerre, Apis.

“Now they have tanks and artillery and anti-aircraft weapons,” he added. “And now we face Russian soldiers. We’ve had to become more professional to fight them.”

Azov’s base in Urzuf used to be the seaside villa of deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. There are about 400 soldiers based here for the defense of Mariupol—an industrial city of 500,000 about 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the northeast.

Yet, as the Ukraine war continues to escalate and as casualties mount, the Azov Battalion remains sidelined from the conflict, highlighting the uneasy relationship between the government in Kyiv and the many volunteer units on which it leaned heavily in the early days of the war.

“We’re not satisfied to be off the front line,” said Vyniy, the commander of Azov’s public affairs unit,.

“Actually,” he added, “we’re mad about it.”


In August the Ukrainian government pulled all volunteer battalions, including Azov, off the front lines around Mariupol, replacing them with regular military units. The move, according to Kyiv, was a routine rotation of troops that reflected the increased combat readiness of the country’s regular military.

“The task of the Ukrainian armed forces is to deter aggression of the enemy,” Ukrainian General Staff Press Secretary Vladyslav Selezniov said Aug. 11, according to Ukrainska Pravda, a Ukrainian news site.

“The National Guard and the Ministry of Interior have their own tasks, which they perform on the second and third lines of defense,” Selezniov added, according to the report. “At the moment, the Ukrainian armed forces are located along the entire line of defense.”

Three Ukrainian Marine battalions and one artillery division were sent to Mariupol to bolster the city’s defenses as the volunteer units were withdrawn. Ukrainian Marines replaced the volunteer battalions in Shyrokyne. During the transition, Azov troops said they only had two hours to vacate their positions in Shyrokyne, which included a network of trenches from which they had been fighting for more than six months.

“There was no handover at all,” Vyniy said.

Public Pushback

Volunteer units like the Azov Battalion played a key role in spring and summer 2014 when the advance of combined Russian-separatist forces put Ukraine’s regular army on the defensive. And as the war has dragged on, the volunteer units have developed into some of Ukraine’s most battle-hardened and well-trained fighting forces.

Along with government forces, the Azov Battalion successfully fought in June 2014 to take Mariupol back from separatist control. Since then, Azov soldiers have fought in near daily battles on the city’s outskirts, repelling combined Russian-separatist attacks, including a tank battle in September 2014, and have endured a grinding, static trench and urban warfare battle for control of Shyrokyne.

Apis said officials in Kyiv claimed the recent withdrawal from Shyrokyne was due to high casualty rates among volunteer units. “They told us we had too many casualties,” Apis said. “But our casualties have been lower than the regular army’s.”

Fighting has escalated along the front lines near Mariupol in the past several weeks, including an artillery attack on Aug. 26, which killed seven Ukrainian soldiers.

On Aug. 16, when combined Russian-separatist forces shelled the village of Sartana on Mariupol’s periphery with 152-mm artillery, killing three civilians, Azov soldiers went on alert and waited for orders to join the fight.

“We wanted to go to Sartana, but we had no orders,” Vyniy said.

On Aug. 17, the Ukrainian news site UNIAN reported that the Donbas Battalion— another volunteer unit, which had been pulled out of Shyrokyne like the Azov Battalion—had been redeployed near the line of contact outside Mariupol. Yet, despite the recent escalation, the 400 Azov soldiers remain at garrison in Urzuf.


There is speculation in Ukrainian media reports and on social media that the decision to pull the volunteer units back from the front lines around Mariupol was politically motivated and part of a larger move to neutralize the various volunteer units.

In an April 2015 report for the Swedish Defense Research Agency, Margarete Klein wrote:

“Volunteer battalions represent both an opportunity and a potential risk for Ukraine’s fragile statehood and democratization prospects. Particularly during the first months of ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation), the volunteer organizations with their high fighting spirit contributed significantly to containing the separatists.”

“However,” Klein added, “there is still a real risk of volunteer formations becoming politicized or turning into private armies.”

There is a growing sense of national frustration with the government in Kyiv due to its prosecution of the war in the Donbas, the country’s flailing economy and the slow pace of pro-democracy and anti-corruption reforms.

According to a Pew Research Center poll published June 10, only about a third (32 percent) of Ukrainian respondents said the Kyiv government was having a positive impact—a 15 percent drop in one year—and 59 percent of respondents said the central government was negatively affecting the country.

“In addition to dissatisfaction with economic conditions, Ukrainians express little faith in some of their country’s major institutions,” the Pew report said.

Ukraine’s volunteer battalions, conversely, enjoy broad public support.


“Everybody in Azov now considers Mariupol their native city,” Vyniy said. “It’s hard to just sit here and do nothing while it’s being attacked.”


Outlaw 09

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 3:29am

This is how Russsian "weaponization of information" works.

Per accident this week a Russia media outlet released an article on the estimated number of Russians killed and wounded in the Ukraine.

Social media tracking virtually everything coming out of Russia even in Russian spotted it and archived it--the media outlet discovering their error via the ever alert Russian FSB rereleased it minus the figures.

Social media then released the actual archived version and confirmed it's actual content and then it hit main stream media.

THEN Russia Today gets into the "weaponization of information" war and releases this attempting to counter social media and damage done by the archived document.

‏@RT_com Who wrote fake report on ‘dead Russian soldiers’ in Ukraine? #questionmore

The problem with the SWJ article is that in reality the "weaponization of information" war is being fought in the open between Russia and the social media with virtually little to no assistance from main stream media journalists who somehow feel that is no interest in it.

"Weaponization of information" works with the seven Ds principle;

Distract, dismay, deflect, distort designed to create doubt and distrust.

It really is that simple.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 3:11am

All current practitioners of any UW strategy worth it's salt--meaning IS, Iran, Russia and China ALL have and use "weaponization of information" and cyber warfare/cyber crime. These are really the two key elements of non linear warfare that are really new and deadly regardless who practices UW.

One really does need to fully understand the true nature of the Russian military doctrine on the use of "weaponized information".

Russia views war as continuing even in peacetime and the "weaponization of information" and cyber warfare are their two key elements of that "state of permanent war". And with any "permanent war one needs a permanent enemy and as usual it is the US". Check any recent Iranian, Is Russian and or Chinese statements which focus on US actions--it is there and not hidden.

HOW strange is the simple fact that the Russians have repeatedly stated in open source materials in multiple forums their full informational warfare concept/doctrine and YET we in the US just breeze by thinking it is not a "permanent war".

One of the key elements inside the Russian "weaponization of information" is the complete focus on changing the perceptions of an entire targeted civil society.

I had posted in the first now closed thread on the Ukrainian war early on a very well done chart depicting the "weponization of information" influencers and influencing organizations and then a number of comments were posted on the various US PR firms receiving Russian funding to drive that "weaponization of information".

Organizations for example the Ron Paul Institute and the multiple US PR firms getting a constant flow of Russian funding and certain proRussian US Congressmen and other public figures are the keys to changing that targeted civil society and yet we seem to think the US civil society is smart enough to see the game in play--they are not.

Do not think for a moment the IS or Iran and or China is not playing the same game as Russia is and not using the same various tactics, techniques and processes.

This is not a rocket science but the first small step is to fully understand the full band width of "weaponization of information".

Money, defense contractors pushed solutions and suggested private company solutions are not going to solve the problem until every Us citizen fully "understands" weaponization of information.

Perfect example----

Lack of investigation leads @RonPaulInstitut to assume Assad regime "rightfully" kills civilians.

NOW balance that article against several social media open source analysts who have been tracking daily for over four years events in Syria and providing in their work geo tagged actual verification of all videos and photos they use in their blogging AGAINST this particular Ron Paul Institute article. BTW they broke the first stories of Assad using chemical weapons long before the main stream media ever realized it had been used.

BTW they have called out this Institute a number of times for faking information or posting wrong information and asked for a public retraction---never a response by the Institute.

What US citizen even knew of these social media open source analysts and the verification work they do before releasing or posting comments???

This is what "weaponizaton of information" is all about.


Thu, 08/27/2015 - 5:04pm

Sounds good.

I was a tuned in Tactical HUMINT Team member in Iraq for 16 months during the troop surge. My anecdotal experience was that nobody knew the streets better than we did. I don't see this as either HUMINT/or POPINT. I believe that HUMINT (we practically lived on the Iraqi streets) could serve as another tool in the POPINT toolbox to be used to measure and verify. If you rely on IO people, even on the ground, many times if uninformed by HUMINT they don't have the best sense of what the population really thinks, who's trying to settle scores, who's trying to peddle useless info, etc.. Lots of reasons for this. Here are just a few. HUMINTers rely on mutually advantageous relationships with assessed locals whose credibility we have established over time and through a variety of means. We use security cleared interpreters who are American citizens. We've worked hard to establish the credibility of our interpreters with our sources, a process that can sometimes take months. At battalion level (which is where best knowledgeability of the local human "terrain" exists IMO), the only folks with security cleared American citizen interpreters are the commander, and if lucky the Tactical HUMINT Team.

We knew the best "levers" to use locally, and advised our supported commander accordingly, with some success.

In short, I'm all for integration. The tactical and strategic picture of POPINT can only be improved by tapping into the currently stovepiped information streams that exist for HUMINT, OGA, etc., and by being able to have a "back and forth" through SDR's (source directed requirements) or something similar. HUMINT could also benefit by access to POPINT data. "Hey, yet another database!" But good luck with that.

I don't know how this worked at the strategic level. Maybe it could work very well. Granted this is my (biased) anecdotal experience.

Behavioural Conflict

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 1:40pm

Bill. Thanks for your comments and also, I see, for your last reviews of 'Behavioural Conflict'.

The bit that most resonated with me was where you wrote:

"In 2015, our influence operations resemble our society's commercial advertising. We attempt to push a brand disguised as a narrative, that repeatedly fails to resonate. We think we're progressive when we move this approach to social media, but all we did was change the medium we use, not our approach".

This is ABSOLUTELY the case and I talk about it at length in my paper just published by the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute:…

This reliance on advertising and marketing companies drives me crazy - so too the huge amounts of money spent on big primes who are neither interested enough nor compelled to look for smaller companies that do stuff like advanced TAA.

Thanks for taking time to share your experience and views.

Certainly an interesting interview that resurfaces old frustrations with our largely failed efforts in the influence arena. In theory you can achieve your objectives in the current conflicts we're in through the overwhelming use of force or through shaping operations (that will probably include combat operations) to influence the behavior of select groups of people. In OIF and OEF we failed to do either approach well, and in the end we just spun around in circles until we were exhausted.

The interview states we must have smart officers for influence operations to be effective. No doubt this is true, but our challenges go beyond this. We have many smart officers stuck in a bureaucracy that constrains their ability to leverage their intelligence. We have outdated doctrine, outdated views of strategy, outdated views of war, and like most societies throughout history we fight the way we make money. This creates an asymmetry that does not favor us in irregular fights. We shifted from our massive industrial capacity to create overwhelming mass (WW1 through Vietnam) to so called information dominance operations, which was more about enabling kinetic fires than shaping the human domain. In 2015, our influence operations resemble our society's commercial advertising. We attempt to push a brand disguised as a narrative, that repeatedly fails to resonate. We think we're progressive when we move this approach to social media, but all we did was change the medium we use, not our approach.

Officers and NCOs in many cases realize these shortfalls, and they have realized them the last few years. Unfortunately, they (we) stare at them, we acknowledge them, but fail to make the necessary changes, so in the end we simply admire the problem. As long as influence operations are considered a side show or supporting effort to so called decisive combat operations they'll have little impact.

In the type of conflict we're in now, influence operations need to become the supported effort. Apparently that is just too long a bridge for us to cross in the military. Those who reject the idea of recognizing the human domain as a viable domain where we compete are normally the ones who still think precision bombing can achieve our objectives. It is time to become a learning organization and make the changes needed so we can, if not dominate, at least compete effectively in the human domain. These are not new ideas, below are a couple of links to older pieces where we discussed this previously.……

We can invest millions in POPINT, and probably should; however, until we change our planning paradigms and make influence operations the major effort that all others support it will amount to little.