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Protecting our nation from Mis and Disinformation, requires true expertise at Ethical Influence
The US hasn’t had this for decades
Uh oh, it’s Monday again,
Well, if we must work, let’s see if we can collectively, make the most of it. Today, I will offer my thoughts on dealing with our plague of mis and disinformation. As a spoiler alert, I will also declare that the role of government includes protecting our citizens from serious and overt threats. Since the end of the Cold War, the US national security community has, with very few exceptions, been a relative failure at this obligation, relative to adversarial influence and propaganda. Throughout this article and because my typing fingers are a bit lazy today, I’ll use the acronym MDI in place of, “mis/ disinformation.
Throughout my military career, I specialized in counterterrorism, extremism and the role of operating in influence, offensively, defensively and to support sustainment of progress. I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I do have deep operating experience and still write, research and teach/ mentor on the topic. During my uniformed career, the structure, language and operability of national security entities in influence, went from bad to worse. I will not belabor this but if you have interest, the embedded link is to a white paper I wrote to detail this failure. It has not improved and now… with everyone scurrying off to the current shiny object of AI, it’s likely to worsen. They don’t understand humans so how will they employ AI to achieve ethical influence in humans?
While that technology is an important supporting player in influence, it cannot achieve predictable and critical success, until the community decides to learn about how humans make meaning out of all they experience. Thinking that technology can solve all, is a fool’s errand. The phenomena of how humans make meaning, is called narrative. To be crystal clear, the answers to predictable, effective influence, cannot be achieved with technology or those who understand humans alone. Success can only come when there is effective integration of science, the art of influence and the input of experienced operators. Currently, in the entire US national security community, the number of experienced, successful operators is quite small.
True influence is not just digital, PSYOP or any other combination of what the community calls, capabilities or rather, influence tools like Cyber, PYSOPS, Public Affairs or some other of the official capabilities. In the US military and those of most allies, this community has long been called IO, or rather Information Operations, recently updated to an even more ridiculous and laughable term, IA, or Information Assurance. The US and most of our allies depend on this gibberish that serves as doctrine. This leaves our influence toolbox, half full, and even then the tools are mostly decades old and mostly ineffective. The community itself is what we call in the military, “suffering from paralysis by analysis.” This leads to endless, expensive research and conferences to discuss the gibberish, but no one has an interest in putting it all together.
With this background, let’s move on to how this paralysis leaves all American citizens and most of our allies, largely defenseless. Yes, there are a handful of smaller, select communities that do better, but they are few and far between.
If you are wondering what all of this has to do with protecting the US and our Allies from the ongoing and perpetual threat of what is termed, “malign influence,” what follows will make it all too clear.
First, influence in support of national security demands at least three, concurrent efforts, all of which are currently on the verge of outright failure. These are, ethical offensive and defensive influence, as well as sustaining efforts. To achieve success, there must be someone or some entity in charge. This is one of our most fatal current flaws. No one is in charge and no combination of these entities, such as Department of State, DoD, the IC and the greater US government, truly support effective, operational requirements. Add to this a failure to innovate and update those pesky capabilities in any meaningful way and you end up with the following short list of failure examples;
Failing to succeed after major conflict in places like Iraq, Somalia Afghanistan, Vietnam and more.
So now, we are stuck with one primary political party that operates almost exclusively on false narratives. These are the conspiracy theories of far-right extremism that resembles the Confederate narratives of the Old, pre-Civil War South and the pro-Russian narratives injected into the US mainstream. These are combined with far-right Russian, Active Measures/ Gerasimov Doctrine operations and the operations of immoral GOP campaign operatives like Brad Parscale, the former disgraced, pro-Russian, Cambridge Analytica and more.
- Elon Musk’s destruction of Twitter for his own, far-right support for thugs like Putin, Xi and other domestic political extremist leaders
In our current era, since approximately 2014, these dishonest, divisive, anti-democracy operations, have constituted an acute and severe threat to US founding principles, hence the security of our nation.
Whose responsibility is it to protect us from this threat? The short answer is that it’s the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. In reality, it’s anyone who reads this and every other resident of the US, especially our elected leaders and other locals, like religious leaders and other key elements of our city, county and parishes. It’s also up to every single citizen to be well and accurately informed. To be a good and patriotic citizen regardless of politics, requires doing your best to find, acknowledge and defend truth, even if it is only with yourself. This perspective used to be common knowledge in the US of my youth, but with American oligarchs buying all of the professional influencers and foreign influence operatives they want, true American Narratives are being crowded out. A perfect example is the collaboration of Russian operatives working with GOP operatives and the Trump Campaign.
What should we do is the operative question. This is where my disappointment with the US community responsible for such threats come in. They spend a fortune of our hard-earned tax dollars paying most of the same alleged experts that have failed for decades in the four examples I used above.
At the moment, just like the IC/ Intelligence Community, Dept. of State and DoD, the FBI and Homeland Security refuse to not only weave true operators into their work, but refuse to actually talk to the American People. These days I largely focus on narrative because while deployed and working in multiple combat zones, I quickly adopted narrative as the core of every, single operation or campaign. Why? Because it works.
Narrative is not just about stories and story-telling. Narratives are made up of stories but only narrative triggers the identity of audiences, if operators understand that identity. It’s rare within the community to find those who actually understand this. There are plenty of those alleged experts selling narrative expertise to the US government, but they’re mostly selling a shiny object or trending term that they very rarely understand. If they don’t get it, especially in the tech world, they will continue sucking down our tax dollars and delivering the same failure they have for decades.
As it pertains to MDI, the strength of true American narratives are the key to the elusive “resilience” that is part of DHS’s mission. It is those narratives that embody our actual founding principles. Internalizing those true narratives that sustain our true American identity, the core of resilience and the strength of our nation against foreign and domestic, malign influencers. It’s here that the FBI and Homeland fail most dangerously. They refuse to embrace US citizenry with the dialogue required to effectively and successfully restore our true US narratives pushed out by Russia and the US far-right extremists called MAGA, that controls the US GOP. Remember this… narratives require narrators which technology alone, cannot supply.
As noted before, it’s not just the FBI and Homeland Security who need to put their house in order. It’s a duty of citizenship for all of us. What’s missing on the home front and on foreign battlefields is a true strategy that weaves every aspect of influence into a cohesive, agile and full-spectrum operation. If we bet our future on technology or PSYOPS alone and devoid of actual operator experience, we will continue to fail. Considering that we suffered a coup attempt based on adversarial narratives, I’d say that we are desperate for new blood at the table of developing effective influence operations. Speaking for military operations, no one trains influence operators. Let me repeat that… NO ONE trains influence operators. They train specialists but there is no way to campaign with separate specialists in a manner that is effective, agile and gets to the heart of influence which is narrative. To put this into perspective, here’s my definition of influence:
“My definition for influence relative to this paper: “Influence, done well, is achieved by a complex and intricate choreography of sustained actions, words and related activities wrapped around a core narrative that continually modifies behavior in a manner supportive of natsec objectives.”
Just like a football game, if a head coach was prohibited from calling plays, managing players, developing a game plan or adjusting strategy in realtime, there’s no chance of succeeding. In addition, players, coaches, managers etc., must also consistently modernize and innovate in order to be competitive. All US influence denies specialists such a coach and effective training. It’s simply a disastrously dysfunctional, military system. Dept. of State, ultimately responsible for how the US presents itself overseas, has little or no say and even worse, no authority to task the craftsmen/ women and even less of a budget to do so. The FBI and Homeland Security operate together, with even less effectiveness, falsely believing that they can solve most of our defense, with technology and a few useless websites. We owe the American people far more, especially we foot the bill.
The bottom line is simple, but in our currently dysfunctional paradigm of government contracting, it’s the curse of hiring so-called experts, with little or no operational experience. Most often, it’s the case of hiring the same alleged experts, with decades of failure on their resume’. The simple truth is that when we are effective with influence, it would be far more cost-effective than our current Pentagon/ budgets that suck down countless dollars for little return. This is especially true in the realm of non-kinetic effectiveness, or what is commonly called influence. If we are ever to become effective, the most basic list of required changes include:
Listen to true operators in conjunction with academic and technical experts, not just the latter.
Learn how humans make meaning
Develop an operational paradigm that enables realtime and agile operations of all elements of influence.
Train, Train, Train… together
Toss current military doctrine into the garbage where it belongs
Put together a bandaid system to sustain operations until actual, experienced expertise can develop new, effective doctrine
Break down ALL of the walls between tools in the influence toolboxes
Create multifaceted operational teams that have the authority to act within established boundaries, that are not micro-managed
Weave every singe element of national power into campaigning.
It has always been my operational approach that any and everything that touches my target audiences becomes a tool of ethical influence, not just those officially listed in our gibberish doctrine
Learn narrative from actual professionals, because if you are going to effectively and ethically influence human beings know that it cannot be done unless you understand how humans make meaning, out of what they experience throughout the course of their lifetime.
Teach and train in operational influence, not the ridiculousness of never teaching it.
This my friends is the short list. Until we direct the primary funding to these points primarily, we will continue a few decades of failure that we’ve already paid a fortune for. This is unconscionable to me as a taxpayer and someone who expects rational, fiscal responsibility from our government.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
-President Dwight D. Eisenhower
-January 17th 1961
Another favorite quote from the same farewell address reads as follows:
“Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
-January 17th 1961
If we are to achieve what one of our most remarkable POTUS’s sought for our nation, we must put American principles first and fearlessly innovate in the context of sustaining those values. To do this, our national security community must stop avoiding innovation and empowering national defense contractors that are selling us what improves their bottom line, but avoid producing what we need. We need competent and ethical influencers, not just soulless technology and websites that are meaningless to humans. Together with true operators, grounded in narrative expertise, technology can be of immense importance. That is currently, a bridge too far. Voters can change this, but only if they honor their responsibility of citizenship, to be well and accurately informed. There is no conquering MDI until both government, and citizens… do their job.
My very best for everyone’s week,