Saturday, July 9, 2016

Quotable: Jesse McIntyre examines counterpropaganda

image (not from entry) from

Friday, July 8th 2016
“To respond or not to respond, that is the question.”  During my Foreign Service career, I heard it first as an Assistant Information Officer, and I asked it as an embassy PAO.  Some outrageous or inaccurate charge had been made in the media about the embassy, the ambassador, the State Department, or the White House.  Should we slug back?  In my first assignment, I often heard – from the PAO or the DCM -- “no, we shouldn’t dignify that with a response” or “we’ll only get into a pissing contest.”

Looking back on those occasions early in my career, the issues were usually small potatoes, little squalls, or tempests in a teapot, and we decided how to respond based on experience, “feel” or perhaps moxie rather than on a considered doctrine.  Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Jesse McIntyre III, however, asked the same question about the disinformation and propaganda that increasingly affects foreign policy and diplomacy.  The May-June, 2016, issue of Military Review ran his superb article on counterpropaganda, “To Respond or Not to Respond: Addressing Adversarial Propaganda.”

Lieutenant Colonel McIntyre’s article drew on historical examples from the Peleponnesian wars, the American Civil War, World War I, the rise of Germany and World War II, and the Cold War.  For analyzing propaganda, he reviewed the source-content-audience-media-effects model.  He found the joint doctrine on information operations (in JP 3-13) wanting.  The now-obsolete Army Field Manual 3-05.301 had a better approach, he judged.  And he described a “doctrinal counterpropaganda methodology” and nine counterpropaganda techniques.

This short gist omits, alas, most of the details and case studies found in the article, but here are some main bullet points:

  • Executed by experts, counterpropaganda can have a powerful and decisive influence over an ideological adversary.

  • The issue of addressing adversarial information attacks is a question faced daily by governments and the private sector. . . . failure to quickly and to properly respond can result in serious consequences for a nation or other actor in the public eye.

  • . . . Joint Publication (JP) 3-13.2, Psychological Operations, replaced the term “counter propaganda” with the terms “countering adversary misinformation” and “countering adversary information activities.”  JP 3-13, Information Operations, is equally deficient, mentioning the term “counterpropaganda” only once.

  • Propaganda analysis is a complex process that requires historical research, examination of propaganda messages and media, and critical scrutiny of the entire propaganda procedure.

  • While propaganda analysis is primarily done to gather information to develop future IO programs, it can uncover intelligence for other uses: errors of fact that suggest a weakness in the adversary’s intelligence-gathering assets, indications the adversary is attempting to prepare public opinion for a particular eventuality, issues on which the adversary displays exceptional sensitivity, and successful military operations that require propaganda reaction from the adversary.

The Source-Content-Audience-Media-Effect Model

  • ●  Source. A source is the origin or sponsor of the propaganda.  It may be an individual, government, organization, or combination thereof. Identifying the source of the propaganda provides information concerning the purpose of the propaganda.

  • ●  Content. Content analysis reveals the message and determines the source’s motives and goals for the propaganda.

  • ●  Audience. Audience analysis reveals the group whom the propagandist is attempting to target, as well as the propagandist’s understanding of and expectations for the audience.

  • ●  Media.  Media analysis determines why a particular medium was selected, what are an opponent’s media capabilities, and how consistently it communicates a message.

  • ●  Effect analysis reveals the impact that propaganda has had on the target audience.

  • Responding quickly is essential; a rapid response provides a better chance of controlling the discussion and the outcome by increasing the audience’s perception that the respondent is credible.

  • One of the most compelling reasons for utilizing counterpropaganda measures is that they provide a responding organization the opportunity to regain information dominance or change the topic to something more favorable for its purposes.

  • Conversely, however, their use could give legitimacy or credibility to the source or the allegations in the propaganda.

  • Counterpropaganda measures may also allow the adversary to control the discussion.

  • Finally, failure to respond fosters the perception of hiding something, or it may be perceived as a tacit admission of guilt.

  • FM 3-05.301 provides nine options with examples in responding to adversarial propaganda: direct refutation, indirect refutation, diversion, silence, restrictive measures, imitative deception, conditioning, forestalling, and minimization. (These are only some of the variety of techniques used by military practitioners, political campaigners, and advertisers. However, these nine are the most prominent.)

Nine Options

  • ●  Direct refutation is a point-for-point rebuttal of adversarial claims.

  • ●  Indirect refutation seeks to change the topic by questioning the creditability of the speaker or some other aspect of the allegation.

  • ●  Diversion seeks to avoid addressing a topic through the introduction of a new topic.

  • ●  Silence refers to not responding to the propaganda claims, other than to offer “unworthy of comment.”

  • ●  Restrictive measures deny access to the propaganda. Russia utilized jamming and other measures during the Cold War to prevent the broadcast of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty from reaching its citizens.

  • ●  Imitative deception involves subtly altering an adversary’s propaganda in order to discredit it or to use it as propaganda against the adversary.

  • ●  Conditioning eliminates potential vulnerabilities in the target audience before exposure to adversarial propaganda. The U.S. Army educated soldiers during the Cold War on potential Warsaw Pact propaganda themes and lines of persuasion in order to condition them against Warsaw Pact propaganda.

  • ●  Forestalling anticipates adversary propaganda and counters it by reaching the intended audience first with the message.

  • ●  The minimization technique acknowledges certain aspects of propaganda but minimizes its importance to the audience.

  • Information operations will continue to play a critical role in the success of an organization to conduct operations. Our adversaries will use propaganda in conjunction with their operations in order to influence the populace, to discredit the United States and its coalition partners, and eventually to prevent us from accomplishing our goals. Timely use of effective counterpropaganda measures provides the IO staff or organization the best chance of controlling the discussion and the outcome.

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