All emphasis – italic, bold, and highlight – thoroughly, completely, and decidedly mine. (For references please consult original PDF). May the Gentle & Observant Reader benefit therefrom.
Blogs and Military Information Strategy
...blogs that serve a small community, or that fill a specific niche may be useful for monitoring and targeting select elements. People may and do serve in more than one social capacity; they may represent a class of community or peer opinion leaders—useful as both targets of influence operations and as vehicles for disseminating strategic communications.
In this regard, information strategists can consider clandestinely recruiting or hiring prominent bloggers or other persons of prominence already within the target nation, group, or community to pass the U.S. message. In this way, the U.S. can overleap the entrenched inequalities and make use of preexisting intellectual and social capital. Sometimes numbers can be effective; hiring a block of bloggers to verbally attack a specific person or promote a specific message may be worth considering. On the other hand, such operations can have a blowback effect, as witnessed by the public reaction following revelations that the U.S. military had paid journalists to publish stories in the Iraqi press under their own names. People do not like to be deceived, and the price of being exposed is lost credibility and trust.
An alternative strategy is to “make” a blog and blogger. The process of boosting the blog to a position of influence could take some time, however, and depending on the person running the blog, may impose a significant educational burden, in terms of cultural and linguistic training before the blog could be put online to any useful effect. Still, there are people in the military today who like to blog. In some cases, their talents might be redirected toward operating blogs as part of an information campaign. If a military blog offers valuable information that is not available from other sources, it could rise in rank fairly rapidly.
Any blogs and bloggers serving an IO mission must be coordinated and synchronized with the overall influence effort in time and message. However, they must be prepared to argue and debate with their audience successfully and independently on behalf of the U.S. policy stance. In this sense, bloggers must be able to “circumvent the hierarchy” as blogger George Dafermos put it. This means that they must be trusted implicitly to handle the arguments without forcing them to communicate “solely by means of marketing pitches and press releases.”
There are certain to be cases where some blog, outside the control of the U.S. government, promotes a message that is antithetical to U.S. interests, or actively supports the informational, recruiting and logistical activities of our enemies. The initial reaction may be to take down the site, but this is problematic in that doing so does not guarantee that the site will remain down. As has been the case with many such sites, the offending site will likely move to a different host server, often in a third country. Moreover, such action will likely produce even more interest in the site and its contents. Also, taking down a site that is known to pass enemy EEIs (essential elements of information) and that gives us their key messages denies us a valuable information source. This is not to say that once the information passed becomes redundant or is superseded by a better source that the site should be taken down. At that point the enemy blog might be used covertly as a vehicle for friendly information operations. Hacking the site and subtly changing the messages and data—merely a few words or phrases—may be sufficient to begin destroying the blogger’s credibility with the audience. Better yet, if the blogger happens to be passing enemy communications and logistics data, the information content could be corrupted. If the messages are subtly tweaked and the data corrupted in the right way, the enemy may reason that the blogger in question has betrayed them and either take down the site (and the blogger) themselves, or by threatening such action, give the U.S. an opportunity to offer the individual amnesty in exchange for information.
There will also be times when it is thought to be necessary, in the context of an integrated information campaign, to pass false or erroneous information through the media, on all three layers, in support of military deception activities. Given the watchdog functions that many in the blogging community have assumed—not just in the U.S., but also around the world—doing so jeopardizes the entire U.S. information effort. Credibility is the heart and soul of influence operations. In these cases, extra care must be taken to ensure plausible deniability and nonattribution, as well as employing a wellthought-out deception operation that minimizes the risks of exposure. Because of the potential blowback effect, information strategy should avoid planting false information as much as possible.
This brings us to an even more fundamental issue. Because the U.S. military is prohibited from conducting information operations against U.S. persons, it is reluctant to engage in Internet IO operations that might be characterized as PSYOP or deception. Once information is on the Internet, it can reach anyone, including those in the U.S. Thus, while the military offers factual news on the Internet through Public Affairs, it generally stays away from commentary and IO. At least initially, this challenge might be addressed by sticking with accurate, factual information of value to readers. Blogging can support PA and focus on improving communications and building trust with local communities and the public. A blog can be used to solicit and respond to questions and concerns from target populations. In addition, military leaders might offer personal commentary on nonmilitary blogs, with the usual disclaimers.
To use blogs effectively for an information campaign may require a new intelligence tool, one that can monitor and rapidly assess the informational events occurring in a specific portion of the blogosphere and their effects (if any) on the three layers of the local infosphere.
Blogs and Intelligence
Weblog derived intelligence can be considered a subset of both communications intelligence (COMINT) and open-source intelligence (OSINT). We would expect to see it used primarily in support of information operations, although it does offer a broad range of possible applications. It may consist of computer network exploitation (CNE) done in support of integrated PSYOP, PA, PD, MILDEC, and CA/CMO operations. The value of using blogs and blogging in support of a military information strategy depends heavily on the target region’s Internet penetration and regulation (especially censorship). Further, if the number of Internet users is small, it is necessary to determine who is using the capability and why. Again, this very basic information should be collected as a part of the initial intelligence preparation of the environment, but once obtained it becomes a significant part of the baseline assessment for determining the need for, and the value of, conducting blog-based information operations.
If assessment of the information environment indicates the presence of blogging activity, the next step is to look at the bloggers and their audiences, determine the blogs’ functions (per Nardi et al.), and construct a preliminary analysis in terms of the metrics (blog visits and incoming links and references) and indicators of quality and credibility (design, utility, accuracy, and currency) identified earlier.
Questions that must be answered include:
- How large is the blogging community?
- Who are the bloggers? And what are their positions and status within their communities and within the country as a whole (their general public roles and reputations)?
- Who is the target community or audience for each blog?
- Do the blogs address issues of social and political importance to the community they serve?
- What biases are observed in each blog? Do they reinforce or challenge the biases of their audience?
- Do any bloggers invite and engage in free and open interaction with their audience?
Answering these questions will require appropriate responses from intelligence agencies at all levels. National level agencies are perhaps best suited to conduct comprehensive media, human factors and social network analyses to identify and characterize the prominent and/or influential bloggers within their social networks, and their connections to the larger community of traditional media journalists. These agencies should also examine the frequency with which each blog is referenced in the other media in the target region, and perhaps engage in CNE to study reactions and references in the micro layer. Certain other existing assets, most notably the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) and the Armed Forces Information Service (AFIS), already cull through thousands of broadcast and print news pieces from around the world, based on topic, and could with relative ease look for blog references as well.
The importance of interactivity to a blog’s influence is proportional to the size of the blog’s potential audience. In areas where Internet access is limited to top government officials only, interactivity may be of relatively low importance. In areas where a ruling or elite social class has access, interactivity can be more important. In countries where Internet access is widespread, but free exchange of ideas is limited and/or discouraged, interactivity becomes golden. Again, the application of the general theory and principles must be flexible enough to account for differing political, social, and cultural conditions. Social network analysis and human factors analysis must be combined and correlated to craft specific messages to target specific bloggers and members of their audiences. Combined with a good sociological, psychological and cultural framework for interpreting and predicting attitudes, behaviors, communications and actions, intelligence derived from and/or about blogs can be highly effective in supporting influence and counterinfluence campaigns.
The entrenched inequality that characterizes the blogosphere has some implications for intelligence analysis and assessment. On the positive side, the fact that the most influential blogs generally will be the most authoritative (i.e., have the highest number of links) limits the number of blogs that must be read to glean the key or most widely held perspectives, concerns, attitudes and knowledge that motivate the audience. A survey of only these blogs can provide a rapid method for assessing the effectiveness of other influence operations in much the same way that a Civil Affairs soldier can assess general attitudes and mood by reading the graffiti on the walls. On the down side, in heavily Internetted regions, the tendency toward monopoly that results from systemic self-optimization will result in increasing homeostasis. Authors of top blogs in these environments may become disconnected from the content of their blogs and the concerns of their audience. This is because the needs of maintaining the blog may override the ability of the blogger to survey other blogs, conduct research and maintain interactivity. Because of this tendency, and in areas where only the elites or the government have Internet access, the content of the top blogs may not correlate well with majority concerns/opinions. As always, intelligence drawn from blogs may be invalid without confirmation from other sources.
Analysts working with blog intelligence must have access to the operational disciplines that they support; the closer the better. We recommend the creation of small special operations units with operational authority and integrated intelligence collections and analysis to conduct blog-based operations.
Recently, analysts at the Open Source Center (OSC) under the auspices of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) have been monitoring and following significant foreign blogs and bloggers with the primary goal of exploiting them as sources of intelligence. A February 2006 posting on the organization’s “Blog on Blogs” about Iranian expatriate blogger Hossein Derakhshan (“Hoder”), described him as “one of the most influential Iranian bloggers.” OSC analysts used Traffic (based on Reach and Page Views) from Alexa; Authority (Inbound Blog Links) from Technorati; and frequency of postings from Blog-Pulse. All three sources share the advantage of ready availability, but are limited for reasons discussed earlier.
Besides these and other metrics described earlier, there are other tools that can help the intelligence analyst. BlogPulse’s Conversation Tracker and TalkDigger (www.talkdigger.com), for example, track conversations as they spread through the blogosphere. TouchGraph (www.touchgraph.com) provides a tool for visualizing links among sites.
To function most effectively, units conducting blog-based operations must be staffed appropriately. Ideally, such units would be drawn from the special operations and intelligence communities, because of their historical experience in and ability to conduct (when tasked) sensitive operations. Linguists and intelligence analysts (preferably analysts who are also linguists), who are commanded or advised by qualified PSYOP or IO officer should form the core of such a unit. These capabilities must be augmented through liaison relationships with the other influence organizations, those responsible for planning and conducting PSYOP, PA, PD, CA/CMO and MILDEC. Because of the unique nature of blog-related intelligence, comprising both open and highly classified sources and producing an output intended for open distribution, a blog operations unit should have solid information, operations, and network security programs in place. It also needs oversight.
In order to act and react efficiently in managing bloggers and blogs, the intelligence specialists and planners who have the knowledge should be the ones running the actual blog. Or, in cases where indigenous bloggers and their blogs have been identified and recruited, the blog operations cell should also house the case officer managing the asset, having done the work to cultivate and recruit him or her. The same metrics used to select a blog can also serve as indirect measures of effectiveness; for example:
- Once blog operations have begun, does the blog attract new inbound links?
- Is there an increase over time in the blog’s ranking via various metrics?
- Through polling and media analysis, can a change in public opinion be correlated with growth in the blog’s indicators?
- What does content analysis of the interaction that occurs with the blogger on the site reveal (change in opinions posted by readers? positive or negative?)
- Do the comments on the blog correlate with public opinion results obtained by polling and/or portrayed in the mainstream media?
- Does the blog get referenced by the mainstream media in the target country, and with what degree of frequency?
- Do other sources of intelligence confirm these indicators?
Like any other influence operation, blog operations must be given time to work. There are no magic bullets. We would suggest quarterly reviews of the blog’s effectiveness along these lines and then adjusting fire to reverse any negative trends and accelerate positive trends.
This fusion of intelligence and operations is the cost of and the requirement for operating in a medium that rewards the efficient distribution of knowledge and information above all other considerations, and is also in the best traditions of the intelligence and special operations communities. Pushing operational authority out to those best equipped to receive, analyze and act in a dynamic information environment maximizes both efficiency and effectiveness. Although a blog-based operations unit could be based either domestically or in theater, the best option is to forward deploy it as a cell, just as we deploy our PSYOP analysts and production and dissemination capabilities. • • • • • •
What I want to know is, is that 'domestically' merely based?
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