Document:Blogs and Military Information Strategy
Blogs and Military Information Strategy
JSOU report:06-5. June 2006.
Implications for Influence Operations
Starting at page 20...
....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 well-thought-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.
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 theatre, the best option is to forward deploy it as a cell, just as we deploy our PSYOP analysts and production and dissemination capabilities.
- D., “Attack of the Blogs,” Forbes Online, November 2005, (accessed 5 November 2005)
- Mazzetti, M. and Daragahi, B, “U.S. Military Pays to Run Stories in Iraqi Press,” Los Angeles Times, 30 November 2005
- Dafermos, G., “Blogging the Market: How Weblogs are turning corporate machines into real conversations,” 2004