16 September, 2009 — The Register
The secretive US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has awarded arms globocorp General Dynamics a $10m contract to set up a network of psychological-warfare “influence websites” supporting the Global War On Terror. France and Britain are specifically included as “targeted regions”.
SOCOM is principally famous for its large contingents of elite, secret operatives from all four US armed services (Navy SEALs, Green Berets, Delta Force, Team-6/DevGru, “the Activity” etc etc). What’s less well-known about the organisation is that it also includes the US forces’ active psychological-warfare apparatus. According (pdf) to the 4th Airborne Psychological Operations Group – the only full-time psywar unit in the US Army, and part of SOCOM:
PSYOP is the dissemination of truthful information to foreign audiences in support of US policy… these activities are not forms of force, but are force multipliers that use nonviolent means in often violent environments… they rely on logic, fear, desire or other mental factors… The ultimate objective of US military psychological operations is to convince enemy, neutral, and friendly nations and forces to take action favorable to the United States…
Their purpose can range from gaining support for US operations to preparing the battlefield for combat.
Now SOCOM’s Joint Military Information Support Command, which “orchestrates a 24/7 multi-media campaign formatted to the cultures and languages of relevant audiences” in “what has become a tough, entrenched war of ideas” has deployed what it calls the Trans-Regional Web Initiative (TRWI). Specs on the programme were issued last year (pdf) and earlier this month General Dynamics was awarded $10,116,177 to run the Initiative for the first year.
The Initiative contract goes into detail:
Special Operations Command requires the capability to posture for rapid, on-order global dissemination of web-based influence products and tools in support of strategic and long-term U.S. Government goals…
[Contractors will] develop, design, construct, operate, and maintain a series of synchronized influence websites supporting [Global War On Terror] requirements … Government estimates a minimum of two and no more than twelve websites.
The SOCOM psywar sites will be run much in the same fashion as any normal web-media portal. There will be “indigenous content stringers and editors” within “targeted regions” providing 24-hour “original features, news, sports, entertainment, economics, politics, cultural reports, business, and similar items of interest to targeted readers”.
Looking for operatives fluent in “English (British dialect)”
All the standard bread-and-butter methods will be employed:
Government will require the use of XHTML, PHP, Java scripting, and flash development… Free email service for users of TRWI websites, as determined feasible by SOCOM, in order to integrate them as active participants of the site… Contractor is required to incorporate into TRWI websites the use of web logs (blogs), streaming Video/Audio, moderated chat rooms, downloads of wall papers (inclusive of calendars) when directed by SOCOM… contractor will, at a minimum, develop Internet-based marketing procedures such as use of Google AdWords and Search Engine Optimization to prioritize search result listing of the applicable websites.
The difference will be that rather than a normal media boss, the Initiative websites will be controlled by managers reporting to SOCOM based in US regional command HQs around the world – managers holding US Top Secret/Secure Compartmented Information clearances, with “extensive public diplomacy, journalism, and mediarelations skills”. Rather than ads or venture capital, the cash will come from SOCOM’s psyops war chest.
Then there are hints of unconventional web tactics, different from your normal media:
The Government will require the contractor to provide “ghosted” websites that are protected by username and password and ready to go active upon approval by SOCOM.
So who are the “targeted readers” who are to be steered into supporting US policy, in particular the War On Terror?
A hint is given by the list of required foreign target languages, which includes obvious ones like Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, Russian, Malay etc – but also French, and “English (British dialect and spelling)”.
There’s also a suggestion that operations similar to the Initiative may already be running, supporting the “24/7 multi-media campaign” spoken of last year (pdf) by SOCOM’s commander.
The Government will provide the contractor with Government Furnished Information (GFI) from any existing, USSOCOM-operated influence website strategies.
It would appear that any UK media site or channel which appears to be functioning without any visible means of support appropriate to its expenses may in fact be a tentacle of US Special Ops psywar command. (Or the Iranian equivalent, perhaps.)
We’ve obviously checked with our upper management regarding the identity of our backers, but it seems we don’t have any need to know who they are.