04 August 2007

The Most Powerful Weapon in the World - Strategic Communication Laboratories and the war for your mind

I was doing some research on the internet, regarding some of the sources used by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed in his book: "The War on Truth, 9/11, Disinformation, and the Anatomy of Terrorism", which I am reading at the moment, when I came across the article.

I was looking into Yossef Bodansky, and looked into his relationship with the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA), where I noticed the name of the "Hon." Sir Geoffrey Pattie , a recipient of the ISSA award "Rewarding Those Who Contribute to Peace and Human Progress".

Pattie was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence (RAF) in May 1979. From January 1983 until September 1984 he was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence Procurement and then served as Minister of State for Defence Procurement. He continued his public service as Minister of State for Industry until 1987. He was also vice-chairman of the Conservative Party in 1990.

I followed the Wikipedia link and noticed that Pattie is "chairman of Strategic Communication Laboratories, a strategic communications company based at St. James's Square, London". No link was given in the Wikepedia entry for Pattie but a quick search led me to their website.

SCL's home page  (link now broken) has this to say: "Strategic Communication Laboratories has pioneered a new methodology to enable governments and countries to manage their relationships with their key audience groups through more powerful communication. "

"The methodology is based on 16 years of academic research and development conducted at 42 universities around the globe. It uses scientific techniques from a variety of social sciences to make ‘communications with groups’ far more effective (and measurable). "

"SCL offers various solutions based on this methodology to help countries in specific governmental areas such as defence, foreign affairs, internal security, health, finance and tourism. "

"In a world where the perception is the reality, all countries need to have the capability to manage their own perceptual alignment – otherwise someone else will. "

But anyway better to brouse through the SCL website. It provides alarming reading, especially when one comes to the What can we do for you? section:

"Homeland Security The last 5 years have seen a flurry of Homeland Security scenarios enacted and re-enacted on the streets of our cities. What if there is a biological attack, or the detonation of multiple explosive devices? Many of these simulated scenarios are excellent planning exercises for the emergency services and security forces."

"However, a major flaw has emerged in many of the scenarios - the unmanageability of civilians. They do not behave as they are supposed to. When a virus hits a city, civilians do not line up for vaccination: they run for the hills. When terrorists are looking for a target, it is the predictability of civilian behaviour that makes the terrorists' job easier. What if there was a way to control civilian behaviour when it counts? Imagine the benefits of having civilians as cooperating partners. "

"Strategic Communication makes the people part of the solution, not part of the problem."

Or how about the section "What is an OpCentre " where we read these answers to their own question: "What can the OpCentre do? "

"Engender support within the national community for proposed military action "
"Develop national resilience and behavioural compliance for homeland security issues"

In the section entitled "What modules are in an OpCentre? ", we see that they have a "Media Management Unit" and a "Word-of Mouth Unit"

In the section "Typical Projects" we find the following: "Design and installation of a Strategic Communication Centre to improve a country's ability to conduct Public Diplomacy."

Public Diplomacy. They are masters at it, I mean just look at the sentence "The right message can stop a war", or in fact, start one...

Taking a closer look at some of the Key Management, we find Gavin McNicoll, Advisory Board, whose biography states: "Gavin has an M.A. in International relations and Philosophy from St Andrews University with honours in Intelligence, Terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy and the Middle East. He is the founder of Eden Intelligence, a specialist provider of small scale, high impact conferences on counter-terrorism and security related issues and the responsible for the International Terrorism and Intelligence programme, now a landmark event in the counter-terrorism calendar, bringing together the leading counter-terrorist minds from around the world. In 2005 he founded a new programme of work International Terrorism and Finance to focus on financial intelligence cooperation issues on a G8 plus level. The meeting and agenda for ITF have been supported by assistance form the Home Office, Her Majesty’s Treasury, The Foreign & Commonwealth Office, The National Criminal Intelligence Service and The Metropolitan Police."

Taking a look at Eden Intelligence, we find the following: "Eden Intelligence organizes small scale, high impact gatherings on counter-terrorism and security related issues in a strictly closed environment that encourages debate and sharing of insights. Our goal is to facilitate dialogue amongst the security and counter-terrorism community's leading experts" and "The company specialises in its conferences being 'off-the-record' with top level speakers from both academic and professional organizations. These are not sales events but rather non-promotional opportunities for high quality, high level discussion and networking prospects for attendees and sponsors."

We also read that "All events are held under the strict or old version of the Chatham House Rule": "By the strict or old version of the Chatham House Rule., no publication, reporting or attribution, nor any public use may be made of the proceedings of the meeting - the meeting is closed. The highest priority is given by both the CSTPV and Eden Intelligence to ensuring the Rule is observed."

Eden Intelligence (EI) also do Energy Security Analysis, and at the The 3rd Energy Risk Management Seminar in 2005, Giulio Thuburn, Head of Eden Intelligence Energy Security Research, gave a lecture entitled "The Militarization of the Oil Industry: Assessing the Effect of Terrorism on the Oil Markets".

We find the following 'key interactions' (slide 6);

"1. Energy is the key priority. Protecting economic growth
and political stability
2. Governments strategy focused on security in the
energy corridors supplying it. "

But wait, that's not all. Getting back to Strategic Communication Laboratories, Steve Watson writes "The company has invested nearly $20 million into research at what they call the Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDi), the world’s leading authority on persuasion, communication psychology and public diplomacy. Given that they are the "World's leaders" it is strange that they do not have a website."

Actually, they do Steve, but its not particularly informative. But what they do say is also chilling:

"The Behavioural Dynamics Institute is the leading international centre of excellence for research and development into persuasion and social influence...Today, the institute has an academic network which spans the globe. It is the only academic organisation in the world whose understanding of the psychology of persuasion has been successfully applied on a global scale"

What is BDi?

"The Behavioural Dynamics Institute is an academic institute that specialises in understanding influence and persuasion in order to change audiences’ attitudes and behaviour. The institute specialises in applying its methodology to military and political campaigns, where the audiences are hostile or friendly, national or international.

The BDi was formed in 1990 and has invested over £19m in developing scientific approaches for ‘influencing a target audience’. The unique methodology draws extensively from group and social psychology and incorporates semiotics,semantics and many elements of cultural anthropology.

The BDi harnesses the leading academics from universities around the world sothat the ‘persuasion and influence’ body of knowledge is constantly at the cutting edge. Using advanced research techniques, the BDi can accurately diagnose an audience from within (in theatre) or remotely, so that a clear understanding of the group dynamics can be ascertained.

The BDi then develops the most powerful psychological approach (using the data)to produce a programme of communication and ‘perceptions,’ which will be the most likely to engineer the desired result from the Target Audience. The attitude and behavioural changes are highly quantifiable and accountable, generating a real MOE (Measure of Effectiveness) report.

The Behavioural Dynamics Institute can tell you how ‘difficult’ an audience is likely to be, how best to influence the audience and then can actually produce the communications or triggers that will change the audience."

It also led me to this article on Slate: You Can't Handle the Truth, Psy-ops propaganda goes mainstream. By Sharon Weinberger

A few paragraphs give us the picture:

"Strategic Communication Laboratories, a small U.K. firm specializing in "influence operations" made a very public debut this week with a glitzy exhibit occupying prime real estate at Defense Systems Equipment International, or DSEi, the United Kingdom's largest showcase for military technology. The main attraction was a full-scale mock-up of its ops center, running simulations ranging from natural disasters to political coups."

Mark Broughton, SCL's public affairs director is quoted in the article:

"Yes, Broughton acknowledges, the ops center is not exactly giving the truth, but he adds, "Is it not worth giving an untruth for 48 hours to save x million people's lives? Sometimes the means to an end has to be recognized."

Who buys this stuff? Broughton declined to mention many specific clients, noting that disclosing SCL's involvement—particularly in countries with a free and open media—could make its campaigns less effective. However, he says that post-apartheid South Africa has employed SCL. So has the United Nations, he says.

The company's Web site is even vaguer, mentioning international organizations and foreign governments. A Google search produces only a handful of hits, mostly linked to the company's Web site. The company's work is based on something that even the spokesman admits you "won't find on the Web": the Behavioral Dynamics Institute, a virtual lab led by Professor Phil Taylor of Leeds University.

But the company, which is funded by private investors, is now taking on a higher profile, and visitors flocked to the flashy setup here at the show. "Basically, we're launching ourselves this week on the defense market and homeland security market at the same time," Broughton explained.

If SCL has its way, its vision of strategic communications—which involves complex psychological and scientific data—could be used to shape public response to tsunamis, epidemics, or even the next Hurricane Katrina.

Well aware that the company may face controversy, particularly with its push into the defense market, Broughton emphasizes the company's role in saving lives.

"It sounds altruistic," he said. "There is some altruism in it, but we also want to earn money.""

I don't know about you but I'm beginning to think Chomsky and Hermann's Propaganda Model needs a little updating...
Please note that since this article was published SCL has redesigned its website and much of what was there has now been removed. Some information is available here.

Update 30 September 2010

As over the last 3 years certain links have broken here are new ones where available:
Eden Intelligence have a new website.
BDi have a new website.

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