Bob Curris served over 30 years in the military and led Psychological Operations teams around the world. He's concerned the Army is making cuts that will degrade America's ability to conduct information and influence operations as the need to compete in the information space is only increasing with the shift from the GWOT era to the era of Great Power Competition. Link to his original Military Times article here: https://www.militarytimes.com/opinion/2023/11/01/the-army-needs-to-invest-in-psychological-operations-not-cut-them/
Bob Curris (00:01.422)
Thanks for watching!
Well, Bob, thanks for joining us this morning and welcome to the athlete water change podcast. How you doing?
Bob Curris (00:09.346)
Good morning, Scott. I appreciate the opportunity. I'm doing well, thanks.
Awesome. So you recently penned an article for Military Times discussing the importance of psychological operations, which is not something that people hear a lot about out in the civilian world. So perhaps you can start just by introducing yourself in your own background a little bit and then talking about what psychological operations are in the Army and where it fits into life.
Bob Curris (00:38.206)
Absolutely. So I retired in December of 2020. As a colonel, I had 32 years of service total I enlisted in the National Guard as an infantryman right out of high school. Ultimately went to college and then was commissioned in the artillery. While in the artillery, I was a targeting officer in Bosnia in 1998 and part of my targeting platforms was working with these SIOP guys and looking at how they were using
information to support the Dayton Peace Accords and keeping the, or enforcing them and keeping the different parties at bay. And I was intrigued by that. And back then it was an accession branch. So I've had to stay in complete command in the artillery before I could go to SIOP. And I did in 2000. And real quick funny story was I wanted Russian or Serbo creation as a result of my time in Bosnia.
but they said, no, you're going to Arabic. And I thought, well, you know, I'll never use that. You know, I'll be in the bright star exercise for the rest of my life. And then 9-11 happened like a month before I graduated. And that set me on a path that I could have never, you know, anticipated. But I was fortunate and I had three detachment commands, company command.
I had battalion command, group command, and I commanded the same task force in Qatar twice at two different grades. And ultimately finished my career at USASOC in the force modernization center. But along the way, you learn a lot about what we're supposed to do. And SIOP in general is supposed to take selected information, activities and indicators and present them to foreign audiences in order to...
change their attitudes, critical thinking, but ultimately their behaviors. And so really our force is focused on being able to shift behaviors in foreign governments, foreign organizations, population centers, and that kind of thing. I mean, it's a lot of times we're often remembered for leaflets and loudspeakers, which is very tactical and sort of direct messaging.
Bob Curris (02:59.714)
Uh, but we're also known at the CoCom level for doing a messaging via the internet and other social media type analysis, et cetera, uh, which is more of an indirect approach, uh, depending on how you, how you go about it. And so ultimately, you know, when you talk to any Cyper, I think the word that they'll always come back to is we focus on behaviors and so, uh, during the CT fight, you know, one of the. Larger.
things that we focus on was counter radicalization. We did that in multiple different countries. And it was, you know, we used to say, it's how do you talk to enough people that could stop a kid from turning the knob on a, you know, a known jihadi establishment and say, hey, tell me about this jihad thing.
Bob Curris (03:50.735)
It was how we felt like we could turn them at any point before they got behind the door, but once they got behind the door, it was an indoctrination piece that we could do. So ultimately that was the behavior we were going after in some of the bigger stuff, but I feel like I rambled a little bit there, so I'll kick it back to you.
Yeah, I know that that's all great stuff and great background. Um, when folks asked me about psychological operations, because, uh, it's not a very well known part of the army and part of the special operations community, I always described to them. It's like, well, it's kind of like marketing mixed with propaganda, but we're doing it for the best of reasons.
Bob Curris (04:26.778)
Well, you know, there's, there's yes. I mean, marketing is a part of it. If you look at, I often tell people, if you understood political warfare, information warfare, marketing, and some of the social science, and certainly some of the theories, uh, within social sciences and you blended them all together. That's what SIP is meant to be.
Yeah. So one of the things you mentioned in your article was the importance of psychological operations, but also concerns over budget cuts to the force. So I kind of want to start pulling on that thread. What impact do you think that PsyOps has had during the global war on terror that makes it so critical? And what about upcoming budget cuts make you concerned about PsyOps not being able to fulfill the mission that it's been doing for the past 20 years?
Bob Curris (05:17.518)
Okay, so unfortunately, some of the best examples of what we did are still classified. But in general, the ones that you can point to were a lot of the ones that were actually made fun of for, because a lot of people in today's Army will be like, why are you guys still doing the leaflets? You've been doing that since World War I. It's silly to a lot of people.
But when you're talking about denied space, like we had in Mosul or in other places during the ISIS fight, it was one of the only ways that you could convey information into, in that case, a captured population essentially from ISIS. And we were able to have multiple examples of where we got information to them, either through a leaflet, through some other kind of handout, or using...
electronic warfare platforms to put in essentially radio broadcasts in certain areas that asked them to do something or not to do something, you know, a behavior once again. And so we have multiple examples of where that worked. And then coming out of the tactical and more into the theater strategic, we were part of once again the counter-radicalization fight. We had several good examples of how.
we were able to use regional television stations for infomercials. We were able to use different radio platforms that were satellite radio platforms and regional print capabilities like newspapers, et cetera. We were able to put information in there that sort of countered some of that fight. And so when you take it to the theater strategic and out of CT, we're talking stuff about
Bob Curris (07:12.05)
freedom of movement through freedom of navigation. When you think about some of the choke points of the world, the South China Sea is one of them. Obviously, when you talk about the Red Sea being a major choke point, a lot of counter piracy. We did a lot of counter piracy out of Bahrain and that kind of thing. Those were part of the global commons that went well beyond just a military tackle fight. It was, these things will
will bring this onto you if you don't change your behavior. And then my last quick example would be we had both special forces and SIOP trainers inside Ukraine up until the war started. And I really think that a lot of their initial success went before they could really build up a force was because of the training that they received from all of us. And I think those were great examples of that, of using partner nation capabilities.
Bob Curris (08:11.566)
it to do that. So when you look across the spectrum from tactical all the way up to sort of theater strategic, we've had our fingerprints on a lot of stuff and some of it's been more indirect than others. I mean, obviously a leaflet's pretty direct, but some of the infomercial type things that we have sponsored on regional networks or newspapers and other things were by far more.
you know, meant to provide the information that would then help become the influence. You know, there is a step there where you start with information and then springboard off of that into the influence. And so we do that around the world. We've, I don't know how many countries we're in today. I'm sort of away from that at the moment. But when I was a group commander, I had people in.
roughly 30 countries at any given time and working through public diplomacy offices and the State Department working for task forces that may have been commanded by you know either special forces, Navy SEALs or others. We did almost all of our work through some form of the theater special operations command and you know we could show some pretty good successes. In fact we unbeknownst to other people have
won a couple of awards in the media space, but they didn't realize it was us. So it was kind of fun.
That's funny. Domestically or abroad? US media or foreign media? All abroad? OK.
Bob Curris (09:52.254)
All abroad. All from, yeah, we have some very strict rules about interacting with, yeah, yeah. In fact, the only thing, the only thing that we do domestically is support natural disasters. There's a mission called Civil Authority Information Support. And that's when we work with FEMA, just to use our platforms, not our capabilities really.
Let's talk about that for everyone listening real quick. You can't do anything domestically, right? Okay.
Bob Curris (10:19.522)
to get information out. So when you think of in Puerto Rico, just a couple of years ago, when all their infrastructure was really down, we sent in some tactical site teams, which are the teams with the trucks, with the loudspeakers and some small AM, FM radio capability. And that, you know, the messages and the information were all came from FEMA. They were just using our platforms to come out. There was no influence whatsoever. It's a straight information support.
And so we think the same year there was Houston got flooded from a different hurricane. You think about Katrina, we have always supported FEMA and other government aid organizations inside the continental United States only to provide information period full stop. You know, anything that we do that's influence related must be targeted at a foreign target audience. It must be done through foreign capabilities.
And if we're doing anything on the Internet, there has to be some IP backstops that keep it from coming back into the United States.
Gotcha. Cool. So you mentioned a bunch of interesting stuff there, but one thread I want to pull on is you started talking about the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of information influence operations. One of the things you actually toward the end of your article brought up was concerned that above the tactical level, above the being out there supporting direct operations on the ground with US forces.
There's not really a lot of influence built into the system for the operational and strategic level. Um, and I've, I haven't been in another part of special operations and worked with Cypress before I can definitely say I've seen a similar thing where there's nothing really in the structure to support you guys outside of special operations command, which really your influence goes way beyond that. So what does your experience been or what are your greatest frustrations with?
living under the special operations umbrella and that SOCOM bubble, but really having a capability that supports so much more that's going on out there in the world. Because what you do even inside special operations is very counter-cultural.
Bob Curris (12:34.974)
Yeah, I like that phrase. It is counter-cultural to the current culture. I would tell you that the history of special operations was not always such. And we can talk history at another point. I won't bore you with that necessarily, but I'll say this. You know, you talked about my concerns from the article about budget cuts and it's not just budget cuts. There's been some decisions that are being made in for Special Forces Command in Yushasak on...
Bob Curris (13:04.678)
op conning the regional battalions to the SF groups and then and actually dissolving. Yeah, so right now the SIOP structure has two group headquarters which are brigade equivalents as far as the army's concerned. Each of them has subordinate battalions and they control those subordinate battalions. Currently it appears that the decision will be to dissolve one of the groups
Can you explain what op conning is for folks?
Bob Curris (13:34.478)
Uh, and it's two subordinate battalions, uh, as part of the, the three, you know, they've, they've been mandated to give up 3000 billets across their force. But, but this would strike us proportionally much larger than the other capabilities. And, and then under the other group, fourth group, uh, fourth side group, they have what we refer to as regional battalions and they are regional specific. They have language capabilities and cultural focus that supports them.
And the SF groups are also reasonably aligned, generally speaking. Obviously, during CT, everybody was in the bowl because we just needed all the people, right? And so, if you took our Middle Eastern Psi-Op battalion and put it under control of the Middle Eastern SF group, in this case, 8th battalion and 5th group, then at that point,
fourth group loses control of their subordinate battalion and it works for a different 06 commander. And at the tactical level, that's not always bad, but when you're thinking about, I'll throw another one out there, I'll explain for the audience, which is Title 10 responsibilities. And Title 10 responsibilities are what the army gives a unit that says you will train, man, and equip a unit to do a particular task over time.
and it has a certain amount of training and education involved with whatever that is. That's a Title X responsibility. So right now, 4th Group has the Title X responsibilities to train all of those regional battalions to be, you know, proficient at influence, SIOP, all of its subordinate missions, and be culturally relevant in whatever region that they support. But that would then shift to a different...
who is trying to make sure that his unit, you know, there's generally four battalions in each of the SF groups already. And his job, having been a former group commander, is to make sure that all your battalions are, you know, achieving readiness and that they're ready to deploy at any moment with the mission that they've been tasked to do. And now, your counterculture comment, you know, now you're adding another battalion.
Bob Curris (15:51.15)
and potentially a CA battalion as well. So you might be adding two battalions to this 06's, you know, basket of responsibilities that, and it's with tasks that are not his normal tasks. So that's what op comming is. It was a little bit long, but, you know, I think it's critical to understand that you're, you're adding, you're adding a mission to another 06 commander. When you've got
Bob Curris (16:18.578)
another 06 commander that was his job to begin with. So, but when you look at the implementation of that, a lot of what our battalions do is work through the theater special operations command and not the SF group. Because when we all deploy anybody in special operations, they generally work for the theater special operations command, generally two star or one star, depending on the theater.
that works for the combatant command for that theater. So the example would be CENTCOM, which most people know from recent wars, commanded, you know, is the Joint Force Commander. And SOC CENT is the Subordinate Special Operations Command for them. So when we deploy, we normally belong to them. And that works out pretty well for SIOP and probably also for CA to a lesser extent because we'll have people...
doing missions for the TSOC where there are no SF people at all, special forces people at all, no command, no task force or anything like that. And so we report back through the TSOC and we do whatever that mission set is and its priorities. If we, uh, there has been an inherent rift between some of the special forces groups and the TSOC on prioritization and what they're doing. So if all the Psiopers are working only for that SF group,
Bob Curris (17:39.998)
it could potentially take away the capability that the TSOC needs them to do. And it would keep them focused on a more tactical level of warfare. And make no mistake, you know, I'm not bashing the special forces. They have their mission set and they need to do this mission set and they need to deploy and be competent at their missions. I just don't know that they need to own all of SIOP to be able to do it.
No, that's a good point. And what you're describing almost reminds me of, there used to be not to be, at least on the officer side, a separate career track for special forces. You're basically just an infantry officer who spent some time in special forces and then went back. And the problem with that is it becomes a career killer in the up and out military system. And when you don't have some officers from your branch reaching those highest ranks, you lose relevancy very quickly. So if you're getting rid of an 06 billet,
And that's one step below a general officer. You're really cutting off the PsiOps pipeline to get to those senior levels. And over time that can atrophy the way an organization thinks about a critical skillset, which is why in the SF side, we've then shifted over and we have our own career field now and, you know, we even had the pendulum swing out so far that civil affairs and psychological operations became their own career fields inside of special operations. Um, it sounds like your concern is that we're losing some of that focus and we're setting ourselves for a
setting ourselves up for the long-term atrophy of psychological operations in the Army.
Bob Curris (19:07.306)
100%. And your example was, was excellent. Excuse me. The, you know, how do you recruit, you know, a young officer like yourself? I mean, you went through the SF pipeline, but if you remember who you were prior to going, how would I have recruited you if I said, you know, your best shot is to really make it to Lieutenant Colonel, maybe command of battalion. And then out of that, there might be three or four of you army wide that make it to oh six.
Bob Curris (19:34.794)
Now we're already the smallest branch, you know, or one of the smallest branches in the United States Army, it's already hard to recruit for all special operations forces because we're all fishing in the same pond, right? Because we're all looking for physically fit, mentally agile people who are willing to put themselves in harm's way and not be hopped up on Ritalin and, or have been to jail or all this other stuff. I mean.
The people who are eligible for the military in general is only like 20 something percent of the population. And then when you start necking that down to the 1% of the 1% for anybody in special operations period, um, it just gets tougher and tougher. And then when you say, okay, well, your only shot really at being an 06 or potentially a general officer is if you choose the SF track, because if you choose the civil affairs or SIAP track, you know, in the last, uh,
I don't know, 30 years, I think there's been one active duty or one or two active duty civil affairs, general officers, there's been none in PSYOP since like 1960 something. And you know, I think SF had something like 20 last time I checked or 20 or 30. So you know, it's there's some disparity there. And I ultimately think you know, when you talked about counterculture before, that's ultimately the issue is that we don't.
we don't all respect each other for the mission that we bring, partially because we either don't understand it or we undervalue it. And so when you're looking at senior leaders and in the way that the Army runs, and that will bore people to death, so I won't jump into it too hard. But the Army has a methodology that says you have these tasks and those tasks buys you this education and this many billets and-
this training facility and this is what your units look like as a result of forming those missions. That's how the Army runs course in 20 seconds. But at the end of that, there is a series of decisions that are always made for your branch. And if all of your senior leader decisions are made for somebody from another branch, not just SF, but in any circumstance, when they're made for you by another branch, you
Bob Curris (21:52.618)
You know, they may or may not have your best intention at heart because the army does have a certain number of billets that can have, it only gets so much money, even in our case, because we get two piles of money, P2 from big army and P11 from SOCOM. All of that is a limited number, right? And, or a finite number, I should say. And in the process of that, if you have to make a decision between investing in something that you don't really own.
or isn't you culturally or that you don't understand culturally versus something that you believe that you can leverage for something that you're doing specifically, you're going to make that decision every day. And so, you know, I explain to people all the time if the roles were still reversed because, you know, our schoolhouse was originally the psychological operations schoolhouse and then it became the special warfare center in school.
If we were the ones making decision making, we'd probably buy much more high speed comms gear than we would sniper rifles. So it's not like, you know, it's not like I don't understand, you know, the process and why certain decisions are made. I mean, I get it, but at the same token, as we come out of CT and we've gone into this global competition, you know, harkening back to sort of the cold war, to a degree. Um, you know, we've seen investment.
the Marine Corps dissolved a tank battalion to create their site force. And now they have cypers, they go through our schoolhouse there at Fort Liberty. And, and so they made a decision to cut actual, you know, pointing out of the spear guys to make information related guys. And, and when you look at this stand up in the last 10 years of cyber command, when you when you look at the investment there,
Look at everything that's been going on down at Fort Gordon, although it's probably been renamed, I don't know what the new name is, in the cyber center. I mean, the investment in there, along with electronic warfare and different things like that, there's been an investment everywhere else in DoD for anything that's information related or cyber related, except inside of SoCom. And now we're talking about not only...
Bob Curris (24:10.59)
dissolving some of the units, but we're talking about changing their command relationships with other units, which would then change their focus to be inherently tactical. And I just think that that's a mistake. You know, I get that that's my opinion and other people may not agree with it, but at the end of the day, we need all three tribes inside of Special Operations, Civil Fair, SIPH, and NSF. All three have distinct missions.
Bob Curris (24:34.83)
There is some overlap, like there is a Venn diagram kind of thing that says we do some similar things in similar places. And, um, you know, and, and our soft army soft integration is important, but it shouldn't be more important than the larger strategic outcome.
A lot of great stuff there. And I kind of want to throw some provocative thought experiments at you. So we're talking about. Cycle. So I have, so I ups is, you know, getting treated inside special operations command and army special operations command. Um, do you think that there needs to be a branch out into the regular army as a formal career track? Do the psy ops need to exist outside of special operations? And also when we look at how DOD uses it. What.
It almost seems comical from the outside looking in that the army of all places was where this would exist and there wouldn't be some other civilian agency creating the same skillset. Like where is the CIA and all those folks in here? So what are your thoughts on? Is special operations command the right place for PSYOPs to exist either partially or solely?
Bob Curris (25:46.142)
Um, yeah, this is a controversial thought project. Uh, so I'm going to answer bits of it. I think first, your last comment, um, you know, government agencies like, like the CIA, uh, do information related activities, but they do it in a very covert manner and they have presidential findings to do that. And I won't really say any more than that other than that exists. Uh,
Bob Curris (26:12.49)
Public diplomacy like from the State Department and Public Affairs from the government exists and that's more white. And so when you think of the black, white, gray of information, that's why we have black, white, gray on our flashes on our Berets is that's the type of information that's out there. You know, we can support the black and the white, but we don't really do either. Right. We focus on the gray. And that's where we fit, which is part of the reason that while we're in special operations.
Then backing up to your larger question, I think that we would have a better shot in the big P2 Title 10 big army side to get the actual resources we need if we weren't inside of USASOC. Having said that, there's one problem that doesn't change no matter where we sit. We are small and we are misunderstood. So having the advocacy to have.
the type of training that we need, the investment that we need, and that kind of stuff, and protecting our billets would be a challenge no matter where we were. The other thing that we have a hard time breaking away from is our history. And I think Orwell said something along the lines of the best way to sort of pacify a population is to make them forget their history.
You know, our history started, you know, really in World War I, but then specifically in World War II, General McClure, whose name is on the US Special Operations Command building. I mean, it's the McClure building. There's the guy that stood up the original psychological warfare center in Fort Riley. He moved it to what was then Fort Bragg in 1952.
He was the one that brought in Volkman and some of the others that stood up the original Special Forces 10th Group and their training capabilities there. And so all that was started by a Psyopor. You know, McClure wasn't, he was not an OSS guy. He had been an information guy the whole time during World War II and in Korea as well. And so, you know, it was after Korea that we formalized the schoolhouse. And then
Bob Curris (28:27.422)
later on in the late 50s, early 60s is when it went from the special warfare or the psychological warfare center to the special warfare center. So with that as a microcosm of our history, because there's a lot more to it than just that, but just for the sake of the audience, the, you know, it's hard to walk away from special operations because we really believe we started, you know, like there's a reason that his name is on that building and, uh, and he brought in the people
Bob Curris (28:55.33)
That made SF what we know as SF today. And, and, and they are in fact a premier force and they do great work and, and they've created a culture of their own, uh, in a, in a history of their own, which is phenomenal. Now, most of their history, when they tell all you guys go into the pipeline has nothing to do with McClure or the Cypress that helped start it. Uh, but not at all. Not at all.
Not mentioned very often, I'll admit. Didn't come up a lot.
Bob Curris (29:22.518)
But, you know, the irony is all of that is available at the U.S. SoC Historian's Office. You know, most people just don't wanna deal with that reality. But, so going back to your question, with that as a historical marker, it's hard for us to walk away, right? I mean, cause we really feel invested in Fort Liberty in the Special Warfare Center and in the units that we have traditionally kept there.
When I was the common on one of the things that was brought up at the time was whether or not we would consider moving to cyber and moving to Fort Gordon, Georgia. And it seemed appealing, right? You know, uh, we go from being the kids lowest on the totem pole to somewhere higher on a totem pole, right? And, and, and that, yeah, but at the end of the day, you're still fighting for.
you know, missions, training dollars and resources and billets, you know, just like everybody else in the army. Um, I think where I get controversial in my thought process is the whole idea of not making it army anymore is we had an organization that stood up in 2011 called the MESOC, the military information support command, and, um, it had two groups underneath it, the two groups that still exist today. And then ultimately it was
that organization was dissolved to create the billets for what is now First Special Forces Command. And at the time that happened, we were told that it was gonna be the First Special Warfare Command. And so in the whole world of words matter, going from Special Warfare Command to Special Forces Command, with the CA and SIP guys plugged up underneath it, you know, it hurts your heart a little bit, right? You know, I'm not afraid to say that out loud.
Bob Curris (31:14.154)
because we were sort of sold a bill of goods. We were told, hey, we're gonna make this RSOF integration headquarters. It's gonna be special warfare focused and we're all gonna be in the same soup pot and it's gonna be awesome and then it wasn't. And so when you back it up, I would say a organization much like the MISOC, which had some joint force, both capability and responsibility should be reformed and placed at a joint level.
And, you know, a lot of people in my community talk about a JSOC like model, you know, obviously they have a very specific set of missions. Uh, but you know, if you did a, a J MISC, a joint military information support command, uh, which we had at SOCOM for years and years in a small, it was a smaller headquarters, but if you took a title like that or a J POC, a joint
Bob Curris (32:14.866)
uh you know as a true joint force either directly under SOCOM itself or somewhere else within joint force uh headquarters you could then continue to support army missions through T-SHOPs you can continue to support national missions with no problem and you could do it with a lot of the same uh training and everything else we're already doing it would not be hard to make that shift but at that point
Bob Curris (32:44.87)
You have to work very closely with, the Air Force has started their own information capabilities. I think it's the 16th squadron. I may have the wrong number. I apologize for those out there if I did. The Marine Corps obviously invested heavily in creating their Psyout Force. The Navy is getting back into information warfare in a way that we hadn't seen in a long time. Because before they were really focused on their Crippies and what they do. But if you can imagine taking
parts and pieces of all that and, you know, then working with both other soft forces, other joint forces, cyber, space. I mean, you could really do some big time influence capabilities all over the world and not have to worry about, you know, the tactical piece as much. I mean, you still have to be tactically proficient. I mean, we've always been an airborne unit. We've always, you know, had to have a certain level of tactical capability.
Bob Curris (33:41.774)
because we worked with you guys and others around the world and just for our own personal security. So yeah, that's my controversial thought is go all in with joint.
Yeah, well, it's not a crazy thought. And for those listening, who got a little lost in the acronym SUB, when we talk about SOCOM versus JSOC, and this is probably understood, even I showed up for special forces, not knowing the difference. I had to ask some stupid questions. I got some silly looks from folks. Special operations command is the wide umbrella that covers all special operations across all the branches. So if you're in the army, you're in the air force, you're a Navy SEAL, an army ranger, whatever, you don't actually work for the army or the Navy. You work for special operations command.
Bob Curris (34:01.506)
And then you've got JSOC, which is Joint Special Operations Command. Two most famous units there are going to be the SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force. And basically that's a package of units from across the branches that are the best at what they do and they work with each other and directly for the President of the United States, independently of most interference from their branches. So you get around a lot of the bureaucratic stove piping and that came about.
That we learned from failure how to do that when we failed to rescue the hostages and I ran, uh, back in 79 or whatever it was. Um, so we, we learned from failure that was critical for unique skill sets like tactical special operations. So what we're talking about here is doing something similar for the information side of the house. Is that a fair summary?
Bob Curris (35:12.878)
100% and that was a great rundown. I apologize for the acronym soup. I get pretty, pretty used to, you know, well, part of it is I know you're an army guy. So like I could throw it at you, you know, but I apologize for everybody else.
Yeah. My wife does a pretty good job.
No, you're good. My wife does a good job, uh, keeping me honest about not using too many acronyms and, uh, we've even joked about maybe after every podcast I do with somebody from the army or anywhere else in the government, just doing a Q and A with her after the fact where she asked me all the questions like, what's this? What's that? Never heard of this. Explain this. And then we throw that beginning of every episode. We'll see. She's going to hear that and smile. Um, yeah. Well, another piece of this that's interesting is
Bob Curris (35:53.611)
We've gone from the global war on terror to now we're focused on great power competition and everyone's adjusting to that reality. Special operations as a community really came to the forefront during the global war on terror. As a community, it was basically treated as a whole the way you feel like PSYOP is being treated right now and it was really about to get treated by the regular army. But circumstances changed, we learned from failure again and now special operations is at the bee's knees.
to roll the cool guys go to do cool guy things. It's no longer a career killer. As we shift into the global war or great power competition, the old saying is that war is continuation of politics by their means. So it seems like things outside of, you know, big M for the dime model diplomacy, information, military, economic, the four elements of national power. It seems like the D, I and E need to be parapound because the consequences of going full military in the direct action sense are catastrophic.
So I was kind of surprised to read your article and get this impression that you're seeing that as, as we transition to great power competition, a capability like psychological operations is being diminished instead of enhanced. Do you think there's a lack of understanding of what PsyOps can do? And do you think the perception of PsyOps has been so limited because of what it was asked to do in global war on terror, the army as an institution and DOD as a whole is missing out on what PsyOps should now mean.
in the era of great power competition, because we've had 20 years of not thinking about it.
Bob Curris (37:32.414)
Yes and yes. So.
Bob Curris (37:37.686)
You know, as we have made this transition and talking about the dime is critical because it's interesting inside of special operations, we have a mission called Military Support and Public Diplomacy and it falls into the big D. But none of our senior leaders value that mission. Like they don't understand why we're doing that at all. And they have very publicly talked about we should get PSYOP out of that mission set.
And if it wasn't for the fact that it's mandated, we probably wouldn't have been doing it for like the last five years or so. The big eyes is obvious. I mean, you need information in order to create influence. You know, one doesn't happen without the other. We obviously are a big part of that. We just happen to be a DOD arm of that. And, but we work with everybody. I mean, PsiOP is inherently joint and inter-agency. So joint being all the forces.
and interagency being other governments. I mean, we've worked with treasury, we've worked with state, we've worked with all sorts of organizations that have information components, depending on the countries that we were operating in. And it's required. I mean, there's, you know, a lot of people talk about whole of government, but whole of government doesn't work if you're not talking to each other and trying to achieve similar national objectives, right? You know, that's just how that works.
Bob Curris (39:05.347)
And we've toyed around in the E a little bit. Mostly the best example was when we reintroduced a new currency in Iraq that didn't have Saddam's face on it. We helped pitch that transition so that people wouldn't have runs on banks and freak out that they had lost their life savings and all that kind of stuff. But once again, that was more of an influence based thing of, Hey, don't run on the banks.
and just be prepared to turn in your money and it'll be exchanged for the new money as it comes in. But we did that in association with both the State Department and the Department of Treasury who are introducing the new the new form of currencies. So I mean that's just a small example of you know while that's probably because it's in one country is by definition probably a tactical mission, it had strategic
Bob Curris (39:58.886)
implications if you had a whole country and a whole nation fall apart because of its currency. And so, you know, in all three of those, the D, the I, and the E, you know, we're one of the forces inside the M that supports all of them and probably the only one that supports all of them at the same time. Obviously, Cybercom has some capabilities and
and different things like that could support, you know, defense or offense in the networks themselves. But in terms of actually helping them, we're the only force that's mandated to do that and train to do and expect to do it. Right. We truly believe that we have to support the D, I and E from the M. I mean, that's just across the board. And so when you take the dime and you look at U.S.
Bob Curris (40:53.854)
you know, countering malign Russian influence or malign Iranian influence or, you know, Chinese influence. You know, we've got people out there today working all over the Indo-Pacam region trying to shore up, you know, pointing out violations from China, you know, making them publicly known, being able to then counter them with, you know, real information versus disinformation.
And we're trying to counter that. We've done the same thing against Iran. Uh, obviously the Russian fight's been pretty interesting because it took on a life of its own after it. They invaded, you know, uh, Ukraine recently, or at this point two years ago. And. You know, we had worked with their forces beforehand, as I mentioned before, you know, and they, they've done some amazing, you know, tactical level, cyber work, but then it's the national objectives from, you know, the policy makers in DC.
that we can support around the region when you think about, you know, what we're doing in Eastern Europe with NATO allies, what we're doing in non-NATO countries that border. I mean, all of that is stuff that is a national objective that we are using either the D or the I for in order to achieve a national objective. And that may be a little pie in the sky, but it is happening every day in some of those countries.
Yeah. Another thing I wanted to ping you on that you mentioned in your article was that a lot of our enemies do invest heavily in their version of psychological operations. So what type of enemy Psyop do we see beyond the generic disinformation stuff we are screaming about in the news media that we see coming out? Let's start with, I ran in Hamas right now with what they've got going on.
Bob Curris (42:42.986)
value? Well, the easiest example was their initial response to the first hospital bombing, which was actually an errant rocket on their behalf from their side. It wasn't Hamas, it was Islam Jihad, I think. But regardless of who owned the rocket, it was not an Israeli rocket that hit that hospital base. But you saw media immediately get turned towards that direction, right?
And that was, it ended up being classified as disinformation, but really what it came down to was they knew something had gone wrong. There was a, you know, a mass casualty event which they tried to use for their own influence. And so both the Hamas as an organization, the Iranian Scuds Force, and the Lebanese Hezbollah all then promulgated that as fast as they could.
And some of it's electronic. Everybody by now is familiar with bots and bots farms and how that works. But they could take a video like that, doctor it just a little bit, and have it out the door in no time. And I think at Cyopr, that's kind of the frustration. We go through a very intense approval process. And a lot of it is because we are the good guys. And we...
Bob Curris (44:07.698)
Uh, you know, we also understand political risk. So if we're going to put something out there that's remotely, you know, you know, to selected information, you know, up to potentially being seen as a lie, you know, that needs to be a very, you know, uh, deliberate decision. And it's not one that we take lightly because we pride ourselves on using real information and truth to combat all this other stuff. And so, um,
when it's all said and done, it's not that we can't do that other stuff. It's just that we choose not to by virtue of who we are in the world. Like we make that decision. And just real quick, Iran is good at this. They've been good at this for a lot longer. China can invest heavily in bot farms and do a lot more of the technical side of cyber, really well, intellectual property theft, that kind of stuff.
Bob Curris (45:03.678)
You know, Russia's pretty was pretty good when you think about voter or election interference and just trying to take a candidate that they thought might be easier for them to deal with and push stuff that might support that. You know, all of that's good. But the Iranians have actually been doing have been investing in this for years because they have been able to use proxy forces around the world to include Central and South America.
to include, you know, Lebanese Hezbollah Hamas and others who are happy to take their money and then in return will promulgate information on their behalf and then do actions, right? So if you think of something like, you know, if you think of the waves of people that came up from Central and South America a couple of years ago in those convoys, you know, nobody really ever asked who paid for those buses, right? You know, like buses aren't free.
Bob Curris (45:59.274)
And you're sending a couple million people north just to create fissures inside of our own population, our own government. That was what we would call a PSI act. It was a psychological action. You're sending these people on the buses to create confusion at our border, and it creates political angst amongst our own population.
because everybody wants to help somebody. Nobody wants to see a starving kid or somebody beat or anything like that. I mean, it's humanity. But at the same token, we have the reality of its impact on whatever sitting administration is there, regardless of party and the resources that we have inside of our nation. You know, a side like that, and I don't know that the Iranians paid for all those buses, right? I'll say that upfront, but we know that they were paid for by foreign governments.
Bob Curris (46:54.174)
So when you think of, you know, it doesn't just have to show up on the internet, it doesn't just have to show up on radio or television or print. It can be an action that creates a, you know, a response. And that was just a quick and easy one to throw out there.
Yeah, that's a great example. And I do want to ask you about. So an organization like Hamas or Iran, obviously they don't have the, uh, the same scruples about what they put out there that, you know, we have and for good reason, but I can share with you my experience trying to work with psychological operations when I was in Afghanistan was painful and it wasn't the people I was working with, but one example that always stuck out in my mind. You know, Taliban vehicle born ID went off early.
killed a bunch of people out, I think it was like in Puli Kumri up north. We're responding to it. You look at the photos, like obviously this isn't a drone strike. This isn't anything, but you know, incident happens immediately. All the WhatsApp groups are blowing up Taliban's saying, you know, coalition forces did all this crazy stuff. Look at all these dead children. So send up like, Hey, let's counter this was five. We can put out our own information. I sent up the formal request through channels. It goes nowhere.
I actually had a buddy talk about relationships between branches because the special operations captain's career course, all the captains going into three different branches, SF, special forces, civil affairs, PSYOPs now go through the same kind of career course before going to their specific stuff. Um, one of my buddies from captain's career course was the PSYOP are sitting in Kabul, so I called him up. I was like, yo, broseph needs some help. This is what we're trying to do. This happens. Can we get something out there? He's like, absolutely. Put something together, submits it through his channels.
Bob Curris (48:39.305)
One day goes by, two days go by, like three days go, I don't even know we ever got anything out there, but I know 72 hours later, we hadn't even tweeted out like, no, Afghan forces did not do this. This was not Jiro, this was not the US. Here's a picture of the VBID as it goes off. It's clearly not us. Couldn't get Jack and shit out there. So why is it that our enemies are so willing to assume risk?
with blasting out information and we are so risk adverse. We can't even clearly show that we did not detonate a vehicle next to a school.
Bob Curris (49:19.874)
Yeah. Well, I'll start by saying, I feel your pain, right? You know, so, so your friend, you know, down in Kabul was probably pulling his or her hair out for the exact same reason, because we've, we've been able to, yeah. But, uh, you know, what's interesting, and I've had versions of this conversation, you know, in, in the 19 years that I was a Psyop or. It.
Mm-hmm. He was doing everything he could. He was telling me every day, but yeah.
Bob Curris (49:48.638)
It really comes down to the commander and I'm not pushing this off on somebody else just because they're not a cyber, but it does, you know, ultimately we have, we go through an approval process and that can be as long or as short as the commander's willing to do. So if the commander wants to put the Jag, the Chaplin, the, you know, the J3, the J35, if they put all these people on the chop sheet, hell, you'll never get anything out of it.
And I'll give you a perfect example. In the very early days of post 9-11, we had to send literally every single leaflet, every hand bill, every radio broadcast script to DC to be approved in the Pentagon, every single one. The average approval time was between nine and 11 days. So if you're planning an operation 20 days from now, that's fine, right? Because that's like plan fires.
You know, you know the Dempies is trigger. Sorry for the audience out there. You know, the targets you're going to hit. Right. Uh, yeah. So, so that's great. But, but if you're in a fight like what you're talking about, where the new cycle is a 24 new cycle, your response time needs to be within six hours. Cause I had literally the exact same thing happen in Iraq when the golden mosque was bombed, right? Uh, I was a company commander in Baghdad when that happened and same thing. We responded.
like within hours and we had it up to our higher headquarters. And the chops took two days, you know, and it was just, you know, by that time you're, you're playing defense. So I get, I'm not really answering your question so much as saying that, that has not improved greatly. Although we've gone from nine days to two days. You know, when we're talking about plan, PsyOP, we normally have, you know, a lot of support.
When we're talking about reactive sap or responding to something, people get really nervous and it's interesting.
Yeah. Well, I could drop bombs better than I can send tweets. It was weird. Like that same night, like I did three airstrikes and nobody bad at an eye, but I asked them to send out a tweet just to these groups, they had the hardware to do it. Like, can you just tell them this wasn't us? Here's the pictures that we took from the live incident because we were watching it. Just put this out and say, not us.
Bob Curris (51:54.542)
Bob Curris (52:07.295)
Yeah. 100%. And, and, and your, your example is, is something that we, unfortunately, with some dark humor, laughed about for a long time. People will, will drop bombs every day before they'll drop a note, you know, or a tweet or a leaflet or any type of radio broadcast and EW broadcast. You know, it's,
It's interesting that people are just afraid to use information or to leverage it. Right? And I've never completely understood that because essentially at that point, you're willing to cede an entire thing being the eye to the enemy. Right? So you're like, okay, we don't trust it or we're not fast enough or we've put enough things in the way that you're not allowed to be responsive. One of the things that we did,
to address that a little bit before I left was we put together a training, a GTA, which I forget what that acronym stands for, but it's a booklet. It's something training aid. You remember the training aid? Yeah. So I'm a friend from the proponents who will kill me for not remembering that. But anyway, the, you know, we put together a training aid for people to give to their commanders.
Yeah, government training aid. Yeah.
Bob Curris (53:33.954)
that had all the authorities that we have standing on any given day. Like you don't need to ask for additional permissions. Like this is a whole pamphlet about the size of a passport that has literally everything that we're allowed to do anywhere in the world on any given day. And we normally try to give a copy to the operational lawyers that are in headquarters and stuff like that, just to speed up that process to say, hey, look, if you think that you need to go get additional permissions to do this activity.
You don't, here it is in black and white. This is everything. And all you have to do is like one click away and figure out that we're not, you know, trying to BS you at all. And that kind of thing. And that was helpful initially. Like we got some nice responses off of that. But at the same time, really your task force commander can make things go a lot faster depending on what level of risk this is.
as to where it has to be approved. Because even when we were doing the early days of what would become Inherent Resolve, Operation Inherent Resolve, the ISIS crisis, known by many others, is we were still getting stuff approved by General Austin at CENTCOM, because he didn't want to pass it down to General Terry, who was the actual task force commander. Now, over time, that got passed down, different things, but like anything that was remotely...
looked like deception was maintained at CENTCOM. It was not passed down. So, you know, they can say, okay, we're gonna give this commander authority to do X, Y, but not Z. Z will be retained up here and that kind of stuff. So it hurts because at the tactical level, that example has happened a million times and no one's more frustrated than us.
We've tried to do what we can to explain this to commanders. It's like, look, yeah, there's risk, but I mean, you're taking much higher risk with some of the other operations going on, especially when you think of either collateral damage or other things. So all I can say is I'm sorry.
Yeah. Well, and right there, that kind of circles back to the, you know, one of the main things that the crux of your article, um, which I'll drop in the descriptions of folks can find it. Um, you know, psychological operations is a very poorly understood instrument. It's extremely powerful. It's extremely effective in the fact that folks are so afraid to use it kind of demonstrates just how useful it can be. Um, you know, people aren't afraid of unloaded guns, so it's kind of a shame that we're not.
willing to use this very high impact, very low risk to our forces tool that we have in our toolkit.
Bob Curris (56:23.05)
Well, you know, the example that I often use is getting a little dated at this point. But, uh, um, several years ago, there was, uh, after sort of the, um, the, the Arab uprisings throughout a lot of the middle East, there was actually the green uprising inside of Iran. And a lot of people had hoped that would topple the regime at the time. And they were getting news coverage every day on every channel. And there was pop-up demonstrations pro pro. Um,
Iranian supporters here in the United States and everything else. And there was all this momentum on how we were gonna support the Iranian population and help them potentially overthrow the Shah yet again. I mean, we've been through this cycle about every seven years or so. But there was hope because we'd seen the Arab Spring and the Arab Spring had a positive impact in a lot of places. So we were thinking that maybe this was the Persian version of the Arab Spring and it would be great.
Uh, and then Michael Jackson died and they never got news coverage for anything again. Right. So like they were the top of the chart with big time, long-term political implications, a lot of support, you know, money, everything, you know, how can, how can we get them support? How can we communicate with them? You know, that was when they were talking about communicating via Game Boy and all this other stuff, how you got around the Iranian firewalls.
And, you know, it was great, great stuff. And then Michael Jackson died and nobody heard another word about the green revolution. And that's when they went through and just like hung people wholesale off the, off the light post in the main street of Toronto. And, you know, so if you were, you know, a political scientist or a government guy or somebody interested in that country or, or had operated, you know, uh, you know, looking at them in one form or another, you kept track. So you knew it happened.
But the population as a whole lost, right? They lost things. And so, you know, that's just a small example of, you know, the risk of information is that it can have a major impact because obviously they only did that because they had seen the outcomes of the Arab Spring. So information worked, it helped influence them to change their behavior.
Bob Curris (58:49.122)
But then when they lost the information support, they were killed, like quite literally killed. And that kind of stuff. So I mean, I think from my perspective, the risk is worth it every time because the worst that can happen is that it sucks. And then it sort of fades away within 48 hours, right? I mean, so you make a mistake. The Russian model is to...
to use their developers and then bots to push as much out as they can on any given day, on any given topic. And if only one of 500 works, they consider that a success. But we're focused on making the one because that's what we're told to do. And so we're not allowed to be a volume organization. We're very precise and...
Bob Curris (59:44.766)
I think there's goodness in that. I think we can show our homework. We can show you how what we're doing is culturally relevant, has the right colors, the right words, the things that would matter politically or sensitive to a religion or something like that, or a particular ethnic group. And so, we have it tailored and we could do more of that, but we call them series and a series would be like trying to go.
after one group of people for one objective behavior. But we can do multiples that are supporting, right? Just like supporting fires in the artillery, you're talking to all these other people that can help that group of people do something, right? And if we're not willing to do that, it makes it harder. It's not impossible that it's harder, but...
Like I said, with the Russian model and to a lesser extent, the Chinese model is a little bit similar, but more precise. Is, you know, they don't care if 400 of them fail. You know, it didn't cost them that much. You know, they just put it out there and see what who bit and then, uh, and then when they see one trending or doing something, then they, they all hop in on that and promulgate it. I mean, it's. It's a pretty interesting system in comparison to us.
Nice. Well, we've come up on the top of the hour and I know your time is valuable, but I think this is a good spot to wrap it. This has been a fascinating conversation and I hope we can do it again sometime, but this is wonderful stuff for folks to know about and really highlights a lot of, it's a cross-section of a lot of issues with our foreign policy, the structure of our government, how we do defense, how we conceptualize, how we even just conceptualize the national defense. So really want to thank you for taking the time to walk us through this. It was awesome.
Bob Curris (01:01:37.218)
Well, Scott, I appreciate the opportunity to do this podcast. I appreciate, you know, getting to talk to you and, and to your listeners and, you know, more importantly, I think, uh, I'm just trying to get people to, to go through the decision-making process that says, Hey, are some of the cuts, you know, really the ones that we want to be making right now and, uh, or planning to make and, and it, uh, it, it doesn't make sense to me, but I appreciate.
Bob Curris (01:02:06.206)
an avenue to just to be able to have the discussion, right? It may or may not change a senior leader's mind, but I truly appreciate the opportunity just to have the conversation. So thank you for that.
Awesome. I'm gonna shut the recording off now and we'll just give it a second to upload.