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?
Company literature describes SCL's niche specialties as "psychological warfare," "public diplomacy," and "influence operations."
More beyond the speed bump ....
A live "ops center" in a country SCL won't identify.
An excellent article in Slate describes a hypothetical scenario where SCL's "services" might be utilized:
LONDON--Over the past 24 hours, seven people have checked into hospitals here with telltale symptoms. Rashes, vomiting, high temperature, and cramps: the classic signs of smallpox. Once thought wiped out, the disease is back and threatening a pandemic of epic proportions.
The government faces a dilemma: It needs people to stay home, but if the news breaks, mass panic might ensue as people flee the city, carrying the virus with them.
A shadowy media firm steps in to help orchestrate a sophisticated campaign of mass deception. Rather than alert the public to the smallpox threat, the company sets up a high-tech "ops center" to convince the public that an accident at a chemical plant threatens London. As the fictitious toxic cloud approaches the city, TV news outlets are provided graphic visuals charting the path of the invisible toxins. Londoners stay indoors, glued to the telly, convinced that even a short walk into the streets could be fatal.
This scenario may sound like a rejected plot twist from a mediocre Bond flick, but one company is dead set on making this fantasy come to life.
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.
While Londoners fret over fictitious toxins, the government works to contain the smallpox outbreak. The final result, according to SCL's calculations, is that only thousands perish, rather than the 10 million originally projected. Another success.
Of course, the idea of deluding an entire city seems, well, a bit like propaganda.
Sure, this is great, isn't it? If civilians were lied to in order to protect them? Well that's just an example they give us for public consumption. And even in this case, it's pure disinformation:
The smallpox scenario plays out in excruciating detail how reporters would be tapped to receive disinformation, with TV and radio stations dedicated to around-the-clock coverage. Even the eventual disclosure is carefully scripted.
Uh, that's assuming that "the eventual disclosure" actually happened. Hey, if it worked so well, why disclose it at all? It's optional, after all, isn't it? You might even safe a few bucks by having them skip the "disclosure" part.
The company's own website describes how draconian the tactics will be:
"The [ops center] can override all national radio and TV broadcasts in time of crisis," it says, alluding to work the company has done in an unspecified Asian country.
When the link to SCL's homepage was first sent my way, I really thought it might be fake. You know, something from "The Onion" or whatever. It's not. It's for real.
Their stand area was an impressive 2,100 sqm (60x35m), it took five days & a crew of 31 to build, with 21 to man & operate throughout the show, plus 8 SCL staff. It contained a 12 screen media feed, a 4x3m LED presenter video wall, 62 computer screens, a large 6x4m rear projected screen plus an enormous 10x4m Operations Overview Screen, which ran at a resolution higher than film 3,500 x 1050 pixels. We also centrally controlled 12 plasma screens that were arranged around the exhibition floor, which displayed movie style trailers for each of the scenarios. The stand also took two days to disassemble.
Nigel Oakes (CEO) was delighted with the final result, and quoted that the stand had been an even greater success than they'd originally expected. The stand also won the honour of "Best of Show"
Obviously they are not at leisure to disclose exactly who their clients are. However, the Slate article mentions they've worked for South Africa and the United Nations.
Here is a partial list of their "typical" projects, from the company's own website:
Design and develop a permanent military strategic communication
facility capable of delivering strategic and operational psyop campaigns for a South Asian country.
Production of a five-tiered training programme covering strategic, operational and tactical Psyop and the design and re-equipping of a communication facility. The personnel had to be able to take over the new facility after only six months.
Design, build and install a Homeland Security Centre for an Asian country. The Opcentre can override all national radio and TV broadcasts in time of crisis.
Design, build and install a diplomatic communication centre staffed by researchers, writers and spokespersons for an International Organisation.
Design and installation of a Strategic Communication Centre to improve a country's ability to conduct Public Diplomacy.
Recruitment, training and equipping an operational and tactical Psyop and Civil Affairs military unit for a British Commonwealth country.
And check out what a typical "ops center" might include:
A fully equipped OpCentre would include a large research department (group, audience, media, source, intel) , a high-level strategic planning, scenario planning and contingency unit and a complete suite of output options that may include TV and radio studios, rumour management satellite transmission and various others depending on the exact requirement.
Rumor management!! That's a job I want. How much do they pay for a "rumor manager"?
And here's their "money line" -- from their homepage:
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.
Here are a few other stories to chew on:
And the next time one of those bin Laden audiotapes is released, remember this story: