All posts by Dr Helene Lavoix

Dr Helene Lavoix (MFin Paris, MSc PhD Lond), Director and Senior Analyst, is the founder of The Red (team) Analysis Society and a political scientist (International Relations) specialised in Strategic Foresight and Warning (SF&W) for conventional and unconventional security issues. She is the author of “What makes foresight actionable: the cases of Singapore and Finland” (confidential commissioned report, US government, November 2010), “Enabling Security for the 21st Century: Intelligence & Strategic Foresight and Warning” RSIS Working Paper August 2010, “Constructing an Early Warning System,” in From Early Warning to Early Action, European Commission, ed. DG Relex, 2008, “Detailed chronology of mass violence – Cambodia (1945 – 1979),” Online Encyclopaedia of mass violence, 2008 and the editor of Strategic Foresight and Warning: Navigating the Unknown, ed. RSIS-CENS, February 2011; etc. More on academia.edu. Listed on the public list curated by LSEImpactBlog: @LSEImpactBlog/soc-sci-academic-tweeters.

The Islamic State Psyops – Worlds War

The world is increasingly racked, and with an ever wider geographical scope, by “Jihadis” attacks of various if not complex origin. To name only some of the most reported and latest cases, we faced attacks in Belgium, Canada, Australia, and lately France – with aftermath in Germany (11 January 2015The Telegraph). In Lebanon we had an attack in Tripoli (10 January 2015, BBC News) and the north of the country seems to be plunging into war. In Pakistan we remember the 16 December attack on a Peshawar School (BBC News, 13 January 2015), while the overall situation is increasingly unsettled and a former Taliban group, Khorassan Shoura, renewed its allegiance to the Islamic State in January 2015 (The Long War Journal, 13 Jan 2015). In Nigeria, two attacks were carried out by children suicide bombers on 10 and 11 January 2015 (The Guardian, 12 January 2015), and part of the northeast of the country seems to be now lost to Boko Haram,  affiliated to the Islamic State, while the conflict spreads to Cameroon (e.g. BBC News, 13 January 2015). In Saudi Arabia, we had an attack on border post on 5 January 2015 (Alessandria Masi, International Business Time). Meanwhile, the war heightens in Libya, which also has its own Islamic States actor (see forthcoming post in our series on Libya), reignites in Yemen (Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, 12 January 2015), and does not relent in Iraq and Syria.

Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh
Still from the video “Although the disbelievers dislike it”, Al-Furqan media foundation, 16 November 2014.

In this light, and beyond the apparent diversity of origin of the attacks, it has become all the more urgent to understand the world as the Islamic State sees it, and in which way that worldview and related psyops and actions impact all other actors, be they Jihadis or not, affiliated to the Islamic State or not. This is crucial if we want to foresee what may happen, warn about it, and fight the war against the Islamic State at best.

Continue reading The Islamic State Psyops – Worlds War

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 187 – Freedom of Speech, the Other, and War

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – In the aftermath of the Jihadi attacks in Paris during the second week of 2015, a crucial debate surrounding freedom of speech is emerging. It is not only a philosophical and intellectual debate. It mobilizes populations across the world and can divide populations within countries, as show the exchanges on the social networks on the topic. It is translated in diplomatic terms, as show the decision of the Kingdom of Morocco not to participate to the march in Paris on 11 January, the 14 January reactions in the Middle East to the new issue of Charlie Hebdo, or the comments found in Russia and denounced in the West on the topic, and has the power to sour relationships between those who insist freedom of speech is a crucial foundation of their values and their democracy and those who feel deeply injured by its exercise. It can be used to mobilize and arm populations, notably by hostile powers, as the latest video by Al Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula claiming the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, or as the Islamic State psyops video from Wilayat al-Raqqah show (see more generally all related videos on Jihadology.net) .

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 187 – Freedom of Speech, the Other, and War

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 186 – The Attack on Charlie Hebdo and Denial of War

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

Update 9 January 2015: As the dual hostage crisis (the perpetrators of the 7 and 8 January attacks had fled and taken hostages) unfolded, in France, progressively, commentators and experts interviewed started stressing that we were in a case of war. General Tauzin, Special Forces, stated: “this looks like a campaign against France, it is only a beginning” (14:57 i Télé – interview).

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – The focus this week is on the deadly attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris, as another attack took place the next day (8 January 2015) in the metro. The spectrum of reactions and interpretations following the tragedy is very symptomatic of the inner turmoil that Western societies in general, Europe in particular, and notably France, are facing as they are increasingly forced to face the novel threat generated by the rise of the Islamic State and its Caliphate.

They need first to understand what is happening, while also devising adequate responses, the second following from the first. The understanding is painstaking and seems to be faced with many hurdles and biases as outdated world-views clash with reality.

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 186 – The Attack on Charlie Hebdo and Denial of War

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 185 – 1 January 2015

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… This issue is unedited (direct access to raw, unsorted, crowdsourced information) – A Happy New Year 2015 to everyone!

Read the 1 January scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 184 – 25 December 2014

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… This issue is unedited (direct access to raw, unsorted, crowdsourced information) – A Merry Christmas to everyone!

Read the 25 December scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Islamic State Psyops – The Making of the Crusaders

As we work our way towards understanding the Islamic State psyops, and after having presented a framework where we notably looked at channels, products, and sources (note that the original text was updated to add Al-Itisam media as source), we shall now start analyzing the content of messages, focusing here on the executions of the Western hostages.

Much has been written on those dreadful events already. Most of the time, articles and official statements always underline the barbarous character of the Islamic State. Yet, as seen, the beheadings are part of the Islamic State psyops. They were carefully staged and filmed, always by Al-Furqan Media Foundation, save in the case of Hervé Gourdel (see previous post). They are thus part of an attempt at influencing behaviour. As a result, they are not gratuitous acts that would show, as unintended consequence, how despicable the Islamic State is.

Another commonly found explanation is fear. Generating fear, which is one of the major reasons for terrorist attacks (U.S. Department of Defense “Terrorism“), is stressed as main objective for the executions, because the West absolutely wants to consider IS as a terrorist group and deal with it on this basis, for a host of reasons (Lavoix, “Monitoring the War against the Islamic State or against a Terrorist Group?”, 29 September 2014). Is it the case or could other intentions also be present, as suggested, for example, by Trevor Thrall, associate professor at George Mason University, in his “Not-So-Senseless Violence” (US News, 8 December 2014).

From the point of view of Islamic State’s psyops, we shall thus analyze the logic of trying to generate fear and rule it out. Then, putting back the executions in their context, we shall provide two other explanations, the latter grounded in the Russian concept of Reflexive Control and showing IS aim could very well be “the making of the crusaders” across IS enemies’ decision-making apparatus (focusing our analysis more particularly on Europe and the U.S.), from policy-makers to citizens.  Continue reading The Islamic State Psyops – The Making of the Crusaders

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 183 – From Cuba to Rubles, the “New Cold War” Heightens

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – Some analysts seem to hail the move towards the normalization of  U.S.-Cuba relations as an evidence that the U.S. is truly ending the Cold War (e.g. Karen De Young, Washington Post). This is, however, not to consider all dimensions of one of the major transitions that the world order is currently knowing. This is to ignore power and international politics, which are played on the global stage. It seems indeed, that the U.S. move towards Cuba, added to the ruble crisis and China’s potential consequent actions argue, on the contrary, for a heightened power struggle in the fight for or against a unipolar world that would be dominated by the U.S..

Although being a rather classical power struggle that may be described in terms of realpolitik and strategy, mirages and blindness seem to preside over this “New Cold War”and to hide its escalation, including maybe because it tends to be solely cast against Russia and especially his President, Vladimir Putin.

In this regard, the article by Friedman (Stratfor) is a must read as it shows how much the U.S. (as well as “the West”) is blind as far as Russia and Russians are concerned, not understanding at all their interest, perceptions, as well as “the Russian soul”, what matters to Russians, what they want. The capacity and willingness of Russians to withstand economic hardship – for example as far as the ruble and oil prices are concerned – for things that matter to them more and most is obviously completely lost on what has become of the West, a consumerist, hyper-materialistic society, most of the time gone astray “into the having” and having forgotten what was “being”, to use the great insight of the great socio-psychatrist Erich Fromm (e.g. To have or To be, 1976; The Sane Society1955). As a result, if some actors were hoping to see the financial and economic crisis forcing Russia to change its policy and strategy, they would most probably be mistaken. On the contrary, its resolve is likely to be reinforced.

Mirage and blindness again, this time for analysts and media, regarding the evolution of U.S.-Cuban relationships, which is cast in lights most often related to democracy, liberalism, freedom and business interest, when, most probably, the change is part of the new American power struggle against Russia. Indeed, according to two crowdsourced articles, behind these apparently solely diplomatic developments are American concerns over, first, a new security deal signed between Russia and Cuba in May 2014, which would notably allow “the use of [Cuban] airfields for Russia’s Tu-95 nuclear capable bombers”, which could then threaten the U.S. coast  (see “Intel concerns about Russia-Cuba ties preceded Obama’s deal to dismantle sanctions”, The Washington Times; see also The Voice of Russia; Consortium of Defense Analysts). Then, the U.S. would be worried about the reopening of a SIGINT (signals intelligence) facility in Cuba and a negotiation for an oil deal between Russian Rosneft and Cuban CUPET to exploit the 4 to 20 bn barrels estimated Cuban reserves, both announced in July 2014 (see Power Moves: US-Cuba deal isolates and weakens Russia; and also The Wire; The Diplomat for the original articles).  We are thus definitely in the realm of a power struggle. Will the U.S. succeed in cutting Russia off from Cuba, this is extremely doubtful considering the long-standing friendship and relations between the two countries.

Blindness and mirage again for not seeing the role that China seems ready to play, how it might stand by Russia and how, should it do so as far as the ruble crisis is concerned, the impact for the US dollar and its supremacy could be damaging (see “China Prepares To Bailout Russia”, Zerohedge and “Rouble vs. Dollar Games – From a Perspective of a Russian Businessman”, Information Clearing House – ICH). In turn, the “new Cold War” may only be heightened and accelerated. The new military involvement of China in Iraq, however outside the U.S.-led coalition, should also be noted, as it may signals a novel phase in China’s role in the world, which tended so far to be more economically oriented, save in its near abroad. Should such a signal be confirmed by further indications, then we would be witnessing an acceleration of the world order transition.

Energy, economy and environment security – As the impact of the fall of oil prices are starting to be felt across actors, as tensions rise, climate change and related problems seem to become increasingly a remote, uninteresting issue. Dr Keith Daum underlines that “The COP20 climate conference in Lima was not very positive, as shown by the various comments made, from a failure to deliver a useful outcome (WWF) to modest agreement with serious divisions remaining between rich and poor nations (Politico) or a compromise that sets the stage for an upcoming meeting in Paris (NPR). Meanwhile, the NYT stresses that the driving force behind the deal was not the threat of sanctions, but global peer pressure.” And if peer pressure is not there anymore because “peers” are busy elsewhere, the prospect for a real deal with a real outcome coming into being are not very bright. Yet, as Dr Daum stresses science repeatedly documents that climate change is serious, relentless and with negative impacts, for example, with “a new understanding regarding the rate of icecap melting in Greenland, or an article in Nature calling into question one of the assumptions of climate models which was that with increasing CO2 concentration forests will have increased growth.”

Tech and Weapons – Three articles notably stand out: the US Navy new underwater drone, India’s continuing space exploration as well as, again in space, potential collaboration between US Lockheed Martin and Boeing and … Russia.

Ebola – According to the WHO latest situation report, we now have “a total of 18603 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of EVD and 6915 deaths … reported up to the end of 14 December 2014.”

Read the 18 December scan → 

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 182 – The U.S. under Threats?

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – Besides developments in the Islamic State War, and on the broader Jihadi front, continuing tensions between NATO and Russia, and related uncertainties for the situation in Ukraine, what stands out this week is, potentially, how much the U.S. and their supremacy are under threats and how they could fight back, or not. Interestingly, this perception of multiple threats to the U.S. only emerges if one considers various sections together, namely, world (of course), technology and armaments, energy and economy. We thus have together the decline of oil prices as well as a potentially obsolete U.S. defense missile system, each with probably combining impacts in economic, military and influence terms.

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 182 – The U.S. under Threats?

The Islamic State Psyops – A Framework

(Updated 13 February 2015 to add Dar al-Islam in Al-Hayat media center). 

Since August 19 2014 and the broadcast of American James Foley murder at the hands of the Islamic State (Ackerman, 20 August 2014The Guardian), Western media regularly feature grim videos where the Islamic State beheads individuals belonging to the groups it perceives as enemies and opposing its Caliphate. The gruesome, ghastly and shocking character of the videos and of the Islamic State, is then regularly emphasized by both media and Western governments.

Meanwhile, as the executioners are chosen among the foreign fighters having joined the Islamic State (e.g. Walker, 20 August 2014The Independent; Botelho, 20 November 2014CNN), the departure of Western youth to join and fight for the Caliphate is emphasized, and the IS propaganda is denounced. Yet, new research and media interviews (e.g. Lowen, 6 November 2014, BBC News; Maher, 6 November 2014New Statesman), focusing on the reasons for which those young people join the IS do not particularly single out cruelty, wish to inflict pain, abhorrence of human rights or any violent feature as a cause for deciding to build a new life involving  combatting, thus killing and risking being killed.

flames of war,  Islamic State, Islamic State Psyops, propaganda
Still from the Islamic State video “Flames of War”, Al-Hayat Media Center – The subtitles read “But what is the enjoyment of worldly life compared to the Hereafter except but a [very] little.”

Could it thus be possible that there is more to the Islamic State’s propaganda than ghastly beheadings, and the core messages of fear and “calculated madness” pointed out by Brooking (21 August 2014CFR)? Could something else also infuse the Islamic State’s propaganda? Could its message tell us something we need to understand, if we are ever to want to be able to fight the Caliphate victoriously?

As we aim at understanding the Caliphate better in the framework of a strategic foresight and warning that must be actionable, we shall start here exploring the Islamic State’s propaganda. We shall begin by reviewing military concepts related to propaganda and wondering if and how they can be applied to what the Islamic State is doing. Then, we shall identify main products and channels for the Islamic State’s Psyops as well as sources. This will lay a the foundation for addressing, with the next post, themes and issues related to the content of the Islamic State’s strategic communication operations.

Propaganda, Psyops or Strategic Communication?

Besides the very often used “propaganda”, a wealth of terms is found in the specialized military literature: propaganda, strategic communication, psychological operations etc..* Thus, what are we talking about exactly? We should ideally use IS own terms, however, in the absence of such a body of documents, we shall notably use American material. The latter has first the advantage to be more or less used among allies, many of them part of the coalition against the Islamic State. Second, as the US-led coalition meets in the NATO headquarters, to discuss military strategy including how to counter the Islamic State’s propaganda and “to stem the flow of foreign fighters joining” IS (BBC News, 3 December 2014), developing from the starts a conceptual framework that can be directly understood by those fighting IS is crucial.

In general, we are here interested in “influence”, i.e. “the inherent understanding that all Diplomatic, Information, Military & Economic (DIME) activities have the potential to influence the behaviors and attitudes of specific groups.” (Steve Tatham, 2013: 8). Needless to say, this definition fully includes all “new” available media, such as social media and networks available on the World-Wide Web, through mobile phone or other infrastructure, potentially communication taking place outside the web but using cell phone, or other communication using non technological means, as well as cyber-security.

Islamic State, Islamic State Psyops, propaganda, Dabiq
From Dabiq #3, p. 29 – Part 4 of the feature article “Hijrah from Hypocrisy to Sincerity”, where Hijrah is equated to “the path to Jihad”.

Coming back to our definition, in other words, when a groups tries to wield influence, it applies “specific activities to a target audience to influence behaviors and attitudes.” Using this rather large definition allows us first to bridge what could be a dangerous divide between different “influence actions”, if the information component were to forget what the diplomatic, military or economic realm did, as interestingly emphasised by Paul Kamolnick (June 2014) in his Countering radicalization and recruitment to Al-Qaeda: fighting the war of deeds.

This definition also allows us to overcome the increasingly inconvenient divide that is made across domains in the West between what is foreign and what is domestic and that is most probably irrelevant if used stricto sensu as far as the Islamic State is concerned. For example, Murphy (2012) shows in the case of American history, that this divide is not a fatality but may evolve according to needs. He recalls how the Committee on Public Information (CPI) in 1917 tried to influence American opinion to support the American engagement in World War I (pp. 164-165).

Tabaqah military airbase, Dabiq, Islamic State, Islamic State Psyops, propaganda, Dabiq
One of the pictures illustrating a report on “the conquest of the Tabaqah military airbase” in Dabiq #3 p.21. For a non-IS account of the fall of the Tabaqah airbase, read the excellent Joseph Adams, “Anatomy of a Massacre”, 3 December 2014, Syriadirect.org http://syriadirect.org/main/30-reports/1725-part-i-the-march

Then, more specifically, we are interested in the information element of this larger influence, i.e. “any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly” (Ibid: 162), where we would need to substitute “a polity’s” instead of national, to accommodate any political form.  According to Murphy (Ibid. fn 24), this definition was the definition of propaganda before the term propaganda increasingly perceived as pejorative became “any form of adversary communication, especially of a biased or misleading nature, designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly” (DOD Dictionary of Military Terms, Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2014). Propaganda now is thus mainly used against adversaries, while allies only practice “Strategic Communications”, i.e. “focused U.S. Government efforts to understand and engage key audiences to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable for the advancement of U.S. Government interests, policies, and objectives through the use of coordinated programs, plans, themes, messages, and products synchronized with the actions of all instruments of national power” (U.S. JP 1-02, Tatham 2013: 9). We may replace the U.S. government by any other to have a rather flexible and usable definition.

It is supported by Information Operations, i.e. “the integrated employment, during military operations, of information-related capabilities in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own.” A primary capability of IO is called Psychological Operations (Psyops) in Europe and NATO (Tatham, 2013: 8), except in the US where it has become Military Information Support Operations (MISO). Psyops or MISO are defined as “planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals in a manner favorable to the originator’s objectives” (US JP 3-13, Tatham, 2013: 8).

remaining and expanding, Islamic State, Islamic State Psyops, propaganda, Dabiq
Opening page of the long report “Remaining and Expanding” pp. 20- 33 in Dabiq #5.

Considering the war the Islamic State is waging to establish the Caliphate and that war, Jihad, is at the very core of the Caliphate raison d’être (see our “Monitoring the War against the Islamic State…“, 2014 and “Scenarios: an Islamic Al-Sham?“, 2013), then both IOs and Psyops should be applicable to the Islamic State, as would be the old and new definition of propaganda. The former definition is, however, more interesting because, by not assuming  the information transmitted is biased or untruthful, also it may be, it will wield much better understanding of the Caliphate and thus allows for better SF&W and ultimately better responses.

We shall nevertheless have to wrestle with the difficulty brought about by the differentiation between foreign and domestic. First, this distinction may only be kept in the case of IS, if we find something similar to it, but according to the IS own definition of what is foreign and what is domestic. Second, in terms this time of answer, if IS conducts Psyops on our own territory, which it is obviously doing, but that we forbid ourselves to do “counter-Psyops” because of obsolete administrative divisions, instead delegating the conduct of those operations to, for example, exclusively “social-humanitarian” programs detached from the military and political understanding and context, then new challenges, to say the least, are most likely to quickly emerge.

As we can apply Psyops and related concept to the Islamic State, while, as seen, making sure we do it in a way that adapts to IS rather than trying to force IS operations within existing concepts, we shall also be able to apply existing techniques of analysis. Here we shall start classically with the Source, Content, Audience, Media and Effects (SCAME) approach (U.S. FM 3-05.302, Appendix D, 10/28/2005), however adapting it to IS and to means. Notably, it seems more logical to identify first media or channels as well as the products used then sources, as those will give us both our material as well as a way to identify it and thus will frame the overall analytical endeavour. We shall turn to content, audience and effects in the future.

The Islamic State Psyops products and channels

This list is likely to expand as our work and research progress and as events unfolds. Updates will thus be published when possible and necessary. As far as could be so far observed and gathered, the main products and channels used by the Islamic State to target and influence specific audiences are as follows.

Online visual media such as videos and photos

The quality of the videos disseminated by the Islamic State is recognised by all as professional (e.g. Mauro, 21 September 2014The Clarion Project) and confirms a trend we had underlined as growing among the various Islamic groups fighting in Syria (Lavoix, “The rise of the Salafi-Nationalists“, January 2014), as also recently noted by Brooking (August 2014).

flames of war, Islamic State, Islamic State Psyops, propaganda, Dabiq
Still from the Islamic State video “Flames of War”, Al-Hayat Media Center

A famous example of such videos is the 55 minutes “Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun” released on 19 September 2014.

They are spread through twitter but also any other web-based support, from those specific to broadcasting videos to any website. It is necessary here to underline that despite the hunt after IS videos that is taking place on platforms such as Youtube or Vimeo, it is most likely that IS propaganda is here to perdure – short of extreme measures, assuming they are possible or desirable – as setting up a single page website where any file may be available has never been easier, and as the web counts more than 1,132,414,000 websites (2 December 2014 11:57 see Internet live stats for real-time count).

Audio and text messages

We find notably instances of audio messages for official statements, for example by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, accompanied by transcript and translation (see Pieter van Ostaeyen, 13 November 2014Pietervanostaeyen), or IS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani ash-Shami, for example 17 April Audio and translated transcript Message (Pietervanostaeyen)  or “Indeed Your Lord Is Ever Watchful” September 2014 translated text message (Worldanalysis.net).

It is most likely that local radios exist on the ground, if we believe the excellent database of identifiers and logos maintained by Jihad Intel.

The monthly magazine Dabiq

Warning: some pages of Dabiq show graphic and psychologically hard to face images, including some related to executions. It is however impossible not to consider such a crucial material, and not to link to it if analysis is to be done.

Islamic State, Islamic State Psyops, propaganda, Dabiq
Cover page of Dabiq #4

Dabiq’s first issue was published in 1435 Ramadan, Hijri or Islamic calendar, knowing that the first day of the lunar month of Ramadan of the year 1435 was 29 June 2014, i.e. when the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) renamed itself as the Islamic State, and declared a Caliphate led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as his Caliph (Al Jazeera, 30 June 2014). It was actually released a few days later, on 5 July 2014 (Gambhir, August 2014). Among others, it is available through worldanalysis.net (see here for #1). Dabiq latest issue, #5 was published in 1436 Muharram or Oct-Nov 2014. According to Dabiq, it is thus named after an area,

“In the northern countryside of Halab (Aleppo) in Sham. This place was mentioned in a hadith describing some of the events of the Malahim (what is sometimes referred to as Armageddon in English). One of the greatest battles between the Muslims and the crusaders will take place near Dabiq.”

Follows then the text of the hadith, which is further explains in Dabiq #3. We find here clear eschatological (concerned with the end of time or end of the world, ‘eschatology‘, Merriam Webster) references, and more specifically Islamic eschatology references (see Furnish, 11 September 2014 in Counter-Jihad Report and MahdiWatchGambhir, Ibid.; Ryan, 1 August 2014, Jamestown Foundation).

Dabiq is disseminated through all channels as for the other products.

Use of social networks

IS Psysops uses all social networks and notably twitter to spread its messages. A report realised by Recorded Future (Staffan, 3 September 2014) for Skynews found out that more than 60 000 pro-IS sympathisers twitter accounts existed or had existed between May 2014 (Cheshire, 5 September 2014Skynews) and August 2014 (the end period is not mentioned). Among those, only some are, most probably, “official” IS accounts. However, the pattern observed is indicative. An account is opened and spreads material or comments. If it is closed (manually as it is reported to Twitter), then, almost instantaneously, a near identical account is opened elsewhere, with a slightly different name. As noted above, we find a similar pattern for the use of various platforms such as videos and blogs or of single page websites.

Online fora and encrypted programs

Although being advertised on Dabiq, for example, see Issue 3 p. 41, fora using notably encryption program “Asrar El Moujahedeen” qualifies as a very specific form of Psyops. The target audience is obviously individuals who are either technologically aware or already enough influenced to be able to be guided through the initial steps by tech savvy Jihadis. Indeed, as explained in detail by Joseph Cox (January 2014Vice), finding then using those fora is not immediate. That said, as a result, the communication and exchanges, including recruitment, made on these fora may also be perceived as shrouded in secrecy and part of an initiation process, two elements that may well add an attractive aura of media restricted to a selected few.

The Islamic State Psyops sources: major “official” media centers and sympathizers

Al-Furqan Media Foundation

Note: as much as possible, no direct link will be provided to videos of murders and executions, however the reference given should allow researchers to find the related evidence.

al Furqan logo, Islamic State, Islamic State Psyops, propaganda,
Logo of Al-Furqan Media Foundation

The Al-Furqan media foundation has been the media arm of, initially, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and thus has operated since at least November 2006, if we use the collection of Al-Furqan videos maintained by SITE (for the change from ISI to the Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS), see “War in Syria, State of Play III: The Jihadis“, last updated Feb 2014).

"Although the disbelievers dislike it", Islamic State, Islamic State Psyops, propaganda,
Still from The Islamic State “Although the disbelievers dislike it”, Al Furqan Media Foundation.

Since 29 June 2014, and thus the announcement of the creation of the Islamic State and the Caliphate, it is the media center that has been producing and spreading the ghastly videos of the murders and beheadings: US James Foley (19 August 2014; see logo on video “A Message to America” available on military.com video center – warning: the graphic video autoplays), US Steven Sotloff (2 September 2014, video “A Second Message to America”, e.g. Drury, 2 September 2014Daily Mail), UK David Haines (13 September 2014, see logo on still and video “”A Message to the Allies of America” available on Leaksource), UK Alan Henning (3 October 2014, see logo on still and video available on Leaksource), US Peter Kassig (16 November 2014, video “Although the disbelievers dislike it”, see still showing the Al-Furqan media logo).

It is also Al-Furqan that produces the tragic videos where John Cantlie is forced to speak, as shown by the logo (see still for example on a Tumblr blog, http://diary-of-a-muhajirah.tumblr.com/, that has not yet been stopped at the time of writing but will probably soon be).

Al-Hayat Media Center

al hayat logo, Islamic State, Islamic State Psyops, propaganda, Dabiq
Logo fo Al-Hayat Media Center

The other major producer affiliated with IS is Al-Hayat Media Center, which besides videos also produced the official document related to the birth of the Caliphate (for the English version, “This is the promise of Allah“), as well as the magazine Dabiq (see Dabiq #1). At the end of December 2014, it started producing a new magazine with France as target audience, Dar al Islam (see here for 2 first issues).

Al-Hayat previously produced the Islamic State Report (Jihadology.net for issues #1 to #3) and the Islamic State News (Jihadology.net for issues #1 to #3), which combined into Dabiq, as underlined by Gambhir (Ibid., p. 2). Al-Hayat productions also show scenes of executions and murders, as well as deaths of IS fighters, but obviously focus on a message that is different compared with Al-Furqan’s.

Al-Itisam Media

According to Jihad Intel, “Al-Itisam Media is a media wing of the Islamic State, having produced many high-quality videos from Syria in particular entitled “Windows on the Land of Epic Battles.” Al-Itisam Media emerged in 2013 after the Islamic State of Iraq became the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.”

Al-Itisam also produced the first of the videos announcing the birth of the Caliphate on 29 June 2014: “Kasr al-Hudud ~ Breaking the Borders” (Pietervanostaeyen, 29 June 2014 – the second and third “This is the promise of Allah” were produced by Al-Hayat, for the third a translation is available in English, Russian, French and German produced by both Al-Hayat and Al-Furqan).

Sympathizers quasi-sources

Besides the two official media centers presented above, we also have many non official but pro-IS sources, which create products. For example, French hostage Hervé Gourdel execution was filmed and realeased in a video mirroring Al-Furqan’s ways (24 September 2014, video “”A Message with Blood to the French Government,” see Site Intel Group, 24 September 2014).

We may wonder if those could be considered as quasi-sources. Indeed, they may help spread IS messages, notably where IS sources are not present but they may also be uncontrollable elements.

With the next post of the series we shall turn to content.

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*Although it is not only very common, but also fashionable to believe that business-related activities such as marketing and products advertisement can be directly applied to political situations writ large, i.e. including wars and warfare, we shall not follow this trend, on the contrary, but walk in the footsteps of those who believe, such as Steve Tatham, that failing to understand the specificity of politics and war is one of the causes for many of the ills that beset Psyops in the Western world and in the U.S. in particular. As a result, we shall not use marketing sources.

Bibliography and sources

Featured image: Still from the video “Although the disbelievers dislike it” Al-Furqan Media Foundation.

Ackerman, Spencer, “Obama: murder of James Foley ‘shocks the conscience of the entire world'”, 20 August 2014, The Guardian.

Botelho, Greg, “French authorities back off claim against man in ISIS beheadings video”, 20 November 2014, CNN.

Brooking, Emerson, “The ISIS Propaganda Machine Is Horrifying and Effective. How Does It Work?”, August 21, 2014, Defense in Depth, CFR.

Furnish, Timothy R., “Obama on ISIS: Oft In Lies Truth Is Hidden” 11 September 2014, The Counter-Jihad Report.

Gambhir, Harleen K, “Dabiq: the Strategic Messaging of the Islamic State”, 15 August 2014, ISW.

Kamolnick, Paul, Countering radicalization and recruitment to Al-Qaeda: fighting the war of deeds, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, June 2014.

Lavoix, Helene, “War in Syria, State of Play III: The Jihadis”, 6 May 2013, last updated Feb 2014, The Red (Team) Analysis Society.

Lavoix, Helene,”The rise of the Salafi-Nationalists”, 27 January 2014, The Red (Team) Analysis Society.

Lavoix, Helene, “Monitoring the War against the Islamic State or against a Terrorist Group?”,29 September 2014, The Red (Team) Analysis Society.

Lavoix, Helene, “Scenarios: an Islamic al-Sham”, 27 May 2013, The Red (Team) Analysis Society.

Lowen, Mark, “Islamic State crisis: The 13-year-old on ‘righteous path'”, 6 November 2014, BBCNews.

Maher, Shiraz, “From Portsmouth to Kobane: the British jihadis fighting for Isis” 6 November 2014, New Statesman.

Mauro, Ryan, “ISIS Releases ‘Flames of War’ Feature Film to Intimidate West”, September 21, 2014, The Clarion Project.

Murphy, Dennis M. “Strategic Communications: Wielding the Information Element of Power”, in U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues – Volume I: Theory of War and Strategy, Edited by Dr. J. Boone Bartholomees Jr., Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, June 2012, 159-172.

Okamoto, Joel, “Eschatology and the Islamic State”, October 28, 2014, Concordia Theology.

U.S. FM 3-05.302, TACTICAL PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS TACTICS, TECHNIQUES, AND PROCEDURES (INCL C1), Appendix D, 10/28/2005. http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/Active_FM.html

Ryan, Michael W. S., “Dabiq: What Islamic State’s New Magazine Tells Us about Their Strategic Direction, Recruitment Patterns and Guerrilla Doctrine”, 1 August 2014, Jamestown Foundation.

Staffan, “ISIS Jumping from Account to Account, Twitter Trying to Keep Up”, 3 September 2014, Recorded Future blog.

Tatham, Steve, U.S. Governmental Information Operations and Strategic Communications: A Discredited Tool or User Failure? Implications for Future Conflict, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, December 2013.

Walker, Tim, “James Foley ‘beheaded': Isis video shows militant with British accent ‘execute US journalist’ – as hunt begins for killer”, 20 August 2014, The Independent.

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 181 – The West’s “Ukraine Problem”

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – An excellent article by Prof Anatol Lieven for BBC News on “How can the West solve its Ukraine problem?” addresses – at long last – most problems related to the Ukrainian crisis in a masterful, objective and constructive way, not shying away from the very difficult situation into which Ukraine now is.  The fact it is published by BBC News is positive and might signal that we could enter a healthier Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 181 – The West’s “Ukraine Problem”