Interview with Army Brigadier General Lemos Pires, National Defense Policy Deputy Director at the Ministry of Defense (Portugal)
Ph.D in Communication Sciences, BA in International Journalism, Professor at the University of Porto (Portugal)
Student in the final year of the Graduate Degree at the University of Porto (Portugal) Law School, Young Auditor National Defense Course (2020) – Institute of National Defense (Portugal)
In this interview, Brigadier General Lemos Pires, National Defense Policy Deputy Director at the Ministry of Defense (Portugal), presents several measures with regard to protecting citizens concerning Information Warfare / Psychosociological Warfare initiatives, including the role of Intelligence Services. This expert reflects on the assertion of National Sovereignty and Identity regarding the Media. The interviewee also stresses the geostrategic importance of the Azores archipelago (Atlantic Ocean) / Portugal, in underwater and spatial terms (telecommunications). Brigadier General Lemos Pires envisions Portugal, politically and strategically, in the sphere of international cooperation / alliances, while highlighting the Military Public Diplomacy of the Portuguese Armed Forces.
Keywords: communication; Defense; Military Public Diplomacy; Security; International Relations.
Information / psychosociological warfare
Jorge Marinho (JM):According to George J. Stein (1995) and Richard Szafranski (1995), there is currently, and there will be in the future, an ever greater number of international conflicts surrounding communication; that is, the effects that messages disseminated internationally can have in other countries. To this end, we can talk about propaganda/public diplomacy campaigns, psychological warfare, information warfare, communication warfare. Do you agree with this perspective from said experts?
Answer (A): Not only do I agree, but I also think that, at the moment, there is now scientific evidence that it is so. Therefore, at this moment, we are talking about everything which, in the field of conflicts, has to do with the grey zone or of a non-war near-war zone that cannot be classified because there is a problem that has to do with attribution. That is, while it is very difficult to identify who is doing exactly what, we know where this leads to, that is, the influential domain. This is part of this conflict mechanism, in which we live today, and, using the grey zone, at this moment we need to do what Sun Tzu has always attempted to do: defeat the enemy without having to fight him; if we can, get people to do what we want (that is, modify, disturb, cause disruptive effects relative to a balance in society, create divisions in the latter, change election results, create public perceptions, drawing motivations). All this, as a novelty, is done today in an organized manner. This is not a separate issue, as the cognitive domain is not used solely as an institution per se. Thus, we see a growing kinetic and non-kinetic potential of concurring forces. All kinds of instruments are used, namely indirect ones that we can avoid being attributed (attribution), that is, done by private entities or by unclassified entities, such that we find it very difficult to identify whether or not there is a State or an organization behind this. This is indeed taking place. Within the sphere of conflicts, within the domain of winning hearts and minds, everything matters.
JM: Richard Szafranski, with regard to current affairs, speaks of cortical (cerebral cortex) warfare. This could go by way of seeking to neuropsychologically target, through the media, individuals, groups or more or less vast strata of the population of, say, a country. In your opinion, how can a State such as Portugal defend itself from this kind of neuropsychological warfare?
A: We all end up being influenced by a certain time and circumstance. In fact, while we can go into the details of being within the cortex or not being within that which is the physical part of our neuronal perception, the truth is, we know there is this manipulation and this aspiration. Why? I published a book entitled Civilização Quântica (Quantum Civilization) (2020), which contains a chapter where I talk precisely about this, where I try to differentiate that which has to do with us, as a community, and that we are a highly influenced community, as we have always been. Therefore, we know there is a geography, there is an identity, which has everything to do with what is known as group perception. Thus, where is this part of the cortex here? If this issue of identity is manipulated, if we take a group with no identity or sense of attachment to the community to which they say they belong (that is, the country, the State or the institution), it is much more liable to receive messages of belonging from a group with an extremely simple narrative: right or wrong, them and the others, us against them. That is, assertive speech, exaggerated narratives bestowing a sense of belonging: join us and you will be somebody. People go according to belonging. This, unfortunately, is true in parts of the world where there is less social structuring, but it is also true in highly developed countries, where small information/disinformation ghettos are created, where this kind of messages is much more passable. These days, we live in so-called echo chambers, where everyone has more or less the same opinion.
JM: How can a State, such as Portugal, defend its citizens from these initiatives, possibly external ones, targeting individuals, groups, more or less vast strata of society, within this context of a neuropsychological or psychosociological warfare, even in some cases? What measures can the State adopt for defending its citizens, under these circumstances?
A: There are five Cs that I propose, in the aforementioned book, where two of them correspond to your question. The first involves investing heavily in the critical sense/ critical thinking. This is what is taught from a very young age and which we need to pursue in adulthood, where the entire message needs to be filtered, and we need to be able to raise doubt. In looking for the reason behind (whatever). If we start in school, telling a child from a young age: you are Portuguese and we ask them what is Portugal good for, that is, we’re not telling them they are just Portuguese, but we have to raise doubts in them. Why do you want to be Portuguese? Why does Portugal exist? Why does the Homeland exist? Why should we go to school? This is the critical sense.
The other C is Citizenship - global and national citizenship that is taught. Very often, in Portugal, citizenship boils down to a regional issue, or only pertaining to the Homeland. And not just that: Global citizenship, therefore, understanding the said granularity of the human being as the value of human rights. Still, citizenship is put into practice. Over the course of our lives, we need to introduce factors that will lead us to social proximity, national civic service (I’m not talking about mandatory military service), even if mitigated, through forms of civic performance. Now, when we learn citizenship and we have critical thinking and we put citizenship into practice over the course of our lives, we become immune. This is group immunity, since we create resilience to external factors, and now nobody will give us a different identity, because we end up readily accepting the reality we are given, with its good and bad points. However, every time we identify with the community, we can no longer adhere to what we don’t know, because the problem has to do with ignorance. Most of these perceptions are fought against by showing what is real.
National sovereignty and identity vis-à-vis the free flow of information
Júlio Ventura (JV): Do you accept that, even in a state of democratic matrix, on top of declaring a state of siege or of emergency, as constitutionally enshrined in Portugal, there can be restrictions to the free flow of information from the outside, for security and national defense reasons, asserting sovereignty and national identity?
A: I usually think in political and strategic terms, which is my field. I know we have a Portuguese Constitution with Rights, Freedoms and Guarantees. I know freedom of expression can never be called into question and the right to information can never be curtailed. Still, I am also aware that where there are rights, there are also duties. Therefore, the right to citizenship and the right to freedom also have the duty of citizenship and the duty of freedom. When there is information offensively designed to curtail the freedom of citizens, I have to defend it. Now, let’s regulate this. It’s not easy! That’s why the European Union is putting in place a strategy to defend this under these very terms. If it had been easy, it would already have been done. However, if I know what I am defending, I am fully aware of where I want to be heading. I know I want to guarantee that, in fact, we are not bombarded, used or the victims of misinformation campaigns and, at the same time, make sure people have freedom of expression so they can speak their minds. While this is a difficult balance, it’s not all that hard because, these days, we already have algorithms, big data, ways of working mass information and understand that which, deep down, lies in the aggressive intention or which is just an opinion or a debate. This emerges from a basis: we have to start teaching how to communicate, to share, to use social media. This, too, is taught. If there is education for citizenship which entails teaching how to use the platforms, what we see and what we don’t see … What are we missing now? We are experiencing a credibility crisis. In the past, in Portugal, we would receive information from a source which, from the outset, was filtered, using only one means. However, there were already credibility mechanisms that were provided. Not just any journalist would give us information. When we are on open platforms and anybody can see something, with false information, credibility mechanisms are missing, and so we have to create them anew. While we need to have a social media polygraph, which is already somewhat in place, we are still very far from having effective mechanisms.
Army Brigadier General Lemos Pires:
Strategic Communication is part of Military Academy (Portugal) curricula
Counter-narratives as part of cybersecurity and cyberdefense
JM: From your standpoint, should cybersecurity and cyberdefense, besides taking technological infrastructures into account, also go by way of monitoring the narratives of organizations deemed hostile, for a wide variety of reasons, giving rise to various measures such as the creation and dissemination of counter-narratives?
A: Yes, we have to monitor and protect ourselves from disruptive and dangerous narratives. As you probably know, I am greatly devoted to the part of the fight against terrorism, and this fight is related to the narratives, preventing their dissemination and achieving mechanisms. This also always depends on two basic institutions: one has to do with the Strategic Information Services, when dealing with issues overseas, and the Serviços de Informação e Segurança (Information and Security Services) (SIS), when addressing issues within Portugal. They have to play an important role: to prevent and monitor this kind of narratives. Afterwards, there have to be concerted answers. That was, for instance, what was lacking for a long time, in 2013-2014, when there were those narratives disseminated by Daesh which circulated freely on the Internet through videos of executions and via magazines. Everything regarding Daesh and Al-Qaeda was brought to light. Still, there was no counter-narrative, there was no structured response, in terms of moderate Islam, to be able to fight radical Islam. Without a response narrative, all that remains is an exaggerated narrative. This response can only be provided by the State or by alliances among States.
JM: Within the sphere of counter-narratives, do the Portuguese Armed Forces have the technological capability, financial and human resources to create contents and communication channels, just like, for example, in the United States of America, with the Special Operations Command (SOCOM)?
A: Obviously, while we have our Special Operations, that part you are talking about, creating counter-narratives, no. However, Portugal is part of alliances and we are part of that collective effort. That is why our Special Operations work as a team, within NATO, in Afghanistan, in Mali, in Iraq or in other regions of the world.
JM: Within this sphere, would a civil-military cooperation be desirable for creating said counter-narratives and for using several channels already in existence in the civil part?
A: I don’t even see things differently. The interagency principle is the only principle in this field of the future. Anything that is compartmentalized leads us nowhere. We need to see this from the State’s perspective.
Journalism and open-source intelligence
JM: As part of the cycle of intelligence, how much importance do you specifically give journalism, and, in general, to several areas of traditional media and to social media, as open sources?
A: For me, open sources are much more important than closed sources. The latter are more for imminent situations. Open sources are what matter. At this moment, journalism is undergoing an enormous crisis of resources, of dissemination, of a drop in advertising. At the moment, there are absolutely daunting things taking place in the world, where nobody is there to watch. There is no NGO, for instance, in large regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, since this is very dangerous. There, we see no military forces from anywhere, since no country wants to spend money there, and, what’s worse, there is not a single journalist. If we ask ourselves who is the journalist covering the Darfur massacres, there is nobody there. If we have nobody to show us, if we don’t have, once again, a structured journalism that will investigate the source, that would back down, that goes all the way to the end, then we will hardly have other instruments. There are no alternative instruments to free information. Journalism is vital.
The Azores’/ Portugal’s geostrategic importance regarding telecommunications
JV: In geostrategic terms, what relevance do you attribute to the Azores, more specifically to the island of Santa Maria, with regard to launching and monitoring telecommunication satellites?
A: We are talking about a specific aspect of what the Azores represent in terms of centrality in the Atlantic. I have been coordinator of the Atlantic Center for a year. The venue is a new dimension for our national self-assertion. And how is this achieved? The Azores comprise an absolutely fantastic geolocation, to identify the Atlantic as a whole-of-Atlantic approach, that is, to look at the Atlantic as a lovely space, north to south, with sixty-seven countries bordering it, with an identity all its own which only makes sense if everyone takes part. This is the novelty of the Atlantic Center: perhaps the first center actually combining north, south, east, west, Argentina and Norway, South Africa and Canada. In other words, the idea that there is only one Atlantic and the Azores’ favorable position, despite being located in the North Atlantic, is still a position in the middle, east and west, profoundly linked to the Atlantic, profoundly linked to what is resource management, to energy and to opportunities found therein. Now, this can be achieved only if we are able to constantly monitor the Atlantic space, and that monitoring can be carried out only from space. There is no other way: a constellation of satellites. At this moment, Portugal is trying to start with the launch of the first satellite, which will likely take place January 1st of next year Then, from there, we can increase the number of the constellation of satellites; that is, the Infante project, or another on its way, is indeed a very interesting opportunity for us to be able to expand our influences. Thus, that is the importance I assign to it. This is a cohesive path, organized between a State policy, in partnership with private companies. If there is a national strategy, in part this is where our future lies.
JV: I will now address geostrategic issues linked to the ocean bottoms, regarding telecommunications, namely the issue of underwater cables. What is your take in this regard?
A: Underwater cables are of concern. Maritime safety has always been one of Portugal’s priorities. It is one of our priorities for the Presidency of the European Union, starting in January 2021. Obviously, optic cable safety is vital. If I have a good space system with an underwater cable system, I can obtain, for instance, a 5G network made from a constellation of satellites. I then have a redundancy. I cannot have a physical security, with a submarine on top of every meter of optic cable, to watch over it and make sure nobody goes there. This naturally takes place under international organizations, to the extent this is a 360 resilience, where we display our cohesion as an alliance. This is not a national concern, but a concern of groups of countries: NATO, European Union and countries which, for example, deal with the entire communication system in the North and South Atlantic. As in everything, we need to show holistic concern with looking at threats and risks from a standpoint of complementarity, so as not to allocate all resources relative to just one concern and, deep down, being unable to see the forest: who might want to cause us harm, cut, damage or influence underwater cables? Such people are likely to be the same folks that would want to do a set of other things. We should not be short-sighted, but, rather, have a broad policy. That’s why one of Portugal’s priorities for the Presidency of the European Union involves maritime security, from a sea-land-sea standpoint; that is, Portugal is not looking solely at the sea or solely at the land.
JV: From the perspective of Control, Command and Communications (C3), how do you characterize the current Portuguese Armed Forces, chiefly as concerns the central role of communications?
A: They could be better! They somewhat line up with the other resources we have: there is no differentiation, as they are neither below nor above. I think it’s a public thing: there was strong divestment in the Armed Forces by Western powers, in general. This is not an issue affecting solely Portugal. The world divested because we were in the post-Cold War era, and there was belief in a coming Warm Peace, and so now we are recovering a little bit, but we are still far from managing. In this part of the C3, I feel we have evolved significantly.
Military Public Diplomacy
JM: Let us now address that which could be regarded as Military Public Diplomacy, that is, information and influence activities. By what means and methods can military personnel influence international publics, as part of strategic communication? Distributing pamphlets, creating sites, creating / taking part in radio or television programs…? Do the Portuguese Armed Forces have some soft power capability, on top of that traditional link to hard power?
A: They have increasingly greater capability, both nationally and internationally. Indeed, abroad they are, by far, arguably Portugal’s most predominant player. If there is a Portuguese Public Ambassador, anywhere in the world, this occurs via the Armed Forces. When a soldier is in the Central African Republic, providing aid to the locals, and then CNN shows up to record an interview with him, there is nobody, there is no other institution that is able to achieve this outreach as the Armed Forces do. Sometimes we don’t need written or verbal strategic communication; we simply need to set the example. Being in uniform in the Gulf of Guinea, in the Central African Republic, in Mozambique, in Angola or in Afghanistan, with a Portuguese flag on the shoulder and showing solidarity toward the locals, such non-verbal language at times is enough to display the nation’s extremely credible strategic communication. It’s the same thing here, in Portugal: during the COVID-19 crisis, when people see Armed Forces that are everywhere and not exactly giving briefings every day, when people realize that troops are at hospitals and senior nursing homes undergoing decontamination, no campaigns are needed to disseminate such an image. Things end up speaking for themselves.
JM: How does a serviceman relate to peace, from your standpoint? Is it not a contradiction to want to be a serviceman and to want peace?
A: Peace is what we make. War is just a transitional state to achieving peace. It’s toward that end that we work.
(This interview was conducted, via Zoom Colibri, on October 21, 2020)
Lemos Pires, N. (2020). Civilização Quântica: Um Caminho Possível para Tempos Incertos. Nexo Literário.
Stein, G. J. (1995). Information Warfare. Retrieved 20.10.2020 from https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/ASPJ/journals/Volume-09_Issue-1-Se/1995_Vol9_No1.pdf
Szafranski, R. (1995). A Theory of Information Warfare: Preparing for 2020. Retrieved 20.10.2020 from https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/ASPJ/journals/Volume-09_Issue-1-Se/1995_Vol9_No1.pdf
Photo granted by the interviewee, Army Brigadier General Lemos Pires (Portugal)
Published by Marinho Media Analysis / November 18, 2020.
A short version of this interview was also published in the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD) Blog / United States of America / January 12, 2021