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Magic and Information (Part 1): Dual Role Manoeuvre

In 2018, Alex Younger, Head of SIS, argued that in an era of artificial intelligence, we need human intelligence. In fact, it will become even more important in an ever-more complex world. We face the fresh complexity of nation states operating in the grey spaces of the hybrid era, which is a wholly separate problem whereby nations see themselves in a state of perpetual confrontation with us‘. Human networks are more important than ever before. This article is a first of a two-part series exploring the links between the magic theory and information manoeuvre.  

Part one explores the magic theory of creating two concurrent, dual, realities.  The article proposes that the UK adopts an information manoeuvre strategy called ‘dual-role manoeuvre’ based on the principles of magic. This article explains how this strategy can help the UK achieve behaviour change and achieve operational success.

Part two, will focus on how to enhance this strategy by utilising local media and influencers already in our target area of operations.  It also argues for the establishment of an independent Information Operations Command centre.


When conducting Information Operations, the UK is risk averse and relies heavily on ‘white’, risk free products. AJP 3.10.1 defines this as ‘products disseminated and acknowledged by the sponsor’.  In any messaging campaign, the UK seeks to uphold professional and basic journalistic standards. Campaigns are UK-branded and attributable.   Yet, deceptive use of the media is not un-chartered territory for military operations. It has been a constant factor of in military planning for decades. In an era of ‘constant competition’, material branded with the Union Jack is not likely to have the intended behavioural or attitudinal effect that the UK needs.  It’s akin to asking UK viewers to believe ‘Russia Today’.  

Dual Reality; in the context of a card trick

Imagine being at a restaurant.  You have a deck of cards and are with some friends.  You excuse yourself from the table and, out of sight of your friends, walk over to a lady at the bar.  After idol chatter, you proceed to show her a card trick. She selects a card and commits it to memory.  After surreptitiously gaining knowledge of her selection, you reveal the wrong card.  To your apparent dismay, you tell her that you will have to redeem yourself and instruct her to approach your table later in the evening.  You also tell her she is to challenge you on the identity of the card.  The magician has now primed the participant in the following ways:

  • Both parties can honestly say they have never met before ‘today’
  • Both parties can say that nothing has been set up
  • No one has been paid
  • The participant had a free choice of playing card
  • The participant thinks the magician has no idea of the identity of her card

Later in the evening, as you show your friends a card trick, the lady approaches the table and challenges you; ‘Go on then, what card am I thinking of?’  As you subtly confirm that she is thinking of one card and one card only you ‘read her mind’ and reveal the identity of the card.

It’s magic

Just take a moment to appreciate the situation here.  Your friends (the intended target audience) appear to have seen a random person approach the table and challenge you to read her mind for the card.  You then present an impromptu piece of ‘mind reading’.  When questioned, you will tell everyone that she could have changed her mind (which she could have done).  She will also say it was a free choice (which technically it was) and that there was no way you could have known.  The lady has just seen you reveal the card she selected. Your friends have just seen you read the mind of another person.  

It’s magic. They have no credible way to question what they just saw.  The only explanation being that she was ‘in on it’.  An explanation which of course, she will truthfully deny.

This is the concept of dual reality.  The lady experiences a minor trick (which is a part-lie), whilst the wider audience (your friends) experience a much more impressive trick. 

Proposal: Dual-Role Manoeuvre (DRM)

DRM utilises the theory of dual reality by creating two media campaigns aligned to the same aim. 

The proposal is to establish in-theatre media networks that echo the adversaries narrative and initially oppose UK branded ‘white’ media.  This is a primer to ‘capture’ the audience’s attention. Undermining the UK-friendly narrative serves as a sacrifice for the longer-term behavioural change that the campaign seeks from the target audience.  However, this is a a dual reality in which the target audience (the friends) is influenced by UK controlled information operations (the lady).

By echoing the opposing narrative, in-theatre network build both the support and trust of an unfriendly audience.  This makes use of  ‘Magruder’s principle’: ‘it is generally easier to maintain pre-existing beliefs than to present national evidence to change that belief’.  Over time, this messaging shifts towards the UK’s objectives through cognitive dissonance.  This is achieved by progressively changing the nature of content and reporting bias, towards a pro-UK sentiment in a way that feels natural to the audience.  Changesto the narrative can only be made as consumer opinion changes. 

Practical Parts

This operation will need a broad approach to match the available media in the target area.  This could involve the creation of a radio station(s), an online media agency, a print journal, and a series of independent social media accounts.  It may also require the UK to fund free wifi points or invest in other technology to gain traction.  These media channels will need to be individually branded and require some form of editorial independence.  Behind the scenes both campaigns would be connected to the UK umbrella campaign. 

After their initial creation each platform will embed our adversaries narrative and publish content matching the target audience’s sentiment.  This strategy creates a dual reality by harnessing two narratives.  On one hand, an on-message branded campaign.  On the other, funding messages that act contrary to our public intent.  It is likely to take months to build local engagement and credibility.  Over this period, information operations staff can understand and measure audience sentiment through established methods.  In turn, this allows for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the covert campaign to ensure it is moving towards the desired end state.

National Fusion Doctrine & Target Audience Analysis

For this operation to be successful, a deep socio-cultural knowledge of the target audience is vital.  This must include detailed data of the target demographic including current vulnerabilities, susceptibilities, beliefs, values, more, will give our information operations planner insights of baseline behaviour.  To some extent the UK does this already under the name of social network and human terrain analysis

To achieve a successful dual reality, the UK will need a deeper understanding than that gained by colouring in maps and PowerPoint based analysis tools.  It will require cultural experts who have deep knowledge of a targets culture, psychology and sense of humour.  Ideally, these experts will be embedded within the target country as agents of influence.  This understanding, must be comprehensive and include: the memes they look at, popular TV, how colours merge with their national identity, and the hidden cultural subtleties.  Everything a UK citizen would expect to see on the BBC.  With a combination of behavioural science and cultural knowledge as the foundation, campaign planners can draw upon the pre-existing psychology to create a messaging strategy to fit.

The military alone cannot hope to achieve the dual reality concept.  Against the context of the theory of magic, the integration and co-operation of the ‘whole force’ of HMG is vital to success.  UK fusion doctrine allows for the combined inter-operability of socio-cultural (DCSU), SIGINT (GCHQ), HUMINT (SIS) and information warfare (77 Bde).  The 2018 National Security Capability review outlines further parts of Government that can aide this strategy:


Defence, largely through 77 Brigade, already has methods for producing professional branding.  This talent should be involved in, and exploit, the target audience analysis.  The output should be a resonating brand logo, strap line, and memorable key power words to which our audiences can easily attribute to each platform .

Case Study: Mosul 2014

Radio Al-Ghad was established by a group of disaffected media graduates in 2014.  They aimed to counter ISIS and support local resistance groups.  The group utilised a radio campaign in Mosul to great effect and aided the defeat of ISIS in the region.

By harnessing their understanding of the local population, the radio station combined entertainment with information effect.  Radio Al-Ghad provided a platform for displaced civilians to call in with real-time ground intelligence which was then used by coalition forces.  The station also hosted phone-ins between terrorists and civilians and acted as an amplifier for pro-coalition voices.  It became a credible and trusted source of information in the region. 

“In the past, we used to receive very few calls from Mosul. People were scared to call the radio station. But today people are speaking up. They are talking.”

Mohammed , Station Manager Radio Al-Ghad

Behind the scenes, however, the radio station was aiding the effort against ISIS. One element of the Mosul resistance fighters, Muqawima Al-Mosul, became inspired by the station.  Using the radio, resistance fighters spread a symbol of rebellion, the Arabic letter ‘meem’ across ISIS stronghold buildings.  By coincidence (perhaps magic?), US airstrikes hit the exact buildings upon which the ‘meem’ was sprayed.  

Resistance fighters capitalised on this by phoning into the radio station explaining that the symbols were coordinating the airstrikes.  This was to ‘show their presence and to give the impression of a greater presence than what they did have, so its psychological warfare’

Combined with before and after footage displayed online (in another form of information activity), the effect was to establish a sense of fear amongst ISIS fighters and undermine their morale.  Radio Al-Ghad further proved its utility during the liberation of Mosul as coalition forces would push out instructions on how to identify as a non-combatant and give warnings on about local ‘hot spots’.


The most dangerous course of action would be for the adversary to publicly ‘out’ the dual-role media network. This would potentially undermine all UK information operations and cause international embarrassment.  As a contingency plan, articles and posts should be pre-made explaining that the adversary has attempted to create a false media network in an attempt to discredit (know as ‘doxing’) the UK efforts.  Double-bluff material must also be shared alongside the overt, ‘white’, UK campaign echoing this material and flooding the information environment.

There is a further risk that this double-deception undermines UK public trust in the campaign effort.  The evidence suggests, however, that the UK public would accept a lie told in good faith and for the right reasons.

Ed Williams, CEO of the communications firm Edelman, recently examined this question. Over a number of years, Williams polled a spectrum of the UK population. He found that 54% of the UK public think that national security and secretary is the most acceptable context for dishonesty.  The report concluded that whilst there are certain circumstances in which it is necessary for national governments to deceive, it is not advised to completely conceal previous deception operations.  William’s warned that societies could become further divided and that by winning the military victory the operation would risk losing the wider battle for public trust.  For Williams, honesty with the public regarding previous secret operations was the critical factor in enabling current ones.  

If the Government admits that such operations have taken place then the deception is more likely to be accepted.  Therefore, dual role manoeuvre must consider how to tell the public the truth once the desired effect has been achieved.  

Part One Conclusion

To draw some conclusive thoughts to part one; Magic theory gives the UK options to develop information manoeuvre strategies.  By gaining a deep cultural understanding and establishing dual-role media networks the UK can shift the narrative, to aide our cause.  By unbalancing audience behaviours with their current beliefs, our target audience will begin to align their opinions from supporting our adversary to supporting us.  This will need detailed analytics and data to support, the UK already has the resources needed.  Part two of the series will look at how to use media sources already in theatre to further enhance this impact.

Cover photo by Julius Drost on Unsplash

Connor O

Connor is an Infantry soldier who is currently studying foreign cultures.  He has experience in planning and delivering information operations

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