Catch the recent “Politics, Power, and Preventative Action” podcast interview with RTJ founder Mark Mateski.

Russia, Reflexive Control, and the Subtle Art of Red Teaming

To understand the Russian approach to strategy and conflict, we must first understand something about the concept of reflexive control. Initially developed and championed by Vladimir Lefebvre, it’s a uniquely Russian view on stratagem and deception that repackages and reframes much of what we usually associate with Sun Tzu. If we expect deception and stratagem from China but not from Russia, we’ve set yourself up to be surprised. We’d be foolish to assume that the Russians are not currently employing reflexive control against the West.
      By definition, reflexive control is “a means of conveying to a partner or an opponent specially prepared information to incline him to voluntarily make the predetermined decision desired by the initiator of the action.”1 In other words, when employing the theory of reflexive control, you paint a picture of the world, that, if successful, your opponent accepts. This false picture compels your opponent to act in your favor. A close term in the U.S. lexicon is “perception management,”2 although the tone of reflexive control is arguably broader and more Machiavellian. Read on …

  1. Timothy L. Thomas, “Russia’s Reflexive Control Theory and the Military,” Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 2004, vol. 17, p. 237. []
  2. Ibid., p. 237. []

The Superior Red Teamer

We’re frequently asked to summarize our thoughts regarding the superior red teamer. We captured some of them in this 2003 RTJ post titled “10 Principles of Good Red Teaming.” While the points in that piece talk about the red team, they apply them equally to the red teamer. In hindsight, we’d change item 8 in the post to emphasize perspectives rather than order—in other words, we need to understand the relevant perspectives before we jump into the specifics. We’d also add something specific about systems thinking (more on that below). These edits aside, though, we think the original list has aged well. Read on …

The Dangerous ‘Illusion of Certainty’ (Updated)

MagicYou’ve probably met the red teamer who believes that red teaming cures all ailments without introducing any side effects. Beware this red teamer.
      Seasoned red teamers understand that mismanaged red teaming can potentially introduce just as much uncertainty as it claims to reduce (if not more), leading to a very real and potentially dangerous false confidence. Read on …

A Short Review of Barton Whaley’s Practice to Deceive

I received a review copy of Barton Whaley’s new book Practice to Deceive from the Naval Institute Press a couple of months ago and have been negligent in not yet sharing my thoughts with RTJ readers.
      Dr. Whaley passed in 2013. I was privileged several years ago to receive some guidance from him on my dissertation and honored for him to review my materials so favorably in his annotated bibliography of deception and counterdeception methods. He had a unique and powerful mind, and I continue to view him as a member of that rarified club that includes both T. E. Lawrence and R. V. Jones. For me, getting a new book authored by Dr. Whaley is a bit like discovering a whole album of previously unreleased material from The Beatles (and I love the The Beatles!). Read on …

The Roots of Red Teaming: Praemeditatio Malorum

Roots of Red TeamingOver the years, I’ve been asked my times how red teaming began. I don’t believe there’s an easy answer to the question. Some point to the German Kriegsspiel or earlier variants of battlefield simulation (chess, for example). Micah Zenko in his book Red Team highlights the Catholic practice of employing a devil’s advocate. I’ve recently encountered another example of proto-red teaming: the ancient Stoic practice of praemeditatio malorum.1 Read on …

  1. For the sake of completeness, I must note that the practice wasn’t strictly limited to the Stoics, nor is Stoicism limited to the ancients. []

Informal Survey of Red Teaming Jobs

While I’ve long said that red teaming is useful for more than just security, I believe security red teaming remains by far the dominant form. To test this hypothesis, I surveyed the first five pages of red teaming jobs on
      What I learned informally confirmed my hypothesis. In the first chart, you’ll see that the only non-IT forms of red teaming that appeared were proposal management jobs and jobs that I binned in the “intelligence” category (one involved future technologies and the other described a general intelligence red teaming role). I separated the IT-security jobs—those with the red bars—into categories as best I could based on the job announcements, but the overall trend is clear: roughly 85% of the jobs listed relate directly to IT security. Read on …

  1. I used the following search string: “red team” or “red teams” or “red teaming” or “devil’s advocate” -medical -patient -treatment -nurse []

The Importance of Getting out of the Office

I worry sometimes that I spend too much time focused on the project-of-the-moment. Yesterday, I broke away from my desk and had lunch with RTJ contributing editor Kelly McCoy. I always enjoy talking with Kelly because his years as a firefighter combined with his broad knowledge give him a unique perspective on the challenges we face as red teamers. Our discussion ranged across a variety of topics, but one thing that struck me was just how important it is for the red teamer to see the whole system. It comes through in Kelly’s writings here, here, and here. If you haven’t read these posts, be sure to do so. They reinforce just how complementary the concept of resilience is to both security and red teaming. The posts also remind us how important it is to share concepts and ideas across domains. And all this because I decided to go eat lunch in the sun with a friend!

New Monograph from Dr. Bunker

BunkerCoverWe are pleased to point Red Team Journal readers to a new monograph from RTJ advisor Dr. Robert J. Bunker. The monograph, Old and New Insurgency Forms, is available as a PDF download from the Strategic Studies Institute. Per the executive summary, it “creates a proposed insurgency typology divided into legacy, contemporary, and emergent and potential insurgency forms, and provides strategic implications for U.S. defense policy as they relate to each of these forms.” As always, we highly recommend Dr. Bunker’s work.

Red Teaming: Feel the Power

RTJ PowerI‘ve been teaching a knowledge management course since the start of the year. One of my preferred textbooks, Donald Hislop’s Knowledge Management in Organizations, is somewhat unique in the field for noting how much issues of power influence the practice of knowledge management. Knowledge is power, and not everyone holds equal knowledge and power. This affects the day-to-day practice of knowledge management. For example, someone holding knowledge might view sharing that knowledge as a loss of power, or staff might view management’s request for process knowledge as a prelude to pink slips. As obvious as this might seem, many textbook authors discuss the topic of knowledge management without ever mentioning unequal power relationships. Read on …