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A Blog on Understanding, Informing, Empowering, and Influencing Global Publics, published by Matt Armstrong

Ridicule as Strategic Communication

Kristin Fleischer at COMOPS comments on friend Mike Waller’s suggestion in Fighting the War of Ideas like Real War that ridicule is a “secret weapon worse than death.”

Although the suggestion that ridicule and satire are legitimate tools of strategic communication might receive some – dare I say it – ridicule, Waller’s argument is a good one. Ridicule and satire have a long history in warfare, and they have been deployed both offensively and defensively. In the U.S., ridicule was used in the Revolutionary War, both to mock the British troops and to raise the morale of the American fighters. In WWII, domestic use of ridicule targeted Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. In a more contemporary example, Waller cites Team America: World Police as an example of effective parody of Islamic terrorists and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.  While a movie that features graphic sex between puppets might not have universal appeal, Waller is correct in pointing out that prior to the movie, American audiences would likely not consider the Korean dictator someone to laugh at.

Waller’s suggestions regarding the strategic use of ridicule are an expansion of arguments he andothers have made about the importance of language use in ‘the war of ideas.’ In ‘buying into’ terrorist’s language – especially by using terms such as jihad and mujahidin – Waller argues that the U.S. and its allies, “ceased fighting on our terms and placed our ideas at the enemy’s disposal” (p. 54). If this is a war of ideas, and words are weapons, then we need to be using the right ammunition, so to speak. …

This is not to suggest that the threat of terrorism is non-existent or a call to underestimate Al Qaeda’s ideological appeal or material capabilities, and Waller is quick to point out (correctly) that ridicule can be as dangerous as any kinetic weapon when improperly deployed. In the nine years since September 11, however, far more people in the United States have died of heart failure, diabetes, or car accidents than terrorist attacks. Given this, pointing out that Americans statistically have more to fear from a cheeseburger than a ‘guy in a cave’ is not only true, it’s good strategy.

Read the Fleischer’s whole post here.

Qualified Support from Congress of DoD Strategic Communication

For your reference, the below citations are from reports of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees from before the summer recess in support of Defense information activities commonly referred to as strategic communication. As far as the House Appropriations Committee, Defense Subcommittee, there is nothing in support of DOD information activities, as you may already know. The numbers in parentheses at the end of each citation is the page number of the report.

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Public Diplomacy is not an influence activity and the DOD can only use PSYOP to engage foreign audiences

A paper by Daniel Silverberg and COL Joseph Heimann in the current issue of the US Army War College’s superb quarterly Parameters discusses the legal authorities of the Defense Department’s activities in strategic communication, public affairs, and public diplomacy. In doing so, “An Ever-Expanding War: Legal Aspects of Online Strategic Communication” makes some startling statements on both the Defense Department’s and the State Department’s methods.

This paper is well-timed to coincide with current discussions in Congress on the role of DOD in engaging foreign audiences, particularly in the area of online communication. A key issue for the authors is whether interactive engagement of foreign audiences in the era of the social web by Combatant Commanders (eg. CENTCOM),

while critical to overall American strategic communication efforts, are properly characterized as “military missions,” that make use of DOD funding.

They do not blame the DOD for mission creep, with the understatement that DOD “is arguably filling a need where resource-strapped civilian agencies might be falling short.” (This statement assumes civilian agencies have the desire to fill the gap.)

Most troubling for me are the statements on which they base much of their analysis(emphasis is mine):

[O]nce the Department no longer labels its communication measures as PSYOP, it potentially subverts its own statutory authorities to conduct such programs. The Department has limited authorities to engage foreign audiences, and PSYOP are the principal authorized mechanism to do so. In legal terms, in order to justify the use of appropriated funds, DOD activities are required to support a DOD-specific mission and not conflict with the responsibility of another agency.8 Once DOD stops calling interactive communication activities PSYOP and undertakes functions similar to those of another department, the “military mission” becomes less defined.

Second, DOD may be encroaching upon the Department of State’s mission to engage foreign audiences. The two departments’ missions, while overlapping, are distinct. DOD’s mission is one of influence; the State Department’s mission is one of relationship-building and dialogue. The amalgamation of these tasks potentially undermines the State Department’s efforts. At a minimum, it forces one to ask exactly where does DOD’s mission end.

More on this from me later. What are you thoughts?

Guest Post: PSYOP for everyone

By Christopher Paul

An Army intelligence officer I met recently at a conference related an anecdote to me about the psychological operations (PSYOP) personnel his team was co-located with on a previous deployment. He shared that the PSYOPers would get upset when they perceived the actions of maneuver elements as impinging on (or ignoring) their domain: “They can’t do that without talking to us, that’s a PSYACT [Psychological Operations action]!”[1] The intel guys would overhear this and then tease them about their protective approach to influence.

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Boyd and Information Operations

From Air University at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base:

In the midst of the Korean War in the 1950s, an American fighter pilot developed a revolutionary concept that changed tactical, operational and strategic war planning.

Based on his tactical dogfighting experience with North Korean MiGs, Col. John Boyd coined the term OODA (observe, orient, decide and act) Loop, which stresses the importance of collecting, interpreting and reacting to battlefield information faster than the enemy in order to maintain a strategic advantage.

More than 35 Airmen and civilians from installations worldwide converged at Maxwell Air Force Base’s Curtis LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education Aug. 11 through 15 to learn how the OODA Loop and other key concepts apply in information operations.

… “The goal is to give students introductory knowledge of information operations in accordance with Air Force Doctrine Document 2-5,” [course instructor Capt. Ernest McLamb] said.

During the week-long course, students discussed electronic warfare, influence operations and network warfare in the air, space and cyberspace domains. To top things off, students put their new-found knowledge to the test with an exercise simulating an information operations cell within an air operations center. Students like Master Sgt. Michael Brogan were split into three groups to plan an information operations campaign including key concepts such as public affairs strategic communication, network and electronic warfare, and military deception.
“I have a much better understanding how public affairs supports combatant commanders and what we bring to the fight” …

While the graphic is cool (credit: SSgt Jason Lake, author of the above article), it conveys the absolutely wrong image of IO. No doubt unintentional, but note that public affairs is furthest from the foreground.

On the subject of John Boyd, see The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy, and War edited by Mark Safranski, with a foreword by Tom Barnett. My copy came yesterday; review to come.

(h/t Sam)

Pentagon “roadmap” calls for “boundaries”…

Heads up on a report just acquired by FOIA by National Security Archive: Information Operations Roadmap. The National Security Archive headline describes it thus:

A secret Pentagon "roadmap" on war propaganda, personally approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in October 2003, calls for "boundaries" between information operations abroad and the news media at home, but provides for no such limits and claims that as long as the American public is not "targeted," any leakage of PSYOP to the American public does not matter.

Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive at George Washington University and posted on the Web today, the 74-page "Information Operations Roadmap" admits that "information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP, increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience and vice-versa," but argues that "the distinction between foreign and domestic audiences becomes more a question of USG [U.S. government] intent rather than information dissemination practices."

The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, amended in 1972 and 1998, prohibits the U.S. government from propagandizing the American public with information and psychological operations directed at foreign audiences; and several presidential directives, including Reagan’s NSD-77 in 1983, Clinton’s PDD-68 in 1999, and Bush’s NSPD-16 in July 2002 (the latter two still classified), have set up specific structures to carry out public diplomacy and information operations. These and other documents relating to U.S. PSYOP programs were posted today as part of a new Archive Electronic Breifing Book.

Several press accounts have referred to the 2003 Pentagon document but today’s posting is the first time the text has been publicly available. Sections of the document relating to computer network attack (CNA) and "offensive cyber operations" remain classified under black highlighting.

There is a lot to digest in this and related documents. Other priorities prevent me from diving deep right now, but I’ll return to this later.

UPDATE 1 Feb 06 See ZenPundit’s posting on same (but with a different title and 3 days after this post :).