Military censorship, it’s not what you think

Briefly, the military is censoring, but it’s not what you think. They are censoring the websurfing of troops in Iraq, using filtering software to protect children and citizens of Muslim countries from accessing "questionable" content. While preventing porn surfing could be seen as reasonable (trying to accomodate the filter notion), but the implementation is much broader and blocks political speech. What is Centcom’s take on this? I don’t know, but it’ll be interesting to find out.

See Wonkett’s We’re Bringing the War Back Home and Our Boys Need Gossip, a listing by BoingBoing of some of the blocked sites, and Kathryn Cramer’s always penetrating analysis and deep sea dredging (be sure to review her side links on the "SmartFilter Lowdown" for other offsite news and analysis). Kathryn notes, among other things, some of the states licensing SmartFilter: Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

Should our troops be subject to the same censorship? Beyond using the troops as props (sourced from TPM), is the Administration really concerned about the Zogby poll (with or without various repudiations and concerns about its accuracy), or MilitaryTimes polls that continue to show the military on a different page than their civilian leadership?

Is this really necessary? Is this a necessary and proper use of our resources? Are we that concerned about the time our guys are spending on "subversive" blogs and news sources?

The is a natural, and unfortunate, extension of the McCarthyism of the White House’s rhetoric: "you’re with us or against us and I don’t care if you’re really with actually because I’ll do what I want".

Pathetic and Disgusting

Briefly, Protesting at Soldier Funerals is repulsive and pathetic.

In the back of a truck, there were signs that read "Thank God for IED’s" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."
I was with the Phelps family. They’ve launched a disturbing campaign to tarnish the funerals of fallen soldiers.

Fred Phelps is the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka. The congregation is made up mostly of his family. Phelps has 13 children, 54 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren.

He describes himself as an "old-time" gospel preacher who says, "You can’t preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God."

Blogging w/out Attribution

Briefly, the tactics of the Pentagon encouraging milbloggers with "exclusive editorial content" (which I still don’t receive) is now public in the corporate sphere. The New York Times has a story today about Wal-Mart’s public relations agency, Edelman, providing press releases to favorite bloggers. Wal-Mart isn’t well loved for its corporate social responsibility, something WM is countering. The core issue here is how bloggers are cutting and pasting press releases into their blogs without attribution. The response by some of the bloggers caught in the act is both sad and laughable. You should read the article… people are starting to realize the problems with lazy media, er, bloggers.

Extremism, Terror, and the Future of Conflict

Policy Review is going full force at incomplete and competing agendas and theories of the "war on terror", and 4GW. Besides Tony Corn’s "World War IV as Fourth-Generation Warfare" and Michael J. Mazarr’s "Extremism, Terror, and the Future of Conflict", you should (must) read Donald Rumsfeld’s conversation at the Council of Foreign Relations, "New Realities in the Media Age".

I strongly urge you to read all three. I will comment more on Mazarr’s article later when time avails. (Hat tip to Tammy for the Mazarr head’s up.)

Tags: 4GW, War, QDR, Current Affairs, Politics, Terrorism, Security, GWOT, Public Diplomacy, Long War

Simulated Media for Pentagon Exercises

War is about to break out between Bogaland and Gotland. Reportings in the capitals of each country, Huvudstad and Visby, respectively, tell of an deepening crisis. This isn’t real the real deal. It’s part of a media simulation the United States Joint Forces Command, "simumedia" if you will.

The nine year old World News Network, with its 1,000th newscast as part of a yearly US-Japan exercise, trains the military to consider, manage, and interact with the media.

The branch provides training on how the presence of mass media affects the planning and execution of military operations. The purpose is to educate commanders and their staffs on the influence mass media can have on their operations, and how to effectively work with the media while accomplishing their missions.

The more nimble, compared to State, Pentagon continues to leverage the massive amounts of money thrown at it as part of the GWOT. Through bureaucratic morass, budgetary constraints, and failed perceptions of value, the Pentagon engages the Rendon Group and cut-outs to seed black, gray, and white propaganda overseas to influence foreign and domestic audiences. Through these programs, DoD continues to get more sophisticated as an actor in media diplomacy, to the exclusion of or in advance of State.

World News Network, an internal services, "broadcasts" during exercises news on television, radio and the web. Placing and keeping the military on the front lines of the media war requires honing communication skills.

“We don’t just ‘deal’ with the media anymore,” Stephens explained. “We help the media tell our story. That’s the paradigm shift we’re making. The media in a free society provides a valuable service to its citizens, and we need to be open and honest in telling our story to them so they can tell the public. That’s what free societies are all about.”

The realism of the SimuMedia is emphasized in feedback and is necessary for effective training of the military.

“One of the challenges we have is operating in an exercise environment that blends live, virtual and constructed elements,” said Williams, who also serves as the branch manager. “Trainees don’t always get to see the entire picture. WNN has become another model. We are giving them images, voice, analysis and discussion that the other resources they have can’t provide. And we’re able to do it on the fly.”

The creation of JPASE as a permanent resource for public affairs (aka public diplomacy if were conducted by State) is another piece in the mosaic of military-centric communications with the world.

“JPASE brings the public affairs focus to the training and helps us shape the training we give to the public affairs professionals on those staffs,” Williams said. “We’re providing media those public affairs staffs have to work with during operations. It’s important that we stimulate public affairs staffs during training.”

Adding to the realism is contracted staff from outside the military or government.

“Using contractors also allows us to draw talent from the outside,” Green said. “We have people on the team who really were television reporters and producers before coming here. Others are former military public affairs professionals. We have a team of people with diverse talents and skills that operates as a cohesive unit.”

“We recognized a couple of years ago that we were trying to emulate television news and newspaper organizations, so we asked ourselves, why not hire people from that environment?” Williams said.

Where is State? They are forced to sit on the side without the money or resources to provide a non-military face to foreign publics while the military continues to become more sophisticated in participating in and managing media diplomacy. Is this the path we really want to be going down?

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Public Diplomacy

Phase IV, 4GW, and Comprehensive Solutions

To continue my previous post, the myth of Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) is distracting from the reality of present andfuture threats. I previously
focused primarily on legitimacy issues of the State and of the use of
force. This post has lingered in various draft forms for a week or so,
even getting posted briefly (and thus picked up by a number of RSS
readers) before I took it down.

Continue reading “Phase IV, 4GW, and Comprehensive Solutions

There Is No Buck

I have been wanting to post on this Administration’s dodging of accountability for sometime. Total Information Awareness’ There Is No Buck does it better than I would have.

American critics of the Bush ‘administration’ – Democratic politicians, particularly – have long had a conceptual problem in their quest to effectively counter it, politically. It’s been fairly clear for a while now that what we face is not mere incompetence in a traditional context, but an entirely different organizational context – unaccountability (and its product, incompetence) is a feature, not a bug.

Read the post.

Terrorists and Combatants: Worth Distinguishing?

TransAtlantic Assembly has an interesting post about Terrorists and Combatants: Worth Distinguishing?.

The Court of Appeal of Milan recently decided that suicide attacks on Marines are not terrorism. This sounds pretty inflammatory. But before getting upset, try first to understand what this is all about.

Why does this matter? Because vocabularly and perceptions matter and strategy should be at least cognitive of differences to know which tool is most appropriate for a given solution. Always branding an act as a terrorist act has become like calling everything against our will, expressed or not, an act of Communism.

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Cold War Diplomacy in Iraq

The Volokh Conspiracy posted a demonstration of Cold War-style public and cultural diplomacy at work in Iraq. This is how the sea that harbors or tolerates guerrillas rejects them. This is long range work that can’t be measured using metrics. It’s fuzzy and at the same time enduring and deep.

See also This is cultural diplomacy at work.

Relations with the Turkish street is crashing

What happens when states with formerly friendly relations have, at best, exchanges only at the highest political levels? When citizen exchanges through tourism, education, or commerce are slowed, perceptions can get skewed. A dual university exchange program with SUNY and a Turkish university isn’t supported by State because it "takes too long". Sacrificing the long goal for the short-term gain is extremely myopic and dangerous. What happens when people don’t know the United States? When they no longer disassociate America with its often (to them) annoying leadership? When the American Military Imperialism is seen as here and now? You get a domestically made movie with the largest budget ever seen in Turkey. To see the movie you almost have to make reservations because theaters across Turkey are sold out. It’s doing well with Turkish audiences in Germany as well.

What’s the plot, you might ask. Starting as phenomenally popular TV series, "Kurtlar vadisi – Irak" is about American soldiers in Iraq, but not the guys we know. Starting with a real event in July 2003, it reinforces the perception of what too many Turks have of Americans, as reinforced by Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, Afghanistan wedding parties getting shot, etc. Incidents we here in the US don’t really see or don’t understand the impact of. The movie has a massacre of a wedding party, fire-bombing a mosque, executions, and Gary Busey (yes, that Gary Busey) as an evil doctor harvesting organs from Iraqi prisoners for patients in the US, Israel and Britain. Except for Busey’s role, these incidents in some form or another have played out in reality making the movie not as far fetched to foreign audiences as one might initially think. However, the movie is an extreme and should be considered dangerous to our relations with the Street. See the trailers, especially the one about the cargo trailer, here.

Maybe this will take the attention from the Tom Clancy-style novel Metal Firtina ("Metal Storm") about a 2007 American invasion of Turkey (and here)?

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Public Diplomacy

There is no Clash of Civiliziations… continued

Briefly, I have commented before on Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations (which should be titled "Clash of Common Sense"). On, a great site you should visit if you’re concerned about perceptions and insights (not enough policymakers are when it gets down to the brass tacks), there is an interview worthwhile of watching. Dr. Wafa Sultan, speaking in Arabic and appearing on al-Jazeera goes after the Muslim clerics and political leaders who she believes distort the Koran. It’s not a clash of civilizations but a clash of modernity and "barbarism".

Shadow Company movie review

Later this month in Texas, the movie Shadow Company will make its debut at the South by Southwest Film Festival. Self-described as a “ground breaking investigative” documentary, Shadow Company explores the origins and “destinations” of private security contractors (PSCs).

Back in January, Onnesha Roychoudhuri interviewed Nick Bicanic, Shadow Company’s director and co-founder of the production company putting the movie out. If you haven’t read the interview, you should.

Not to be redundent with Roychoudhuri, I asked Nick why he made Shadow Company.

"I decided to make this film because I could see that the Rules of War have changed. There was a relevant message about modern warfare that did not come across in other media. While wars are more and more in the public eye – they are also more and more in private hands. Thousands of private security contractors – soldiers for hire – were working in Iraq and I wanted to find out a number of things about them. What exactly do they do? What kind of people are they? What motivates them to do it?"

There are two interwoven themes in the movie. The first is a description and history of mercenaries. The second is the role of private military companies (PMCs), focusing on the subset of private security companies (PSCs), in modern conflict.

This movie will open some eyes, as it should. When you see the movie, go in with an open mind. Afterwards, consider investigations of corruption and bad behavior of firms like AEGIS, CusterBattles and financial improprieties from KBR, etc. The incident with the Blackwater contractors in Fallujah is discussed, but understandably not included is a lawsuit alleging a corporate penny pinching contributed to or allowed the incident to happen in the first place. Also keep in mind that of the dozens and dozens of firms operating in Iraq today, you’ve heard of only a few.

Will you be swayed for or against privatization of war zone duties? According to Nick, an early test screening was polarized: half of the audience felt the movie was biased for PMCs and the other half saw a movie biased against PMCs.

I would have complicated the survey if I were in that early test audience. To me, the movie showed a failure in usage and control. The powers that be intentionally grant too much autonomy to corporate entities and assume the mantle of responsibility is on the company. Nick does a great job in showing how PMCs operate at arms-length from the military; the US Armed Forces are hardly seen or referenced.

Delegation of authority is done without consideration of lost accountability. Academic debate over PSCs frequently begins or quickly gets to issues of accountability. This movie, however, hints at a deeper implicit, if not explicit, leeway USG grants the PSCs. It also highlights the US’s reliance on PSCs, which you, as the viewer, should judge as appropriate or not.

Engaging companies with poor and unsatisfactory track records, even tainted leadership, indicate bad policy. The choice to allow AEGIS to “fail upward” is, in my opinion, central to understanding the impact of PMCs.

Rarely, if ever, discussed is the impact PMCs have on our overall mission, which isn’t military. Interviews with Robert Young Pelton touch on this and the insurgent interview nails it.

If you saw Gunner Palace (see it if you haven’t) and saw a movie about inappropriate staffing (cannon-cockers working missions they weren’t trained for), you’ll probably see what I’m talking about in Shadow Company.

Overall, the film is well-done and thought provoking and does a good job distinguishing between mercenaries and PMCs, which too many people still can’t fathom. Interviews with Robert Young Pelton and Cobus Claassens, and the voice over by Oxford-grad James (an Operator), were excellent.

When you see this movie, ask yourself “What is the real impact of PMCs?” If you’re not concerned after watching the film, you weren’t paying attention.

Technorati Tags:
Shadow Company,
Current Affairs,
Public Diplomacy

UK broadband getting faster

News brief: BT ‘quadruples’ broadband speeds.

BT is to increase its broadband speeds by up to four times from 31 March.
The firm said 78% of its users would be able to access at least four megabits per second (4Mbps), compared with the maximum of two available now.
Almost half would get 6Mbps and those close to their local exchange would be able to access 8Mbps.

And the American market languishes…

Media Raid in Kenya Sparks Cyber Outcry

The response to Kenyan governmental thuggery is gaining international traction. Mentalacrobatics is tracking cyberspace. This unfortunate exercise is further evidence in the power of ICT in enabling people to stand-up for their rights as human beings. The UNCHR is meaningless (some might put the period right here… often I’m inclined to also…) without the knowledge rights are being suppressed. Interconnectivity doesn’t just raise boats, it eventually enables additional pressure points to inhibit such actions as was carried out. Read Mentalacrobatics for more on this.

The raid stirred Kenyans to raise their voices in protest in the streets of Nairobi. The same reaction was seen from Kenyans online as Kenyan bloggers decided to speak out.

New Piracy resource coming online

For those monitoring piracy, a new resource is coming online: Global Marine Piracy Magazine. Their mission is to…

provide the world’s best and most comprehensiveinformation on marine piracy … clearly, the most significant threat
to the world economy today. While "briefcase" nuclear devices are often
in the news … the international media seldom reports piracy unless
it’s a major event. The typical pirate is an armed robber, but the ease
with which armed bandits can commandeer large merchant vessels is
well-know to terrorist organizations which thrive on chaos. A single
terrorist incident involving a bulk carrier in a major port can exceed
the damages caused to the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks.   

If you’re like me and see brown and blue water issues becoming more important (with or without media attention), this may become a useful resource. National navies are growing…

  • South Africa is taking delivery of sub made in Germany
  • Israel is posturing to include "overseas targets"
  • China is a concern in the QDR (and here)
  • Indonesia is considering buying subs
  • plus others…

The two resources on piracy are the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre’s Weekly Piracy Report and the daily The Cargo Letter. Piracy happens in more places than off the Horn of Africa, the media just  doesn’t pick up those stories. 

Side note: Interested in more from the naval side? Read this War Room post on Naval Supremacy between India and China and read Dr Barnett’s message to the Indian Navy (published in 2000 however) linked there.

Technorati Tags:
Current Affairs,

Out of Uniform, Out of Touch?

Briefly, while looking for something else, I came across this 22 May 2003 article from the CS Monitor on the Brookings Institution website. It is notable for its premature lambasting of retired military, and other experts, and their predictions on Iraq.

What I find most intriguing is the "armchair generals" knew more than given credit at the time or subsequently.

Much has been written about how wrong the civilian "experts" were in their dismal predictions of how the Iraq war would unfold. But surprisingly little has been made of the fact that virtually all the retired military experts were just as wrong. As ubiquitous as they are, military experts are granted much public trust – but it is worth reviewing just how much they elevate the level of public debate and understanding.

Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni warned that a rapid push to Baghdad would be a "black hole" for US forces. Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf charged that US war planners didn’t appreciate the depths of Iraqi loyalty to Saddam Hussein. And Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey predicted, just hours before the fall of Baghdad, that US casualties would reach 3,000. Other lesser-known retired officers offered similarly errant forecasts.

Sure, some of the predictions were off. Some of the network hired "experts" weren’t, but some of the others were more knowledgable and too many bought off on the flowers and "Mission Accomplished".

Consider the case of Gen. Wesley Clark, arguably the most knowledgeable of the retired generals on TV. Earlier this year, he warned that a war with Iraq would distract US attention from war on terrorism. As US forces continued wrapping up Al Qaeda cells worldwide, he complained that the Pentagon had not sent enough ground forces to the Gulf region. When US forces rapidly advanced toward Baghdad, he warned that they couldn’t possibly occupy a post-Hussein Iraq. With US forces slowly restoring basic services throughout Iraq, General Clark is now complaining that US forces are dangerously overstretched.

I’ve met General Clark and he is brilliant. If you would, re-read that last sentance above.

Military Vets Runnings Against Republicans

The divide continues in America. This is not the rich v poor or white v non-white debate. This is the civil-military relationship in the United States. Joshnua Green’s Company Left in the January/February issue of the Atlantic Monthly comments on a change presently happening.

Joshua Green’s article conforms with the MilitaryTimes survey’s of serving officers: an expanding disagreement with the President and the Administration over policy. I was asked the other day why doesn’t the military simply do something and act on their beliefs. Seriously, would you want that? The deep tradition of civil-military relations, a founding tenent of our democracy, requires the military to be subjugated below the civilian leadership.

It is clear the military leadership is feeling out alternative expressions. Public disagreements with the Administration is on the rise, evident in the few examples I’ve posted in the civil-military category on this site. Few people seem to remember that the Pentagon’s leadership is generally civilians, but one might conclude the "politicized" brass resident in the Pentagon is more closely aligned with civilians than the military.

I’d also suggest listening to Tom Ashbrook’s interview with Pete McCloskey. Hon McCloskey is "coming back to confront a Republican party — his party — that he says has gone dangerously wrong."

Rattle a snake, get bit by a snake – Kenyan Censorship

KbcnewspapersAccording to the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation, the Kenyan government raided the offices of the newspaper the Standard. The government alleged some of the newspaper’s journalists were paid to run "fabricated" stories with the "intention to inciting ethnic hate and animosity leading to a breach of peace."

The BBC has more information, including a statement by Internal Security Minister John Michuki: "If you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it."
It seems likely the corruption was not of the journalists but of the government itself, according to the BBC. The claim by Information Minister Mutahi Kagwe of remaining "committed to the idel of press freedom and [the] promotion of responsible journalism" rings false by their actions.

Actions often speak far louder than words.

What type of development is possible under such a regime? The burning of newspapers just doesn’t portend good things in information sharing to raise all boats.

For more details see Kathryn Cramer here, Xeni here, and especially MentalAcrobatics here.

MentalAcrobatics has CCTV footage of the raid.