The New (contracted) USIA

On the heels of my posting in Information Operations (IO) by the Defense Department that sound, taste, and smell suspiciously like Public Diplomacy, comes news of a $20 million contract by the military command in Baghdad to monitor news and provide “public relations products”. This is troubling on many levels.

Let’s start with PHK’s post on WhirldedView questioning whether the Defense Department, known for “private contractors like the Lincoln Group, SAIC, Rendon and SY Coleman Inc. to produce and disseminate fake “good” news reports for placement in the Iraqi media”, is the appropriate agent of American public diplomacy. Regardless of whether you think DOD should be the lead, it is and that’s the plain fact. The $20m contract is reinforcing the lack of support that any semblance of a USIA-like entity can provide from within the government directly or in a managerial capacity to provide oversight of the contract. Instead, DOD must do it.

Consider who is doing the contracting. Origination of the contract from the “military commanders in Baghdad” is akin to the an Embassy contracting out and symbolic of the power of the Combatant Commands, in this CENTCOM. No big deal by itself but its emblematic of the leadership role of Defense over State in the region.

Now comes the biggest point: more privatization of American public diplomacy. It is one thing to recruit American business to participate in, or even design, public diplomacy programs, but we’re talking about very Rendon-like skills here. Check that, this is outsourcing a capability State used to provide publically through its Foreign Media Reaction website. The FMR, by the way, used Embassy personnel actively monitoring local news and was pulled off the public website after GQ Magazine cited State’s own FMR product skewering Karen Hughes after her failed Listening Tour. FMR sorta lives on in the form of Rapid Response & other material from State’s Media Reaction Division, but nothing public and not like the FMR that systematically and more proactively monitored foreign language media. More importantly, nothing on the same scale.

The new diplomatic corps in Defense consists of soldiers, airmen, and sailors that are, in the Iraqi theater at least, going to be backed by their own version of the USIA.

U.S. military leaders in Baghdad have put out for bid a two-year, $20 million public relations contract that calls for extensive monitoring of U.S. and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq.

The contract calls for assembling a database of selected news stories and assessing their tone as part of a program to provide "public relations products" that would improve coverage of the military command’s performance, according to a statement of work attached to the proposal.

Is this really where we should be going? State functions increasingly being (re)developed in Defense, and through outsourcing?

AFRICOM: focusing America’s attention

Briefly, the creation of a new command centered on Africa, likely to be named AFRICOM, is really a no brainer. With current attention to Africa by our primary ‘diplomats’ divided between three different commands (Pacific, Europe, and Central), it’s hard to focus resources on outreach programs, some of which have been blogged about on MountainRunner.

More on the need for AFRICOM:

Senior special operations officers believe that the creation of an African
Command would alleviate the cumbersome bureaucracy that is slowing progress on
the Horn of Africa.

Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa was created in 2002 to stop the
influence of radical Islamists coming over the border from Somalia. The task
force oversees an area roughly a third of the size of the continental United
States and has or had forces working in Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Uganda,
Tanzania and Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula.

But much of the Horn of Africa task force’s time is taken up by turf battles
with the embassy, host nations and regional commands….

Under a regional command structure, the staff would serve longer tours and
“institutional” relationships between the command and the host nations and
embassies would be created, Whelan said.

Unlike deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan where staff officers deploy in one
unit, individual soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deploy to the Horn of
Africa staff for tours of six months to one year.

“This is where people come to check off their war on terror box,” said a
senior noncommissioned officer.

Most of the officers are not trained in aid missions, and they are not around
long enough to see projects and programs from start to finish.

“There is a learning curve with the staffs that go out to these missions,”
Whelan said.

She said many officers have to learn new regulations and missions since most
are military officers trained primarily for combat.

Trained for aid missions? More militarized humanitarian aid by the guys who can do it… no time for analysis but just a cry for increasing Jointness…

Of Information Operations, DIME, and America’s Ambassadors

Society is a very mysterious animal with many faces and hidden potentialities, and… it’s extremely shortsighted to believe that the face society happens to be presenting to you at a given moment is its only true face. None of us knows all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit of the population. – Valclav Havel, 31 May 1990

Modern conflict relies heavily on influencing social strata spanning many lands. Information campaigns are waged, neglected, and abused by attempts to manipulate various audiences. We’ve read the news about how the Pentagon made such a bad decision to hire the Lincoln Group to provide news insertion and pondered over the “real” purpose of the ill-fated Office of Strategic Influence. I’ve sat in meetings listening to individuals more intelligent and more knowledgeable than myself use these examples, among many, to fuel their arguments against the validity today or in the future of any link between the Pentagon and “Public Diplomacy”. An erroneous viewpoint in my opinion that’s removed from reality. Their position isn’t surprising, however. The second paragraph of Joseph Nye’s preface to Soft Power gives Rumsfeld’s opinion on soft power to reinforce the argument: “I don’t know what it means.”

The SecDef may have learned the meaning of Soft Power by now, but regardless of if he has and regardless of academics accepting the military as participants, with major and possibly central roles, in American Public Diplomacy, the military is in “the last three feet”.

If you’re a reader of MountainRunner, or have searched the archives, you’ll have seen many posts highlighting examples of how the Defense Department, or sometimes more accurately elements within the Defense Department, “gets it”. For example, from the Office of Naval Research Global and its Science Visitor Program (SVP) that’s on par with the old International Visitors Program (IVP) of the State Department to a submarine tender making port calls in the Gulf of Guinea, we see the Navy smoothly sliding into a role of America’s Ambassador.

You may have read my recent post on CSM Daniel Wood, in writing his memo last month, and how he certainly understood the concept of soft power. While some may think we’re in a new way of war, it is clear by Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War the value of creating and engendering cooperation, as in the Mytilenian Debate, is really older than our civilization, let alone a generational shift.

You may also have seen my comments on Counter-Insurgency (COIN) on this site and references to insightful military authors on how to conduct relations at the personal level. Authors such as John Nagl (Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife) have discussed the value of working with and not against or simply amongst populations. Just as the insurgents are, in Mao’s words, fish in the sea of the people, so too are we and we must use the sea as a force multiplier. Books like Ahmed Hashim’s Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq read like case studies on how to work with the “mysterious animal” that our real ambassadors — the military and its agents — come in contact with daily.

In places that increasingly count ("sanctuaries", disaster zones, etc), the “last three feet” of contact with foreign publics is increasingly “owned” by our military. Modern conflict is both kinetic (bullets whizzing and missiles flying) and non-kinetic (creating influence and disruption) requiring new methods of prevention and counter-action. The war of words and pictures are of greater importance over “traditional” metrics of warfighting. In this reality, we’re seeing old texts resurface and get dusted off like Galula (1964), Calwell (1906), and even USMC’s own Small Wars Manual (1940).

These all have something in common: learning to work with and understand the “mysterious animal”. Robert Scales (Culture-Centric Warfare, Clausewitz and World War IV), George W. Smith (Avoiding a Napoleonic Ulcer: Bridging the Gap of Cultural Intelligence), Montgomery McFate (Anthropology and Counterinsurgency, Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture), Robert Pape (Dying to Win), Marc Sageman (Understanding Terrorist Networks), and others have essentially written about using soft power to "get" what Newt Gingrich observed: “The real key is not how many enemy do I kill. The real key is how many allies do I grow.”

Military-authored material on the importance of cultural understanding, building trust, and managing communications appears nearly every day. We can see how insurgents use information operations to cleave our allies and distract us.

Of interest, if only for what it uncovers, is recent monograph by Major Joseph L. Cox, Information Operations in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom – What Went Wrong? You should read Marc Lynch / Abu Aardvark’s highlighting contradictions and surprising admissions made by Cox. Unfortunately, Cox seems to have normalized “information operations” to the point of improperly conflated it “information warfare”. It also very interesting that Cox argues and accepts the firewalling of IO from Public Affairs (PA), as General Myers, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2004, suggested. This forces the very stove-piping Major Cox said contributed to IO failures elsewhere in his paper. Successful IO requires horizontal integration of interagency operations. Co-mingling of Information Warfare (IW) and IO is a necessary evil in the world of manipulated media. Cox does more than co-mingle but treats them as synonyms based on Army usage.

This is essentially the crux of the post by Patricia Kushlis of WhirledView. PHK rightly condemns the Pentagon for using Rendon and its cut-outs like Lincoln to design IO that will knowingly deceive for short-term gain and reflect this bad information back into the US.

Another look at Colonel Ralph Baker’s The Decisive Weapon: A Brigade Combat Team Commander’s Perspective on Information Operations is instructive. The role of the military as the front-line ‘ambassador’ for the US must be accepted. The theme of Baker’s piece echoes Nagl (if you don’t want to read his book, then I urge you to watch his presentation), Scales, Calwell, and virtually all else on counter-insurgency and “Small Wars”. Sounds like Public Diplomacy? That’s because the principles are the same.

Read the following monograph by Robert D. Steele at the Army’s Strategic Studies Institute: Putting the ‘I’ Back into DIME. Where is the DIME (Diplomacy, Information, Military, Economics)? Where does State really come into DIME? Are they doing diplomacy relevant to contemporary issues?

DOD hits the hotspots while State hides behind fortresses, insulated from the outside (to be fair, too frequently and detrimentally the military is allowed to create mini-America in their fortifications for the comfort of home), requiring new rules to “force” rotations to “hardship” posts.

Is it because Defense emphasizes learning? Afterall, all these monographs are being written by DOD personnel and is there anything from State? Learning is a low (not just lower) priority at State, budgeting maybe 5% of the total budget while Defense allocated 10-15% for this purpose. This is one more example of Defense moving ahead to engage the world. As Robert Scales wrote in Culture-Centric Warfare (US Naval Institute Proceedings, Oct 2004):

“Leveraging non-military advantages requires creating alliances, reading intentions, building trust, converting opinions, and managing perceptions… all tasks that demand an exceptional ability to understand people, their culture and their motivation.”

Defense’s initiatives result from greater funding, but also, and more importantly, a greater prioritization as Eccentric Star points out.

Again, where is State? Where are the reports examining State’s role? We do have countless reports criticizing different aspects of American Public Diplomacy, as conducted by State, but no academic and scholarly analyses from within the establishment like Cox’s and Steele’s. Those “many reports” often have valid points, some don’t go far enough, and others miss the point completely. Reports like the 2004 Defense Sciences Board (DSB) “get it” and call on a new “jointness”:

  • “… treat learning knowledge of culture and developing language skills as seriously as we treat learning combat skills: both are needed for success in achieving US political and military objectives.”
  • “…Public diplomacy, public affairs, PSYOP and open military information operations must be coordinated…”
  • “Nothing shapes U.S. policies and global perceptions of U.S. foreign and national security objectives more powerfully than the President’s statements and actions… Policies will not succeed unless they are communicated to global and domestic audiences in ways that are credible and allow them to make informed, independent judgments. Words in tone and substance should avoid offence where possible; messages should seek to reduce, not increase, perceptions of arrogance, opportunism, and double standards.”
  • Policies and strategic communication cannot be separated.”

Other reports, like the Djerejian Report (2003), missed the point and emphasized measuring the immeasurable, a focus on unilateral communication (the “if only they knew us” theory that results in fallacies like Shared Values as “was well conceived and based on solid research”), and ignorance of social networks. And the GAO Report of 2003 falls in the middle with good and bad information, but more importantly missed opportunities. In its appendix, questions in its survey to PAOs simply weren’t analyzed:

  • Is the US Public Diplomacy effort in your country increasing US understanding of foreign publics? 75% Moderate or less
  • Is there limited use / access to Internet by population: 44% Moderate to Very Major
  • Is there opposition to current US policies elsewhere: 61% Moderate to Very Major
  • Do you coordinate with USAID or US Military? 42% (USAID), 59% (Mil) Very to Great Extent
  • FY04 Plan include strategic goal of “mutual understanding”? 77% No

PHK’s concern of what will happen as the military continues to ‘own’ public diplomacy is well-placed, but who else will fill the gap? By PHK’s own observation, the military is filling a void and providing training documents for our public diplomats:

In fact, the model that Baker outlines strikingly resembles that used in U.S. Embassy public affairs offices prior to 1999 or at the very least during the Cold War and its immediate aftermath when there were such things as functioning public diplomacy country plans.

If I was involved in training an incoming State Department class of junior officers, I would include Baker’s article in the must read list. I would also invite Baker as a speaker. In fact, I’d probably add his article to more senior embassy officer training because many of the lessons learned and antidotes described are equally applicable to US embassy public affairs efforts.

Lest we forget the man in charge of officially countering misinformation at State has been ordered to not speak to the press while the military actually incorporates media relations into battle exercises with radio, television, and blog media in their own studios to enhance the realism. By the way, if you’re in the US, you’ll have to Google for the Countering Misinformation website because it is intentionally not available via for fear of "propagandizing" domestic audiences (even though it is the truth).

Lest we also forget Presidential Decision Directive 68 (PDD 68) that established the International Public Information Core Group (ICG), chaired by the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, to coordinate all agencies’ (DOD, State, etc) International Public Information (IPI) activities. PSYOPS were to operate under this umbrella. According to the IPIG Charter:

The objective of IPI is to synchronize the informational objectives, themes and messages that will be projected overseas . . . to prevent and mitigate crises and to influence foreign audiences in ways favorable to the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives." The charter insists that information distributed through IPI should be designed not "to mislead foreign audiences" and that information programs "must be truthful.

The Defense Sciences Board report on “PSYOP in Time of Military Conflict” (May 2000) explicitly lists PSYSOP as a tool under IPI: “PSYOP actions are a subset of Information Operations (IO) and International Public Information (IPI) as described by Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 68.”

In working with the mysterious animals that are the societies that are or have the potential of becoming threats to our national security, we need to create a new Jointness like the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, except between DOD and State. PHK is rightly concerned, but with militarized humanitarian aid, physical security concerns, and institutional commitment, we can’t throw out the military’s role when State doesn’t step up.

State cleans up

Briefly, from the New York Times:

State Department investigators have concluded that Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the head of the federal agency that oversees most government broadcasts to foreign countries, improperly hired a friend on the public payroll for nearly $250,000 over two and a half years, according to a summary of their report made public this afternoon by Democratic Congressional staff members.

“The Best Of All Possible Ambassadors”

The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Mullen wrote a nice piece on the importance and value of public diplomacy, exchange, and awareness (hat tip to Eddie at FDNF).

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, renewed our sense of what it means to be citizens of the United States. But as we prepare to observe the fifth anniversary of that terrible day, I believe it’s also time for us to consider our role as citizens of the world.

Continue reading ““The Best Of All Possible Ambassadors”

Custer Battles is Guilty, maybe not of fraud, but at least of treason

While not guilty of fiscally defrauding the US Government, a US private military company is guilty of defrauding the American project in Iraq to almost treasonist depths by contributing to the recruiting messages of our enemy: Americans don’t care and are just here for the money.

A favorite and appropriate poster child of corruption in Iraqi Reconstruction — the private military company Custer Battles — has just had its $10 million damage verdict overturned. Before you go rioting (and looting) in the streets demanding “No Justice, No Peace”, the judge was, unfortunately, right. In the effort to reinforce the image of the Coalition of the Willing, the Bush Administration successfully firewalled war profiteers from accountability. This resulted not only in wasted and misdirected resources (time and money) but also further trashing of our image of the commited democracy-builder. Where are our priorities?

Continue reading “Custer Battles is Guilty, maybe not of fraud, but at least of treason

“Afghan Road Rage”: on the frontline of Public Diplomacy, the real PAOs

Fellow blogger Armchair Generalist recently highlighted an item by Thomas Ricks in the Washington Post about “Afghan Road Rage.”  Ricks highlighted a recent email (July 18, 2006) written by Command Sergeant Major Daniel Wood  and circulated to all Army general officers on Army standards of conduct in Afghanistan.  In the memo, Wood nails the need to understand the enduring diplomacy with the public in public in conflict.
AG provided excerpts from the memo but the entirety (cribbed from Political Opinions) is useful for my purpose. Emphasis added by me.

Continue reading ““Afghan Road Rage”: on the frontline of Public Diplomacy, the real PAOs

links for 2006-08-17

Spanish police find ‘drugs’ sub

Briefly: Spanish police find ‘drugs’ sub:

A submarine which police say may have been used for cocaine smuggling has been found floating off Spain’s north-western coast…

While submarines are not known to have been used for
drug trafficking in Spain, they have been used for this purpose in

Reminds me of the online demo (and game) of the Swedish stealth ship where a useful scenario for stealth is littoral defense (vs penetration).

We are VERY likely to see more of these headlines in the near future.

Dell Laptop Batteries… the kinetic laptop?

As I use a Dell laptop and have three batteries to power me through an entire day (and having disposed of two earlier batteries that no longer held a charge), news of a Dell recall of batteries caught my eye. Back in June of this year there was a picture of an exploding Dell on a table ("Dude, your Dell is on fire"), which was scary enough if you use your laptop as, well, a laptop. Check out these other fun pictures of Dell laptops (which I still like since I can’t afford an IBM and am not ready to switch back to Mac… my last Apple was a IIsi) if you’re bored or are questioning investing in that data backup solution…

Blair’s Long War Vision

From Draconian Observations comes Blair’s Long War Vision. You should read DO’s post and brief commentary (clipped below) on Blair’s talk in LA a short while back.

Tony Blair’s speech to the World
Affairs Council in LA
is highly interesting. The speech lays out a plan of
change in doctrine for the war on terrorism: one that is already present, but
need support, in the shape of the Long War concept, and the NSPD 44 and the DoD
Directive 3000 (more on the Long
War here
; and the directives
). As such it fuses the American ambitiousness with the European
critiques. Finally, it seems to address and contain Tony
Corn’s analysis of the GWOT/Long War

I’d be interested in how Dan at tdaxp  would read Blair’s speech.

Does the MountainRunner run mountains?

Briefly, yes. This evening a group of us are running 26 miles in the Angeles National Forest starting at 10p. Why? A friend of mine is training for the Angeles Crest 100 and this is part of the course. He’s run it before, but not under moonlight. Fortunately we had a full moon last night (or was it the night before?) so tonight should be naturally bright, but enhanced by our own devices. If the moon’s bright enough, we may not need our batteries but then there’s the tree cover… If you are curious, this adventure is being filmed as a documentary, titled Above the Clouds.

50% pay increase for the SAS?

Briefly, we saw SOCOM do it, now we’re seeing it in the UK. From

DEFENCE chiefs have increased the pay of the SAS and other special forces by 50% in an attempt to cut defections to private military companies, writes Michael Smith.

The increases, recommended earlier this year by the armed forces pay review body, were seen as crucial when the special forces are stretched by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Security firms operating in Iraq and elsewhere are prepared to pay up to £100,000 a year for soldiers who have served in the Special Air Service or the SBS, its marine equivalent.

Big CBRN or Little CBRN?

Briefly, a post from the Armchair Generalist: Changing Views on CB Warfare worth reading:

The really interesting part of the article isn’t that the Canadians have a prototype lightweight CB protective ensemble that doubles as a combat uniform. It’s that they have consciously recognized that the terrorist use of CBRN hazards represents a smaller level of exposure and lesser risk than what adversarial nations could cause with NBC weapons. The U.S. military has not come to this recognition yet, primarily because they’ve been forced to accept this philosophy from the Bush administration’s NSC that nations are giving terrorists WMDs and that the threat from terrorists and nation states are equivalent. Read the National Strategy to Combat WMD and the National Military Strategy to Combat WMD and tell me I’m wrong.

If we are to accept the smaller threats, "Little CBRN", as more likely, how would that change our strategy? Would it change the domestic message as describing the Bad Wolf requires more education of the public (when half the people still believe WMD’s were actually found in Iraq)? Clearly. Does this education open up other holes in the national strategy? Likely.

"Big CBRN" just creates a neater package of threats and justifies Iraq and helps with the rhetoric on Iran and N Korea (but let’s not mention potential subversion in India or Pakistan). But the reality of today’s news of inert liquids to be mixed on airplanes amplifies the reality of home chemists getting involved in future of irregular war.

What do we do? Do spiral and incremental developments instead of huge ass projects that solve everything. Just a thought.