DOD Approved Strategic Communication Plan for Afghanistan

dod_afghan_sc_plan_p1 An interesting document made its way to MountainRunner: DOD’s approved Strategic Communication Plan for Afghanistan (which I’ve made searchable) approved by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England.

In order to augment our ongoing efforts in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense has developed the attached DOD Strategic Communication (SC) Plan for Afghanistan. This SC plan supports and complements NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations.

This SC plan directs all DoD organizations to begin execution immediately according to their specified duties and responsibilities. The plan is dynamic, and will continue to be updated and modified as Coalition efforts in Afghanistan evolve. To ensure the successful execution of this plan, DoD leaders are requested to provide the appropriate support to the designated lead organizations. Please review the attached SC plan to identify your responsibilities.

The DoD Strategic Communication Integration Group (SCIG) Secretariat stands ready to work with you and your staff on this important effort.

There’s a lot in this document, including hits and misses. Addressed only to the DOD members of the Strategic Communication Integration Group, and not the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, it identifies key elements of strategic communications, including those in which DOD is not the lead.

For example, Provincial Reconstruction Teams are listed as "strategic communicators and listeners".

  • Assess benefit and availability of Afghan, U.S., Allied, and coalition PAOs for assignment to PRTs
  • Assess requirements to expand PRT Executive Steering Committee into an effective coordinating body
  • Assess cost and feasibility of incorporating/adjusting PA/SC predeployment training and in-theatre distance learning for basic, tailored public affairs training for U.S. and non-U.S. PRT officers

Other tools and enablers include:

  • Senior Afghan Government, DSG, and NATO officials as strategic
  • DoD Regional Centers as strategic communicators
  • NATO Media Operations Center as a strategic enabler

I encourage you to take a look at the plan and comment. As I noted above, there are "misses" in the document, but I’ll hold my comments until later.

IED as a Weapon of Strategic Influence: Creating the Blackwater Nightmare

Abu Muqawama has a smart post on IEDs as Weapons of Strategic Influence, something I’ve talked about before. However, what he and others have missed is the role IEDs have had not just on American military force posture — using armored Humvees and MRAPs (scroll down to find reference) — but also of the entire Coalition, including private military contractors, highlighted by recent events that have dramatically altered the narrative and focus of the entire mission in Iraq, as well as the tools used in the execution of that mission.

The Blackwater incident of September 16th is a direct and successful result of the effectiveness of IEDs to influence the posture and response of our security forces, including of our own military, to threats. The effort to “stop the bleeding” back in 2003 took a turn toward our expertise (technology) and while failing to address the root causes and purposes of the attacks in the first place. The result: failure. Now you can subscribe to YouTube channels to watch new IED footage (as MountainRunner has) while more money is spent on jammers and armor. The former causes a technology race toward the bottom with diminishing returns and the latter insulates both physically and morally the Coalition from the population.

Continue reading “IED as a Weapon of Strategic Influence: Creating the Blackwater Nightmare

Privatization and Unmanned Systems

Kent’s Imperative discusses the value of privatization and unmanned systems for geographic intelligence, or GEOINT (see Tanji for def’s of like terms). I agree with Kent on his points that privatization adds surge capacity (just as the airline industry does for strategic transport under federal law) and innovation. There are limits, as we both agree, but that’s for another post.

Not so long (chronologically) but an eternity (in terms of privatization concepts) ago, the first generation of high resolution commercial space based imagery systems for intelligence came into existence…The very idea of private sector capabilities usurping the government monopoly on overhead systems was so unthinkable for many within the community that had the Long War not gone hot and every second of imaging capacity been desperately needed, we might never have seen the development of the industry – let alone the remarkable directions that it has trended towards in the hands of the Google / Keyhole team.

At the dawn of its earliest, hard fought, and tentative acceptance, another new technology was emerging. Unlike the expensive and arcane world of satellites, the UAV offered an immediate, accessible, and understandable tool to the community. More importantly, it was a technology they could directly control throughout its full life-cycle – and that is critical to a certain kind of procurement and operations mindset.

Needless to say, the UAV has been a Very Good Thing for the GEOINT community – and at the same time, opened new frontiers in the mix between collection, analysis and warfighting. But these systems largely remain dedicated to looking at the battlespace through a soda straw. It is for that reason that many of the proponents of imagery intelligence continue to dismiss the idea that UAV’s will ever compete with the better resourced national technical means – or even their commercial imaging counterparts – in providing theatre-level and strategic IMINT.

Read the rest of Kent’s post at his blog. By the way, Kent, check out the new Second Life

BBG Boosts Broadcasts to Burma…er, Myanmar

Guest poster (and blogless friend of MountainRunner) LeftEnd comments on American broadcasts & Myanmar:

Interesting story from the AP. Looks like the Bush Administration is putting its money – or at least its airtime – where its mouth is, and turning up the broadcasting heat on the junta in Myanmar. Both Voice of America and Radio Free Asia are upping their broadcasts, providing the Burmese people with more comprehensive coverage of what is happening in their own country.

There doesn’t seem to be any downside in increasing broadcasts into Myanmar, especially when the country appears to be teetering on the edge. As Voice of America itself is reporting, the U.S. government is demanding that the junta cease its violent crackdown on Burmese civilians, and Myanmar’s Asian neighbors have labeled the government’s actions there as “revolting.”

In a lot of ways, this can be public diplomacy at its best. You see an opportunity, and because you’ve planned ahead, you have the communication vehicles in place to react quickly.

But there is of course a lot more to it than that.

American broadcasters must step lively here. Latest reports are that at least nine people have been killed, and as the Telegraph tells us, we may never know how many people will die in the ongoing violence. One hopes that the powers that be at VOA and RFA understand how important their discretion will be to the safety of the Burmese people. Lessons from Hungary and Poland remind us that it is one thing to keep the public informed, it’s quite another to give them false confidence that the United States is willing to take any further action.

VOA and Radio Free Asia are doing a great service – a service that hopefully will, among other things, position the United States as a beacon of information and enlightenment in the minds of the Burmese public. What we do not want, however, is for the average guy on the street to interpret the protests of U.S. leaders as a sign of tangible support in the near future. It’s safe to assume that such support is not on the way.

Did she really say that?

From Blog Them Out of the Stone Age:

“When you hear people say … ‘If you kill one of them, they’ll just replace him with another leader,’ remember that that’s like saying, ‘If you take out Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant, well, they’ll just replace them with another leader,’” Rice said.

As Mark Grimsley notes,

That’s our Secretary of State, Condi Rice, comparing Lee and Grant to an Al-Qaeda terrorist, namely Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The comparison has been derided as unfortunate if not ludicrous, but my question is this: If killing a key Al-Qaeda leader can have such major effects on the terrorist organization as a whole, then why does the Bush administration seem relatively indifferent to the fact that six years after 9/11, its architects, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, are still alive?

“If you kill one of them,” it matters a lot — or not so much — depending on which one of “them” you mean, and whether you’ve killed them or not.

And then there’s the difference between a socio-political leader and a military leader…

Is a Blog a News Service? Smith-Mundt on DipNote (Update)

No time for a deep analysis, so a superficial commentary will have to do. One of the more interesting aspects of Smith-Mundt was its opposition to a USG-owned news service in light of recent memory of not only Nazi Germany’s propaganda machine, but also of the Creel Commission, or Committee on Public Information (CPI). The prohibitions against internal propagandizing in Smith-Mundt focused on the point of dominating information channels to the public. Argued as First Amendment violations and as a potential infringement on the free press, Smith-Mundt prevented the USIA from becoming a domestic news service.

Today, there’s lots of discussion on the role of the New Media: the blogosphere. While there is some interactivity, blogs are alternative, and too often superior, news sources than traditional media.

Thus the question: is State’s new blog, when used to provide news or timely commentary or analysis, a modern equivalent of the Four Minute Men of the CPI?

This question isn’t too suggest that State should stop blogging. On the contrary, they should blog and, by the way, welcome to the 21st Century experts on Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy.

No, this is to suggest that the misplaced and overreaching application of Smith-Mundt is selective at State, and the rest of USG. If State were to be rigid on their application of Smith-Mundt, as they have overly been, then it is is easily argued their blog crosses the line into the realm of a news service and in competition with the press and is thus prohibited under Smith-Mundt.

What to do? First, remember what Smith-Mundt was intended to cover, allowing for perversions in later amendments to the Act, and stop over-applying it. Continued overly-broad application would mean the blog has to go. That’s bad, and wrong. Second, change or dismantle Smith-Mundt altogether. 

Update: Responding to a reader’s email, I want to emphasize that I don’t think the blog is covered by Smith-Mundt. As the reader points out, "pertains to activities funded primarily in [Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP)], not the [Bureau of Public Affairs (PA)], which is the source of the blog. … [Karen Hughes] can use PA resources to address a domestic audience without violating [Smith-Mundt]."

I know that, the reader knows that, but many don’t, including too many in USG. For example, I’m told Karen Hughes only recently learned DOD believes itself to be covered under Smith-Mundt, which it has for some time. The recent RAND report by new friends of MountainRunner captured this.

The purpose of this post and others like it is to emphasize that more people need to know and understand the purpose and limits of Smith-Mundt. There is more on this topic to come.

State makes an announcement on Blackwater… from the Blog

From DipNote, State’s new blog, State announces a team will go to Iraq:

Secretary Rice decided this today after a meeting with several senior advisors on the structure of the review. Pat Kennedy will lead a small team to Iraq early next week to begin establishing some baseline set of facts about these contractor operations and provide Secretary Rice with an interim report no later than next Friday. (Note: Pat has already done a lot of groundwork in Washington since last Friday when the review was announced.) The soon to be announced outside experts will also receive the report. I expect they will also travel to Iraq, either with Pat or separately, to conduct their own ground truth assessment. Meanwhile, Pat will continue his work, feeding his findings to the senior outside experts. Based on Pat’s work, as well as their own assessments, the independent panel will then make a set of recommendations to Secretary Rice several weeks from now. About the review, she said that she wants "…it be 360 [degrees], to be serious, and to be really probing."

Depending on how much time you grant USG to backfill using private resources before they decide they must really analyze the problem, this is 3 – 4 years late. But, it is a start.

Singer on Private Military Companies in Counterinsurgency

P.W. Singer’s paper "Can’t Win With ‘Em, Can’t Go To War Without ‘Em: Private Military Contractors and Counterinsurgency" is online at Brookings. I suggest you read it. Let me draw your attention to the very important quote from Nick Bicanic’s testimony to Congress at the bottom of page 9 that helps give context to the issue:

Iraqis do not differentiate between armed security contractors and US soldiers. In other words, security contractors are America’s public diplomats– and yet these same contractors are not held to same oversight or standards of accountability as our soldiers. We may try to distance ourselves by the actions of the contractors, thinking they provide convenient temporary manpower whose deaths won’t be marked by a flag draped coffin coming through Dover, but that only plays in the United States. Overseas, where the public opinion really matters in the struggle for minds and will in the insurgency, the contractors are the U.S. and are directly involved in the mission.

Wednesday Mash-up for September 26, 2007

David Axe, at Wired’s Danger Room, reminds us of the importance of creating a secure environment, especially after kicking out the bad guys. We saw the longing for the "good ole days" of safety even if it meant oppression in post-Soviet Russia and Iraq, just to name two place.

"The best antidote to terrorism, according to Horn of Africa analysts, is stability in Somalia, which the Islamic Courts had provided," according to one Nairobi paper:

As in other Muslim-Western conflicts, the world undoubtedly needs to engage with the Islamists to secure peace. … The objective for the United States … is simply to prevent Somalia from being an unwilling haven for terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaeda. To pursue that objective, the United States is handicapped by the fact that state authority is limited to only portions of the country. The United States has everything to gain from the formation of a broad-based all inclusive government and a stable Somalia.

Continue reading “Wednesday Mash-up for September 26, 2007

A Second Life that can look like your First Life


Rumors of Google‘s plans to create a virtual world that rivals that of Second Life have popped up once again.
It would be a 3D social network tied into Google‘s current applications of Google Earth and Google Maps.
A virtual world is a natural progression of Google Earth. Users could create avatars. The "street view" feature of Google Maps could be incorporated, as well as Google SketchUp, with avatars able to walk around on actual streets and enter real buildings to check out what’s inside and socialize with other avatars.

Rescinding CPA Order 17

Iraq’s Parliament is considering rescinding CPA Order 17 that protects PMCs from Iraqi law. (BBC and AP stories here). Nice story but bad for the PMCs and incompatible with their mission. If the private military companies, especially the private security companies, are augmenting, or at times replacing US military forces, they must not only be fully integrated into the mission at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels, but also protected accordingly. The risk of not doing so is political. By definition, these firms operate in less than secure geographies (no, I’m not using the word state) with weak or absent legal, judicial, and police systems and any action against them such as rescinding CPA Order 17 may be suspect.

Continue reading “Rescinding CPA Order 17

State Department Starts a Blog

Very quickly, from the Associated Press:

The normally hushed corridors of diplomacy are about to get a jolt.

The State Department’s first-ever blog was to go live on the Internet late Tuesday in a launch timed to coincide with the buzz surrounding the U.N. General Assembly. It upgrades U.S. foreign policy to Web 2.0 interactivity for the new electronic information age.

"Dipnote" aims to give Net surfers an insider’s view of diplomacy and diplomats with informal, chatty posts from key senior players in Washington and abroad as well as a younger generation weaned on e-mail for whom traditional cable traffic communication is foreign

A swell outreach. I wonder how much discussion they had on imaginary Smith-Mundt prohibitions against the blog and how many rules are in place to bifurcate overseas and domestic content.

It is interesting that Sean McCormack, who works for Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes is the face of this. Has the view of Smith-Mundt become so intrusive as to create the internal impression that Karen Hughes should remain focused externally? Can anybody shed light on the internal politics going on here?

Dipnote is the latest in a series of innovations blessed by Rice and set in motion by McCormack’s office to bring the State Department into the mainstream of 21st century information technology.

The department has already vastly expanded its Web presence and multimedia coordinator Heath Kern has set up a State Department YouTube channel, where special briefings and interviews with officials on key issues of the day are posted.

I’m curious that if State has adopted Smith-Mundt wholeheartedly as they apparently have, have they fully ignored the news service aspect of Smith-Mundt? How is the blog not more like a news service than including images on a powerpoint shown to a US audience that were included in overseas literature?

More lipstick from State…

State’s Dipnote can be found here. As of this writing, DipNote is down so I haven’t seen it….

No Applause for State’s Digital Outreach

imageThe article in Saturday’s New York Times on State’s Digital Outreach Team by Neil MacFarquahar paints an overly positive picture of State’s engagement with foreign grassroots media. MountainRunner buddy Kret at Soft Power Beacon reads the NYT article with a certain amount of optimism, preferring to see a glass that’s half full, and Roger Alford at Opinio Juris is downright enthusiastic about Hughes’ so-called "bloggers". Call me a pessimist, but I don’t see a glass even being there as the methods of the Digital Outreach Team don’t even hold water.

Besides the fact that Karen Hughes’ "four or five" bloggers (and here) has apparently been winnowed down (there are other explanations), the program is more accurately titled than Neil, Krek, or Roger want to believe. Apparently imagining their audience is disaffected Republicans in New Hamsphire, this outreach team can do little more than that. Not surprising, they have received some sarcastic responses, including "an Arab in Germany" commenting they were trying to "put lipstick on a pig." I think the Arab in Germany had it more right than he realized.

Brent E. Blaschke, the project director, said the idea was to reach “swing voters,” whom he described as the silent majority of Muslims who might sympathize with Al Qaeda yet be open to information about United States government policy and American values.

The countering misinformation policy of State is not only dominated by a faulty and over-expansive adoption of Smith-Mundt, it is guided by a misunderstanding of the audience, their issues, and an fundamental understanding of discourse on the web (and elsewhere). Self-censoring out of fear of offending either the immediate audience or the US public (if so, stop mirroring the enemy), they offer sterile official government statements. In an audience driven or motivated or informed by religion (pick your point on the slider), it’s implausible they can imagine they ignore the wholesale American adoption of the enemy’s grammar, such as jihadi.

Mr. Jawad and Mr. Sufi say that in their roughly two dozen weekly postings they avoid all religious discussions, like whether jihad that kills civilians is legitimate. They even steer clear of arguments, instead posting straightforward snapshots of United States policy.

Targeting the wrong people, the outreach team goes to posts comments instead of feeding information. By virtual definition, they are attempting to be post hoc change agents. Better would be the Defense Department Blogger’s Roundtable that targets influential nodes to inform, and thus influence, the creation and original interpretation of news and commentary. Restricting their contributions to comments on discussion boards and the comments sections of blogs ignores the leaders who likely don’t have a lot of time to read the comments (Tom Barnett, for example, made it a point to tell his readership that he doesn’t read past the first three — MountainRunner doesn’t doesn’t suffer his burden…), let alone the tendency to tune-out and mock commentary from left field.

One thing I don’t get in the NYT article is this:

Some analysts question whether the blog team will survive beyond the tenure of Karen P. Hughes, the confidante of President Bush who runs public diplomacy. 

Why might it not survive? Will the next CIO be even more limited in his/her view of public diplomacy and restrict themselves to being a news service to insert official government statements into the blogosphere?

On the plus side, at least the staffing will increase:

The department expects to add seven more team members within the next month — four more in Arabic, two in Farsi and one in Urdu, the official language of Pakistan.

Overall, what American public diplomacy needs is not outreach but engagement with thought leaders. The outreach team isn’t doing that. Nice try though.

Karen Hughes and the Neutering of American Public Diplomacy

John Brown’s latest Press and Blog Review has the following anonymous commentary on the neutering of public diplomacy by Karen Hughes:

"Something missing from the commentary on Karen Hughes in the State Department is the effect her propagandizing has had on the department’s overseas web sites, particularly the broad-base of American views in USINFO; before Hurricane Karen it was known as a solid, if stodgy source of all aspects of American foreign policy; since her arrival in the State Dept. she has had to deal with the fact that Bush’s foreign policy statements hurt Public Diplomacy efforts, so they must be discontinued.

In its place is fluff like ‘Partnerships for a Better Life’ or the most recent ‘Innovative Programs.’ The Muslim outreach efforts she has spearheaded are seen in the Ramadan series, which while a seemingly noble effort, comes off as patronizing and abandons any even-handed look at religion in America.

What a shame she killed the ‘Hi’ online magazine, which, in Arabic and English, offered some of the best material for Arab youth. When Karen needed funds for her Rapid reaction unit, she shut down the magazine and took the $1.5 million. It was reaching more than 40,000 Arab youth every month, and the growth was fantastic. But it had been first created during the time of Charlotte Beers, and it had no support within the dept or administration.

Overall, USINFO’s usefulness has diminished since late in 2006. Previously, transcripts of USG officials from a variety of agencies was published, giving credibility to the site as a central place to learn about all aspects of the US govt. Serious gaps are in the areas of security policy, such as Iran (for which there is no central point for readers to learn what is happening with the US and Iran — it is just ignored.) Three articles on Iran policy have been published in the past three months on the US and Iran. Three. As an honest but of course biased information source, it has started down the slippery slope toward propaganda. One would doubt if Hughes sees anything wrong with this."


Swedish Meatballs’s post on Smith-Mundt, with its rare quoting of Dave Grossman (perhaps SM was motivated by this post), shows how the Smith-Mundt Act has been distorted over the years to become something it was never intended to be. Because of this, as SM points out, Smith-Mundt needs to be drastically revised, or better, yet, ditched.

Forgotten is the purpose and focus of the Act. The Act focused on raising the quality of American information programs that was so dysfunctional as to actually aid the enemy (sound familiar?). Discussions about domestic broadcasting were focused on Free Speech and guaranteeing the government wouldn’t compete with rich domestic broadcasters.

Meatball One asks

Might an abolition of Smith-Mundt open the door to aggressive, intelligent, and creative methods for manufacturing a reformed and resilient Will among the homeland’s citizenry for the long and grinding wars we are told to expect and accept?

Current mythical “prohibitions” limiting the Defense Department are seemingly based on Defense moving into the realm of State and assuming its liabilities, but only partially. For example, for State to even discuss any literature or photos it is broadcasting overseas requires clearance, a series of hurdles Defense has not adopted.

Unlike today, there were memories of not only Hitler’s effective ownership and thus monopolizing broadcast mediums, but also of the Creel Committee (See ZenPundit for a short bit on Creel) in the United States. There was a strong public backlash against what was perceived as an attempt to manipulate domestic public opinion.

If the Executive Branch fully embraced the prohibition against propagandizing the domestic public, the roles of the President’s press secretary’s, including Tony Snow and Dana Perino, would have a very different role (perhaps their office would look and sound more like their United Kingdom’s counterpart… note the references to the PM and the “PMOS” and the overall failure to state the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman has his or her own identity or beliefs).

Meatball One closes his post with these two questions:

So what do you say, Bernays – any hidden costs? Is this where democracy ends or perhaps where democracy only truly can begin?

The answer: Yes and no to both. In part, Smith-Mundt included a response to Bernays’ activities thirty-five years earlier, namely the avoidance of active and direct domestic engagement, but not silencing the conversation or denying transparency. During the massive restructuring of the United States to counter the emerging ideological threat coming from all angles (remember the National Security Act of 1947 was passed during the two years of debate on Smith-Mundt), Smith-Mundt was to protect democracy, not from itself but from the outside. Protection inside was mainly for the broadcasters, which Benton vigorously and successfully courted the broadcasters and continued to do so afterward its passage in a period of increasingly rapid (relatively) news cycles and accessibility.

The Swede is right, something significant needs to be done with Smith-Mundt, but attempts at an outright dismissal will be met by a swift and emotional counter-reaction. What is necessary is a conversation on the topic to understand its purpose and intent.

See quotes on the Act or about the Act here and here.

Holding Contractors Accountable

MountainRunner’s friend David Isenberg, writing for the UPI, strives to put some rational thought into the emotional knee-jerking in response to the Blackwater shooting on September 16th:

Even though the commission investigating the alleged indiscriminate shooting by Blackwater employees over the weekend has only just been stood up, some voices are already rushing to judgment, condemning the contractors as cold-blooded “mercenaries.”

All of this is entirely predictable, though not necessarily unwarranted. It goes to show that four years after private security contractors first started to assume a major role in Iraq, the way they operate is still poorly understood.

Much of this is due to the industry itself. Companies, when not contractually bound by the clients they protect not to discuss their activities, tend to be distrusting of the news media.

Continue reading “Holding Contractors Accountable

Talking about PMCs (Updated)

Update at the bottom

On the PMC list, a Yahoo Group on the private military industry, there’s been a fun (a word I use loosely) discussion the accountability of the private military, specifically security, industry that’s particularly timely considering this incident this weekend. The bulk of the arguments centered on the industry not policing itself. This was my response to re-focus the conversation and identify the right target. After they started talking about the Blackwater Christmas Eve shooting of the Iraqi VP’s bodyguard, and some claimed the ability of the BW contractor to leave Iraq and to date avoid prosecution was a problem w/ the company itself, I decided to jump in. Here’s my response which I hope elicits more discussion here:

Continue reading “Talking about PMCs (Updated)

Battle of the Minds: an interview with Major General Douglas Stone

Walter Pincus in the Washington Post wrote about the Blogger Roundtable conference yesterday with Major General Doug Stone (transcript here). Motivated slightly by Pincus’s backhanded, but honest, comment yesterday on how none of the four bloggers attending, including MountainRunner, (out of 60 invited) on the call had as of yet blogged on the interview. 

I had the opportunity to ask the General two questions. The first was on his thoughts of using unmanned systems in detainee operations. In the battle of minds, it is not surprising that he looked at robots as not as an opportunity to reduce human contact with detainees but to increase it. The second question was on how he’s communicating his plans to State and involving other non-mil resources. Out of that came his thoughts, actually those of Iraq VP Hashimi, of a Work Projects Administration for Iraq. Each of those, as well as other great questions by my three comrades in digital space, Jarred “Air Force Pundit” Fishman, CJ “Soldier’s Perspective” Grisham, and Charlie “Wizbang” Quidnunc, deserve more commentary, context, and analysis, but unfortunately time is short.

Continue reading “Battle of the Minds: an interview with Major General Douglas Stone