David Barstow’s Behind the Analysts, the Hidden Hand story about the Pentagon’s manipulation of the media’s military analysts misses the point in the quest for sensationalism. On the one hand, this is a story about leveraging a group to relay talking points, which sounds a lot like the White House Press Corps in general during a popular Administration, or a host of other media-government interactions, some of which Barstow mentions. On the other, this highlights a selective view of domestic influence operations and a failure to look holistically at the importance of global perceptions in the Defense Department under former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.
I won’t get into the first point, but will make a few comments here on the second.
First the obvious question: isn’t this a violation of Smith-Mundt, the law perceived as prohibiting the propagandizing of Americans by their government? The short answer is no, it isn’t. Smith-Mundt, which institionalized the Voice of America as well as cultural exchanges to counter adversarial messages, only covers activities by selective parts of the State Department, specifically those that communicate with audiences beyond our borders. It doesn’t cover the Department of Defense, but Defense has self-imposed the restriction through a rule, not legislation by Congress or military doctrine. BUT, Defense has liberally applied the concepts of Smith-Mundt, limiting information operations and PSYOP (see also here).
Much more important is that Public Affairs, that entity that informs without influencing, actively and effectively engaged in perception management on the home front while dismissing the real war of perceptions, the war of ideas of in Iraq and around the globe. For me, this is a key point that reflects less on Tori Clarke and more on Rumsfeld.
One last comment, this story makes Tori Clarke’s “outing” of the Office of Strategic Influence more interesting. Fighting to protect her turf, she proved her skill at manipulation and disinformation at exposing an office that is the essence of public diplomacy and more specifically the United States Information Agency (which highlights the void created by an absent and/or hamstrung State Department that Defense moved into). Between Clarke and Karl Rove, we could have built a formidable information capability to attack the enemy and their propaganda, which at times was increasingly attractive because of our failure to understand the power of perceptions and the impact of the “say-do gap.” Too bad she couldn’t be better utilized for good to restructure our information assets from Public Affairs to Information Operations to PSYOP to Public Diplomacy (nothing should be read into the order).
This deserve more treatment than I have time for here right now. More later, either in this blog or elsewhere.
See also (external links):
- Kings of War’s Message Force Multipliers
- Robert Bateman’s, at Small Wars Journal, All the News that’s…
- Abu Muqawama’s Is this is a smart IO campaign or way out of bounds? You make the call
- Phil’s Pundits or Pentagon Puppets?
See also (internal):
- When History Repeats: Troubles at VOA in 1946 are Remarkably Similar to the Troubles at VOA in 2008 (Updated)What is Public Diplomacy
- Talking about the Principles Smith-Mundt
- Understanding the Purpose Public Diplomacy
- Not Afraid to Talk: our adversaries aren’t, why are we?
- Synchronizing Information: The Importance of New Media in Conflict
- What the SecDef Didn’t Call For, But Should Have
- In-sourcing the Tools of National Power for Success and Security
- Targeting Public Opinion is not new
- Measuring “Public Diplomacy”?
- Elvis and the Psychological Struggle
One thought on “What’s Behind the Hidden Hand is the Real Story”
Excellent insights. It IS a real shame that the Pentagon has decided to spend at least as much time/attention/tax dollars on domestic propoganda than it has on strategic communication in key regions overseas. The Times story came up short in making this connection.That’s all I can say for now… I need to go clean up all those leaflets off the front yard.
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