More on getting into the struggle for minds and wills from Andrew Woods

The other day I posted a link to Andrew Woods’s article in the Financial Times about Major General Doug Stone’s minds and will campaign in the detainee facilities.  Two days ago, another article in the same vein by Andrew went up on Slate.  I recommend you read it.

What is striking here is not that the United States is waging an ideological battle with Islamic extremists. As Robert Wright elegantly argued in 2002, the war on terror is a semiotic war, and religion provides many symbolic and narrative weapons. Rather, it is remarkable that the Pentagon would have the chutzpah to locate what Stone calls the "battlefield of the mind" in its own detention centers.

Prisons are where so many Islamist identities are born, nurtured, and plugged into violent networks. It was in Cairo’s prisons that Sayyid Qutb crafted an intellectual framework for modern Islamist terrorism, and Ayman al-Zawahiri underwent the transformation that would lead him to launch al-Qaida. Or think of our own little "jihad university" on Guantanamo Bay. Detention centers present a second-order problem, too, in how the global public receives them. The torture at Abu Ghraib may have been the best thing the United States ever did for al-Qaida. And now, along comes a Marine reservist from California, hard as hell, McKinsey-savvy, who claims he can turn detention facilities into a strategic asset. Can it possibly work?

To say that the United States should play no role in religious deradicalization programs while its tanks roll through Baghdad is not to say they shouldn’t exist. It’s just that heavy hands don’t wield soft power. As the Crisis Group concludes in their review of Indonesia’s deradicalization programs, "economic aid … is ultimately more important than religious arguments in changing prisoner attitudes." This won’t be the case for everyone—"bad men" from well-to-do families, like Zawahiri, will never be bought off. But even Zawahiri can be defeated if his audience has something better to believe in. They won’t condone his violence if it seems as unilateral as our invasion of Iraq; most of them already don’t.

One of the sharpest Cold War thinkers, George Kennan, argued that the way to win the hearts and minds of the unaligned countries was through social and economic development programs—not military action. In our better moments, we even funded art programs and literary journals that were explicitly anti-American, under the theory that free speech itself is more important than the contents of that speech. Kennan’s thinking has resonance today. Rather than make appeals directly to the detainees’ faith—which may or may not work, and are offensive regardless—we ought to seek to empower people with economic and social opportunity. Open societies, after all, become liberal societies, even when they begin in detention centers.

Read the rest at Slate.  Happy to put you in touch with Andrew as well.  Just email me

Off Topic: It’s Time for Le Tour de France

image image Totally off topic, but if you missed it, this year’s Tour started today.  I haven’t been seen much in the way of U.S. advertising, but then I haven’t been looking. 

Did you know there are two U.S. teams this year?  Team Highroad / Columbia and Garmin Chipotle.  Old names like Team Discovery (formerly Postal) and T-Mobile (remade into Columbia) are gone.  And Team Astana is out. 

Some names might be familiar like Hincapie (on Team Highroad), Evans, Moreau, Voeckler, Valverde, Hushovd, Zubeldia, Boonen, Menchov, Millar, Zabel, Zabriskie (who’s on Garmin Chipotle if you’re wondering like my wife was), as well as others that I don’t feel like typing.  Haven’t looked to see where all the Discovery riders landed, besides the one or two who jumped to Astana.   lot others probably won’t be. 

Hopefully I’ll catch some of the race on TiVO, including today’s start, which wasn’t a prologue. 

Want more?  Check out Google’s Street View of the race and other links.

That’s it, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Engaging and Understanding the Egyptian Street

Two items of note on Egypt.  First is an Australian Date Line show about Facebook in Egypt: Egypt’s Facebook Face Off 

While it’s supposed to be a social networking site, Facebook has become the front line tool for the country’s struggling democracy movement, as Sophie McNeill reports.

Link to the video broadcast is here.

Second is a post from the Arabic Media Shack: Tails from the “Arab Street” (you’ll get the reference as you read)

Recently, Grandmasta and a friend were riding in a taxi, trying to cross central Cairo during rush-hour traffic.  Anyway, they got stuck in traffic.  Major traffic.  They just [happened] to be discussing Lebanon (in English).  Suddenly, the driver, Hassan, a guy in his mid 50s, who spoke no English, but [probably] heard the words Hezbullah several times, jumped in to offer his unabashed support for Hassan Nasrallah, calling him a hero for standing up against Israel aggression.  

This led to a long conversation.  Grandmasta mostly sat back and listened, wanting to hear his opinions on certain issues.   …

Read the rest at the Arabic Media Shack.  AMS should be on your reading list if you’re at all interested in the region. 

More on USAID and U.S. Public Diplomacy

An email conversation about my post about USAID not being under Smith-Mundt included a comment (from a third party) that USAID had been “muzzled” in the U.S. for years.  Several government reports support this statement, but not because of Smith-Mundt.  They also note the “muzzling” isn’t specific to the U.S.

From the 2003 GAO Report on Public Diplomacy:

Officers responding to our survey, those with whom we met overseas, and numerous other State officials also pointed to the amount of extra time public diplomacy practitioners are required to spend on administrative, budgetary, and personnel matters due to the unique nature of the program. For example, embassy public affairs section officials in one country told us that the planned filming of USAID projects was held up because embassy procedures did not allow making advance cash payments to the television crew. Instead, the embassy preferred either making electronic fund transfers in dollars or issuing checks. The officials noted that, unlike in the United States, businesses in the developing world usually demand cash payments in advance because they do not have sufficient working capital to provide services and then wait for payment. Also, the businesses often do not have bank accounts that can accept electronic fund transfers in dollars. In this case, getting the television crew paid and working required the head of the public affairs section to become personally involved in persuading the embassy administrative section to act.

This tracks with the assessment of the recent report from the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy noting a focus on bureaucracy rather than public diplomacy. 

From the 2003 report by Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, commonly referred to as the Djerejian Report:

When we asked the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) how much of his budget of $13 billion goes to public diplomacy, he answered, “Almost none.” He explained that AID is generally prohibited from using program funds to disseminate information about its activities – a restriction that the Advisory Group recommends be ended immediately. But, in a broad sense, a great deal of AID’s work is public diplomacy at its best. AID’s programs, in the words of one of its top
officials, are “American values in action.” …

How many people in the Arab and Muslim world, or anywhere else for that matter, know the extent of AID’s activities? Too few. …

As noted, we recommend that AID – which, like many other government agencies, is subject to extensive Congressional earmarking (more than 90 percent of its programs) – be free from burdensome legal restrictions on publicizing its work. A portion of funding from every major project should be devoted to communicating the project’s benefits to the public. “We are the message,” one AID official said to us, but “we get people saying, ‘Why don’t you publicize what you do?’”

While the GAO report captured the administrative obstacles to publicizing the activities, the Djerejian Report makes it clear USAID was outside of U.S. Public Diplomacy efforts.  No where in either report is a mention of some constraint to raising awareness brought on by Smith-Mundt, only by administrative and bureaucratic barriers.  Both reports, as well as others, note USAID has been muzzled, but for very different, and more easily corrected, reasons. 

Has progress been made?  Yes.  Is it enough?  No, more must be done. 

What would you do if you had six (or less) months to address the problems of U.S. Public Diplomacy?

Here’s what Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs)* says are his goals:

U.S. engagement in the world and the Department of State’s engagement of the American public are indispensable to the conduct of foreign policy. James K. Glassman leads America’s public diplomacy outreach, which includes communications with international audiences, cultural programming, academic grants, educational exchanges, international visitor programs, and U.S. government efforts to confront ideological support for terrorism. He oversees the bureaus of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Public Affairs and International Information Programs, and participates in foreign policy development. The focus of the Under Secretary’s tenure will be in three areas:

1. leading the U.S. government effort in the global ideological engagement,

2. building on the strengths of U.S. educational and cultural exchanges, and

3. bringing fresh and vital technologies to bear on all of our efforts.

“The task ahead is to tell the world the story of a good and compassionate nation and, at the same time, to engage in the most important ideological contest of our time – a contest that we will win.”

Jim laid these out of in his CFR speech a couple of days ago, which I recommend reading but I don’t have time to delve into here and do it justice.  A couple of excerpts:

Here is our desired end state:  a world in which the use of violence to achieve political, religious, or social objectives is no longer considered acceptable.  Efforts to radicalize and recruit new members are no longer successful, and the perpetrators of violent extremism are condemned and isolated.

How do we achieve such a world?  In three ways.  First, by confronting the ideology that justifies and enables the violence.  We try to remove the fake veneer on the reputation of extremists and allow publics to see the shame and hostility of life in terrorism. …

Second, and probably most important, we achieve such a world by offering, often in cooperation with the private sector and using the best technology, a full range of productive alternatives to violent extremism.

The shorthand for this policy is diversion — powerful and lasting diversion, channeling potential recruits from violence with the attractions of entertainment, technology, sports, education and culture, business, in addition to politics and economics. …

The third means to achieve this safer, freer world is to create a broad awareness of the war of ideas throughout the U.S. government, business, academia, and elsewhere, so that those institutions can put in effect their own projects or help us with ours spontaneously, rather than through top-down direction.

We’ve already done some reorganization to help in this overall effort.  You may be hearing these phrases at some point.  We’ve created something we call the Global Strategic Engagement Center, which is an interagency group located at State whose job it is to be a clearinghouse for war of ideas programs, the first clearinghouse of its type, to provide day-to-day direction and make sure that the job is done. [emphasis is mine]

It is refreshing to hear an Under Secretary actually speak knowledgeably about public diplomacy. 

Will the Global Strategic Engagement Center the appropriately bureaucratic name to replace “USIA”?  I saw appropriately because using “information” and “communication” won’t work, neither will "agency".  Seems like a good, middle of the road. 

Now, is it pronounced "G-SEC" or "G-StratEc" or simply "G-Strat"?  Three letter abbreviations are spelled out, four are pronounced (C-N-A-S and P-N-S-R excepted of course). 

* I generally (and flippantly) write the title parenthetical because the “PD and PA” title buys into the fantasy belief of a bifurcated information environment of the U.S. information environment and a separate non-U.S. information environment.  I’m (not) sorry, but there is a global information environment.  There was one GIE sixty years ago and there’s one GIE today.  That’s the first reason.  The second is that only those paying close attention think of Sean McCormack as working for the same person who oversees global information operations for State and ostensibly the USG.  Of course there are those who don’t know who McCormack is…

Two Headlines to Note (Update: +1 headline)

China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo in the New York Times, by Scott Shane

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

Foreign outreach called deficient: Panel urges more training in the Washington Times, by Nicholas Kralev

Each U.S. embassy has a public-affairs officer who is in charge of a large section with both American and foreign employees.

There are usually at least two more Foreign Service officers. The so-called information officer, or spokesman, follows local media and responds to press inquiries. The cultural-affairs officer manages various outreach programs.

None of those officials, however, is engaged in the public aspect of public diplomacy full time, said the bipartisan commission’s report, which was published last week.

"This is the first report to point out that there is no one overseas whose primary job responsibility is to interface with foreign audiences," said Matt Armstrong, an analyst who writes a blog on public diplomacy at

Ok, so that headline is a bit of self-promotion… but isn’t that what public diplomacy is about? 😉

15 Hostages Held by Colombian Rebels Are Rescued in the New York Times, by Simon Romero

Colombian commandos disguised as rebels spirited 15 hostages to freedom on Wednesday, including Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician held for six years, and three American military contractors, according to the hostages and the Colombian authorities.

See also: PMC "Hostages" in Colombia (16 Jan 2006)

Off Topic: blog wiring changes related to stat collecting

Tech geek alert!  You may want to jump to the second paragraph…

If you noticed the blog loads faster in your browser, you’re not enjoying the benefits of a beefed up Internet architecture (this is the U.S. after all).  No, I removed some reporting code from the site.  I was toying with both Google Analytics (GA) and Sitemeter (SM) to track site usage.  A sort of long term bake-off.  Neither product really gave me a full picture of what was up.  GA required javascript on your side to collect data, while SM could fall back to using an offsite image if javascript was unavailable.  Either way, neither gave me a complete picture and underrepresented actual visits.  So, I dumped the code for both this morning and, at least for me, the site loads faster. 

End alert, keep reading…

With the usage reports I was using undercounting visitors, reports based on the web servers logs must be in error in the other direction because they’re so much higher.  For the last three months, April – June 2008, my web server reported a daily average of 4,483 visitors (4510, 4797, 4142 respectively) who averaged 1.9 page views. 

Daily page views can seemingly vary widely.  For example, in June 2008, pages per day averaged 8,351 but there was a spike to 14,663 on the 14th (this unspectacular post went up on the 14th). 

When asked, I tell people I have somewhere around 1,000 daily readers (my thinking: 300-600 daily visits GA and SM reported + nearly 700 RSS subscribers, knowing there was overlap).  Not sure I’ll start saying that I have over 4k daily daily readers though.  These numbers just don’t seem right. 

Now, back to work…

Recommended Reading on Information Operations

Andrew Exum sparked some discussion with his post at the Small Wars Journal blog last week with his questioning the definition of Information Operations.

… how many of you have ever looked up the official Department of Defense definition for ‘Information Operations?’

According to JP 3-13, Information Operations, the term is defined as “the integrated employment of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception, and operations security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own.”

I am confident there exist more confusing definitions in the U.S. military lexicon, but surely there cannot be too many. …

In response to the query, SWJ’s discussion board lit up.  The resulting posts went from at what IO is, the level it does or should apply (tactical, operational, and/or strategic), whether the goal of influence should be considered, whether it is simply non-kinetic activities, and more.  Naturally, there were the questions into what differentiates Information Operations from “Influence Operations” from Public Affairs from Psychological Operations.  There was the ever so brief mention of public diplomacy, but that was ignored and left hanging.  

Marc Tyrrell followed up with Notes towards a theory of Information Operations (IO).  The painfully smart Marc closes this post with a carefully arrived a definition of IO:

Information Operations are a) actions taken by actors, b) based on sensory input from the environment which is c) filtered through one or more interpretive maps, with d) an intentionality to either modify, deceive or degrade a targets sensory environment, input or interpretive maps while, at the same time, preserving ones own.

Continue reading “Recommended Reading on Information Operations

If Smith-Mundt really applied to the entire government…

FDIC Influence Op

If Smith-Mundt really applied to the entire government, regardless of the letter of the law, the spirit of the law, or even Congressional intent, as some would seemingly have it, then the FDIC must stop running the magazine ad at the left obviously intended to manage your perception of the banking system. 

Ridiculous, isn’t it? 

Major General Doug Stone and practicing the struggle for minds and wills

Recommended read: Andrew Woods’ The business end.

I’ve posted several times about MG Doug Stone and his Task Force 134, so it’s good to see an interview by MR friend Andrew Woods find a home.  Andrew traveled to Iraq several months ago for this interview and now it finally comes out in the Financial Times

This is a well researched and thought out piece that gets into what made Doug’s tactics work.  For anybody looking into the root causes of insurgency and wanting to go deeper than the superficiality of Huntington’s thesis, read Andrew’s article. 

Clipping from the piece doesn’t do it justice, but I’ll do it anyway.

Stone launched several programmes to quell the detainees’ anger and, according to the military’s data, 2007 was a good year for Detainee Ops. Since Stone took charge, the number of significant acts of violence between detainees or against guards is down 80 per cent, in spite of a prison population that has doubled since “the surge” of US troops. Detainee recidivism rates from 2003 to 2006 ranged from 7 to 9 per cent. By contrast, since September 2007, coalition forces have released almost 8,000 men (just 14 of all coalition detainees are women), of whom, Stone says, only 24 have been recaptured – a recidivism rate of less than a quarter of 1 per cent.

Stone says the best way to find out who is an extremist – or Takfir, as he calls them – is the religious discussion group. “It allows us to determine the guys that don’t really give a shit about the Koran in the first place – they’re using it as a discipline. Those guys are beginning to fall into the category of irreconcilables, and that’s helpful to me. I want to know who they are. They’re like rotten eggs, you know, hiding in the Easter basket. So we scoop them out,” he says, his hands raking through the air, “and what we see is a flattening” – a calm in the behaviour of the remaining detainees.

Stone remains the optimist: “Remember, I came out of Silicon Valley, where if you had a six-month lead on your competition, you win. You deprive them of cash, you have more cash … you get an installed base that’s bigger, you take their installed base away,” he says, using the financial term for operating system users.

“That’s thematically what I’m thinking about, you know,” he says, now jabbing his fingers at Pakistanis screaming on the cover of a news magazine. “How do I get this installed base to turn?”

American Progress: Build a National Consensus on Development and Dump Smith-Mundt

USAID U.S. national security is dependent on more than physical security secured through military or law enforcement powers.  It is also dependent and based on capacity building, economic development, humanitarian aid, and global health issues.  Public diplomacy is necessarily involved in all of these for the purpose of strengthening the country. 

To this end, the Center for American Progress laments the “restrictions” imposed on the U.S. Agency for International Development by the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 in enlisting the support of Americans to understand AID’s valuable and worthwhile mission. 

Presidential leadership must be followed by assertive public engagement on the part of civilian development agencies. No one can tell the story of America’s global commitment to sustainable development and its contributions to our security better than the people who do the work every day. Yet their ability to do so is restricted by Section 501 of the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (the Smith-Mundt Act), which functionally restricts the ability of USAID to use public dollars to tell its story inside the United States. This legislation should be amended or repealed so that USAID, just like the Department of Defense, can tell the American people about the value of its work and continue to build public support for it.

There’s one problem: USAID is not covered by Smith-Mundt, nor is the Department of Defense.  USAID’s failure in public diplomacy that engages a global audience, including Americans, is not a result of a Smith-Mundt prophylactic.  The truth is USAID operates independently America’s public diplomacy efforts.

The 2003 GAO Report on U.S. Public Diplomacy, based on a GAO survey of State’s public affairs officers, gives a better context on the institutional ills of American public diplomacy. Some of the most important elements of this GAO report were survey questions not referenced by the report or its conclusions.  For example:

  • [Does the public affairs officer] Coordinate with USAID or the US Military?
    • 42% "very much" to a "great extent" with USAID
    • 59% "very much" to a "great extent" with the U.S. military

The Center for American Progress’s statement is yet one more reason we must have a symposium on Smith-Mundt to discuss Congressional intent and what the Act actually covers.

See Also: