The Second Battle of Hastings

By Cliff W. Gilmore
Don't cross the streams!Michael Hastings’ most recent attempt to unseat a U.S. general alleges members of the military illegally used Information Operations (IO) and Psychological Operations (PSYOP) activities to shape the perceptions of elected U.S. officials and senior military leaders. Many respondents quickly addressed a need to clarify lines between various communication activities including Information Operations, Psychological Operations (recently re-named Military Information Support Operations or MISO), Public Affairs (PA) and Strategic Communication (SC). Amidst the resulting smoke and fury both Hastings and his detractors are overlooking a greater underlying problem: Many in the military continue to cling with parochial vigor to self-imposed labels – and the anachronistic paradigms they represent – that defy the very nature of a rapidly evolving communication environment.

The allegations highlight two false assumptions that guide the U.S. military’s approach to communication in an environment defined not by the volume and control of information but by the speed and ease with which people today communicate with one another. This article identifies these assumptions and recommends several actions to avoid yet another Battle of Hastings by eliminating existing stovepipes rather than strengthening them. The analysis presented here is grounded in two key established Truths.

TRUTH ONE: Everything one does communicates something to somebody. That is, it is not possible to not communicate. Consequently physical actions cannot be planned and executed in isolation from communication activities.

TRUTH TWO:  Those involved in the communication process are influenced in some way. Taken together with Truth One this means it is not possible to not influence those with whom one communicates. More broadly, one cannot not influence those with whom one interacts because “action” itself communicates something to someone.

On then to the military’s false assumptions and their impact as manifested through the latest Hastings article.

Two False Assumptions

FALSE ASSUMPTION ONE: With the exception of rare circumstances in which the “target” is tightly controlled and has limited access to an alternate medium, one can create, control and isolate-for-measurement specific and deliberate causal influence outcomes resulting from communication activities. While this may have been possible on battlefields of the past or in controlled academic experiments today, it is not so in the midst of a rapidly evolving communication environment characterized by speed, ubiquity and mobility.

The underlying premise of Hastings’ accusation is not that the military attempted to “IO” or “PSYOP” someone illegally. These are merely labels created by the community of military communication practitioners that confuse rather than clarify. The premise of the accusation is that the military allegedly attempted to manipulate civilian leaders to achieve a desired outcome. Since, in keeping with Truths One and Two, it is not possible to not influence when communicating and it is likewise not possible in today’s environment to create, control and isolate specific measurable causal communication outcomes, the military essentially stands accused of doing the unavoidable (communicating) to achieve the impossible (a controlled outcome) in an unacceptable way (selective presentation of information).

Should this accusation against the military prove accurate the result is a violation of the core tenet of U.S. Military subservience to civil government. If the credibility of and public trust in the U.S. Military are eroded by a proven inconsistency between its claim of civil subservience and the reality of its actions it will be increasingly difficult to serve as an exemplar to other nations. The damage from this would likely be deep, subtle and enduring.

FALSE ASSUMPTION TWO: IO, PSYOP/MISO, PA and SC are individually discrete but inter-related activities. Information Operations, PSYOPS/MISO, PA and SC are all communication activities – or paradigms – intended to lend rigor to the communication process and achieve a deliberate outcome. Despite steadfast parochial defenders of each paradigm, they are merely different versions of the same activity, espoused differences between them being in the people toward which each is directed and the criteria against which information is sorted and packaged for use in communicating with others.

The common assertion that the difference between IO/PSYOP/MISO and PA/SC is the former are targeted at enemy and foreign audiences while the latter are targeted at U.S. citizens amounts to specious self-deception for two reasons. First, how a tool is used does not change the nature of the tool itself. Having fooled itself into thinking IO, PSYOP/MISO, PA and SC are different tools merely because the military uses them to “target” different people does not make them different tools. Second, insisting that a tool can be labeled one way when used to hit one kind of “target” then labeled another way to hit a different kind of “target” represents a near-clinical denial of the fundamental changes in speed, ubiquity and mobility that characterize the rapidly evolving communication environment.

At first glance Hastings highlights the obvious problem of the military allegedly attempting to “PSYOP” someone illegally, but the proclivity for self-injury goes much deeper than that. Organizational credibility and public trust are eroded through inefficiency in communication practices and inconsistency between words and deeds. This degradation is exacerbated by recurring failure to adapt to environmental changes and parochial desires to preserve the status quo. While the communication environment continues to evolve into something instant, ubiquitous and mobile, the military – in defiance of established Truths — remains steadfastly committed to the idea of information control and delivery of messages to discrete target audiences.

Public Affairs personnel who according to doctrine exist to help plan and execute an effective communication process are generally occupied escorting journalists, responding to media queries, and reacting to helmet fires like that most recently lit by Hastings. Those hired to do the job PA proved either unable or unwilling to do operate within an SC construct that is ill-defined, inconsistently integrated into operations planning processes and structure, and as yet absent from the doctrinal framework within which the entire Department of Defense functions. Meanwhile those perhaps best trained and experienced to plan and execute an effective communication process — IO and PSYOP/MISO practitioners — are legally prohibited from “targeting” Americans, which many sincerely believe they avoid despite the fact that in today’s communication environment it is nearly impossible to “target” a discrete group and prevent secondary relay (or “collateral damage” for those who insist on thinking of communication as a process of hitting something rather than interaction with somebody).

On occasions when practitioners from the various parochial paradigms come together, which occurs fortuitously rather than through organizational design, their purpose is typically to de-conflict activities and avoid crossing lanes. That is, they generally strive to preserve the integrity of their respective stovepipes rather than to collaborate on execution of a holistic and unified communication process that aligns words with deeds.

Some may incorrectly suggest the Second Battle of Hastings was in part a result of manpower shortages. They are incorrect. The military is abundant with the people and experience needed to succeed in the modern communication environment, but they are labeled ineffectively, organized into outdated stovepipes, and constrained by rules that quit making sense right about the time the world went on-line and became mobile. These people represent an as-yet untapped wealth of collaborative capacity and capability that can be fully realized through deliberate changes in how they think, how they act and how they are organized.

Adaptive Organizational Change

The first step to successful adaptive organizational change must come in the way the military thinks about communication. Having accepted Truths One and Two – that it is not possible to not communicate and it is not possible to not influence those with whom one communicates – the military must begin to think of communication as a process of human interaction rather than information control and delivery. This can be facilitated through specific changes to the current lexicon. For example, the word “communication” can generally replace the word “information” throughout doctrine and in practice. People who think in context of a communication environment, communication operations and communication activities will act much differently than those fixated on information, how vast, dangerous and powerful it is, and how to control it. It may also be helpful to stop describing the people with whom the military hopes to communicate as “targets.”

The secon
d step will be to establish a unified communication process that focuses first on who the military plans to communicate with and what it plans to communicate about rather than what target it plans to hit with a given message.

Finally – and most challenging – the military needs to scrap the current structural stovepipes and create a single unified communication function staffed with people who are trained and equipped to ensure a fundamental alignment between what the military says and what it does in an environment characterized by speed, ubiquity, and mobility. This last step may involve locking each and every IO, PSYOP/MISO, PA and SC person in a room, drawing those who understand the evolving communication environment into the new construct, and re-assigning or retiring those who remain married to the past.

Without these changes the Second Battle of Hastings will undoubtedly be followed by a third, a fourth… then a fiftieth — and it is unlikely the military will adapt in time to begin resisting the next major environmental change.

Download a PDF version of the post here (180kb).

Cliff W. Gilmore is an active duty Marine Corps Major assigned as Special Assistant for Public Communication to the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cliff is a 2010-2011 Fellow with MIT’s Seminar XXI. He holds an MS in Organization and Management with a Leadership specialization from Capella University and is a PhD Learner in the same field. The focus of his ongoing dissertation research is principle-based communication as a leadership practice and he is the author of “Principles, Credibility, and Trust”, Appendix P of the U.S. Joint Forces Command Handbook for Strategic Communication (Version 3) (Appendix P begins on page 197). This opinions in this paper are Cliff’s personal thoughts and do not reflect those of his commander or organization.

Guests posts are the opinions of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of They are published here to further the discourse on America’s global engagement.

27 thoughts on “The Second Battle of Hastings

  1. Some good issues raised here. However, it could use a few modifications to make it better.*False assumption two* portrays some inaccurate or incomplete information. The communities in DoD communication areas are less stovepiped based on *who* they target (as the author asserts), but more so based on *what* kind of information they are to deliver.
    PA and SC tribes communicate across the entire spectrum of human terrain – from US, to foreign, to enemy, to internal.
    Finally, the idea to scrap all stovepipes would create a Central Propaganda Department, a la Chinese Communist Party. Horrible idea.

  2. It would be difficult to argue which is “more” or “less” the key trait of the stovepiping without establishing some sort of metric and baseline. But taking this response to mean both what kind of “target” is emphasized and what type of information is “delivered” are indeed traits of that stovepiping I will cheerfully concur as which of the two is more or less at play does not change the calculus of the equation. In today’s communication environment it is no longer pragmatic to either (1) try to hit one “target” without hitting another or (2) to “deliver” one type of information to one “target” and a different type of information to another “target.” We can resist all we want but the IO, PSYOP/MISO, PA and SC stovepipes are at best outdated and at worst retard our ability to adapt.With regard to the assertion that “…scrapping the stovepipes would create a Central Propaganda Department…” I suggest the following:
    1) There is a difference between organizational function and organizational structure. I propose a unified function will serve better than the current diversified one which could reasonably be described as a Decentralized Propaganda Department and becomes more and more so the longer we think and talk in info-centric terms such as “target” and “message.” While scrapping the stovepipes COULD result in creation of a CPD-like organizational structure, folks like you and I would have to create it, and as at least you and I concur doing so would be a terrible idea I suspect it would be met with some resistance. This takes me to my next point.
    2) A central theme of my writing here and elsewhere is that the communication environment has evolved to state in which information control is impractical if not impossible. The very change I am recommending is that we shift our mindset from one grounded in the technical or monologic school of thought and theory which emphasizes information control and delivery to the social or dialogic/transactional school which emphasizes human interaction and information exchange. Creating a Central Propaganda Department would be a horrible idea for at least two reasons. First of course it would not be tolerated. Second, it would no longer work. It is also, incidentally, the exact opposite of what I proposed.
    Sent from my iPad, which rocks!

  3. Your proposal:”Finally…the military needs to scrap the current structural stovepipes and create a single unified communication function”
    I interpret as follows:
    A prescribed solution of scrapping the organizational structure separating Psyop, PA, IO, SC and unifying these functions into a single functional structure. (I’ll call this new functional area MilCom for brevity and simplicity).
    Extrapolating, I presume this means MilCom function personnel would be responsible for all communications requirements deemed necessary for military operations and civil/military relations. However, these requirements would be updated to reflect the networked and instantaneous nature of today’s information environment.
    Thus I understand your statement to mean a MilCom officer might be tasked to use SMS to broadcast a deception designed to confuse the enemy with lies on Monday morning, and then give a fact based briefing to CNN reporters Monday afternoon. If that is what you are proposing, I would object to such a proposal. And likely so would many watchdog groups and the two other branches of government.
    Instead how about:
    Instead of abandoning the stovepipes, which serve as needed firewalls at the tactical and operational levels, How about a new training and education apparatus that churns out a more well rounded, nuanced, and modern communicator?
    Revamping education is only one idea. If I read you correct on the stovepipe issue we disagree, but we agree on some other fundamentals so I think we both could agree on a set of useful prescriptions for the woes of military public communication. We probably both agree that the military has a dual requirement to communicate truthfully to Americans, but also to deceive and manipulate enemies. We also both agree that old paradigms of “sender – message – receiver” have been blown away by the speed and networked nature of the interweb. And finally, since we’re both reading Mountainrunner, we probably both agree that Smith Mundt needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

  4. In general I don’t have a problem with the idea of one group of communicators handling comm across the spectrum. We already allow riflemen to use their rifles to span the range from peacekeeping to combat and nobody seems to have a problem with their credibility. They could tell CNN “Yup. Fed and sheltered that guy there but killed that other one.”Seems to me we could tell CNN “Yup. Deceived the heck out of the enemy there. Let me give you the facts about how and why I did it.”
    That said, I’m not oblivious to the concern — particularly among PAOs — about preserving public trust through their reputation as truth tellers. Your recommendation about revamping the education and training program is solid and warrants further exploration.
    My general approach to the problem is to break it out into categories of mindset, principles, process and structure. Not really sure what the new structure might look like — would need to work the other three categories first and then design a structure to do what needs to be done.
    Thanks for the thoughtful exchange. I invite you to take a look at the principles piece shamelessly linked in my bio above and continue the discussion in another forum. Or even here. That’d work fine. On the whole, yes, it does sound like we’re in agreement on ethical intent and philosophical grounding and the material in that Appendix might help shape even more common ground.

  5. Great article. Agree with the discussion.I think you are both missing a subtlety in the tribal terms. Over a decade ago, in an information/communications environment far, far away, there existed only the two tribes of informing and influencing. The PSYOP and PAO folks. As technology changed, and Desert Storm showed, C2 warfare came on the scene. And more staff functions were created.
    Let me revert to some parochial clearing up of anachronistic definitions.
    You lumped IO and PSYOP (MISO) as the same; their target being foreign and so on. The Army really started all this confusion when they brought about the IO career field. I may sound parochial in bringing up this subtle but fundamental difference but these guys were not trained as operators in any of the traditional “5 pillars” of IO but just told/trained to synchronize and deconflict those efforts. The majority of these guys still don’t fully know how to execute these activities. Many have decided to learn EW, CNO, or manage STO activities. And the Army has changed the doctrine and continues to struggle with the doctrine to clarify what an IO guy does.
    For over 10 years the angst between IO and PSYOP has manifested in the following scenario; IO guy wants to execute what the Commander desires – PSYOP guys argues that it’s his job to do it and he’s not subordinate to IO but to the S3 – PSYOP argues about an antiquated approval process – IO guy doesn’t need anyone’s approval except the Commander and executes a rapid, poorly (most often) crafted product or program – IO guy gets good report card from Commander and Commander now believes IO guy does what PSYOP guy has always done. Or the Commander is left with a “distaste” for the bickering during the whole affair. IO and PSYOP are now synonymous.
    We already have “propagandists” in our military. They are the PSYOP/MISO folks. Granted, many need to get up to speed on operating in today’s communications environment. A lot of the US population would tell us that public affairs folks are propagandists too…
    Destroying stovepipes is a good thing. I agree with your recommended revamping of education and training. This may initially “clean up the battlefield;” dissolve the IO career field. After all the primary coordinator and synchronizer of a unit’s activities/operations is the 3 / Ops officer as directed by the Commander.
    I may be oversimplifying but a first step could be as simple as consolidating and reorganizing, just like Infantrymen do on the objective after a hard fight. (There’s a parallel to the long information fight we’ve been in for 10 years…) Time to streamline all the different staff functions, as you propose, maybe not into one MilComm field but two group of folks with sub-specialties defined by the medium they operate and addressing the PAO concerns. Then go from there.

  6. That description of the friction between PSYOP/MISO and IO matches with what I’ve seen in the field. I’m curious to know what anyone else who may be reading along might think.WRT your point about PAs being propagandists I’ve encountered that perspective as well and from some well-reasoned folks. For my part I hold that propaganda is in the eye of the beholder. I approach communication using a principle-based model that emphasizes preservation of organizational credibility and public trust, each being related to consistency of alignment between words and actions. From there when I consider a person/public who/that accuses me of being a propagandist I assess two things:
    1) Is there an actual misalignment between what I’m trying to communicate and what my organization is doing? If so, how can I correct it. If not then —
    2) Does the opinion of the accuser matter to me specifically in terms of effect on my organization’s mission in the immediate and the credibility of and public trust in my organization in the long term?
    To be candid, there are those who will always consider me a propagandist and I quit wasting time trying to convince them otherwise. Fighting that level of cynicism is more distraction than help.
    I’m interested in your thoughts on those criteria. What say you?
    Good discussion. Thanks.

  7. Cliff,Absolutely, propaganda is in the eye of the beholder. Doctrine says propaganda is “any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly.” (FM 1-02)
    Sounds similar to a definition of PSYOP. Difference here is that PSYOP professionals further define propaganda as what “they” put out (adversary, threat, etc) and PSYOP as what “we” (US) put out.
    Pretty damn difficult fighting the cynics who call us propagandists when they’ll happily allow a Superbowl commercial (or an MSNBC/FOX/Limbaugh/Colbert rant) influence their daily actions or opinions.
    I like your two points of assessment. In the end, its not just our IO/MISO/SC/PAO tribes that need education and training in these two points but also commanders. At all levels. They’re the ones making the operational decisions. The information career fields are the operators making the commander’s plan happen. In that vein, ADM Olson (CDR USSOCOM) envisions that a MISO operator is also an advisor to the commander for assessing what effect the unit’s actions will have on the operational environment.
    To your two points, the first is incredibly important. But in terms of defining propaganda, it depends on the source… and where you see yourself in relation to that source. So on to point 2.
    The opinion of the audience may only matter in relevance to mission accomplishment.
    Your communication model is valid, I think, but don’t forget that you still need a group of folks to convince bad people to put down their guns or influence them to act/move into a position of disadvantage. Such as the waiting arms of our forces for repatriation or elimination. In keeping with mission objectives, of course.
    Pun intended,

  8. Solid point on the importance of commanders being involved. In addition to words and deeds being directly related, communication and leadership are tightly linked. As in “you can’t act/lead without communicating”. That’s another reason I’m such an advocate for the mindset-principles-process-structure sequence of change in this case.It may even be that the leadership mindset needs to change first so it can in turn help inspire a similar change in the ops and communication communities. If we can’t lead or act without communicating and both create an influence of some sort then we sure as heck need to do both in a principled way. Once we have our cultural mindset and guiding principles on track we can take a good look at the actual proccess of communication and THEN sort out how it should look in terms of org design.
    Plenty of room for creativity and innovation out there if we can find a way as an institution to tap into it without being perceived as or, worse, actually becoming manipulative propagandists.

  9. I recommend we all parse the new initial draft FM 3-13 with same vigor displayed here in this discussion, especially Chapter 5 – Inform and Influence Activities Integration. It is the way ahead to assisting commanders as they face the tactical problems with strategic and political implications within the OE. Note: triple overhead canopy cover in place in this foxhole.Cordially

  10. Great read, and keeping in my background file. But one area that I disagree with you on, and one I argue against is trying to list/label SC as a “tool” or any other term making it equal to IO, MISO, PA, whatever. My argument has been, and remains, that SC is the overarching communication program you advocate for, and that the others are part of the SC program.If you recall, the Bush Administration attempted to build such a structure that might have been the foundation for providing all of us the fundamental building blocks and docturnal foundation we all desire. It was unfortunate that they gave it a lightning rod name that doomed it before it had a chance to operate effectively.
    You are also on target with another area I advocate. While many people like to throw around the SC term while planning, they really do not apply it the way it needs to be applied. We must first consider what is the message we intend to send through our actions and words, and then plan to accomplish that. I fully believe the JOPP needs to have a step added immediately after the Commander’s Intent (or modify the Commander’s Intent). That step would be the Commander’s Message — what is it he intends for the operation to “say” when we reach mission completion.
    Again, good piece. Well done.

  11. Dave –Thanks for your kind remarks.
    I follow your thoughts on SC. Plenty of confusion out there about what it is and how to do it. Is it a function? A process? A structure? Etc. All wrapped up in the blanket of the idea that SC is “new” despite the fact that it is well defined in both civilian business and academia.
    With that in mind I tend to lump it together with the other functions not so much because I personally consider them equal but because there are so many SC sections in various forms scattered throughout the DOD right now. I did my best to describe that existence in para four under “false assumption two” above but the whole topic of SC could eat up a few thousand blog words of its own. For the most part I see our flailing effort in that area as an example of how little understanding the Dept on the whole has of the new environment organizational change-leadership, and communication theory. The knowledge and experince to accomplish change and comm exist, but so far we seem a tad too committed to info control and structural solutions to work through the problem properly.
    I suspect in part we’re in too much of a hurry due to pressure related to the rate of change happening around us. It’s pretty natural to defend what is when change is happening so fast it becomes difficult to know what will be,
    Last thought, I concur with you point about the need to insert communication considerations into the overall planning process. It certainly must be linked to operational goals and objectives. But I disagree that the first Q is “what is the message?” Saying something or sending a message isn’t the purpose of communication. Commnication goals and objectives have to do with the outcome we expect wrt the people with whom we communicate. Q1 is what are we communicating about? Q2 is with whom will we communicate? Q3 is what outcome do we hope to achieve? Then Q4, finally, is what will we communicate? Followed by Q5, what medium is appropriate for communication in this case?
    Message is another word for information, which is merely one element of any given communication process. Our focus on that element — think INFORMATION environment, INFORMATION activity, INFORMATION operations — keeps us grounded in the technical or monlogic school of thought and theory that emphasizes information control and delivery and prevents us from shifting to the social or dialogic school. But the modern communication environment isn’t about control and delivery, it’s about interaction and exchange. We don’t need better messages — we need better messengers.
    So I concur with your assertion that communication needs to be an early and integrated part of planning — but I challenge you to start thnking in terms of a hollistic communication process rather than with a focus on the message and see where it takes you.
    Thanks again for your comments and keep plugging away at making things better. We can get there eventually.

  12. Don’t disagree, Cliff. Just want to clarify (and should have in my original post), when I say message, it’s more encompassing than words. That’s part of the problem with the development of SC in the DOD. People get wrapped up thinking stovepiped that message means the actual words and how to say it. As you astutely pointed out, our actions “say” a lot… in essense, say a message. But as I said, can’t disagree with you.Cheers.

  13. Ah. Gotcha, Dave. I follow your line of thought now. Makes sense to me.Appreciate you clarification. Thanks.

  14. This piece is very timely as I am taking joint military operations and am very interested in why communications is the military is so stovepiped. I agree that SC, IO and PA should fall under one career field in the military.I think this proposed career field should be held to an agreed-upon assessment doctrine using baseline research to measure an attitude, behavior or opinion change toward a desired audience.
    In my short time as a PAO (five years) at the combatant, base and joint level, I have not seen assessment of outcome-based communication plans (from SC, IO or PA). Why don’t we do baseline research and evaluation and then fine tune/adjustment based on what tactics work and which ones need changing? I think as feasible, we should require polling, focus groups, etc before executing a communication campaign then using then going back and interviewing the same people to understand what to fix. Maybe IO and SC are doing that in some places, but I haven’t seen any kind of standardized process via the joint planning process. This is a skill that should be used at all levels of communication – overseas via the JOPP and via comms plans at the base, installation and garrison levels. I have seen some examples at a few commands, but would like to see it required via joint doctrine.
    One point I may disagree with is the idea that PA is unable or unwilling to take on SC roles. SC demands a experienced, knowledgeable advisor on the region who understands how to craft themes and messages and be a good moderator to bring all stakeholders together to create a SC plan consistent with commander’s intent. I’m not sure why an experienced PAO couldn’t do this as easily as the contractors we have now. Many PAOs (O5 and above) in the military do much more than the tactical tasks that this blog describes. Many are direct advisors to four-star commanders and are instrumental in ensuring the commander’s staff understands the communication landscape and message alignment. Why SC has to be a different function than PA is a mystery to me. But, as a junior PAO, I am still learning the process.

  15. Theresa –The research and evaluation piece you mentioned does pose a significant challenge. Part of the problem is required skill and resources. Part of it is mindset: You may find a PAO who collects data once — but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one who collects it twice and compares the results to identify a change in perceptions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, behaviors, etc.
    Developing the research skill set among our communicators will requires a serious commitment from the organization. It may also be the single most complex area in terms of ethical challenges. Measuring changes in various publics, let alone creating those changes deliberately, leads to some very legitimate concerns about government influence. (Note Tom Montgomery’s concern about creation of a “Central Propaganda Department” in the initial reply above. While I don’t see creation of such a thing as an inevitable outcome I DO see the potential for it to happen and the challenge of avoiding it.)
    I propose that preservation of our organizational credibility and public trust in our organization must be key elements of any change leadership in this area. Any change in doctrine or practice must be carefully weighed against the risk of weakening and possibility of strengthening credibility and trust. For more on that topic I encourage you to take a look at “Trust in the Balance” (Shaw), “The Speed of Trust” (Covey), “Credibility” (Kouzes & Posner), and “Transparency” (Bennis, Goleman & O’Toole). Pretty much anything by those writers will set you along the path to successful principle-based leadership (and communication) that will preserve and strengthen credibility and trust.
    As for the point you disagreed on, I’m not sure we really do: If I understand you correctly you’re saying there’s no reason a PA shouldn’t be able to pick up and run with the thing we now call “SC”. I concur. At this point it’s not a matter of can’t — we have plenty of individuals who are expertly engaged in the SC arena — it’s more a matter that so PA as an organization has been either unwilling or unable to crack the SC nut. In my opinion based on observation and time in both PA and SC billets the DoD collectively dorked up its effort to suss out the whole “what is SC?” question to the point where the term is now so badly battered as to be nearly useless. In essence we created an additional stovepipe in our effort to overcome the shortfalls of the others we’d already inflicted on ourselves. We can fix it, but we initially (say, over the past decade) went backwards or maybe in circles rather than forward.
    A well-reasoned post. Good on’ya and keep up the good fight. It sounds like you have a solid understanding of what’s possible — the challenge ahead is making it happen.

  16. Creating a group responsible for coordinating communication was always a head-scratcher for me. My line of thinking is that coordination is something we all do as part of, say, good staff work — not something tasked to a specific sub-set of an organization. And coordination typically becomes more complicated, not less, when we add additional coordinatizens. (

  17. Cliff, Tom, all – this is a great and worthy discussion and parallels neatly with one we are having down here. With no IO career force, a range of IO task elements that essentially work independently from one another at the tactical level and really only one of those capabilities that generates strategic effects, PA, we’re in a horrible mish-mash of trying to work out who does what in the global information environment. This fractured environment has left us open to rice bowl wars that have to be seen to be believed. I know it’s poor form to quote oneself but I finally had the gumption to put my thoughts to paper (and perhaps as an indicator of just how little this really matters (or worse my poor efforts) to stunning silence … no I tell a lie, some reservist PAOs want me to speak at a conference — yah!)If anyone’s interested here’s my current take on it from our perspective.
    Since I wrote this we’ve created a SC branch at our Pentagon equivalent. Great concept but we’ve done it by just moving some deck chairs and not actually populating it with specialists in the field. It has led to two things:
    1. We now have another layer of coordination (as opposed to people that actual do any of the work) which slows down the delivery of the effect and further dilutes what’s needed at the tactical and operational level and
    2. SC has come to be a euphemism for comms done at and by the strat level rather than synching to coord and synch on issues/effects from tact through to strat and Government. We’re stuck in a paradigm that no one can actually talk and provide context and background to an issue, instead we all draft up responses that get staff checked (known as being cleared) up the chain until they lose all meaning and then we have them delivered by e-mail. This attempt at risk-free comms is cruelling us.
    There’s an old saying that all politics is local. For us at the moment all communication is political and no matter how much research I present that we’re losing the fight because politicians don’t make favourable and authoritative spokespersons we just have to lump it.

  18. So it’s not just me then? :)Lots of people thinking similar things. Trick now is to put that thinking to work across the organization.
    Drop me a line via Facebook or if you’re in the ‘Gon look me up inthe global. I’ll be glad to share some other reference materials and maybe we can set up a sort of “Dumbledor’s Army” to get some change moving.

  19. Cliff, thanks for the clarification on my SC/PA comments. Yes, having seen how SC works at my combatant command, I can say that it really seems to me we have just created an additional stovepipe. Our SC team is awesome and we as PA have a great relationship with them. But it is puzzling to me why we need a separate department to do what they are doing. They are all on short-term contracts, and with that they do none of the long-term communication RPIE that would be required to observe if we moved the needle in our planning process. I hope the mindset changes someday and we do require standards in our craft that can be used without damaging our creditability. I think we can, and have ample justification to use research tools, but at this point we don’t have buy-in from senior military leadership to use them. That is too bad, IMHO because we lose credibility as communicators when we can’t show our bosses the ROE of what it is we are doing. Having IO, SC and PA combine forces seems like one fix. Another would be to require the methodology for RPIE to be taught to junior PAOs. It wasn’t until working on my accreditation in public relations that I even learned about this concept. Now that I have a basic idea on how it works, it is frustrating that I don’t have the capacity in my current position to use it.Thanks for the book suggestions. I will check them out.

  20. Great article.SC and marketing on the civ side has been worked out for a long time. Advertising, promotions, comrel (or sometimes social media) and PR solve marketing problems for specific goals (i.e. increase sales, gain awareness).
    However, these functions are stovepiped departments for very good reasons. The reality is that someone has to be in charge (i.e. STRATCOM) in order to define the problems and set goals.
    Marketing (or sales) runs the show as if they don’t succeed… then the company is likely to fail. Ad guys are not going to succeed in comrel. PR folks have no idea how to advertise. Sales are not going to be your best PA. Credibility is not an issue as they all work for the company.
    I would argue that stovepipes need to be in place not for credibility, but the skills sets that are needed are vastly different.
    Markets are conversations. Each market is targeted with messages. These messages are adapted to the changing sales environment via a constant feedback loop (usually via new media). The target market is then influenced. The internet allows us to market directly to customers. The media is still a conduit but the advertising/television industrial complex is almost dead.
    Marketing professionals don’t usually PSYOP customers but they certainly PSYOP competitors. This is expected and mostly appreciated by audiences. These misinformation campaigns on the competitors are actually very entertaining in business circles.
    This is what we should work towards?

  21. Jeff –Excellent summary of how it is. I’m not certain it’s a good summary of what will, must or should be. In a sense you just provided a near perfect example of why I recommend we get away from monologic language of delivery, messages and targets. When we use that language we’ll tend to talk about what is rather than what might be. The current lexicon come with a whole lot of baggage and a great many assumptions that prevent us from thinking in new ways.
    How might all the communication-related functions change or be applied differently in a construct that doesn’t involve selling something to somebody? For example, what should we be aware of when using one or more of those tools to communicate with the American public if our hope (and perhaps assumption) is that a well-informed public will support a given military operation but it is NOT our “goal” to convince them that it should be supported?
    I propose two key considerations include (1) how do we preserve and strengthen our organizational credibility and (2) how do we preserve and strengthen public trust in our organization. I’m have a sneaking suspicion that slick marketing or clever advertising won’t do the trick and are in fact likely to backfire.
    What are your thoughts?

  22. Cliff, you wrote:”That description of the friction between PSYOP/MISO and IO matches with what I’ve seen in the field. I’m curious to know what anyone else who may be reading along might think.”
    The scenario Tony describes occurs all too frequently down range. As they used to say in the old westerns “This town ain’t big enough for the three of us.” As a current IO guy I can truly say that the continued need for an IO specific career field needs to be looked at with great scrutiny by DoD.
    At the tactical level (Division and below) it is simply redundant. It has been pointed out by many others in this decade long debate that the G3/S3 is the primary officer for synchronizing operations. I’m not sure when it happened but we as a military made the assumption that the two field grade officers responsible for communications (PAO and PSYOP) needed another guy to help them get along and “synch” efforts. The end result is that just about everyone not directly involved with PAO, MISO and IO has no idea what any of these officers actually do and how they differ. This is reflected in reality from the lowest Lieutenant to some of the most senior Generals.
    One can ask just about anyone what the G4/S4 is responsible for and one receives a generally accurate response. Ask the same officer what the G7/S7 does and more than likely the question will simply generate a blank stare. The last round of doctrine essentially said that the G7/S7 was a people person. Remember Office Space? “What would you say ya do here?” Tom Smykowski: “Well look, I already told you! I deal with the goddamn customers (Operators) so the engineers (PAO/MISO guys) don’t have to! I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people! Can’t you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?” A competent PA officer should be able to de-conflict with his/her MISO counterpart and vice versa without a third wheel thrown in.
    While there may be some utility at the higher levels for a supreme communications synchronization guru on staff, the usefulness at lower levels is questionable.

  23. Just a quick note on your comment that SC should be in charge of communications. If that was the case, then perhaps that might work if all commands had an SC staff. However, I think it still goes back to the fact we need funding, manpower and senior-level buy-in to do baseline research and then proper assessment of communication plans. It was hard for me to learn how corporate America does it, and then think: great, now how can we as PAOs do it? But then we get into the influence debate and that is where I still feel stuck in my understanding of a way ahead for how I as a junior PAO proceed. Until I can explain the ROE of what I am doing to my commander based on a process that is sound, then how do I justify the effort? Nothing is ever a hard science or pure intuition, but a better mix of using some science and some experience would be better than no research at all.Cliff, I agree that we should not use the same marketing techniques in some advertising, and I also don’t think each communication function should be seperate like in corporate communications. I just think we have to realize that with the internet breaking down barriers between US and foreign audieces, we need to redefine what we want to convey to our publics and then try and standarize the way we measure what we do. Again, I qualify all this by stating that I am still learning and perhaps we are doing more of this, and as I gain more experience, I’ll have a chance to do more of it.

  24. OK. So flipping one-eighty out from my usual verbose approach to something more concise(ish), here’s a sort of summary/check-list of thoughts this discussion triggered in my pea brain so far, presented in no particular order:1. We can’t not communicate.
    2. We can’t not influence when we communicate, therefore we can’t not influence.
    3. We can’t lead without communicating, can’t communicate without influencing, and therefore can’t lead without influencing — so we might approach this through a combination of leadership and communication lenses rather than purely a communication lens.
    4. To lead we must be credible and trustworthy, which suggests we must consider the effect of our attempts to influence on our credibility and trustworthiness.
    5. How might our use of traditional communication tools (research, data collection & analysis, marketing, advertising and PR in addition to selection and development of medium) change if our purpose is to preserve credibility and trust rather than to increase sales and market share?
    6. What is the importance of consistency between our words and deeds — and how do we ensure it?
    7. What principles might we use to guide our leadership and communication activities?
    8. How does the Freedom of Information Act factor in to the modern communication environment?
    9. How does the Privacy Act factor in to the modern communication environment?
    10. What role does “Release Authority” play in the modern communication environment?
    11. How might the list of standard operational goals and objectives change if communication becomes an integral aspect of military leadership?
    12. If the will of the people is more important than the will of the enemy in a given conflict, how might our operational goals and objectives change? (i.e. If COIN is “…all about the people, stupid…” then why is the point of the book “…how to defeat the enemy…”?)
    13. Is it possible to control information in the modern communication environment?
    14. What is the risk of attempting to control information and failing?
    15. What is the risk of extreme transparency?
    16. What is our competitive advantage in context of data collection, analysis, and sharing?
    17. What might a unified communication process integrated directly into operational planning look like? (TRULY integrated — not a discrete sub-process.)
    18. What kind of structure would we need to plan and execute that process?
    19. Where would we get the people to fill that structure?
    20. In context of credibility and trust, when is it acceptable to be deliberately deceitful?
    21. What part of communication activity must be conducted by communication specialists and what part is inherent in the roles and responsibilities of leadership?
    22. Does the “supported and supporting” construct work if communication is a PART OF rather than SUBS-ACTIVITY OF leadership?
    23. What is the difference between communicating AT people and communicating WITH them?
    24. What is the difference between a “target audience” and a “key public”?
    25. Which is more important: Keeping secrets or being credible and trustworthy?
    26. Which is more important: Preserving security or being credible and trustworthy?
    27. Consider the following: When someone “steals” data it is usually not gone. What is the significance of this in context of communication?
    28. What is WikiLeaks competitive advantage relative to ours in context of classified data?
    29. What’s the difference between communication and communicationS and does it matter?
    So, that’s a start anyway…

  25. Cliff,Sounds like a great start for further thought at a DoD/JCS conference with all the big brains of IO, SC and PA. Especially if there is a way to leverage the skills PRSA brings to the table. It is nice to see the discussion here though and know that there are others out there who have the same questions I do on these subjects.
    Take care

  26. All good comments here and timely keeping in lin with the various articles being written due to hte HAsitngs piece and Holmes’ axe grinding.This all needs to be relooked and doctrine adapted for the changing environment. IO in my personal opinion just adds a layer of bureaucracy in operations that a CJ3 shop would manage if it was a lethal operation.

  27. MCYour joint doctrine using a 39/59 approach as a staff specialist in the plans and ops branches make sense … it’s about integrating and coordinating the function into ops. The new Army doctrine of an independent 7 makes no sense whatsoever other than to create more senior positions for FA30s.

Comments are closed.