Holmes spotlights doctrinal delineation of IO and PA

The majority of the discussion and concern created by the Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings centered on statements by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holmes that he was illegally tasked. I discuss the real issue exposed by this and the previous article by Hastings on General Stanley McChrystal of doctrinal and structural problems in the U.S. military in an article at ForeignPolicy.com entitled “Mind Games.”
On his Facebook page, Holmes links to a MountainRunner post on a roundtable discussion with Lieutenant General William Caldwell, IV, until recently Holmes’s commanding officer and then Commanding General of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth. The topic was the just-released revision to FM 3-0, the Operations manual for the Army, and the new attention to information activities.


I have discussed on this blog before , at conferences and elsewhere, the distinction between “inform” and “influence” is artificial. In the comparison between the two, “influence” for practical purposes code for “deception” (some might argue “manipulation” as well, but that is just as broad and subjective: this post after all is an attempt to manipulate your opinion). Cliff W. Gilmore delves into the fallacy of “inform but not influence” deeper in his post The Second Battle of Hastings, so here I’ll stick to the statement highlighted by Holmes.

Public affairs doctrine includes “providing trusted counsel to leaders” that falls within the orders apparently given to Holmes. From page I-4 in public affairs doctrine, Joint Publication 3-61, revised 25 August 2010, “Providing Trusted Counsel to Leaders”:

This core competency includes anticipating and advising [Joint Force Commanders] on the possible impact of military operations and activities within the public information realm.  This also includes preparing JFCs to communicate with audiences through the media and other methods of communication, as well as analyzing and interpreting the information environment, monitoring domestic and foreign public understanding, and providing lessons learned from the past.

The “delineation between” IO and PA that Holmes spotlights on Facebook is an operational distinction. As Holmes was not being tasked to do IO, his argument would seem to be that he is an IO asset and therefore incapable of doing non-IO work. This could be viewed as a surgeon saying he can’t carry ammo boxes or a demolition specialist unable to do explosive ordinance disposal because he job is to destroy not protect.

Under this theoretical model, should Holmes have been required to change from the unit? Would this transfer from an IO team to a PA team been all that was required as tasking was inadequate? Would his concerns be mollified if he left the theater and returned with a different patch?

Holmes highlights a parochial view of the stovepipes of U.S. military informational engagement that focuses on the tools rather than purpose, requirements and means.

With regard to the legal review of the first order given to Holmes, I have not seen either the order nor the analysis, but it is my experience that the lawyers are often more behind the curve on the definitions and doctrine surrounding the information environment.

As an aside, the parochial limitations on “influence” in the military distinguish audiences based on a legal construct: the “target” cannot be an American citizen. This lends to a prohibition on engaging on U.S. soil because of the likelihood of a U.S. citizen will be engaged. Whether this means an adversary could create a legal “shield” against military “influence” activities by having American citizens among them is unclear to me.

The State Department’s prohibition (the same as the Broadcasting Board of Governors), in the form of the Smith-Mundt Act that Holmes mentioned, is based on geography only. The requirement and limitation is material is to be disseminated abroad. There is no test of citizenship – despite popular belief that the Smith-Mundt Act “protects” “Americans”.

2 thoughts on “Holmes spotlights doctrinal delineation of IO and PA

  1. He responded to your post on his facebook page. He seems to prove your point above in an antiquated, parochial view of things.He states: “I think Mr Gilmore does an admirable job of discussing, and perhaps apologizing for, the use of Influence Operations on your home population.
    But it is irrelevant.
    The law as it exists prevents us from using IO or MISO or any other Army Influencers to target our own people. The order we received on 22 MAR was judged to be illegal by NTM-A/CSTC-A’s own JAG officer, Capt John Scott on 25 MAR. The issue should have ended there.
    Lieutenant Colonel Holmes does not get to interpret or change the law from the battlefield, and neither does Lieutenant General Caldwell. We are soldiers. We execute policy, not change or ignore it because we think it is outdated or obsolete.
    And perhaps the most ironic part is that none of this had to happen at all. There was a staff of about 22 Public Affairs people at NTM-A at the time. More than enough to do what the Gen wanted to do without having an IO team sully the waters and taint the picture.
    Arguments like Mr Gilmore (and others) have used about this sound remarkably like something one might have heard the defense counsel use at Nuremberg.”

  2. It amazes me that the default setting goes to the Nuremberg defense…the bottom line is that Mike Holmes was not and is not a professional military influencer. He was responsible for the integration of information related capabilities to achieve his commander’s objectives, not “do” any of the formerly enumerated “core, related or supporting” capabilities. The fact that he holds up his certificate of training for a 40 hour course on PSYOP integration from the 1st IO Command as his credentials is further proof to the initiated that his role was as an integrating staff officer, not as a professional “do-er.” He was not trained on how to conduct psychological operations.He’s wrong and he knows it so to me this is a lot of smoke and mirrors from a man trying to hide behind a green curtain, frantically pulling levers and switches and he is being about as effective as the Carnival King from Kansas that he is apparently taking his cues from.

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