A new public diplomacy as banks close foreign embassy accounts? Not exactly

The term “public diplomacy” is problematic, born out of bureaucratic wrestling in the mid-1960’s as the “struggle for minds and wills” gave way to counting tanks, bombers, and missiles. It’s very use today continues to signify something that is different, but it is not a separate line of activity that is discretely separated other “private” or any other diplomacy. It is not faery dust to be sprinkled on when the time is right. And don’t get me started on niche terms like “baseball diplomacy” or “music diplomacy” or “left-handed comb diplomacy” or whatever. “Public Diplomacy” is a term that should be abolished and replaced with a more generic label as it prevents proper integration of various information, engagement and influence activities across the government, notable but not exclusively, in the State Department. To some, public diplomacy does not fit here because private entities are engaged with foreign governments, the exact opposite of how many define “public diplomacy.” What a mess, but to the point of this post…

The latest debacle in DC is an example that will surely invite some commentator to “coin” a new term, “banking diplomacy.” What I’m referring to is a post by Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin about US banks closing accounts of foreign embassies. To me, this is a fine example of the trouble with “public diplomacy” as it creates immediate trouble (and no doubt discussions and negotiations) behind and in front of closed doors with a variety of organizations. There will be private and public maneuvering, with Josh’s piece likely one such intentional example by some party to the situation. (If Josh was informed by an observer without a direct stake, would that make this less ‘public diplomacy’? My head spins at the mere thought of considering this.)

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US Government Meets New Media

From Helle Dale at The Heritage Foundation, Public Diplomacy 2.0: Where the U.S. Government Meets “New Media”:

Public diplomacy and strategic communications experts within the U.S. government are exploring the potential of the new social media in the effort to win hearts and minds abroad, especially in the Muslim world where today’s war of ideas is being fought. Enemies of the United States are already expert in using these low-cost outreach tools that can connect thousands, potentially even millions, at the touch of a computer key or cell phone button. As public affairs blogger Matt Armstrong writes,

In this age of mass information and precision guided media, everyone from political candidates to terrorists must instantly and continuously interact with and influence audiences in order to be relevant and competitive. Ignoring the utility of social media is tantamount to surrendering the high ground in the enduring battle to influence minds around the world.

… When employed strategically, social-networking sites clearly offer potential for U.S. public diplomacy to reach younger, tech-savvy audiences around the world. Social-networking sites can also be cost-effective and run with relatively low overhead. Yet, nothing can replace the power of person-to-person contact and individual exposure to American culture. Furthermore, the unevenness of global technological progress means that a variety of media will remain critical to spreading the U.S. message. As part of a clear and calibrated U.S. government communications strategy, however, Public Diplomacy 2.0 can be a valuable tool.

I would add that there is the convergence of new and old media into Now Media makes intense focus on “new media” channels as distracting and potentially dangerous. As Helle Dale notes, person to person contact remains essential. Even in America’s social media world, studies indicate online relationships that have by real world connections are far stronger than those without.

A powerful, important, and too often ignored is the use of the online media by our adversaries. We require culturally aware, linguistically capable actors in the same languages and cultures we are operating in the “meat space.” What you see in your English-language search of Google or YouTube is not the same list as an Arabic-language search using the same .com site. How many know that? This is a far more dangerous world than many realize. Helle Dale’s recommendations are valid but are ultimately a small part of the solution. The institutional dysfunction across Government and the extreme lack of awareness of the requirements in both the executive and legislative branches overshadow any advantage of these recommendations. We have surrendered primary battlegrounds in the struggle for minds and wills. It is time to reverse this and answer counter the highly damaging propaganda of our adversaries.


Event: InfoWarCon April 23-24

Next week is InfoWarCon, a conference to discuss “theoretical and practical changes and uses of Information Operations/Information Warfare, Cyberwar, Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy.” Giving keynotes are LTG Thomas F. Metz, Director, JIEDDO, (title: “IO: The Great Enabler") and the Honorable James Glassman, former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (title:"Can a ‘Conversation’ Win the War on Terror?").

The conference is two days, April 23-24, and in Washington, DC. Check their website for registration details. The panels promise to be interesting. Check them out below:

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Guest Post: An Anti-Piracy Mission Transforms From Interdiction to Strategic Communication

By Chris Tomlinson

Imagine the scene: a U.S. Navy destroyer shadowing a tiny lifeboat carrying four Somali pirates with a U.S. hostage in an Indian Ocean standoff. Most Americans see the USS Bainbridge as the cavalry riding to the rescue. But not everyone will see it that way. The poor and oppressed living in the developing world might see something akin to the lone Chinese civilian standing in front of a Red Army tank trying to reach Tiananmen Square. Where we see a cop stopping a robber, others will see Robin Hood cornered by the sheriff of Nottingham.

Now that the pirates have gotten the attention of the world, a low-profile mission to interdict criminals in the Indian Ocean now is a major strategic communication. Does the Pentagon and the State Deptartment understand that?

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A worthy cause to support

A good friend of mine, Gabi Elliott, just sent me a note that she’s running a 10k for a worthy cause:

I am running 10K in aid of the Esther Benjamins Trust in May. For more info on just what a great cause this is, please please please take a moment to look at this film:-

EBT rescues child victims of trafficking, forced labour, brutal treatment in Indian circuses and (closest to my heart) from adult prisons. It is giving children back their right to a childhood – something we so often take for granted in the West.

I’m hoping to raise £1000 on justgiving:- http://www.justgiving.com/gabrielleelliott

Guest Post: Pirates are not terrorists but the prevention of both are similar

This is a guest post by Ben Little, former Navy SEAL, author of The Sea Rover’s Practice: Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730, The Buccaneer’s Realm: Pirate Life on the Spanish Main, 1674-1688 and the forthcoming Pirate Hunting: The Fight Against Pirates, Privateers, and Sea Raiders From Antiquity to the 21st Century, and long time friend of this blog.

Regarding the argument that the pirate is a terrorist, or that piracy is equivalent to terrorism, we should very briefly examine the ultimate purpose of both terrorism and piracy. In the case of terrorism, the purpose is political, and its means, including the use of violence to create a state of terror, are focused on that end. Many analysts tend to forget that terrorists do not kill people and blow up buildings primarily to get attention. They do it to get a reaction, preferably one that will turn a local or even an international population against a government, people, corporation, other organization, or idea, which in turn helps fill terrorist ranks and helps achieve political ends. For example, Al-Qaeda must have seen the US invasion of Iraq as a gift from heaven. Attention via violence is just the vehicle. (This critical aspect of terrorism was emphasized in a course I took in "Political Warfare" taught by Army intelligence specialists at the Naval Amphibious School in Coronado in the 1980s.)

Piracy, on the other hand, is simply armed theft on the sea (and in the past, from the sea as well). It lacks a political purpose, although it can of course be used as a tactic or strategy to finance or otherwise support terrorism, unrelated criminal activity, insurgency, or even (in the past) state- or empire-building. Ideally, as Matt pointed out, the pirate would prefer that no exceptional knowledge of his activity come to light. His goal is not to become a martyr or spend his life in jail, but to enjoy his spoils. In most cases, when the pirate does use "terror," he is not engaging in terrorism, but is simply using fear make his job easier, as does any armed thief. The incitement of fear, even to the extent of terror, helps prevent his prey from fighting back, and thus makes piracy more profitable, not to mention helps keep the pirate alive so that he can spend his gains. Beyond this, the pirate has no use for fear or terror. Were he to routinely engage in violence on the level of the terrorist–in terrorism, in other words–every hand would soon turn against him. Lacking a political purpose and a political base, he would soon find himself violently ostracized, except by those who rely immediately upon him for economic sustenance. There is a good reason, for example, that Somali pirates have so far treated their prisoners well. Further, the pirate generally does not seek to destroy states or economies, although on occasion in the past he has had a hand in this. He requires functioning states and well-ordered economies, for they are the source of his prey–of his "profit by plunder," in other words.

Continue reading “Guest Post: Pirates are not terrorists but the prevention of both are similar

Is Piracy Terrorism? No.

Two days ago Abu Muqawama asked whether piracy is terrorism

What? This guy seems to think so:

Are pirates a species of terrorist? In short, yes. The same definition of pirates as hostis humani generis could also be applied to international organized terrorism. Both crimes involve bands of brigands that divorce themselves from their nation-states and form extraterritorial enclaves; both aim at civilians; both involve acts of homicide and destruction, as the United Nations Convention on the High Seas stipulates, “for private ends.”

Here, meanwhile, is Bard O’Neill’s definition of terrorism:

[T]he threat or use of physical coercion, primarily against noncombatants, especially civilians, to create fear in order to achieve various political objectives.

If you can think of an alternate or better definition for terrorism, chime in. But I don’t think you’re going to find any reputable terror scholar who would say piracy is necessarily a form of terror. (Unless he or she is a ninja.) Just because the two groups have things in common — or that piracy could be used as a terror tactic — doesn’t mean piracy equals terror.

I really hate it when people throw the "terror" label around to serve their purposes. It confuses the public. If you want to make an argument that piracy should be outlawed under international law, great — knock yourself out. But don’t start confusing terms. . . .

That post generated a lot of comments arguing that yes, piracy is terrorism. There were some arguments that because piracy funds terrorism it is terrorism. That’s a lot like saying “I breathe when I sleep is the same as I sleep when I breathe.”

Let’s get something straight here: piracy is not terrorism. Recall what is the critical component of terrorism: knowledge of the act. Remember the old saying that “media is the oxygen of the terrorist.” If you don’t know an act was terrorism it isn’t and it’s simply an accident or a criminal act. Imagine if no one knew the Earth Liberation Front was behind the burning of a Hummer dealership (could have been regular ole’ arsonists) or mansions in the forest (electrical spark)?

Terrorism requires knowledge of the purpose lest no fear or concern is generated (besides mandating better fire prevention, for example). In contrast, piracy doesn’t benefit from increased knowledge of the act. Pirates would prefer what they do not become public knowledge lest navies get mobilized, shippers chart different courses, or become harder targets. Generating fear and awareness of who they are and of their activities is bad for business. 

To be sure, piracy could be many things, depending on the perspective. American privateers sent against English shipping during the Revolution intended to cause fear in civilians, namely rich people involved in trade, and take the fight to the British homeland. That fear was manifested in higher insurance and pressure on the Crown to do something. The English (probably) called it terrorism be we would definitely classify it as insurgency, but the activities were in support of a political act (as well as providing financial support to several New England towns).

Lastly, piracy is already illegal. Read The Abolition of Privateering and the Declaration of Paris for a historical perspective (that’s directly related to mercenaries). For more interesting reads on the subject, see Ben Little’s books.

Event: Tackling Piracy at Sea Conference

Without comment:

Tackling Piracy at Sea Conference, 18th and 19th March 2009, London, UK

Register now at www.quaynote.com

Somalia is now the backdrop against which increasing levels of piracy are seen.  With both the frequency and violence of attacks thought to be growing, there is mounting pressure on governments, international agencies, and the shipping industry to tackle the problem.

Tackling Piracy is an international conference that will bring together all those concerned with or affected by piracy at sea to discuss what solutions can be found.  As insurance companies offer kidnap negotiators under owners` policies, is it right for ship operators to pay ransoms to pirates in order to minimalise risk to crews and cargo?  Or is their willingness to pay up encouraging piracy, with attackers motivated by their enhanced chances of commercial or political gain?

By examining a whole range of solutions, from improved international co-operation, the provision of greater naval protection or deployment of private security organisations, to looking at the effectiveness of preventative measures and the argument for industry to fund policing, Tackling Piracy will offer an ideal forum to both assess the problem and pinpoint some possible answers.

Conference Chaired by: David Jamieson, former UK Shipping Minister

Speakers already confirmed:
  Paul Agate, Swinglehurst
  Stephen Askins, Ince & Co
  Guillaume Bonnissent, Hiscox
  Toben Janholt, Danish Shipowners` Assocation
  Chris Moore, Drum Cussac
  Pottengal Mukundan, International Maritime Bureau
  Neil Young, Armor Group

For further details go to www.quaynote.com or tel 44 (0) 20 8348 3704 or email alison@quaynote.com

Readings on Future Threats

National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2025

"Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World" is the fourth unclassified report prepared by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in recent years that takes a long-term view of the future. It offers a fresh look at how key global trends might develop over the next 15 years to influence world events. Our report is not meant to be an exercise in prediction or crystal ball-gazing. Mindful that there are many possible "futures," we offer a range of possibilities and potential discontinuities, as a way of opening our minds to developments we might otherwise miss.

Some of our preliminary assessments are highlighted below:

  • The whole international system—as constructed following WWII—will be revolutionized. Not only will new players—Brazil, Russia, India and China— have a seat at the international high table, they will bring new stakes and rules of the game.
  • The unprecedented transfer of wealth roughly from West to East now under way will continue for the foreseeable future.
  • Unprecedented economic growth, coupled with 1.5 billion more people, will put pressure on resources—particularly energy, food, and water—raising the specter of scarcities emerging as demand outstrips supply.
  • The potential for conflict will increase owing partly to political turbulence in parts of the greater Middle East.

Related: BBC’s Key Points, Enterprise Resilience Management’s key points, Jonathan Landay’s comments at Nukes and Spooks, and Tom Barnett’s disappointment.

See also: 55 Trends Now Shaping the Future of Terrorism (March 2008) and 55 Trends Now Shaping the Future (April 2008)


Pirates off Somalia pretty much launched this blog three years ago this month. Three years after a cruise used an LRAD to fend of pirates one hundred miles offshore and little firm called Top Cat was awarded a $50m contract, piracy remains a significant issue. So significant that blog friend Galrahn tell us Santa’s elves may have to resort to wooden toys (made from bamboo? where’s the bamboo coming from? doh!):

Could the Somalian pirates ruin Christmas? Maybe, according to PC World, who notes that shipping company’s in Mombai are so frustrated with Somalian piracy shooting up their ships heading through the Suez that they are contemplating moving materials around the Cape of Good Hope instead. What does that mean? Well, higher prices for one, delayed shipments for another.

To investigate, friend David Axe is headed off to Somalia to practice more citizen journalism and needs your help.

The first week of December, I will be heading to the Horn of Africa to cover theescalating piracy crisis. I’m working hard to get sufficient assignments to cover expenses, but it’s looking pretty bleak. This is expensive work — costs for me will total around $10,000 — and in recent years the rates for freelancers have dropped by around half. So far, the value of my assignments is just $2,200 $2,800. I’m committed to doing this work, cost be damned, but it’d be nice not to fall into complete financial ruin.

Help out Dave if you can.

From Nov-Dec 2005:

From ‘today’:

Note: two years ago I had a category for piracy, but I killed it to keep the category list clean and focused. In lieu of reinstating “piracy”, a new, broader and necessary category is introduced with this post: Non-State Actors.

A Primer on Pirates

There is an increasing number of questions about what is piracy. This is a brief primer to get the reader started on the road of what piracy may be. As you read, consider the US capture of a Somali pirate in January and how strategy, tactics, and global affairs fit into the game of Risk.

A starter read is the United Nation’s Atlas of the Oceans portal is Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea.

A better, up to date read is from Tech Central Station – Un-Jolly Rogers (16 Nov 05), with highlights below, emphasis added.

The War on Terror features counter-pirate operations. Singapore’s Internal Security Department told me in 2002 that the difference between battling pirates and stopping terrorists is often slight. The Straits of Malacca, located between Singapore and Indonesia, is a prime terror
target. The strait is jammed with container ships and oil tankers.

In fall 2001, a CENTCOM officer and I explored several “ship assault” scenarios in the straits. One scenario had the plotscape of a novel, with Indonesian or Malaysian pirates helping al-Qaida operatives hijack a tanker. Spilling a million barrels of crude creates an eco-disaster.
Sinking the tanker drives maritime insurance rates sky-high.

In June 2005, I received two briefings from CENTCOM naval officers on coalition naval operations off Africa’s Somali coast and in the Red Sea. Chasing pirates is a key mission. Stopping piracy protects African and Arab fishermen and shippers, so it’s good politics. There’s also little doubt that al-Qaida has paid local pirates to smuggle personnel and weapons.

Naval patrols off Somalia, however, didn’t deter last week’s audacious — and unsuccessful — pirate assault on the cruise liner Seabourn Spirit. Somali pirates, riding in small boats, attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. The liner’s captain and crew maneuvered their ship, using it as a weapon — it’s big, and it generates a
massive wake. The liner also employed a directional “parabolic audio boom-box.” The non-lethal “sonic weapon” emitted an eardrum-shattering sound. The frustrated pirates retreated.

The Somali attack generated international headlines. Though international monitors recorded 259 “piratical incidents” in the first nine months of this year, piracy receives very little media coverage.

The spike in media interest may give Jack Gottschalk and Brian Flanagan a belated bestseller. Their “Jolly Roger With an Uzi: The Rise and Threat of Modern Piracy,”
published by the Naval Institute Press in 2000, documented the rise of “new piracy,” to include smuggling and maritime scams, as well as terrorists operating at sea.
Gottschalk and Flanagan identify three “requirements” for piracy, which apply to Viking pirate raiders as well as contemporary Somali sea thieves:

1) Pirates prowl waterways where the targets are lucrative.

2) “The geographic area where pirates prey must be one in which the risk level of detection is acceptable.”

3) If possible, pirates have “safe havens” where they can “hide, seek repairs and obtain supplies.”

Combating piracy takes good intelligence. The authors also offer this warning: Piracy “has never been reduced through any process of negotiation.” Historically, only armed force suppresses pirates.

With the impact on commerce and security clearance, it would be interesting to investigate why piracy has not achieved greater prominence in the news. It seems to have all the necessary attributes, except, perhaps, a perceived unitary backer. While “Islamic Terrorism” is perceived to be part of the Us vs Them scenario described by so many, most notably and unfortunately the President, there is no single Chief Pirate, Chief Propagandist Pirate, or ideological thread to build a fascinating singular story around. Is it possible the cruise ship attack was a lure to allow the TopCat mission? Or was it a chance opportunity?