Guest Post: A Global Call to Arms in the Virtual Century

Carl Jung once warned during the Cold War that: “Everywhere in the West [World] there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our humanitarianism and our sense of justice, hold the incendiary torches ready, with nothing to stop the spread of their ideas except the critical reason of a single, fairly intelligent, mentally stable stratum of the population. One should not, however, overestimate the thickness of this stratum.” (C.G. Jung, “The Undiscovered Self,” 4).

If Carl Jung were still living, we may find him to be rather (appropriately) proud of a modest, rational banker who resides in Nigeria. On December 25th, 2009, the Free World was given a great gift that mirrors the one Jung sought to impart more than 50 years ago.  While the media will mark the day as another attempted 9/11, they miss the mark.  The most profound and courageous feature of this attempted attack has nothing to do with the terrorist himself, but with his father.  A father, who, upon sensing his son was falling into the orbit of radical ideologies, took it upon himself to use this information to protect our global commons by letting authorities know they should be watching his son.  Certainly we can all understand what a grueling and emotionally fracturing experience it must have been for this brave man.  We would all do well to spend a few moments this New Year viewing the world from this man’s shoes.

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The Real Psychological Operation for Afghanistan

This article is cross-posted at the George C. Marshall Foundation. Also at AOC’s IO Blog.
On December 1, 2009, President Obama announced his Afghanistan strategy and what immediately followed was an expected and unoriginal cacophony of sound bites based on selective memories of the past and shallow and ignorant visions of the present and future. The decline in the public’s support for the struggle is surely a delight for Al Qaeda and the Taliban who, unlike our pundits and some in Congress, understand this is foremost a psychological struggle for the minds of people in “Af-Pak” and around the world to affect their will to act.

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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.


Risk Communication in a Constrained Information Environment

Last week at the Heritage Foundation, I sat on a panel with CBS News correspondent Kim Dozier, former Director of External Affairs for FEMA Jonathon Thompson. The panel was moderated by my friend Dennis Murphy, professor at the US Army War College. The two-day event, Homeland Security’s Wicked Problems:  Developing a Research Agenda for Homeland Security, was webcast live. Our panel was on day 2 of “Wicked Problems” and is now available here or below. 

I am third to present, after Jonathon and Kim, and come in around the 43rd minute.

The proceedings for Day 1 are not yet online.

Bullets and Blogs: New Media and the Warfighter

image From the US Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership and The SecDev Group comes “Bullets and Blogs: New Media and the Warfighter” (2.7mb PDF). The report is based on a three-day workshop that took place at Carlisle Barracks in January 2008, one of the best events I have attended. It is required reading for anyone (e.g. more then than the Defense community) involved in the modern information environment.

This report is rich with soundbites and recommendations supported by examples, including operations where the insurgents were the first to write the first draft of history, the draft that usually sticks especially when a factual challenge is not made within days or weeks. It will be required reading for my upcoming class as well as a class I’ll likely be teaching in the spring (details to be announced).

This report deserves a better write up, but for now, download and read it yourself and comment below. More information can be found here:

Qualified Support from Congress of DoD Strategic Communication

For your reference, the below citations are from reports of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees from before the summer recess in support of Defense information activities commonly referred to as strategic communication. As far as the House Appropriations Committee, Defense Subcommittee, there is nothing in support of DOD information activities, as you may already know. The numbers in parentheses at the end of each citation is the page number of the report.
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Guest Post: The Rosetta Stone for Strategic Communication? More like Speak ‘N Spell

By Matt Morgan

In the most recent issue of Joint Forces Quarterly, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, has put his name on a short commentary that states, "It is time for us to take a harder look at "strategic communication."

The apparent point of the piece is that the admiral believes the military has walked away from the original intent of Strategic Communication, allowing it to "become a thing instead of a process, an abstract thought instead of a way of thinking."

The article presents a number of reasonably good points, most notably the conclusive statement that we need to pay much more attention to what our actions communicate. Unfortunately, the overall effect of the essay makes the Chairman appear late to the game in the eyes of those most engaged in SC concept development. For the most part there is little here to disagree with. But the central argument offers very few substantive observations not already addressed in the USJFCOM Strategic Communication Joint Integrating Concept. Furthermore, it doesn’t so much as bother to acknowledge the DoD’s own SC principles [PDF 1.5Mb], which include — among others — Dialogue, Understanding, Credibility, and Unity of Effort; all key themes presented more or less effectively by the Chairman.

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Public Diplomacy is not an influence activity and the DOD can only use PSYOP to engage foreign audiences

A paper by Daniel Silverberg and COL Joseph Heimann in the current issue of the US Army War College’s superb quarterly Parameters discusses the legal authorities of the Defense Department’s activities in strategic communication, public affairs, and public diplomacy. In doing so, “An Ever-Expanding War: Legal Aspects of Online Strategic Communication” makes some startling statements on both the Defense Department’s and the State Department’s methods.

This paper is well-timed to coincide with current discussions in Congress on the role of DOD in engaging foreign audiences, particularly in the area of online communication. A key issue for the authors is whether interactive engagement of foreign audiences in the era of the social web by Combatant Commanders (eg. CENTCOM),

while critical to overall American strategic communication efforts, are properly characterized as “military missions,” that make use of DOD funding.

They do not blame the DOD for mission creep, with the understatement that DOD “is arguably filling a need where resource-strapped civilian agencies might be falling short.” (This statement assumes civilian agencies have the desire to fill the gap.)

Most troubling for me are the statements on which they base much of their analysis(emphasis is mine):

[O]nce the Department no longer labels its communication measures as PSYOP, it potentially subverts its own statutory authorities to conduct such programs. The Department has limited authorities to engage foreign audiences, and PSYOP are the principal authorized mechanism to do so. In legal terms, in order to justify the use of appropriated funds, DOD activities are required to support a DOD-specific mission and not conflict with the responsibility of another agency.8 Once DOD stops calling interactive communication activities PSYOP and undertakes functions similar to those of another department, the “military mission” becomes less defined.

Second, DOD may be encroaching upon the Department of State’s mission to engage foreign audiences. The two departments’ missions, while overlapping, are distinct. DOD’s mission is one of influence; the State Department’s mission is one of relationship-building and dialogue. The amalgamation of these tasks potentially undermines the State Department’s efforts. At a minimum, it forces one to ask exactly where does DOD’s mission end.

More on this from me later. What are you thoughts?

Washington Times Editorial: Fighting the War of Ideas

Strongly recommend reading the unsigned editorial in The Washington Times titled “Fighting the War of Ideas: Congress leans toward unilateral disarmament in info ops”:

Information operations are known by many names — public diplomacy, strategic influence, political warfare — but the purpose is the point. It’s vital for America to advance national security by changing the way people think about our country and challenging the negative messages spread by our adversaries. …

Ideally, the United States would pursue information operations through an integrated, coordinated interagency program following a coherent strategy aimed at achieving critical strategic effects. This would require a major presidential initiative, something President George W. Bush did not do but which President Obama may yet undertake. In the meantime, the Defense Department is the sole government agency adequately executing this mission. If the Pentagon goes silent, the field will be left to our adversaries. In the battle of ideas, Congress is forcing unilateral disarmament.

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Guest Post: Explaining Why Afghanistan Matters – Whose Job Is It?

By Tom Brouns

As highlighted in this blog and others, the use of “new” and “social” media by military and government organizations as a part of their public communication strategy is undergoing a quiet evolution – or in some cases, revolution.  Where consensus between allies is not a concern, organizations like US Forces – Afghanistan are taking the bull by the horns: their Facebook page amassed 14,000 fans in six weeks, and their 4500+ followers on Twitter are nothing to sneeze at.  In an alliance like NATO, progress has to be a bit more tentative and exploratory.  Regardless of the pace, increasing dialogue and transparency between military organizations and their publics should be seen as a positive thing.

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Obsolete arguments to keep an obsolete law

By all means, let’s keep a law designed for another era on the books because, well, it’s there. That’s the argument many have offered in defense of the restrictive provisions added to the Smith-Mundt Act in 1972 and 1985. My friend Kim Andrew Elliot makes this argument while reviewing the Defense Department paper on strategic communication I posted this week.

"Understand the difference between public diplomacy and strategic communication. For the former, the audience is outside the geographic territory of the United States. For the latter, the audience is global. Science and Technology solutions do not generally discriminate based on geographic location, nor should they. The domains of strategic communication can not be limited to those with public affairs authority – everyone should be viewed as a strategic communicator."
Brilliant. This report has found a way to work around the Smith-Mundt clause prohibiting the domestic dissemination of public diplomacy. Just call it "strategic communication."

Kim’s statement is based on the belief that American public diplomacy is unfit for American audiences because it is a) deceitful, b) illegal influence, or c) damaging to the domestic news market. None of these are valid reasons today. 

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A (R)Evolution in Public Affairs at the Defense Department?

As I wrote over a week ago, Price Floyd, formerly of (wait for it) the Center for a New American Security (surprise!), is the new Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (P-DASD) for Public Affairs. Price has a deep appreciation for proactive public diplomacy, so his interview with Donna Miles of in-house publication DefenseLink is not really surprising:

So one week into the job as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, Floyd is taking a fresh look at traditional public affairs and strategic communications practices with an eye toward making them more responsive, more relevant, more inclusive and more transparent.

For a long time, the new technologies represented little more than “a better bullhorn” to broadcast the Defense Department’s messages to more people, Floyd said. “But now, that’s changed,” he said. “It’s not just better one-way communication; it’s better two-way communication. It’s not just us reaching people; it is them reaching us, too.”

There’s a lot in what Price said in the interview. Many of his sentiments go against deeply held beliefs, practices, and in many cases, training of public affairs. Ignoring the ability of virtually anyone to inform and mobilize global audiences for good or for bad surrenders the most important terrain of modern conflict: the mind that in turn influences the will to act.

Price has his work cut out for him.

Here are a few changes I’d like to see:

  • Dump the public affairs mantra “inform but not influence”
  • Make PA more proactive and “preactive” as it is a critical part of the global chess game that is the struggle for minds and wills
  • Adopt the proposed definition of propaganda recommended by Price’s predecessor (same for strategic communication which is redefined in the same document)

Questioning the Difference between Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy (Updated)

imageWe live in a world in which everyone who must manage and marshal public opinion, which ranges from democratically elected politicians to terrorists, rely on new and old media to stay relevant. Organizing for this information environment requires requires forethought and planning. The resulting functional structures and audience segments shapes the purpose, nature, and outcome of the engagement, regardless of whether it is one-way or two-way or one-to-one or one-to-many.

With getting further, here is an open question:

In your opinion, what is the difference between Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy?

Please respond in the comments. Also, feel free to extend your response to include the difference between Defense Public Affairs and Information Operations or Psychological Operations.

I asked this same question on Twitter. Here are the answers received so far:

AFPADude: some would say audience, I would argue there is no difference anymore due to several factors

FantomPlanet: What are the differences btwn civil affairs and civil diplomacy?

Steve_Schippert:Affairs is about image, releases, projection while PubDip is about engagement, discussion, 2 way comm on issues. Methinks…

T M Russo: interesting question! my thoughts: public affairs= the workings of gov’t, public diplomacy communicates those workings

The following responses came through Facebook:

PA/PR: Channel based information outflow with the goal of message transfer. PD: Information outflow with the goal of message engagement (discourse,discussion, processing and retransmitting in new forms). Dependent on social media.

Well, the state department says PA is working with U.S. media and PD is programs overseas! Go figure.

Same as the difference between "Tactics" and "Strategy". PA = short term engagement, PD = long view.

No wonder nobody understands, unless we’re all talking tongue in cheek.
Logically, diplomacy applies to non-Americans. President Obama doesn’t conduct diplomacy when he meets with the governor of California. That’s politics. It is diplomacy when he meets with Mubarak. The "public" part refers to anyone outside a government. Thus, anyone outside a government outside the U.S.
Then, logic doesn’t often work and Smith-Mundt was originally written with domestic constituencies in mind and before "PD" became a working term.
Maybe, Matt, it’s time for a new conference!

Already in the works…

See also: see Nick Cull’s Engagement Is The New Public Diplomacy Or The Adventures Of A Euphemism Of A Euphemism

Guest Post: How to win the GWOT – or whatever it’s called today

By Mark Pfeifle, Jonathan Thompson

America has the finest military and diplomatic leaders in the world. They know how to win on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Yet, despite those winning ways, there are times when they become victims of circumstances rather than drivers of events. At such times, some may falter with the media and public, and when that happens, they too often lay blame the results on bad press coverage.

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Empowering and Engaging the First Three Feet: an upcoming symposium


The working title of a symposium I have in development is “Empowering and Engaging the First Three Feet”. The symposium will examine the US Government’s role in assisting and developing foreign media, both here in the United States and locally, notably in post-conflict environments and in repressive regimes. Is the United States doing enough to support the media, both American but primarily (for the purpose of this discussion) foreign, to…

  1. Get the truth out;
  2. Counter accidental misinformation and intentional disinformation; and
  3. Export the American concept of “Fourth Estate” responsibilities abroad?

These are the essential questions of this forthcoming event. Details, such keynote(s) to discussants to sponsors to date, are not set as of yet. 

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