The Irony of Misinformation and USIA

A clear absence of research, making arguments incongruent with history and facts, and unsubstantiated if-then statements are the kind of malpractice that at some point is more than mere accidental misinformation. With the rare exception, modern calls to reincarnate the United States Information Agency skirt beyond malpractice and misinformation and into the realm of disinformation. Calls to “bring back USIA” are prevalent enough to be a genre of its own. And this genre, while well-intentioned, is a Pavlovian reaction based almost entirely on demonstrably false mythologies.

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Science and Technology for Communication and Persuasion Abroad: Gap Analysis and Survey

Since 9/11, the U.S. Government has invested heavily in technology-based solutions to understanding, informing, and influencing people around the world and across a variety of mediums. Many of these efforts were sponsored by the Defense Department for reasons that include major appropriations by the Congress, a capability (and culture) of contracting, a capability (and culture) of development, and an imperative for action (non-action may result in an unnecessary death). In 2009, the Defense Department’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO) surveyed the landscape of science and technology programs intended to support Strategic Communication with the purpose of identifying gaps between capabilities and requirements as well as suggesting areas of improvement.

In 2011, the RRTO commissioned the Center for Naval Analysis to update the 2009 report. The new report, written by CNA’s Will McCants and entitled “Science and Technology for Communication and Persuasion Abroad: Gap Analysis and Survey,” (7mb PDF) is now available.

The 2012 report is based on interviews with experts inside and outside government, surveying programs, and reviewing academic and professional literature. Gaps identified in 2009 have not been closed over the past few years, according to this new report.

McCants further identified areas where the Government has made limited research & development investments not addressed in the earlier report. There additional areas include technologies for facilitating and managing online engagement and persuasion campaigns. The specific report headings are:

  • Survey and validation theories and techniques for influence in the digital realm
  • Target audience analysis, trend monitoring, and source criticism
  • Online measures of effectiveness
  • Training in techniques of communication and persuasion in the digital realm
  • Immersive virtual environments and simulation games for non-military purposes
  • Persuasive technology on mobile devices for encouraging positive behavior
  • Crowd sourcing for problem solving and accountability
  • Studying adversary use of social media
  • Technology for promoting freedom under repressive regimes
  • Expanding investment in emerging technologies

This report acknowledges the importance of engagement, empowerment, and cultivating relationships over simply better targeting of messages. The report reinforces the 2009 statement that there are no silver bullets.

“Despite the focus of this report on technology for communication and persuasion, such technology will only succeed in advancing U.S. interests if it serves well-informed policies; if the senior makers of those policies use and understand the technologies themselves; and if the practitioners carrying out those policies remember that putting a human face on an institution’s words and actions and establishing positive relationships — on and offline — with people working toward shared goals matter more than the substance of any particular message. Ironically, digital technology is making this human connection more possible now than at any time in the modern era.”

The survey of current programs included in the report continues to use the taxonomy of program developed for the 2009 report: Collaboration, Discourse, First Three Feet, Infrastructure, Modeling and Forecasting, Psych Defense, Social Media, and Understanding. The inventory reflects an increased understanding of the communication environment and suggests. Out of the some 30 programs listed, only one is at the State Department (the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication, or CSCC) and arguably a benefactor of S&T investment rather than a product of S&T investment.

(Full disclosure: I was a co-author of the 2009 report and consulted on the 2012 report.)

The President’s National Framework for Strategic Communication (and Public Diplomacy) for 2012

It should be common knowledge that the “information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account, and the information man ought always to be consulted. This statement from 1951 foreshadowed Eisenhower’s dictum of the next year that “everything we say, everything we do, and everything we fail to say or do will have its impact in other lands.” Words and deeds needed more than just synchronization as public opinion could be leveraged to support the successful conduct of foreign policy.  Continue reading “The President’s National Framework for Strategic Communication (and Public Diplomacy) for 2012

Public Diplomacy: Books, Articles, Websites #55 (Courtesy of Bruce Gregory)

Courtesy of Bruce Gregory, Professor of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University.

March 1, 2011
Intended for teachers of public diplomacy and related courses, here is an update on resources that may be of general interest.  Suggestions for future updates are welcome. 
Bruce Gregory
Adjunct Professor
George Washington University
Georgetown University

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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.

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Using Information to Beat Gadhafi

This morning, I was on the radio show The Takeaway, a co-production of WNYC Radio and Public Radio International, to discuss non-military options for the U.S. in Libya.

My comments focused on the empowerment of Libyans by enabling the acquisition and dissemination of information. In other words, freedom to get and give information creates not only knowledge of the environment, it lays the foundation for an open society. The actions of the Libyans must be by and of the Libyans. The only substantial role here, at this early phase of the establishment of a new state, for the United States (or the West in general), is one of facilitator. The Libyans must pull themselves up. 

The United States is considering a range of options to deal with Libya, including military action and sanctions. However, there’s another possibility for Libya: an information campaign and the Pentagon has reportedly explored at the option of jamming Libya’s communications so that Gadhafi has a harder time talking to his forces. Matt Armstrong, lecturer on public diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and publisher of  the blog MountainRunner.us, takes a closer look at how an information campaign might work in Libya.

The segment is about than seven minutes long and my conversation with host John Hockenberry, begins at the 1:30 mark. Listen below or go to The Takeway.

Yes, it was recorded live at 6a Eastern Time, making it 3a where I am…

Holmes, Caldwell, Psy-Ops and the Smith-Mundt Act

imageThe recent Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings has brought to the surface a debate over the difference between “inform,” “influence” and the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. In his article “”Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators,” Hastings relies heavily – if not entirely – on the statements by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holmes concerned over his orders while at the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan.
As I noted in my recent article “Mind Games: Why Rolling Stone’s article on the military’s domestic psy-ops scandal gets it so wrong” (No, I did not come up with either the title or imagesubtitle), what “Another Runaway General” highlights is the deficit in the training, definition, and tactics, techniques and procedures of the informational functional areas in the military. In other words, who does what and why continues to be a confusing mess within the Defense Department. The result is continued confusion and stereotyping both inside and outside the military on the roles, capabilities and expectations that create headlines like “Another Runaway General.”

“Another Runaway General” also highlights, if briefly, the false yet prevalent view of the Smith-Mundt Act. I want to thank World Politics Review for making my article on Smith-Mundt, “Reforming Smith-Mundt: Making American Public Diplomacy Safe for Americans,” available outside of their paywall to support the “Mind Games” article.

This post adds additional commentary that could not fit into the ForeignPolicy.com “Mind Games” article.

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Civilian Response Corps: Smart Power in Action

imageThe Civilian Response Corps has a website: http://www.civilianresponsecorps.gov/. From the about page:

The Civilian Response Corps is a group of civilian federal employees who are specially trained and equipped to deploy rapidly to provide reconstruction and stabilization assistance to countries in crisis or emerging from conflict. The Corps leverages the diverse talents, expertise, and technical skills of members from nine federal departments and agencies for conflict prevention and stabilization.

We are diplomats, development specialists, public health officials, law enforcement and corrections officers, engineers, economists, lawyers and others who help fragile states restore stability and rule of law and achieve economic recovery as quickly as possible.

Visit the site and check it out. See the below links for previous discussions on CRC and the State Department Coordinator for Reconstruction & Stabilization (S/CRS):

Revising Information Operations Policy at the Department of Defense

SCIO_25Jan11.PNGBy Michael Clauser

On January 25, 2011, Secretary Gates signed a memorandum (hereafter 1/25/11 memo) entitled “Strategic Communication and Information Operations in the DoD.”  The memo signals that the Pentagon’s “E Ring” is finally emphasizing the need for reform of interagency strategic communication (SC) and military information operations (IO). It’s frustrating that after eight years of irregular warfare in southwest Asia, it took an Act of Congress (literally) to sharpen the minds and pencils of the Pentagon to take the problems.  And now, Secretary Gates’ memo claims credit when it shouldn’t, takes for granted one of its most controversial statements, plays-up one minor bureaucratic re-organization while glossing over the disestablishment of a vital SC and IO problem-solving office, and most concerning may be too late to affect meaningful change in Afghanistan.

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Wikileaks as an exemplar of Now Media, Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts that will explore our world of disappearing boundaries – from geographic to linguistic to time to organizational – that create new opportunities and challenges to agenda setting and influence. Wikileaks, as an exemplar non-state actor in this world of “now media,” requires analysis beyond the superficial and polarized debate common in today’s coverage of both the organization and the material it disseminates. The MountainRunner Institute is working to convene a series of discussions with experts across the spectrum, including (ideally) someone from Wikileaks, to discuss the role and impact of actors like Wikileaks and the evolving informational and human landscape. If you are interested in more information or in participating, email me at blog@mountainrunner.us Continue reading “Wikileaks as an exemplar of Now Media, Part 1

Influence and Propaganda Conference this week

2010iandpadThis week is the Influence and Propaganda Conference in Verona, New York, outside of Syracuse. Put on by the IO Institute in partnership with the MountainRunner Institute, the conference will be a frank and open discussion on the nature, purpose and format of propaganda and activities intended to influence. This conference comes at a critical time as the volume and quality of disinformation and misinformation increases in an environment that empowers virtually anyone. The gatekeepers of yesterday, governments and major media, are increasingly bypassed, ignored, reactionary or co-opted as today’s information flows across geographic, linguistic, political and technological borders with increasing ease and speed.

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Communication, Communications, and the “cyber arms” debate

By Cliff W. Gilmore

In Tom Gjelten’s September 23 NPR story titled “Seeing The Internet As An ‘Information Weapon’” Gjelten asks, “…why is there no arms control measure that would apply to the use of cyber weapons?” One obvious answer is that geography-based legal frameworks are ill-adapted to deal with a domain that is unconstrained by geography and subject to numerous competing interests. The situation is complicated further by an environment that changes at the speed of Moore’s Law.

Perhaps the most significant challenge however may be the information-centric mindset highlighted by Gjelten and prevalent among leaders, planners and communication practitioners alike. Part of the reason we have yet to develop applicable arms control measures for cyber weapons is a continued treatment of communications and communication (sans "s") as a singular activity rather than as two distinct fields of practice, the former grounded in technical science and the latter in social science.

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Event: Influence and Propaganda Conference

The Information Operations Institute, in partnership with the MountainRunner Institute, invites you to attend the Influence and Fighting Propaganda Conference.

Identifying and countering propaganda and misinformation through dissemination that avoids the label of propaganda will be the key themes of the event. Discussions will explore who, how and why can people or groups be influenced, and difference between engagement from the lowest to the highest levels of leadership.

Russ Rochte, retired US Army Colonel and now faculty member at the National Defense Intelligence College, and I will co-moderate a panel on the media exploring the tension between “Media as an instrument of War” and the journalist’s traditional obligations to the truth, objectivity, informing the public, and verification. What is the impact on the media’s relationship with itself, its readers, and its sources as the media struggles for mind-share and relevance in a highly competitive environment of diminished resources, intensified news cycles, and direct audience engagement by news makers, and pressure to de-emphasize journalistic ethics. What constitutes the media and how does an organization like Wikileaks change the environment? How does this show in the natural conflict between the government and the media and how is it exploited by America’s adversaries?

This will be a two-hour panel, October 14, 10a-12p, with:

  • Wally Dean, Director of Training, Committee of Concerned Journalists (confirmed)
  • Jamie McIntyre, Host: “Line of Departure”, Military.com (confirmed)
  • Dana Priest, Washington Post investigative reporter (invited)
  • Bill Gertz, reporter for The Washington Times (confirmed)

The agenda for the conference is below.

Event website is here
Date: October 13-15 (2.5 days)
Location: Turning Stone Resort, Verona, New York (map)
Registration Fee: Students/Faculty: free; Government: $50; Military: $25; Corporate/Industry: $200
Registration: online or PDF

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Getting a handle on Strategic Communication

I have been in many discussions over the past few weeks concerning DoD’s efforts at “Strategic Communication.” In one discussion I was asked, “just what is ‘strategic communication’ and why can’t DoD get a handle on it?”

A fair question and one I’ve heard often. I thought it time to put this down in print. “Strategic Communication” is the deliberate application of information and boils down to: Who do I need to know What, Why do I need them to know it, When do I need them to know it, Where are they, and How do I reach them. A relatively simple task that scales with the complexity of the goal you are planning to achieve. It is also a matter of situational awareness as a friend of mine pointed out, “As I reflected on our discussion, I thought about my old commander, Maj. Gen. John H. Admire, Commander of the First Marine Division, and his saying for good situational awareness. He told us to ask ourselves, ‘What do I know? Who needs to know? and Have I told them?'”

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An opportunity to de-militarize public diplomacy

Last week, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) convened the third annual Magharebia.com Writers Workshop. The workshop is a professional development course for new and established writers for AFRICOM’s Maghreb-centered news and information website, www.Magharebia.com. According to AFRICOM public affairs, the event “introduced new media tools and technologies while stressing the importance of sound journalistic principles for writing, blogging, and podcasting.”

The website www.Magharebia.com was started in 2005 by U.S. European Command (EUCOM) to “reach out to a younger audience in the North Africa region with news, sports, entertainment, and current affairs about the Maghreb in English, French and Arabic.” It is similar to EUCOM’s other sponsored news and information website, www.SETimes.com, “the news and views of Southeast Europe.”

These news sites are established and maintained under the regional Combatant Commander’s theater security requirement. In other words, due to the absence of information outlets focused on the region (excluding tightly controlled local propaganda stations), the Defense Department created and maintained these sites to provide news, analysis, and commentary collected from international media and contributors paid by the Combatant Commands. Their purpose is to increase awareness of regional and global issues to mitigate security threats that may stem from a lack of information, misinformation, or disinformation by local populations.

The purpose of the sites and the training is laudable and required. The just-concluded professional development conference is a good concept in that it promotes an exchange of ideas, encourages proper journalistic practices, and explores the use of new technologies. However, this and the sites themselves should be conducted, guided, and managed by the State Department, primarily State’s public diplomacy professionals.

The problem, of course, is resources. The State Department lacks both the money, the headcount, and the skills to create and manage sites like www.Magharebia.com and www.SETimes.com. The Defense Department, specifically the Combatant Commands, has a valid requirement the State Department cannot support at this time resulting in the continued militarization of America’s engagement with global audiences.

The State Department, specifically the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, must be empowered and equipped (money and personnel) to take over these activities that support the requirements of the U.S. Government’s engagement around the world.

Establishing regional sites (and transferring existing sites) like Magharebia and SETimes is essential. These should not be brought under the umbrella of www.America.gov, which, with the passage of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2010, should be split up, with parts merged with www.State.gov and other elements into regional sites.

These sites could continue to operate near the Government or become surrogate sites similar to RFE/RL.

These sites could move into State’s geographic bureaus, but these also do not have the skills, capabilities, or authorities necessary. State’s geographic bureaus are led by an Assistant Secretary, a rank that lacks the political power required and highlights State’s organizational focus on countries rather than regions. These Assistant Secretaries may often be regarded as bureaucratic equals to their Defense Department equivalents, though perhaps not functionally. 

The best model is to expand and empower State’s public diplomacy and public affairs office as a global communicator for both the enterprise and across the government, as the situation warrants. State would be a service provider, supporting requirements and providing guidance and integration. It should have been doing this for years, but State’s long-lasting focus on diplomacy, rather than public diplomacy, plus Congressional misunderstanding of the requirements of civilian-led communication and engagement, created a vacuum, which the Defense Department (often unwillingly, tentatively, and frequently clumsily) filled.

These websites should be a topic of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy as a case study in unmet requirements and the building of capabilities, capacities, and the addition of necessary authorities to demilitarize America’s public diplomacy (or government-sponsored communication for those who disagree VOA et al. are “public diplomacy”). This should also be a subject of inquiry by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as explored by the new Coordinator for the Bureau of International Information Programs.

What do you think?

See also:

Reforming Smith-Mundt: Making American Public Diplomacy Safe for Americans

My latest op-ed on the conceptually and practically out-of-date “firewall” of the Smith-Mundt Act is up at World Politics Review: Reforming Smith-Mundt: Making American Public Diplomacy Safe for Americans. The complete article is available without a subscription.

American public diplomacy has been the subject of many reports and much discussion over the past few years. But one rarely examined element is the true impact of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which for all practical purposes labels U.S. public diplomacy and government broadcasting as propaganda. The law imposes a geographic segregation of audiences between those inside the U.S. and those outside it, based on the fear that content aimed at audiences abroad might “spill over” into the U.S. This not only shows a lack of confidence and understanding of U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting, it also ignores the ways in which information and people now move across porous, often non-existent borders with incredible speed and ease, to both create and empower dynamic diasporas.

The impact of the “firewall” created by Smith-Mundt between domestic and foreign audiences is profound and often ignored. Ask a citizen of any other democracy what they think about this firewall and you’re likely to get a blank, confused stare: Why — and how — would such a thing exist? No other country, except perhaps North Korea and China, prevents its own people from knowing what is said and done in their name. …

The rest at World Politics Review and comment there or here.

It is time this wall, one of the last two remaining walls of the Cold War, the other being the Korean DMZ, came down. If we insist on keeping this wall, a completely un-American and naive approach to global affairs, should Wikileaks be enlisted to let people within the US borders know what its government is doing with its money and in its name?

See also:

  • Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2010 (Updated) on the Thornberry-Smith legislation now pending in Congress
  • Recalling the 2009 Smith-Mundt Symposium on the January 2009 event on US public diplomacy
  • …and the only-somewhat tongue in cheek remark by PJ Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, at the daily briefing of 27 July 2010. While announcing the new Coordinator of IIP in his opening remarks, Matt Lee from the AP (also only somewhat tongue-in-check) asks whether PJ can talk about this “under the provisions of Smith-Mundt?” PJ’s response: “Yes. I, as the head of Public Affairs, can communicate both domestically and internationally. IIP, on the other hand, can only communicate outside the borders of the United States.”

Psychological Operations by another name are sweeter

By Christopher Paul

Originally posted at Small War Journal. Reposted here by permission of SWJ and Chris Paul.

The Department of Defense has decided to change the name of military psychological operations (PSYOP) and this is a good thing.  I make this assertion despite concerns about the name change raised by others in this space (See The Branch Formerly Known as PSYOP and PSYOP: On a Complete Change in Organization, Practice, and Doctrine). 

Although most psychological operations are no more than messages and broadcasts aimed at changing the opinions, attitudes, or behavior of foreign citizens, officials or troops, they have come to have a sinister connotation in the minds of U.S. citizens and policymakers alike. The very term PSYOP summons dark thoughts of orbital mind control lasers, dastardly propaganda, or deception.

In truth, the vast majority of contemporary PSYOP are based on wholly truthful information. PSYOP personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan prepare air-dropped leaflets, develop posters and handbills, make radio broadcasts, and operate loudspeaker trucks. They carry messages ranging from what enemy soldiers should do in order to safely surrender (dropped as leaflets during the opening days of the war in Iraq) – to posters or radio spots with the phone number for a tip line Afghan citizens can use to report Taliban activity.  Changing the name of these useful efforts is good; eliminating the possibility of them including falsehood would be even better.

Continue reading “Psychological Operations by another name are sweeter