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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Counterinsurgency Today: A Review of Eric T. Olson’s “Some of the Best Weapons for Counterinsurgents Do Not Shoot”

By Efe Sevin

The long-lasting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to increased inquiry into the concepts and practices of counterinsurgency (COIN). Eric T. Olson, in his work, focuses on the importance of reconstruction attempts in COIN operations and discusses the role of military. The author served in the U.S. Army for over three decades and retired as a Major General. Currently, Mr. Olson is an independent defense contractor and works with Army brigades and provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) who are preparing for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. As the title suggests, his monograph considers such reconstruction attempts to have uttermost importance in successful military operations.

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Strategic Communication & Influence Operations: Do We Really Get It?

imageStrategic Communication & Influence Operations: Do We Really Get It? by Dr Lee Rowland  & Cdr Steve Tatham, RN. published at Small Wars Journal.

The last 2-3 years have seen an explosion in interest in the application of influence as a tool for achieving military objectives. This is not new, the military have always sought to exert influence – albeit at times unwittingly. However, two significant events have brought the issue to further prominence – the publication of JDP3-40 and the deployment of 52 Brigade to Helmand Province in 2007/8. This article does not intend to debate either in any detail – a quick search of inter and intra nets will provide plenty of information for the curious reader – but there are two issues worthy of slightly more discussion.

The first concerns 52 Brigade’s deployment. When Brigadier Andrew Mackay led 52 Brigade to Helmand Province2 he did so having examined previous kinetic based deployments and concluded that these, for various reasons, had not achieved the effects that he envisaged for his mission. For him the consent of the population was utterly key and would not, nor could it, be achieved by hard power alone or even with hard power primacy; as he developed his operational design he felt frustrated that existing doctrine did not adequately prepare him to operate within the influence arena. The second is that Andrew Mackay subsequently became one of the driving forces behind JDP3-40 and in particular the forceful articulation of the ‘centrality’ of influence. However, the ‘how to do it’ guidance still lags behind the emphasis on and enthusiasm for, its use. …

This paper seeks to provide greater clarity in two key areas – Target Audience Analysis (TAA) and Measurements of Effectiveness (MOE). …

Influence has become the ‘must have’ accessory for the battlefield. Good. But think at how difficult it is to influence, say, your teenage kids, into a particular course of action. You know them. They have grown up in your house. You know the groups they belong to, their interests, their likes and dislikes. Yet as every parent knows influencing a 16 year old into a particular course of action can be difficult. Now apply this thinking to an Afghan whom you do not know, who has grown up in a completely different culture with different values and beliefs anchored in a wholly different world from our own. You want to influence them? Wow! This is hard stuff to do and whilst the UK’s capability and understanding has leapt forward in the last couple of years there is still much work to do – particularly in the reinforcement of TAA and understanding MOE. Above all else doctrine needs to manage expectations.

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A Tale from the Field about Religion, Culture, and Perception

By Gregory L. Garland

Matt’s blog has become a force to behold in the discussion about strategic communication, public diplomacy, and State/DOD relations. It has shined a light on what largely was a rarified, inside-the-beltway debate symptomatic of the old USIA’s domestic blank spot. What has been lacking are stories from the field outside the U.S. – examples of PD as it actually is conducted by PD professionals. Here’s one from my own experience that in many ways is typical.

I’ve run effective PD programs that didn’t cost Uncle Sam anything except my own time. I’ve run next to useless PD programs so flush that I couldn’t spend all the money Washington showered upon me. And I’ve run just about everything in between those extremes. As every experienced PAO knows, basic human grit, skill, and talent will go far in assembling a program, but a little bit of cash always helps. And it doesn’t have to be much, especially when compared to what other agencies spend.

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American Public Diplomacy Wears Combat Boots: the Pentagon’s $300 million to “engage and inspire”

American public diplomacy wears combat boots. Not only is the Pentagon in the critical last three feet of engagement virtually and in person with audiences around the globe, especially in contested areas, but it is the Defense Department that is putting up the money to expand public diplomacy. The Pentagon’s 3-year, $300 million contract for private companies to “engage and inspire” Iraqis to support U.S. objectives and the Iraqi government, described by Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus in the Washington Post, is more than an effort five years too late. It is one more shining example of the significant failure of the U.S. Government to come to grips with the present need and commit the resources necessary to engage in the Second Great War of Ideas that began in earnest nearly a decade ago.

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Event: AFRICOM and Beyond: The Future of U.S.-African Security and Defense Relations

From the American Enterprise Institute:

The October 1 operational launch of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), on the eve of a new American presidential administration, provides an unprecedented opportunity to reshape U.S. strategy toward Africa. Significant attention has been devoted to the structure and functions of AFRICOM–and to its strategic communications challenges. Less thought, however, has been given to identifying the core security interests that should guide U.S. strategy on the continent or to defining the new kinds of partnership with a more self-assured Africa that are most likely to advance those interests.

With its capacity for political as well as military engagement and for conflict prevention as well as traditional war-fighting, AFRICOM has the potential to serve as a model for future interagency security cooperation efforts abroad. But what AFRICOM does is more important than how the command is structured. What is the strategic rationale for increased U.S. security engagement with African countries? What are the emerging threats and challenges in Africa, and how should they be addressed? AEI’s Mauro De Lorenzo and Thomas Donnelly will host two panel discussions with African security experts to answer these and other questions.

When: Wednesday, October 1, 2008  10:30 AM – 1:30 PM

Where: Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036

Register here.

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The Brownback Bill: S.3546 to Establish the National Center for Strategic Communication

Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) this week introduced S.3546 titled “The Strategic Communications Act of 2008.” The Senator knows the bill will not be passed in this Congress and feels more discussion on the subject matter is required. His bill is, in part, intended to provoke that discourse.

The National Center for Strategic Communication is largely based on the National Counter Terrorism Center model. The bill recognizes that the current system is flawed and needs to be fixed. Driving this bill are concerns over the present-day quality of broadcasting, concerns over the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and a general failure of the public diplomacy apparatus to function effectively since 9/11. To the delight of many I know, this bill nukes the BBG.

The bill, as presented (but prior to receiving its number), is available here (Adobe Acrobat 6 or later is required). I (and others) are interested in your thoughts on the bill.

What follows are some of the concerns I have raised in off-the-record and constructive and relevant meetings (e.g. beyond the Brookings event). The problems are such that I do not support this bill in its present form.

It emphasizes the “us versus them” construct as it focuses on who we are and not the increasingly important struggle between foreign audiences. “Us versus them” is extremely important here at home but “them versus them” is more important beyond our shores.

It only focuses on a specific group, using a word, “Islamist”, that is indistinguishable to most of the globe from general Muslims. Equally, if not more important, this singular focus does not establish a comprehensive ability to participate in future informaticized wars, conflicts, and struggles. It is very likely the next “war” will be information-based without bullets or bombs, or with those “kinetics” in complete support to the information activities of the adversary, be it state or non-state. The focus in this bill does little to prepare the United States for a broader struggle.

The director has limited reach into other USG thinking, planning, and personnel. Personnel concurrence, agreements on the selection of personnel, is absent and budgetary oversight is limited to this new silo of excellence. A possible solution is a 1206-style budget model.

Public diplomacy is ripped out of the State Department, effectively making it only a Department of State when the central criticism is it must be acting as a Department of Non-State and engaging publics. Most “traditional” diplomacy is conducted in public to pressure and create awareness in foes, allies (ours and theirs), “swing voters”, and our own public. By removing public diplomacy, the proactive, engaging, narrative and context-based practices of public diplomacy are torn from the Department. What is left is public affairs that largely operates reactively, by press release sans context, and largely under the theory that one can and must inform without influence.

Public diplomacy and strategic communication elsewhere in USG remains untouched even as it is ripped from State. The advisory panel is inadequate. The military, ironically, operates completely opposite from the American public. Whereas John Q. Public looks at the law as a guidance of what cannot be done, the military constantly refers to the law (and strategy documents) to see what they can do. There must be a channel established to permit and even encourage, but not necessarily legislate (which is what they want to avoid), the military to use the NCSC.

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy was intentionally left untouched. This bill must push for revised criteria for USACPD membership. The original Commission’s were filled with professionals with experiences in media, persuasion, and communication. In fact, the original Commissions were “blue ribbon” panels presenting public reports to Congress that were critical critiques aimed at improving operations and effectiveness every six months.

The necessary professionalism in international engagement is not addressed. A motivator behind this bill was VOA Iran broadcasts and arguments that feature selection was based on objectivity. The bill must focus on professionalism. VOA staff, BBG staff, etc are by and large a very professional bunch. A major purpose of the Smith-Mundt Act was to make permit America’s international broadcasting to raise the level of professionalism because, while well-intentioned, the quality was at times poor and the messages possibly counter-productive.

A link to capacity-building is required. Foreign audiences often need to see and receive capacity-building to appreciate the “them versus them” discourse. They need development assistance, electricity, etc. To counterinsurgency experts, it comes as no surprise that Smith-Mundt, the information and counter-misinformation act, was passed largely in response to enemy activity against a major capacity and educational program, the Marshall Plan.

Private media support should be expanded as domestic media, especially, pulls back from international coverage. The Smith-Mundt Act legislated that private media be used whenever possible. The Informational Media Guarantee, a supplement to the Smith-Mundt Act put into the Marshall Plan, helped get U.S. media products, from newspapers to Disney films, overseas. This should be expanded.

The principles of the bill should be focused less on specifics, and on broader common ground. Some suggested language to be included is here.

While there are several parts of the bill that concern me, one pleases me. The Brownback bill removes the distortions to the Smith-Mundt Act in 1972 and 1985 by eliminating the prohibition against domestic dissemination. See specifically Sec 4(c)2 of the bill, or page 5, line 5: “by striking subsection (a)”. Subsection (a) of 22 USC 1461 reads:

(a) Dissemination of information abroad The Secretary is authorized, when he finds it appropriate, to provide for the preparation, and dissemination abroad, of information about the United States, its people, and its policies, through press, publications, radio, motion pictures, and other information media, and through information centers and instructors abroad.

Subject to subsection (b) of this section, any such information (other than “Problems of Communism” and the “English Teaching Forum” which may be sold by the Government Printing Office) shall not be disseminated within the United States, its territories, or possessions, but, on request, shall be available in the English language at the Department of State, at all reasonable times following its release as information abroad, for examination only by representatives of United States press associations, newspapers, magazines, radio systems, and stations, and by research students and scholars, and, on request, shall be made available for examination only to Members of Congress.

The bill does, however, offer a definition of “strategic communication” (note: most refer to the concept in the singular “communication” and not the form in this bill):

The term “strategic communications” means engaging foreign audiences through coordinated and truthful communications programs that create, preserve, or strengthen conditions favorable to the advancement of the national interests of the United States.

As for an external to State Department entity doing America’s public diplomacy, that’s for another post but suffice it to say that some outreach must remain within the functional departments while becoming increasingly cooperative and engaged in the interagency process. What is missing in everything to date is a functional rethinking of what public diplomacy and strategic communication really mean. Without understanding the needs and requirements, how can we build the systems?

Enough by me on this right now. What are your thoughts?

PMC Fraud: Tip of the Iceberg?

Briefly, the Custer Battles lawsuit will likely be an eye opener for many. The Iraq war has been a watershed in the outsourcing of not just tangible assets and roles the military used to provide for itself (meals, logistics) but intangibles also. The role of private military companies in the war, from pre-deployment training to site security to force and VIP/"nation building contractors" protection, are part of the soft power of the United States.

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