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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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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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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Military Information Support Operations

2010-6 PSYOP turns MISO_Page_1 On June 21, 2010, an announcement was made that the military intends to rename Psychological Operations, or PSYOP, to Military Information Support to Operations. The decision, made a few days earlier by Admiral Eric Olson, Commander, Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and Army Chief of Staff General George Casey, was propagated through a memo dated June 23, 2010.

The name change is “not a negative or punitive action” but rather the result of the success of the Psychological Operations Regiment, as the memo states. The new name builds on the flexible deployment of Military Information Support Teams, or MIST, in support of a variety of missions, including direct support to State Department posts described, in part, as public information support to diplomacy (see this previous post on a State Department Inspector General report that mentions MIST). The name change will, the memo concludes, help advance the mission of “Persuade-Change-Influence” in “operations of every type, anywhere, anytime.”

While the new name invites the obvious jokes – most of which were already tiresome the week of the announcement – this is a positive shift that creates distance from the “five dollar, five syllable” word that General Dwight Eisenhower, as candidate for President, told us to stop fearing. We, as Americans, never did drop that fear and as a result believe that any activity from the big, bad scary PSYOP is an exercise in mind control. The reality PSYOP, and now MISO, brings analytics and methodologies necessary to engage today’s global dynamic and fluid environments.

The substance of this change is yet to be seen. Hopefully this shift will help update the tactics, techniques, and procedures of the public affairs officer to be more proactive and engaging across mediums. This shift must also address PSYOP/MISO’s relationship to military deception, which PSYOP is too often and incorrectly synonymous with.

Real change will come only if the PSYOP/MISO force is properly trained, equipped, supported, and integrated. Unfortunately it is not but hopefully this change will facilitate both the internal (within the Defense Department) and external (across the agencies and the Congress) awareness of the importance of information to influence relevant audiences and participants, increasingly regardless of geography or language. This name change is potentially a significant first step at rebranding through substance and not simply a squandered opportunity.

See also:

9th Annual Information Operations Europe Conference

imageThe 9th Annual Information Operations Europe takes place 29-30 June 2010 at The Bloomsbury Hotel in London. The conference will provide information operations case studies from Afghanistan, future plans from the UK and an examination of New and Social Media from the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, the US Defense Department, NATO, and Canadian Forces, and others.

Day One – 29 June – starts with three keynotes from the UK MoD followed by 40 minute presentations by Sarah Nagelmann and Matt Armstrong. The UK MoD presentations look at the purposes, capabilities, and challenges of strategic-level information and influence operations. Sarah will discuss the new media strategy for NATO SHAPE and EUCOM. Matt will discuss the modern Now Media environment, with attention to Wikileaks, an interesting non-state global influencer.

Other presenters on Day One include Matt Bigge (“Technology Based. Human Enabled: The Future Of Cultural Information Engagement”), George Stein (“The Influence And Intelligence Opportunities Of Virtual Worlds”), Ed O’Connell (“Informal Network Analysis And Engagement In Conflict Zones”), and David Campbell (“Innovative Use Of The Media For Outreach In East Africa”).

Day Two – 30 June – is heavily focused on Afghanistan, with case studies and lessons learned.

See also:

MountainRunner Institute at InfoWarCon 2010

By Chris Dufour

This week kicks off the second year of AOC’s InfoWarCon in Washington, DC. Subtitled “Future Warfare Today: The Battle for Information & Ideas”, the three-day gathering sports luminaries from different information disciplines beyond information operations, or IO. Joel Harding, the director of AOC’s IO Institute, has put together an agenda with panelists from across the spectrum of informational engagement: strategic communication, public diplomacy, public affairs, technology, and emerging media. The stated purpose of InfoWarCon is to advance the discourse about the evolving role of information in warfare of today and tomorrow, especially the kind where explosions, in the case they actually occur, are shaping events in support of information activities.

InfoWarCon provides the necessary forum to discuss the real and perceived differences and similarities between information warfare and communication in a modern competitive landscape where information, not platforms, matter most. This environment is one where dissemination and reception are increasingly disassociated from geography as audiences are less likely to be contained within the borders of traditional nation-states.

The opportunities and threats of this modern environment can reduce autonomy, empower, or both. Typically, the empowerment to the non-state actor, whether a group or individual and the restriction on acting unilaterally is on the state. The easy answer for this situation is agility to operate in today’s dynamic, fluid, and hyperactive information environment. No longer do major powers solely rely on direct force-on-force combat to achieve strategic objectives. Similarly, non-violent communications campaigns conducted by private organizations or individuals can no longer succeed without considering the competitive information landscape.

InfoWarCon will provide the opportunity to discuss the issues related to this evolutionary, perhaps even revolutionary, environment and the resulting splintering of doctrine and perceptions of influence.

Chris Dufour is a Senior Vice President at the MountainRunner Institute and will cover InfoWarCon starting with Tuesday evening’s kickoff reception. (See this page for the week’s full agenda.) He will live-tweet the event from @MRinstitute, MRi’s Twitter handle, using the hashtag #IWC2010. If you plan on making it out to InfoWarCon this year, ping Chris on Twitter and contribute your thoughts and observations using the hashtag #IWC2010 (“eye”-w-c-2010).

Event: 9th Annual Information Operations – Europe

The UK-based Defence IQ has announced the date and venue for the 9th annual Information Operations Europe conference. The event will take place June 29-30, 2010, at the Bloomsbury Hotel in London. The agenda is available.

Topics include:

  • Media in Modern Warfare, by Major General Gordon Messenger, Director of Strategic Communications, UK MoD
  • UK’s Influence Capability, by Air Commodore Robert Judson, Head of Targeting and Information Operations, UK MoD
  • Where Counterinsurgency meets Culture, by Eric Sutphin, Chief Target Audience Analyst, Combined Joint Psychological Operations Task Force, ISAF HQ, NATO
  • Audience Engagement in Afghanistan, by Maryann Maguire, Director of Communications (DCSU), Afghan Specialist Joint Implementation Team, UK MoD
  • Countering Violent Extremism, by James Barber, Information Operations Division, HQ US Africa Command
  • Influence and Intelligence Opportunities of Virtual Worlds, by Professor George Stein, Cyberspace & Info Ops Study Centre, Air War College, US Air Force
  • Future of Cultural Information Engagement, by Matt Bigge, CEO, Strategic Social

I will be there and will present on Now Media (tentatively 4p of Day 1) and participating on a panel (11.40a Day 1) with:

  • Air Commodore Robert Judson, Head of Targeting and Information Operations, UK MoD
  • Brigadier Mark Van der Lande, Head of Defence Public Relations, Directorate General and Media Communications, UK MoD
  • Sarah Nagelmann, Strategic Communications Advisor to US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, NATO

InfoWarCon – Washington, D.C.

The 2010 installment of InfoWarCon will be May 12-14 in Washington, D.C., at the Washington Convention Center. According to the organizers,

This is not your typical conference. This is edgy, provocative and evocative.

The agenda is here. Noteworthy is that Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale is expected to speak on day 2, May 13, at 8:00a-8:30a. Her predecessor, Jim Glassman, spoke at the 2009 event.

Also listed on the current agenda are Price Floyd, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, and Dana Priest, The Washington Post.

I am moderating the panel “The Power of Cyber and Social Networking” and, rumor has it, appearing on another panel at InfoWarCon. See you there.

Culture and conflict: is there a role in conflict prevention, resolution for culture?

What role does culture have in conflict prevention and resolution? Recently, the British Council organized an interesting and enlightened discussion on this very question. What made this even more interesting was the British Council’s partners in the venture: NATO and Security Defence Agenda, a European security and defense think tank.

At a time when public diplomats to psychological operators are coming to terms with their lack specific cultural capacities to understand and properly engage audiences, this was a timely discussion.

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Ridicule as Strategic Communication

Kristin Fleischer at COMOPS comments on friend Mike Waller’s suggestion in Fighting the War of Ideas like Real War that ridicule is a “secret weapon worse than death.”

Although the suggestion that ridicule and satire are legitimate tools of strategic communication might receive some – dare I say it – ridicule, Waller’s argument is a good one. Ridicule and satire have a long history in warfare, and they have been deployed both offensively and defensively. In the U.S., ridicule was used in the Revolutionary War, both to mock the British troops and to raise the morale of the American fighters. In WWII, domestic use of ridicule targeted Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. In a more contemporary example, Waller cites Team America: World Police as an example of effective parody of Islamic terrorists and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.  While a movie that features graphic sex between puppets might not have universal appeal, Waller is correct in pointing out that prior to the movie, American audiences would likely not consider the Korean dictator someone to laugh at.

Waller’s suggestions regarding the strategic use of ridicule are an expansion of arguments he andothers have made about the importance of language use in ‘the war of ideas.’ In ‘buying into’ terrorist’s language – especially by using terms such as jihad and mujahidin – Waller argues that the U.S. and its allies, “ceased fighting on our terms and placed our ideas at the enemy’s disposal” (p. 54). If this is a war of ideas, and words are weapons, then we need to be using the right ammunition, so to speak. …

This is not to suggest that the threat of terrorism is non-existent or a call to underestimate Al Qaeda’s ideological appeal or material capabilities, and Waller is quick to point out (correctly) that ridicule can be as dangerous as any kinetic weapon when improperly deployed. In the nine years since September 11, however, far more people in the United States have died of heart failure, diabetes, or car accidents than terrorist attacks. Given this, pointing out that Americans statistically have more to fear from a cheeseburger than a ‘guy in a cave’ is not only true, it’s good strategy.

Read the Fleischer’s whole post here.