By Cliff W. Gilmore
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.
The majority of the discussion and concern created by the Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings centered on statements by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holmes that he was illegally tasked. I discuss the real issue exposed by this and the previous article by Hastings on General Stanley McChrystal of doctrinal and structural problems in the U.S. military in an article at ForeignPolicy.com entitled “Mind Games.”
On his Facebook page, Holmes links to a MountainRunner post on a roundtable discussion with Lieutenant General William Caldwell, IV, until recently Holmes’s commanding officer and then Commanding General of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth. The topic was the just-released revision to FM 3-0, the Operations manual for the Army, and the new attention to information activities.
I have discussed on this blog before , at conferences and elsewhere, the distinction between “inform” and “influence” is artificial. In the comparison between the two, “influence” for practical purposes code for “deception” (some might argue “manipulation” as well, but that is just as broad and subjective: this post after all is an attempt to manipulate your opinion). Cliff W. Gilmore delves into the fallacy of “inform but not influence” deeper in his post The Second Battle of Hastings, so here I’ll stick to the statement highlighted by Holmes.
Public affairs doctrine includes “providing trusted counsel to leaders” that falls within the orders apparently given to Holmes. From page I-4 in public affairs doctrine, Joint Publication 3-61, revised 25 August 2010, “Providing Trusted Counsel to Leaders”:
This core competency includes anticipating and advising [Joint Force Commanders] on the possible impact of military operations and activities within the public information realm. This also includes preparing JFCs to communicate with audiences through the media and other methods of communication, as well as analyzing and interpreting the information environment, monitoring domestic and foreign public understanding, and providing lessons learned from the past.
The “delineation between” IO and PA that Holmes spotlights on Facebook is an operational distinction. As Holmes was not being tasked to do IO, his argument would seem to be that he is an IO asset and therefore incapable of doing non-IO work. This could be viewed as a surgeon saying he can’t carry ammo boxes or a demolition specialist unable to do explosive ordinance disposal because he job is to destroy not protect.
Under this theoretical model, should Holmes have been required to change from the unit? Would this transfer from an IO team to a PA team been all that was required as tasking was inadequate? Would his concerns be mollified if he left the theater and returned with a different patch?
Holmes highlights a parochial view of the stovepipes of U.S. military informational engagement that focuses on the tools rather than purpose, requirements and means.
With regard to the legal review of the first order given to Holmes, I have not seen either the order nor the analysis, but it is my experience that the lawyers are often more behind the curve on the definitions and doctrine surrounding the information environment.
As an aside, the parochial limitations on “influence” in the military distinguish audiences based on a legal construct: the “target” cannot be an American citizen. This lends to a prohibition on engaging on U.S. soil because of the likelihood of a U.S. citizen will be engaged. Whether this means an adversary could create a legal “shield” against military “influence” activities by having American citizens among them is unclear to me.
The State Department’s prohibition (the same as the Broadcasting Board of Governors), in the form of the Smith-Mundt Act that Holmes mentioned, is based on geography only. The requirement and limitation is material is to be disseminated abroad. There is no test of citizenship – despite popular belief that the Smith-Mundt Act “protects” “Americans”.
The 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 subtitle), 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.”