The true fiasco exposed by Wikileaks

You are probably already familiar with the Wikileaks-edited video released April 5 of the 2007 airstrike in which a number of people were killed, including armed and unarmed men as well as two employees of the news agency Reuters. As of this writing, the initial instance of the edited version of the video titled "Collateral Murder" on YouTube is over 5 million views, not including reposts of the video by others using different YouTube accounts, and, according to The New York Times, "hundreds of times in television news reports." An unedited and not subtitled version upload by Wikileaks to YouTube, in contrast, has less 630,000, reflecting the lack of promotion of this version.

This video represents the advantages and disadvantages of social media in that highly influential content is easily propagated for global consumption. The persistency provided by the Internet means it will always be available and easily repurposed. Further, this situation highlights the ability to suppress unwanted information, both by the propagandist (omission of information) and by the supporter (removing an adversarial perspective). Lastly, the official response to this video shows the Defense Department still has a long way to go in understanding and operating in this new global information environment.

This video is, on its face and in depth, inflammatory and goes well beyond investigative journalism and creating transparency. It has launched debates about the legality of the attacks and questions of whether war crimes were committed. The video, as edited, titled, and subtitled is disturbing. It will continue to get substantial use in debates over Iraq, the US military, and US foreign policy in general.

Russia Today, the English language Russian government news agency, interviewed Julian Assange, Wikileaks editor and co-founder, on April 6, the day after the release. In a segment titled "Caught on Tape", the interviewer starts by describing the video as "gruesome, to say the least." Assange portrays Wikileaks as a Fourth Estate and says the military was "scared of the information coming out," which Reuters had been requesting through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for over two years, "for fear of the reform effect." Originally broadcast, the RT interview is also on YouTube has, as of this writing, with nearly 40,000 views. In the first day of release it had over 10k views and was on YouTube’s front page.

One of the few, if perhaps the only, serious attempt to respond to "Collateral Murder" is another YouTube video titled "Wiki Deception: Iraq ‘Collateral Murder’ Rebuttal":

This video, shown above, adds scenes left out of Collateral Murder but in the longer, and less promoted and thus less viewed, complete video. This "rebuttal" annotates and highlights pertinent details left out of or ignored in Collateral Murder that could have been done April 5 (or even before).

image UPDATE: The "rebuttal" video was removed from YouTube for "violation of the YouTube Community Guidelines." The cause of action: "graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed in YouTube videos." The "rejection notice" at right was sent by someone close to the "rebuttal". Neither Collateral Murder nor the unedited video have been removed from YouTube. It appears the "rebuttal" video is a clear victim of manipulation by supporters of Collateral Murder or its cause. The method was social media’s "democratic" ability to suppress or silence opposing viewpoints by flagging content as inappropriate, a feature in YouTube that is often used by insurgent and terrorist propagandists. Conversely, content can be promoted and rise to the top of search results with a "thumbs up." Jillian York has documented the same silencing technique on Facebook.

UPDATE 2 (10 APR 10): The “rebuttal” video is now available at LiveLeak and again at YouTube. As of 11 April 2010, the LiveLeak video has nearly 8000 views and the YouTube video has under 600. At YouTube, the first in the suggested list of similar videos is this news report from Russia Today titled “With No Accountability for Atrocities Iraqi Civilians Killed With Joy As If In A Video Game” from April 6.

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Active or Passive Strategic Communication: What’s the Role of Government?

By Jamie Gayton

Army War CollegeIf we ascribe to the United States Army War College interpretation of U.S. national interests, we accept, 1) Defense of the Homeland, 2) Economic Prosperity, 3) Promotion of Values, and 4) Favorable World Order, as the categories that represent those national interests. The United States Government generally accepts responsibility for developing and refining these national interests and as such should initially take responsibility for developing a road map consisting of actions and communication that would foster movement toward their attainment. This is commendable – it is clearly responsible action by the developer of the goals and objectives supporting our interests, but must the government remain the lead executor in any specific category? Could it be possible that other organizations or entities might better support the achievement of national interests in certain areas for example, Economic Prosperity or Favorable World Order?

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China builds at least 60 public diplomacy outposts in US while permitting 4 US centers in China

China: 60, US: 0

Nicholas Kralev reports at The Washington Times that Congress is expressing its concern at the disparity between the number of cultural centers China and the US have permitted in each others countries. While China has setup 60 in the US, it is currently permitting only four to be built. At present, there are no such US centers in China.

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Defense Department roundtable on the Nuclear Posture Review

Earlier this week, the Defense Department’s Blogger Roundtable with Dr. Bradley R. Roberts, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense, and Admiral John Roberti, Deputy Director for Strategy and Policy, J-5, The Joint Staff, about the Nuclear Posture Review. The transcript here (PDF 106kb) as the podcast is here.

My question was aimed at the public diplomacy opportunities of the nuclear weapons talks & events, which range from the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to the Nuclear Summit next week to the START replacement negotiations, to the May non-proliferation conference at the United Nations. My question below is followed by the responses of Dr. Roberts.

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Admiral Mike Mullen on Military Strategy at Kansas State University, March 2010

100303-N-0696M-084 by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered a speech at Kansas State University as part of the Landon Lecture Series on Wednesday, March 3, 2010. Some highlights are at the top, full text, including Q&A, is below the fold.

U.S. foreign policy is still too dominated by the military.

Secretaries Clinton and Gates have called for more funding and more emphasis on our soft power, and I could not agree with them more.  Should we choose to exert American influence solely through our troops, we should expect to see that influence diminish in time.  In fact, I would argue that in the future struggles of the asymmetric counterinsurgent variety, we ought to make it a precondition of committing our troops, that we will do so only if and when the other instruments of national power are ready to engage as well.

Because frankly the battlefield isn’t necessarily a field anymore.  It’s in the minds of the people.  It’s what they believe to be true that matters.

…quality of people, training and systems over quantity of platforms.  It means that we choose to go small in number before we go hollow in capability.  And it favors innovation in leaders, in doctrine, in organization and in technology.

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Mobile Phones Combat Taliban’s Afghan “Information Wastelands”

From Bloomberg-BusinessWeek:

“We found that Afghans in the most-troubled, insurgent- held areas lived in information wastelands dominated by militant propaganda,” [U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke] said March 17. “We are fighting back with a revamped strategy that puts the people and their ability to communicate at the forefront of our effort.”

Joanna Nathan, author of a 2008 report on Taliban propaganda for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, cautioned that expanding mobile-phone capacity isn’t enough to counteract the Taliban. They have dominated the war of words by exaggerating victories and fueling conspiracy theories, she said.

“It’s not the words, but how credible is your message,” said Said Jawad, Afghan ambassador to Washington. The U.S. must not only “respond to propaganda but deliver and make a difference in people’s lives.”

The Role of Cultural Relations in Conflict Prevention and Resolution

Culture is how people think, says Martin Davidson, CEO of the British Council. Thinking of culture in this way creates the necessary intellectual space to conceive of cultural relations and cultural diplomacy as something more than engagement that a payoff that is subtle and decades away. It is a way to create pathways that can be leveraged to prevent or resolve conflict in the short term.

On March 2, 2010, the British Council, with NATO and Security Defence Agenda, hosted a conference in Brussels at the Bibliothèque Solvay titled “Conflict Prevention and Resolution: the Role of Cultural Relations.” The purpose was to discuss the value of building dialogues between groups that can be non-linguistic – such as sport, art, or civic development – to create opportunities for engagement, understanding, with goal of, as the title said, preventing and resolving conflict.

Knowing how people think, how they relate to one another, and how they communicate is essential within and across cultures. Cultural activities may be expressed in terms of exchanges of teachers, students, sports, languages but there is more to it then exchanging art work. We take for granted the vocabulary and points of contact even as understanding culture is ingrained in our daily lives. In corporate America, for example, this can take the form of participating in office betting pools during college basketball finals to playing golf with the boss or clients.

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Event: Global Internet Freedom as a foreign policy imperative in a Digital Age

On March 24, 2010, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) will hold an event to mark the public launch of the U.S. Senate Caucus on Global Internet Freedom. Caucus co-chairs Senators Ted Kaufman (D-DE) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), and other Senate caucus members including Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Robert Casey (D-PA) and make remarks. Following the Senators’ remarks will be a panel discussion:

  • Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor;
  • Ambassador Mark Palmer, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs;
  • Alan Davidson, Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs at Google;
  • Richard Fontaine, Senior Fellow at CNAS;
  • Daniel Calingaert, Deputy Director of Programs at Freedom House; and
  • Rebecca MacKinnon, Visiting Fellow, Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University and Co-Founder, Global Voices Online.

Visibly absent from this discussion is the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, which has a strong vested interest in the subject. Posner leads “DRL”, which is in the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

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Revisiting House Armed Services Committee Report 111-166 on NDAA FY2010

The House Armed Services Committee Report 111-166 on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 intentionally, as confirmed by this blogger, used the phrase “military public diplomacy” to describe certain activities of the Defense Department based on effect. For your reference, the relevant section of the report is below.
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Public Diplomacy: Iranian singer headlines VOA concert

The Voice of America’s Persian News Network will broadcast a three-hour concert for Persian New Year this weekend.

The singer-songwriter considered Iran’s Bob Dylan makes his international live television concert debut this Saturday on a three-hour Persian Nowruz, or New Year’s, special that will be broadcast on the Voice of America’s Persian News Network and beamed into Iran by multiple satellites.

Mohsen Namjoo, sentenced in absentia to five year’s imprisonment for his music, is among several entertainers and other celebrities appearing in the VOA Nowruz special.  Also on stage live from the Newseum in Washington D.C. will be Persian rap artist Shahin Najafi, who fled Iran after coming under pressure from government authorities to remove political messages from his music, and the 127 Band, which merges Iranian and other music influences to create a unique sound.

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi will deliver a special New Year’s message during the show.  Other guests will include Anousheh Ansari, the world’s first female private space explorer and the first astronaut of Iranian descent; Oscar nominee and Emmy award winning Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo; award-winning filmmaker and photographer Shirin Neshat; and exiled Iranian novelist, poet, critic and political activist Reza Baraheni.

The live special will be hosted by Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi, the hosts of VOA Persian News Network’s popular satirical show “Parazit.”  Besides entertainment, Saturday’s show, dubbed “Norouzit,” will take a look back at the tumultuous events of the past year in Iran, especially the disputed Presidential election of last June and the protest movement that grew in its wake.

VOA’s PNN is, interestingly, rarely mentioned when mentioning successful public diplomacy programs. The above show is a superb example of using culturally-aware means to engage an audience to open a channel to communicate information and ideas.

Also this Saturday, VOA launches a new English-learning website for Farsi-speakers, http://farsi.goenglish.me/.

See also:

New Caucus To Probe Strategic Communication, Public Diplomacy

Inside the Pentagon reports on the new caucus on the Hill that shows the level of heightening interest in improving America’s global engagement. In “New Caucus To Probe Strategic Communication, Public Diplomacy”, dated 11 March 2010, reporter Fawzia Sheikh writes:

A new Capitol Hill caucus focused on strategic communication and public diplomacy officially launched last week and plans to study the latest government efforts in these domains during its inaugural meeting later this month, according to a congressional source.

A new Pentagon report on strategic communication, a State Department plan on public diplomacy and a National Security Council framework outlining how agencies will collaborate in these areas will be among the discussion topics, the congressional source said on the condition of anonymity. (See related story.)

Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) are heading the caucus, which is still being rounded out, the source told Inside the Pentagon. Organizers have collected the names of three other Republicans and three additional Democrats interested in joining, said the source. There has also been “a lot of interest at the staff level,” including the House Foreign Affairs Committee, defense authorizers and “other elements of the congressional staff,” the source said.

“Given the interest in this issue,” added Michael Amato, Smith’s spokesman, “we expect a significant number of members to join the caucus.”

The rest of the article follows.

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The VOICE Act: Victims of Iranian Censorship

Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), chairing a hearing with four past and present Under Secretaries for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, mentioned the VOICE Act in his opening remarks. From my experience, unless you’ve sat in on one of my presentations sometime in the last eight months, odds are you don’t know what it is. The VOICE Act is a product of Senators in the Armed Services Committee: John McCain (R-AZ), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Robert Casey (D-PA).

(Interesting note: Senators Kaufman and Wicker – plus Senator Jim Webb – are the only Congressman (House or Senate) that are on both an armed services committee and a foreign relations (Senate) or foreign affairs (House) committee. These two Senators chaired the recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing titled The Future of Public Diplomacy.)

The VOICE Act, also known as the Victims of Iranian Censorship Act, was passed by the Senate in S. 1391 on July 23, 2009. It passed the conference between House and Senate armed services committees on October 8, 2009 and with the President’s signature on October 28, 2009, it became Public Law 111-84: the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010.

The VOICE Act is a notable (and rare) example of Defense Department-focused entities – the armed services committees – authorizing substantial funding for the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. However, the $55 million (details are below) authorized is not yet funded. In what could have been a very visible demonstration of putting his money where his mouth is, to the best of my knowledge, the late Congressman John Murtha (D-PA), chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, did not push to fund the VOICE Act despite saying the State Department should be doing more.

The VOICE Act is on the books, but it lacks funding.

So what does the VOICE Act authorize? On his website, Sen McCain touts the VOICE Act as “bipartisan legislation that will help strengthen the ability of the Iranian people get access to news and information and overcome the electronic censorship and monitoring efforts of the Iranian regime.”

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Defense Department releases its Section 1055 report on strategic communication

According to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, the Defense Department was required to provide a report on

the organizational structure within the Department of Defense for advising the Secretary on the direction and priorities for strategic communication activities, including an assessment of the option of establishing a board, composed of representatives from among the organizations within the Department responsible for strategic communications, public diplomacy, and public affairs, and including advisory members from the broader interagency community as appropriate, for purposes of (1) providing strategic direction for Department of Defense efforts related to strategic communications and public diplomacy; and (2) setting priorities for the Department of Defense in the areas of strategic communications and public diplomacy.

This report (PDF, 660kb) is known as the 1055 report, after the section of the NDAA that called for it.

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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.

State of the Media: Adversarial Exploitation of the Digital World

We have long recognized the importance of information to shape attitudes and create action. The online environment is no different, but do you think you know what non-English speaking users of Google.com or YouTube.com see? You probably don’t. My friends at the White Canvas Group do and they provide fascinating insight into the online world of adversarial exploitation of online products. Our adversaries understand the utility of the online world as a medium that seamlessly blends with “old media” to influence global audiences.

A lot of funding that the brothers are getting is coming because of the videos. imagine how many have gone after seeing the videos. Imagine how many have become martyrs.

Check out this promo video from White Canvas Group and remember that Al Qaeda no longer needs to send its audio or video products to Al Jazeera for distribution. 

If you’re interested in more, WCG is putting on a one-day workshop that delves into this world of adversarial media. This will be a superset of the presentation WCG has provided to students of my training seminars and the public diplomacy class I teach at USC.

Nye: Restoring America’s Reputation in the World and Why It Matters

Below is the prepared testimony of Joseph S. Nye, Jr. before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, March 4, 2010

In his inaugural address in 2009, President Barack Obama stated that “our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.” Shortly thereafter, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America. We must use what has been called ‘smart power’, the full range of tools at our disposal.” Earlier, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had called for the U.S. government to commit more money and effort to soft power tools including diplomacy, economic assistance, and communications because the military alone cannot defend America’s interests around the world. He pointed out that military spending totals more than half a trillion dollars annually compared with a State Department budget of $36 billion. In his words, “I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use soft power and for better integrating it with hard power.” What does this mean for policy?

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