Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Information War: Strategic Corporal

I found this over at Small Wars Journal: The Strategic Corporal.

I have been thinking very hard on another post that had been up several days ago: religion in counterinsurgency. I have some ideas on how this can be treated. I deliberately did not read any of the forum comments in order to insure my thoughts are exactly that: my thoughts. I'll have something on that soon.

From this post on Strategic Corporals, I did want to point out a few very interesting points:

The military has traditionally divided perception management into two areas and skillsets: public affairs and psychological operations. In brief, public affairs is usually handled like the old-fashioned PR machines of large companies, featuring photo-ops, interviews, press releases and the like. The target audience is generally the US public and public affairs is usually imbued with the notion of telling things as they are, or getting stories out. Psychological operations are targeted toward an enemy, or a given neutral populace, and are meant to make them think a certain way. These two communities have traditionally been taught to never associate with one another due to the differing needs governing their roles. The problem lies at the intersection of the warfighter's need for deception and the public's need for transparency.

Today though, the globalization of all forms of media means that it is more and more difficult to segregate media products for a given audience. With regard to Iraq, this means that any given story, video, interview, or announcement that is accessible via the internet can potentially have four audiences, all of whom will have a tendency to view it differently:

a) Iraqis
b) Muslims elsewhere
c) Americans
d) the rest of the world.

There is much further segmentation within these groups as well. The point is that electronic media can no longer be carefully segregated as to who will view, read, or listen to it.[snip]

I think this is an important part of the entire problem with information warfare. It is actually eons old, we just never addressed it properly. We tried to pretend, largely, that this segregation could exist and we operated (still do) under those premises. Laws were enacted to protect US citizens from the actions of their own government. No one wanted to turn into the Soviet Union or China, two of the largest states where media was (and is) owned, operated and controlled by the government that routinely, and as a matter of policy, propagandize their own populations in order to control them. It is a basic tenent of population control: he who controls the information, controls the people. Or, in layman's terms: knowledge is power.

Of course, it becomes more and more difficult to control when the points of entry for and the promulgation of information becomes so diffuse and simple that a man in Timbuktu can set up a server, connect to a cable, hook up a computer and be sending messages around the world. If he needs to be mobile, he could use a satellite phone and connection to send text, video, or audio around the world (just ask the enemy how easy it is).

By the same token, this makes information easier to return from whence it was sent. The storm over the use of a public relations firm, Lincoln Group, to disseminate information into Iraqi papers, aimed at Iraqi citizens (and possibly the larger region), reached all the way back to the United States and was painted as propaganda. Not even 20 years ago, this would have been a non-issue since the potential for an American citizen to read or hear it would have been nearly nil. In 2005, however, it sparked a congressional investigation.

While the issue was painted as a problem of manipulating "free press" in a country where we are trying to promote democracy and freedom (one of those freedoms being freedom of speech), the underlying problem was that this "pro-American" propaganda made it back to the states and was seen as influencing readers.

Aside from the issues of operational security (OPSEC), the problem with crossing the lines drawn by the law makes the Pentagon and branches of the military averse to risk in this theater which has made it extremely slow in responding to the changing media environment. The fact that the military is now engaging miliblogs and has set up its own YouTube channel, bypassing the middle man of main stream media, shows that someone finally woke up, smelled the coffee, strapped his boots on tighter and took some major risk.

Listen to Jack Holt, chief of new media operations at the Pentagon, at Pundit Radio discuss media relations, YouTube and milblogging. (scroll down for the correct podcast). Read Milblogger Dadmanly on the new AR and the struggle to control and set free information at the same time.

However, the fact is, military and government use of each new information device is not new. The printing press was the original "mass dessiminator" of information. Our own forefathers used the printing press to print "pamphlets" without the official approval (pamphlateers such as Thomas Paine). During the Civil war, the creation of posters and leaflets became a huge business. These printed materials were used both on the homefront to promote the government's ideas, gain support and recruits and pass information about its successes as well as was used throughout the South to convey propaganda for the Union such as copies of the Proclomation of Emancipation, in hopes of changing the face of the war. This continues even today, both on the homefront and in theaters of war around the globe.

Next, the military coupled the new transportation of airplanes with the power of the printing press and dropped leaflets on the enemy during World War I. This also continues to this day. Film became another new media that the military and government used to promote its ideas, often with the cooperation and direct participation of the industry itself producing short films about the war or bringing home images from the front. But, it wasn't until World War II that the new media of film making became extensive enough to be seen to have a direct impact on the support of the war, the conduct of the war and the subjugation of the enemy.

Transistor radios also became a tool of warfare during WWII. Not just in communication within the military ranks, but by dropping them behind enemy lines, to the resistance fighters in France. These were used as both a method of conveying information as well as passing messages. This, also, continues to this day. The military dropped hand cranked radios into Afghanistan along with food, medical supplies and weapons for the population and our allies from the Northern Alliance.

During WWII, radio broadcasts were made by both the enemy and the allies aimed at the opposing nations and their soldiers on the frontline. Also, something that still occurs today.

This propaganda became so pervasive, the government felt compelled to write a law to protect the citizens from any future use or abuse of these tools against the citizens, usurping, as it were, basic tenets of democracy such as transparency in government and freedom of speech.

The cat, as they say, was already out of the bag. New techonologies, including those in aviation transportation, intercontinental phone lines and many more were already beginning to shape the future of information in warfare. The United States could no longer rely on oceans to defend itself from an aggressor, neither could it rely on these oceans and spaces to protect itself from propaganda: either the enemy's or its own. By Vietnam, this phenomena became even clearer with the evening news conveying images of warfare within in three days of an event or incident's actual occurance. The Viet Cong used this new media much more effectively than the US or its armed forces, leaving the VC in control of the story.

Enter satellites, internet and updated phone lines. The paradigm because the imperative.

The second trend is a growing distrust in traditionally manufactured "information." Corporate press releases, press conferences, advertising, and the like are more and more seen as possessing suspect and murky agendas. Sometimes, though not always, new media -- such as blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos -- overcome these suspicions, possessing as they do a less-polished feel to them. Ultimately many consumers of information mitigate their suspicions by developing something like a personal relationship and trust with the source, whether it is an institution or an individual.
These trends make for a bewildering environment in which to operate. Consider two recent phenomena:

In March, Multi-National Forces-Iraq created its own YouTube channel [see more here.] [snip]

In other words, the MNF-Iraq has decentralized its public affairs to some extent, allowing videos submitted by troops to reach a very wide audience.

At the same time, a controversy recently erupted about the Army's new guidance for posting on message boards, blogging, emailing, sending letters home, or creating a resume. The controversy was due to the fact that the going perception of the new policy was that it was intended to shut down personal blogs by Army members. Apparently this was not the case. Nevertheless, the fact is that within two months of each other, one military agency -- MNF-Iraq -- sought to decentralize its informational goals, while another -- the Army -- sought to put added restrictions or layers of oversight on the informational capabilities of its soldiers.

What is to be done?

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