Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reserve PSYOP and Homeland Defense

Today’s Washington Post reported that SecDef Gates has asked the military to review their roles, responsibilities and capabilities to cope with Homeland Defense in addition to the current Warfighter missions. (see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/24/AR2008112402456.html)

PSYOP is likely to be in the forefront of any military mission associated with Homeland Defense because it is the only practical means a military commander would have to inform the population of actions they need to take (e.g. store extra food and water), actions to avoid (e.g. curfew enforcement) and information (where to gather or obtain medical help, etc.)

PSYOP will undoubtedly be integrated into the Emergency Support Functions (ESF) supporting FEMA efforts that will be activated to deal with the situation. The various ESF are:

ESF#1 - Transportation

ESF#2 - Communications

ESF#3 - Public Works and Engineering

ESF#4 - Firefighting

ESF#5 - Emergency Management

ESF#6 - Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing and Human Services

ESF#7 - Logistics Management and Resource Support

ESF#8 - Public Health and Medical Services

ESF#9 - Search and Rescue

ESF #10 - Oil and Hazardous Materials Response

ESF#11 -Agriculture and Natural Resources

ESF#12 Energy

ESF#13 - Public Safety and Security

ESF#14 - Long Term Community Recovery

ESF#15 External Affairs

Homeland Defense missions may be actually fraught with more tension thancombat missions because the activity is taking place in the soldier’s homeland and perhaps even his or her neighborhood and because USAR PSYOP forces in are not trained in Homeland Defense or domestic activities, and have no on-going interaction with DHS or other domestic agencies that would likely be involved with domestic incidents.

As a minimum PSYOP units should consider developing contingency plans and on-call rosters. Homeland defense missions will likely occur without significant warning and require rapid response. Commanders would do well to integrate homeland contingency deployments with their home station training and to exercise teams with short, no-notice exercises. In addition selected personnel should be encouraged to become familiar with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and to complete a pre-determined minimum number of courses. This can be done on-line at http://www.fema.gov/emergency/nims/nims_training.shtm. Furthermore, RSTs and other resources should be employed to pay soldiers for their time and encourage participation.

The National Planning Scenarios (see http://www.dhs.gov/xprepresp/publications/gc_1189788256647.shtm) can form the basis of ODP and NCODP sessions and provide great CPX materials. Creative trainers can transplant and adjust the various NPS to suit their particular needs and geographic areas of emphasis.

September 11 taught us the lesson of being unprepared and the critical need for organizational interoperability, let’s hope we have learned it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Masks: A PSYACT Themselves

Having discussed interpreters in the previous post, let me turn my attention to the issues of masks themselves. The quote below reminds me of a 1929 line from then Secretary of State Henry Stimson, “Gentlemen don’t read other people’s mail.”

"We are a professional Army and professional units don't conceal their identity by wearing masks," Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a spokesman for the U.S. military, wrote in an e-mail. He expressed appreciation for the service and sacrifice of the interpreters but said those dissatisfied with the new policy "can seek alternative employment."

Strikes me that LTC Stover may be a little short sighted here. We are not wearing bright red coats marching down a road. The nature of urban warfare and insurgency is that thinking ‘out of the box’ should be the norm, not the exception. Edicts from on high often have unforeseen and severetly detrimental effects at the local level.
While in fact there may not be an issue with the supply of interpreters today (which I’m not quite ready to concede), the global supply and demand for interpreters and individuals able to carry USG messages in their native language needs all the help it can get.

And as for masks being unprofessional – I don’t think my two friends here would agree.

Interpreters Banned From Wearing Masks – the PSYOP Impact

Sometimes I struggle to get out a weekly post. I pride myself on combining the topical with a bit of sarcasm and perhaps a sense of history. Today’s post was prompted by an article in the Washington Post: “Ban on masks upsets Iraqi interpreters” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27758855/).

I have had the pleasure to work with interpreters in both military and commercial settings and I can attest to the fact that a good interpreter is worth more than his or her weight in gold. This quote from the article that hit me pretty hard this morning:
"Now that Obama wins, they are going to leave sooner or later," said Maximus, who works with a psychological operations unit. "We've fought for them all this time. When it's all done, nobody appreciates it." (emphasis added by me)

We, in the PSYOP community tend to think of ourselves as a above the rank and file in terms of our understanding of human culture. PSYOP is about influencing people’s behavior and influencing behavior means you understand it.

I recognize that contractors are ‘employees at will’ meaning that they can be fired at any time for any reason. In analyzing the quote it struck me that hiring of interpreters in a hostile zone requires some thought to the end game – what happens after US forces leave. While there is no legal duty to care for at will employees, there appears to be not only an ethical duty but a logical and powerful reason why working with interpreters should take more of a long range view. It strikes me that if someone is putting their life and the welfare of their families on the line they are demonstrating a level of commitment beyond a simple paycheck.

Are interpreters in a hostile zone paid sufficiently to compensate for this exposure? Should the quid pro quo for an interpreter the really just paycheck? Seems to me there is more at stake here.

Cultural understanding is a prerequisite to information engagement success. Native speakers willing to work with or for USG causes and assignments are hard to find. Furthermore, the USG lacks credibility in the overall Muslim world partially because of a perceived USG cowboy mentality and a lack of credible spokespeople. A void which could be filled as former interpreters stream into journalism, business and government leadership.

The time has come to take a longer range view. In my opinion, each AO (linguistically divided) needs to assess their interpreter work force. Interpreters who are of college age or interested in pursuing journalism, public affairs or even business administration should be marked for future training in the US and/or put on a track to be connected with international publications and business organizations who will have a need for their services after US forces withdraw.

Interpreters who are ‘seniors’ should be groomed and encouraged to become peer leaders and influencers in their communities. We need to adopt the best practices of organizations who truly value employees and where employees repay that concern with longevity and superior service. In the case of interpreters, this service would be rendered for the overall good and supporting USG messages and efforts for years to come.

In short the PSYOP community in particular should get into the mentoring and outplacement business for its interpreters. This implies that the USG indeed gets its act together on how to employ the multiple forces of national power in concert to achieve its goals.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

PSYOP and Obama’s New Approach to Afghanistan

First of all to my fellow veterans, thank you. Take a bit of time today, Veteran’s Day to reflect on how we all have helped make this country a bit more secure and a better place.

There can be no doubt that the man who beat Hillary Clinton (I think defeating McCain/Palin was a cakewalk in comparison) and who has decided to get a pound puppy instead of a pedigree for his children will bring a new perspective on information engagement across the board. President-elect Obama’s management of his own election and his exploitation of the Internet should leave no doubt that the potential to finally harness the power of information in pursuing USG goals is finally at hand.

While it is unreasonable to expect a wholesale change of personnel in DoD, the new administration will bring a new perspective and hopefully wrangle the USG internecine departmental battles over strategic communications, public affairs and information engagement in general into a cohesive and synergistic effort.

Having said that, it seems to me that the most likely place to start is Afghanistan. Today’s Washington Post featured an article: “Obama to Explore New Approach in Afghanistan War” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2008/11/10/AR2008111002897.html?wpisrc=newsletter&sid=ST2008111100889&s_pos=) buried in that article are two paragraphs I believe are worth a second look:

“At the White House, presidential adviser Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute is leading an interagency assessment of the Afghanistan war, scheduled to be finished this month, that administration officials said will focus on enhancing support for provincial and local governments and building the Afghan police. Lute plans to travel to Brussels to summarize the review for NATO.”

“At the Pentagon, Mullen is overseeing an Afghanistan and Pakistan transition strategy and force-structure review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former Iraq commander sworn in last month as head of the U.S. Central Command, is drawing up plans for his wider new responsibilities, which include Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The first paragraph calls for “support for provincial and local governments and building the Afghan police”. These tasks will require increased PSYOP and CA efforts. Outside major cities in Afghanistan these efforts will be grass roots efforts building trust in these institutions, publicizing their successes and encouraging popular support. Likely this will require an increase in CA and PSYOP resources – given today’s optempo where will they come from? This type of effort should also harness resources from Department of Justice to strengthen not just the police force, but the judicial system behind it.

The second paragraph alludes to the fact the Gen Petraeus is no doubt considering how he will work with his new Commander-in-Chief. It’s my feeling that Gen Petraeus and President-elect Obama will likely have far more intellectually in common than President Bush does with the general. Consequently, this is an opportune time for Gen Petraeus to push for a more ambitious information engagement plan – one that is more inclusive of new resources to include support by cabinet offices beyond DoD and Department of State.

In any event, I believe that the new President will bring a level of intellectual rigor to the Whitehouse that it hasn’t seen in quite some time and that this will hopefully benefit the PSYOP Community.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Army Collaboration Software Aimed The Wrong Way

On November 3, Defense News reported “The U.S. Army is rolling out collaboration software that will allow soldiers around the world to instant-message and Web-conference with each other, capture and transmit screenshots, and edit documents together, service officials said.” (http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=3801669&c=AME&s=TOP). Given some of the background in the article, the picture in this post must be their mascot.

The software is being pushed out to computers in Kuwait as a prelude to getting the software to Forward Operating Bases in Iraq. Lt. Col. Mathew Riordan, product manager for the Army's program office for EIS Enterprise Information Systems was quoted as saying: "We have to focus on getting these technologies to the garrison side of the Army," Riordan said. "We really have to focus on that because you can be looking at a report and have a question. With this system, you can get an answer instantly."

What is wrong with this picture? A couple of things for sure. First of all, since when does the Army focus on getting answers to questions on reports? A fascination with administration often hampers the warfighter, which is something we clearly don’t want to do today.
Secondly, shouldn’t IT resources be directed where they can influence the outcome of battle and support USG messaging?

Collaboration can be a powerful weapon for information engagement. The ability to harness reachback resources especially in terms of images, language translation/validation and all around collaboration can significantly enhance the quality of a work product. This type of capability would also seem like a natural tool for the all too often lacking interaction between Public Affairs and PSYOP.

I suspect that the troops are already employing Yahoo or Blackberry’s between people already in the same units or who have working relationships, but necessarily across functions and organizations. Hopefully the Information Technology and logistics organizations within the chains of command for PSYOP and PAO are aware of this technology and are already assessing this technology and how it can serve their missions, if not, this is a good time to do so.