Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Congress and Strategic Communications – Are They On The Right Track?

Today’s Washington Post covered comments made by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees concerning Strategic Communications. Rather than point to failings of the military I believe it shows that President Obama – one of the great info warriors of our time – is paying more attention to communicating with the American Voter than to the world audience. (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/27/AR2009072701896.html)
(Pictured are Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Representative Ike Skelton, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee)
There were several key points raised by Congress in the article:

1. Strategic Communications Programs are too big, have grown too fast to allow effective oversight, it is impossible to determine whether the efforts are integrated within DOD or with the broader US government” and Pentagon planning “is insufficient compared to the needs.”
2. The military is producing propaganda and other materials that mask US government sponsorship and focus beyond traditional military IO – they are “alarmingly non-military propaganda, public relations and behavioral modification messaging.”

3. There needs to be a new legal review of the law prohibiting strategic communications (or PSYOP) accessible by American audiences.

Presidential Action Need to Command and Control Strategic Communications

Given that funding for Strategic Communications is rapidly approaching $1Billion and that there is no central control or coordination of these efforts across the USG it seems to me Congress is right on. There are other critical issues here though. First of all it appears that the President has not focused any attention on strategic communication. His information advisors are concentrating on making sure the Health Care Agenda goes forward and are paying scant attention to foreign audiences.

The President or his designated Information Leader needs to be the focal point for Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy because our efforts worldwide are moving to information engagement over kinetic operations and this trend is likely to accelerate over time. The President needs to be mindful of the previous criticism of USG information management and the disaster experienced by the Pentagon Office that sought to address this issue.

There needs to be an approved overall USG information engagement strategy and a designated leader for it reporting to the President. Only be applying the principle of unity of Command will the USG be able to effectively manage its information engagement efforts and determine the adequacy of planning and resourcing for the task.

Information Engagement Must Be More Than Military

Congress has missed the boat on the ‘military nature’ of strategic communications. DOD is the critical resource serving as a conduit of information to civilian audiences. US forces abroad are faced with the need to effectively communicate to foreign audiences on their own soil. This messaging is inherently non-military in nature. The so called ‘winning of hearts and mind’ is no longer the leaflet urging surrender. Rather the messages are support your government, help defeat the insurgents, explore possibilities for a more stable economy – the stuff of nation building and bolstering governments rather than the traditional messages associated with combat.

Information Laws Are Obsolete

The Internet Age has brought the world to smart phones, the notion of ideas being bound by traditional national borders is nonsense and the time has come to amend the laws restricting information engagement even if American audiences can receive the messages.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Threats Are Wrong in Afghanistan – Everyone Has Their Price

According to an article from CBS (see: http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/07/16/world/worldwatch/entry5163670.shtml) the PSYOP Campaign surrounding the recovery of the captured American Soldier is employing a threat theme. The leaflets promise that those who harm the soldier or hinder recovery efforts “will be targeted”.

While I have never been to Afghanistan, I have been a long time student of conflict, PSYOP and persuasion. I believe the right approach is a reward. It seems pretty clear to me that the Afghan people are proud and independent. The Taliban success over the Russians is certainly powerful evidence that they are not easily cowered and will not succumb to threats.

The reward approach offers the ability to take advantage of available resources and has, in my view, a limited potential for a negative impact of increased resistance or generating hostility. A reward campaign would also have the potential secondary effect of generating tips or intelligence that might be useful for other purposes.

It is my impression that, overall, the Afghans maintain a negative impression of the allied forces. I don’t believe that leaflets picturing US soldiers in a positive light will be able to alter this impression especially when they are accompanied by threats of violence.

Even though recovery of the captured soldier is a high priority tactical operation, it is critical to maintain a perspective on long range goals and build a positive impression. The Allies must focus on maintaining a positive ‘brand image’. This image has to portray the Allied force as a resource for the Afghani people and a means to bring security, prosperity, and stability to the country.
Our efforts, especially the errant airstrikes have galvanized certain segments of the Afghani population against the allied efforts, if we lose focus and appear as a bully, any forward progress will be lost.

As Mao once said: “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.”, only by making the fish smell can the counter insurgency hope to succeed.

Family Day Regimental Activities

Apologies for missing last week, but I’ve been on vacation. Nothing like taking 3 generations across three states over 2 weeks to absorb time.

Recently I attended the Assumption of Command Ceremony for the 14th PSYOP Bn at Moffett Field. With the memory of Regimental Week still fresh, this event took on a special significance. MG Altshuler used to say that the AC “could fall out in the company street” while the Reserves cannot. The 4th POG has the advantage of being able to have all their troops meet in one place. Special events like Regimental Week capitalize on this.

The Reserves need to devote some dedicated time to appreciate the history and nature of the Regiment. It is also fitting and proper to recognize individuals who have excelled in PSYOP and those who have rendered exceptional service to the units and their families.

My thought is to set aside some time during Family Days or unit celebrations such as Thanksgiving to accomplish these goals. These events would be appropriate times to present the Bronze Level McClure Awards to deserving individuals.

A simple thought to start the week. I’ll post a more serious entry later on in the week

Saturday, July 11, 2009

PSYOP Training – A Joint Approach

The post on the PSYOP Regiment received the comment reproduced below. I felt this was such an important topic that it required a special posting. In my mind there are several aspects of training and qualification posed by the comment.

“What are your thoughts on training for PSYOP training for Officers and NCOs from the Air Force and Marine Corps? Each of these Services now have a requirement for PSYOP training - should their personnel be held to Army standards for PT and "soldier skills"? Or is it more important for them to receive ROBUST training in the theory, planning, TAA, development and execution of PSYOP?As of this writing MOST of the sister service officers will never be assigned to the POGs or the Bns (the Air Force is working on establishing a "detachment" at 4th POG - but that is a long way off IF it happens) - but there will be personnel assigned to JMISC and the JPOTF. Must these personnel be "JUMP" qualified to practice PSYOP? Even if they graduate from POQC (as approx 10 Air Force officers are ever year - they continue to be challenged by Army PSYOPers as not being "real" PSYOP Officers - what is the discriminator that makes a "real" PSYOPer? Is it graduation from the POQC? Language skills? Product development? Assignment to a TPD? Jump school? or simply you can't be a "REAL" PSYOPer unless you are IN the Army and assigned to the POG?”

My personal views:

Physical Training (PT) – it seems to me that the most logical approach is that service members must pass the PT tests of their services.

Airborne Qualification – it is my feeling that being airborne qualified is not a prerequisite for PSYOP. Some PSYOP support missions to airborne units may require airborne insertion, if this is the case then I would endorse the concept of airborne qualification as a necessary qualification to support airborne units.

PSYOP Training - successful completion of the PSYOP Qualification Course (POQC) is the foundation for any PSYOP assignment. For the sake of uniformity and transparency, the POQC should be required prior to PSYOP assignments. Non Army personnel can add value by virtue of the uniqueness of their service experience. They are also in an excellent position to leverage the assets of their service for PSYOP purposes.

Language Training – language training is always key to success, however, experience shows that PSYOP work product requires a level of language proficiency not generally achieved by non-native speakers. Consequently language training is useful on critical missions where the PSYOP team needs to be self-sufficient.

“Real PSYOPers” – over time we will observe more non-Army personnel assigned to PSYOP missions. Air Force PSYOP in particular is likely to grow significantly since the Air Force as a knack for following the money and for being at the leading edge of many new warfighting trends. Non-Army personnel are and can be real PSYOPers, however it is important to point out that the PSYOP Regiment is an Army only organization.

Reader input, as always is encouraged.