The February 29, 2012 front page of USA Today screamed at the apparent wastefulness and ineffectiveness of US military ‘info ops’ efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Source: http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/story/2012-02-29/afghanistan-iraq-military-information-operations-usa-today-investigation/53295472/1). The article also virtually filled the second page except for an article entitled “Modern US wars influence psychiatric thought” which dealt with the mental state of returning veterans. I’m sure that juxtaposition was unintentional (he said with tongue in cheek).
The article puts together a cornucopia of facts and statements to paint a picture of waste and ineptitude. The article’s wrath appears to be directed against the futility of DOD backed ‘giant marketing campaigns’ and the contractors that run them.
There are some areas where the article clearly got it wrong.
· They try to push readers into making the judgment that because one of the defense contractors on the program (Los Angeles based Leonie Industries) does not appear to have suitable experience and its principals have financial problems – the entire effort is tainted. While facts about Leonie may be right on, the conclusion is not.
· Another area where I think the article got it wrong is the choice of military experts. For example, one of the sources for the article is COL (R) Paul Yingling who was apparently an artillery officer with scant IO involvement (see his Bio @ http://www.marshallcenter.org/mcpublicweb/en/component/content/article/747-art-bio-yingling-paul.html?directory=30).
· The article did not feature knowledgeable sources from the Military Information Support Operations (MISO) chain of command nor anyone retired from any of the MISO or PSYOP organizations.
· The article intimates that the information engagement efforts are ineffectual because they failed to stem the recent outrage caused by the burning of Qurans in Afghanistan. To assume that any short time information effort could accomplish this goal is naive and ludicrous.
· Another element of the article is that the fact that the US did not blast out the source of many of the products used in the campaign, was, in and of itself, something devious. This statement in particular seems to me to indicate a bias on behalf of the authors against the military and lack of understanding of the principles of information engagement.
However, there are some very key points that are raised that should be addressed. For example, the article correctly points out that there is a real dearth of reliable measures of effectiveness (MOE). MOE can be especially difficult to get with fragmented and often illiterate populations.
The article should have highlighted that the fact the efforts may be wasteful and disjointed is that the US lacks a cohesive national information engagement strategy. A strategy that not only synergizes the instrumentalities of government and national power but which can be adapted by Ambassadors and Combatant Commanders in their own areas of operations.
The article fails to point out the need for consistency across multi-year information engagement efforts that are often less than optimally executed because of a constant change of personnel responsible for them.
Having said all of this one of the positive side effects of the article may be to rouse Congress to investigate the nature of what the paper calls ‘info ops’ and discover the challenges currently facing the PSYOP/MISO community on the military side.
Some Congressional attention may be all that is needed to push the long simmering proponent debate to swift and decisive conclusion or exploit it into another election year issue without a suitable resolve.
Interested readers are urged to let USA Today know their thoughts about the article.