Wednesday, January 30, 2013

PAO: Not the Snow White of Influence Operations?

CDRs know how to synergize their kinetic weapons. Infantry works with armor, artillery works along with close air support and all of them work together to implement the Op Order crafted to execute the CDR’s mission.

Merging the elements of the influence battle is not so easy. Two of the principle elements in this battle are MISO and PAO. MISO is proud of our role as ‘changing behavior’ or inducing the target audience in such a way so as to facilitate the execution of the CDR’s mission.

PAO on the other hand has maintained that they are pure information providers, not influencers. Long time strategist James P. Farwell and his colleague Rich Galen published an article January 15, 2013: “The Pentagon’s Public Affairs Battle” (you can find it at or or a number of other places.

The article starts out by addressing the DoD abandonment of the term “Strategic Communications” and goes on to provide a couple of good examples of how the PAO functioned as a spinner of information rather than a pure conduit of it.

The article goes on to make a powerful argument for the need for a cohesive communication strategy and closes by stating that “Military officers are neither recruited, nor for the most part naturally gifted, for what is at heart political communication—influencing the attitudes, opinions, and beliefs of a populace to support military strategy.” Of course this implies that DoD shouldn’t meddle in such important matters.

The article is good as far as it goes, but it frankly doesn’t go that far. There seems to be a vacuum at the top. Who (which cabinet department) is responsible for Communications Strategy (CS)? There is no doubt that the Department of State is the Executive Authority as the President’s lead diplomat, however, no such strategy has materialized from them. The picture gets even cloudier as you venture further from Washington, DC.

If the US is invited into a country to help restore order does the Ambassador set the Communications Strategy or does the Task Force CDR whose forces are engaging with the population? Can the Task Force have its own Communications Strategy?

If the US is part of an alliance or coalition such as we are in Afghanistan do we relegate our national communications goals and objectives in favor of those promulgated by the alliance?

Who is the DOD top dog for communications strategy and how does that spider web its way down to the BCT?

I think these are pretty good questions which need to be answered. Perhaps our new Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry can jump on these with his new DOD counterpart once the latter starts work.

Photo Source: The Author

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