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

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Scathing IG Report on BBG Demonstrates Lack of Concern By Obama Administration

The Washington Post of 23 Jan 2013 ran an article (article at: about a scathing Department of State IG Report (see on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). 

The BBG “oversees all US Government-supported, civilian international broadcasting”. This includes the Voice of America (VOA), Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), as well as private, nonprofit corporations: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. The BBG FY 2013 budget request was $720 million.

The report was classified as “Sensitive But Unclassified” but was redacted in part and released as unclassified. There were a number of “Key Judgments” cited in the report. Among them was a comment praising the commitment of the broadcast entities and professional staff, but that was the only positive comment.

The report blasts the Board from a number of angles. The report indicated that a part time entity such as the board cannot coordinate appropriately especially without a CEO. Dysfunctionality of the board was noted due to “one member”. Systemic issues included chronic vacancies, lack of a logical travel policy, absences of Board members and inadequate by-laws and governance policies.

A review of the entire report reads like a bad Harvard Business School Case Study. The IG provides a number of recommendations including several that appear to be very basic, common sense management. 

This posting will not discuss the recommendations, but will step back and look at the impact of the report. The Department of State is the US voice overseas and the broadcasting companies under the BBG are like the ‘information artillery’ for Public Diplomacy. That is, they should provide consistent support to US objectives and provide their audiences with high quality information comparable to any world class information or entertainment medium.

Public Diplomacy is a cornerstone of today’s influence operations. The MISO Community has a symbiotic relationship with the Department of State. MIS teams may be employed to support embassy staff on one end of the spectrum and on the other MIS Task Forces may be deployed to hostile areas to take on the primary burden of supporting US informational efforts.

It is this symbiotic relationship and the need to depend on our DOS partners that underscores the need for an efficient and effective BBG. As the size of the DOD force shrinks, the need for consistent broadcasting efforts will likely increase thereby exacerbating the need for optimal management of the DOS resources.

The fact that the BBG’s effectiveness has deteriorated so drastically should be of major concern to the President as he shifts his foreign policy gears during his second term. It may also mean that MIS forces may not be able to count on any support from a population that has been listening to US informational broadcasts.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Shoemaker's Children

There’s an old proverb that goes “Shoemaker’s children walk barefoot.” The implication is that the shoemaker is so busy making shoes for sale that he doesn’t have time to take care of his family. 

What does this have to do with PSYOP/MISO?

I’m afraid quite a bit. Like many of you I am a member of a number of on-line groups. While some are part of LinkedIn and generally open to anyone who is interested, others are a bit more selective requiring an introduction by an existing member and a basic vetting process.

This week I was reviewing my correspondence from one of my more selective groups when the subject of “Acronym Check’ attracted my attention. It seems that one of the list members was very confused by the terms PSYOP and MISO and wasn’t sure which was proper or how they are used in today’s doctrine.

Frankly I was a bit taken aback. Given the exposure that MISO has gotten in Afghanistan and elsewhere I was laboring under the illusion that ‘the Big Army’ at least was aware of the current jargon because our operations were integrated into the big picture.

Apparently that is not the case. I drafted a post that included language I had validated by SWC and that ended up on the list shortly after I sent it in. Interestingly enough it did not generate one word of comment.

Admittedly I’m pretty much on the side lines these days, but I would be very interested in hearing what y’all out there in the field are experiencing and what we might want to do if there is indeed a problem.

Photo source: