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Thread: Strategic Communication: A Tool for Asymmetric Warfare

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Strategic Communication: A Tool for Asymmetric Warfare

    Strategic Communication: A Tool for Asymmetric Warfare by Emily Goldman at the SWJ Blog.

    Strategic communication is a vital activity for supporting our military operations and national interest. Information can affect attitudes, and ultimately behavior. It is one of the most important tools we have to shape the battlefield months and years in advance. It is indispensable now for fighting adversaries who employ non-traditional and asymmetric means. It can be effective in shaping memories of the past as well as planning for the future.

    Communication can be a strategic weapon of mass influence to assure allies and dissuade and deter adversaries. It can give non-state actors state-like power to affect world events. Our adversaries are using communication and information very adeptly to do just that.

    There are many unknowns about the future, but we know our adversaries will challenge us in the realm of ideas and information. They are doing so now. They are doing it effectively. We have not yet risen to the challenge. Strategy dictates that you play to your strengths and exploit the enemy’s weaknesses. Our enemies know where we are strong and where we are weak. The question is, “Do we know where we are falling short and are we committed and able to adapt to the challenge?”

    Currently, OSD, DOS, USAID, the Joint Staff, and Combatant Commands are developing strategic communication plans across a range of functional issues and regional areas because of the importance of the “contest of ideas” in many of the battles we face today. Strategic communication can be a cost-effective way to operate along the continuum from persuasion to coercion...
    Emily Goldman is a Strategic Communication Advisor in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State. Previously, she served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy), Support to Public Diplomacy. She is an Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, Davis.

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    Council Member Rockbridge's Avatar
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    Default SC is a lot harder than it sounds

    While I agree with the vast majority of her assertions, the challenge we're faced with is that unless there is a single coordinating body that has tasking authority over those action agents in the SC business, this is really just intellectual masturbation. Unfortunately, the NSC under the current administration is only a coordinating body, and does not have directive authority over the various govt agencies. Unless that changes, we will continue to show SC successes based on informal "dope deals" between individuals rather than as a matter of policy. Even if the NSC did have directive authority, any public official can call a press conference and derail a carefully coordinated SC effort.

    It would be nice if all USG agencies worked off the same sheet of music, toed the party line, got on the same page, blah blah (similar cooperative metaphors).... but our system of government is deliberately built to encourage internal dissent and debate. Unfortunately, our internal debate is wide open to external parties, presenting the (accurate) impression that there's no coherent USG policy on ANY issue.

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    I think SC is the kind of thing that you can't get right under a hierarchical structure where one guy at the top has directive authority over the whole operation, especially the NSC. A few reasons:

    1) Whenever the NSC has tried to take operational control over something, they screwed it up. Example: Iran-Contra. The NSC functions better when they provide broader principles, which I think is what SC by nature demands anyway.

    2) If you have an organization, especially at the national level, that has ultimate authority, that's going to slow up the process of getting your message out. People are going to cover their ass by sending it up the chain of command, and by the time the message gets out, its irrelevant.

    3) It's my understanding that most Iraqi insurgent groups have no body with directive control over their message - they just get their videotape on the net as fast as possible. But because they all know the general idea of what they want the message to be, it's not a problem.

    I think the NSC or a body at that level needs to be involved, but not with directive authority. If they just set broad operating principles, and make sure that there's coordination between the different players (so that everyone is 'on the same page') I think we'd be doing a lot better.

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    If all agencies operated with the intent of taking action to achieve common goals versus studying, observing, considering, debating, slow-rolling, and hoping problems would go away, I'd agree. Unfortunately, the response to SC coordination efforts has usually been "I'll take that recommendation under advisement," followed by an echoing silence and lack of action. If somebody actually was in charge, maybe it would work better. I'm not advocating a draconian "Ministry of Information," but it sure would be more effective if there was someone (or some group) other than POTUS who could direct agencies to take action.
    You can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone

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    I think the key is that, in addition to a coordinating body in the NSC or wherever, you need the individuals who head up the various agencies to actually care about SC. I don't think there's a purely organizational cure.

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    Council Member Rockbridge's Avatar
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    ..and there rarely is just an organzational cure for anything. I agree.
    You can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone

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    Council Member St. Christopher's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adrian View Post
    I think the key is that, in addition to a coordinating body in the NSC or wherever, you need the individuals who head up the various agencies to actually care about SC. I don't think there's a purely organizational cure.
    I'd go as far as to say that those individuals need not merely care about SC but understand it. PAOs need to understand PSYOP and vice versa. Info warriors may specialize in a specific SC discipline like PA, PD or IO, but they should all be fully trained and educated to understand the entire spectrum. If it is an organizational solution, let that organization be an institute that qualifies interagency strategic communicators.

    There are several fellow travelers like you out there in the Interagency that get this. Keep your eyes and ears open-- we pop up with a win every once in a while.

    Du4
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    I've been pondering how to apply a corporate brand management model to US Strategic communications and may write a paper about it for school at some point. There have been some articles/papers written and found on this site that are particularly interesting.

    A few things that I think we need:
    1. A U.S. brand strategy - What image does the U.S. want to have domestically and internationally...basically an overarching goal that all depts and agencies communications must support. This has to be something that can last over many administrations as it takes a while to build a strong brand identity.
    2. We need to better link our communications to our programs and policies. In a corporate environment with a strong brand (think volvo, coke, disney) everything the company does supports the overall brand image. For example, there are many in the marketing profession who believe that Volvo used to make very boxy cars to further sell the idea that the vehicles were safe. Not that communications should drive our policy, but we should enter policy and program decisions fully understanding the implications.
    3. We need a central organization that manages the U.S. brand and provides support to depts and agencies in implementing it. This office/organization should develop a national strategic communications plan that provides guidance and ensure its execution. I would also create a PCC type working group that brings together the communications directors from all the depts and agencies involved in national security (actually, it'd probably be best just to have them all).
    4. We need to provide support to the field personnel, not just beating on them to get the message right. In corporations, there is typically a communications staff that strictly focuses on supporting sales and account management types to ensure they have the tools (brochures, messaging, multimedia, whatever they may need) to get the job done on the ground. So ideally, you'd have a dedicated group that the field folks can reach back to and say I need x, y, z to support this operation and the support folks can take care of it quickly. This allows them to focus on developing the relationships and overall understanding of the people they're trying to influence.
    5. Field metrics that link back to strategic communications. I had an interesting conversation with some folks who had been in Iraq about how they measured success. What dawned on me is that our metrics (how many schools/hospitals/etc. have we built) do not necessarily tell us how opinions/perceptions are changing. We assume that by doing these things we're having the impact we want...but maybe we're not. So we need to make sure metrics at all levels support what we really want to achieve...which isn't just rebuilding the infrastructure, but gaining the necessary public support to achieve our missions.

    One final thought to close this rambling message...we need to figure out how to link our strategic communications to our operational (department/embassy/COCOM) level communications, to our tactical/field communications and ensure they information flow is going both ways--up and down.

    These are just some initial thoughts I've had based on some conversations and very limited research. At some point, I'd really like to dig into this deeper and see if the corporate brand management model is really something that can be applied to government. Right now there are many significant holes in my knowledge and challenges to the concept. In the meantime, I'd certainly appreciate your experience/thoughts on any of this.

    Take care,
    Brian

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    Default Centralization

    Quote Originally Posted by Rockbridge View Post
    While I agree with the vast majority of her assertions, the challenge we're faced with is that unless there is a single coordinating body that has tasking authority over those action agents in the SC business, this is really just intellectual masturbation.
    I agree with Rockbridge. There is not enough coordination with our strategic communications. I am sure you are all familiar with the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) debacle. This organization was established in order to provide within the DOD the kind of strategic level coordination necessary to successfully wage this ideological struggle. Unfortunately, bureaucratic infighting and public ambivalence to "propaganda" resulted in the closure of the office only four months after its inception. The DOD needs to relook the decision to close this office, and the U.S. government needs to wake up and reconstitute the United States Information Agency. Once we get serious about the ideological implications of the so called GWOT, we will begin to make serious strides toward achieveing victory.

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    Quote Originally Posted by invictus0972 View Post
    The DOD needs to relook the decision to close this office, and the U.S. government needs to wake up and reconstitute the United States Information Agency. Once we get serious about the ideological implications of the so called GWOT, we will begin to make serious strides toward achieveing victory.
    I would submit to you that DOD is the absolute wrong place to headquarter a strategic information/influence/communication organization.

    But then, so is the State Department.
    Tenere terrorum,
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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    In "Reshaping national intelligence for an age of information", Treverton, Gregory, Cambridge, 2003 he discusses the current and previous states of information assessment for the OSS through the NSA. I seen interesting similarities between the use of intelligence (communication inputs) and strategic communication (communication outputs). It seems that each of the two types of communication and source/message grooming that occurs have a lot in common. Maybe not the science of the two disciplines but the organizational issues and problems.

    The military wants to own the assets that do strategic and tactical intelligence analysis and keep the products near to the commander. Regardless of NRO or NSA whomever developed the intelligence the push is to put the flatten effect into place and give the commander overall control of the filtering process.

    It looks like the concept of strategic communications would subject to the same kinds of "controls" and that the concept of the government speaking with one voice would be drowned in the cacophony of silent objection.

    I could likely draw more parallels but I figure somebody else has already figure it out.
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    Council Member kehenry1's Avatar
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    Default Strategic Communications

    I had started a similar project on developing a model for SC: Developing Effective Strategic Communications

    We have a tendency to look at effective communications from the top down. In other words, we tend to look at the organizations involved and try to decipher their responsibilities, appropriate message and correct actions from that perspective. Instead, we should begin this discussion from the bottom up: focus on "target audiences" and work backwards. In fact, from a "customer service" background, the most effective strategy is to first understand who the "customer" is, the needs and demands of the "customer" or "target audience" and then effect the delivery of message or product that best suits the "customer"..
    Among issues that I have not yet addressed, is the problem of the number of actors that are able to effect the message. Not all of them are "bad guys". Most of them are internal players or allies who are using mass communication to get their own message out.

    At this time, anyone with internet connections and the ability to write effectively, particularly in the language of the target audiences, and with their own agenda, is capable of shaping a message. Anyone with a cellphone. Anyone with a camera. Anyone with the ability to record a voice.

    For instance, the story from the Italian paper claiming that White Phosphorous was a chemical weapon and had been used against civilians inside Fallujah. Photoshopped photos that were allegedly of victims of unprovoked attacks. A woman in Sadr city was photographed holding unfired 7.62mm rounds. The photographer/stringer's caption said that the bullets were from coalition forces and had gone through her window, shooting into her bed and wall. The rounds were unfired.

    Staged photos, fake interviewed, fake claims of abuse...all meant to play off of already existing ideas that US forces were uncontrollable trigger happy guys that shot everyone within range, didn't care about civilians and routinely did so. That was helped along by reports from our own media and opinion pieces from allied commanders in the field that basically intimated the same.

    I have read several similar reports from allied commanders in Afghanistan claiming that US are basically rough and loutish, badly effecting their own attempts at gaining the trust of the locals, etc, etc, etc. It may or may not be true, but all of it effects are global message and damages the central message which has been "liberation" of both AFghanistan and Iraq from brutal, totalitarian forces.

    Thus, every action on and off the field effects the "message" in and out of theater. That does not even account for the "counter message" of the Islamists who also put out stories about coalition "rape and pillage" through every sort of media in order to attract recruits from around the world.

    Our problem internally is that we do not have a monolithic polity. That polity is not above using every means possible to get out their own messages that may or may not be helpful in shaping the "message", whether over all or for a given issue. If we attempted to do so in this day and age, if we attempted to persuade people that their message was damaging, as some have over the course of the war to date, it would be rejected as attempting to propagandize our own or allied population. They would reject it as a fascist attempt to silence the opposition. They would claim that they have the right to speak against it or share their own message under the first amendment.

    All of which is true, but it still means no centralized message that is promulgated across global communications. In today's world, just like trying to market a soft drink in a world awash with soft drinks, the message has to be strong, capable of projecting above the others and winning a majority of the population. Selling it, per se.

    The "great divide" in our society is both a help and a hindrance. Now we have to figure out how to use that divide to our advantage.
    Kat-Missouri

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    Council Member Cannoneer No. 4's Avatar
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    How is the "great divide" in our society a help? Before "we" can figure out how to use that divide to "our" advantage, the factions that can be properly described with those pronouns must be identified.
    Last edited by Cannoneer No. 4; 11-16-2007 at 06:16 AM.

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    15 Nov 07 testimony before the HASC Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee on Strategic Communications and Countering Ideological Support for Terrorism:

    Duncan MacInnes, Principal Dpty Coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs, DoS

    Capt Hal Pittman USN, Acting Dpty Asst SecDef (Joint Communication), DoD

    Michael Doran, Dpty Asst SecDef (Support for Public Diplomacy), DoD

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    Default DOD and IO as defense issue

    Quote Originally Posted by St. Christopher View Post
    I would submit to you that DOD is the absolute wrong place to headquarter a strategic information/influence/communication organization.

    But then, so is the State Department.
    St. Christopher,

    Why do you feel this way? I know there is some criticism about the fact that the DOD might lose some credibility if it were viewed as engaging it propaganda type operations. However, it is already doing these types of operations Joint Psychological Operations Support Element. Also, it is going on unofficially everyday in press releases and other types of media engagements. The problem is that there so many core competencies within the DOD that contribute, explicitly or implicitly, to IO, and they have all their own agendas. Would it not be better to acknowledge this situation and create a strategic level DOD office to coordinate the activities? If the so called GWOT is a true ideological confrontation that is critical to national security, shouldn't IO fall under the auspices of the DOD? Look forward to your comments!

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    If the so called GWOT is a true ideological confrontation that is critical to national security, shouldn't IO fall under the auspices of the DOD?
    Plenty of things that are critical to national security aren't within DoD - intelligence/covert ops (granted 80% is DoD but still much is outside), state, the economy, etc. Just because something is national security doesn't mean DoD has to do it.

    I'd favor bringing back the independent USIA instead, having a direct line to the White House rather than having to go through SecDef, who's priority won't be information operations or ideological warfare.

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    Default MI Operations

    Quote Originally Posted by Adrian View Post
    Plenty of things that are critical to national security aren't within DoD - intelligence/covert ops (granted 80% is DoD but still much is outside), state, the economy, etc. Just because something is national security doesn't mean DoD has to do it.

    I'd favor bringing back the independent USIA instead, having a direct line to the White House rather than having to go through SecDef, who's priority won't be information operations or ideological warfare.
    Hi Adrian,

    As I understand things, the military is, in fact, involved in a lot of covert intelligence operations. The NSA actually coordinates these operations. I suppose I am thinking ther should be an NSA-type organization for IO. Thanks for your thoughts, and I look forward to your response.

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    Yes the military is involved in a lot (not all) of covert ops, but my point was that not all covert ops - and not all national security affairs in general - are under control of the Department of Defense. If, for example, the economic aspects of national security (Treasury freezing the assets of terror sponsors, for example) aren't under DoD, why should IO be under DoD just for the reason that it's national security?

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    Default IO: Task Organization for Developong a Grand Strategy

    Quote Originally Posted by Adrian View Post
    Yes the military is involved in a lot (not all) of covert ops, but my point was that not all covert ops - and not all national security affairs in general - are under control of the Department of Defense. If, for example, the economic aspects of national security (Treasury freezing the assets of terror sponsors, for example) aren't under DoD, why should IO be under DoD just for the reason that it's national security?
    Good point! The difference is that the military does not have any core competencies that deal with economic aspects of national security, at least not that I am aware of. On the other hand, the military already has a lot of core competencies actively engaged in IO: PAO, Psychological Operations, OPSEC, etc. Now, the official party line is that the military does not do STRATCOM, but the lines between tactical and strategic IO is so blurry that I think it is time to relook the issue. Also, I am not suggesting that the DOD should be the only agency doing IO. DOS will always have a significant role to play, and they would necessarily need to work with any DOD organization. If the USIA were established, I could see an IO triumvirate composed of the USIA, DOS, and my proposed DOD organization. Using your example, it would be like the FBI, CIA, and NSA working together on intelligence.

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    Default Thanks!!

    Quote Originally Posted by Jedburgh View Post
    15 Nov 07 testimony before the HASC Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee on Strategic Communications and Countering Ideological Support for Terrorism:

    Duncan MacInnes, Principal Dpty Coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs, DoS

    Capt Hal Pittman USN, Acting Dpty Asst SecDef (Joint Communication), DoD

    Michael Doran, Dpty Asst SecDef (Support for Public Diplomacy), DoD
    Jedburgh,

    Thanks for the articles! They were very exciting reads; I am glad to know the DOD is making such great strides through the SPD in the IO arena, very important steps in national security!

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