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It's Not Your Granddaddy's Propaganda

The military has long used open propaganda to advance its cause, but now the U.S. admits to paying Iraqi newspapers to run positive stories about the American effort in Iraq. The military has dubbed the payments a valid effort to fight the vigorous terrorist system of misinformation. Others contend that the military’s program has outgrown its legitimate scope in that paying for stories without explicit reference to their source is disingenuous.

So what are the correct boundaries for Information Warfare? Can and should the U.S. covertly use mainstream media to further its message? Don’t terrorists do the same thing? How important is Information Warfare to the modern battlefield?

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War is hell! by Anonymous

Listen war is hell and in war there is rarely ever such a thing as going too far. First and foremost terrorists are worse than the military at propaganda. They are the biggest purveyors of F.U.D. (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), even Microsoft doesn’t come close to the amount of F.U.D. terrorists produce and terrorists don’t buy good stories for their causes, they threaten people with their lives to spread the word. Why the heck should we play nicely on the playground when the other kid is just going to throw rocks at us and kick us and laugh at us (The other kid being the terrorists). We need to get down and dirty, throw some sand in their faces and sucker punch them. If that means paying a few members of the local media in Iraq a few thousand to spread a good word about us and tell the Iraqi’s that we are there to help, not hurt them, then I say go for it.

This political correctness and sense of fairness has been taken to ridiculous levels in this country and it needs to stop. Were humans, not saints or angels, we fight dirty, we fight hard, and we kick’em when they are down. Because if we don’t, I guarantee you that they will. So let’s stop playing nice and start kicking them and kicking them hard. Sometimes the only way to beat the enemy is to get down on their level and play the game the way they do. Look at the British during the Revolutionary War in the U.S., they expected us to fight the way they did and they refused to change their tactics to match ours. Because of this the British lost control of the colonies in about seven years. Learn from the past and apply it to the future folks, this is not rocket science. Unfortunately we live in a big bad world with lots of scary things and scary people. Most of these people don’t care about human life, even that of their own kind. This makes them considerably more dangerous than most Americans are willing to be. Because of this we have to be mean, leaving only the respect for the lives of our own kind to separate us from them. Otherwise we are doomed to failure because we are not willing to do what it takes to squash these cowards. They don’t fight like we do, so we MUST ADAPT and find a way to fight them effectively, and this will most likely have to be similar to the way they fight. This is how we are going to win it, not with peace protests and childish complaints about what is fair!!!

Sincerely,
PhatGOD (yeah, go ahead, be offended)

In another example of the U.S. allowing an Information Operations opportunity to pass by, administration officials are denying, equivocating, and otherwise refusing to confirm that it was a U.S. Hellfire missile launched by a Predator UAV that smoked Hamza Rabia (AQ’s #3 guy) a few days ago in Pakistan.

I fail to understand the advantage of keeping news like that quiet. Why not go on CNN, state loudly and clearly that "Hell yes, it was us! And there’s more where that came from!" and then show the videotape. Joe Sixpack loves to see that kind of stuff on Fox News, so why not give it to him? The public-relations angle alone is reason enough, never mind the psychological impact it would have on the enemy. I can understand how it might be embarrassing if the U.S. came out and said that we killed this guy, and then he turned up alive a few days later on al-Jazeera. But when Pervez Musharraf is saying that it’s "200% confirmed" that Rabia is dead, and when the neighbors are finding pieces of the Hellfire stamped with the initials "U.S." and "AGM-114 Guided Missile," I’d say the cat is pretty well out of the bag.

This is just another example of how the U.S. sucks at Information Operations. We miss golden opportunities like this one, cede the IO initiative to the enemy, and get caught with our hands in the cookie jar, so to speak, by paying Iraqi newspapers for good stories. Now, I don’t really see anything inherently wrong with co-opting media outlets in the context of counter-insurgency Information Warfare, but I’m sure there are less ham-fisted techniques to go about doing it, if one were so inclined to give the matter more than 5 minutes of forethought.

>How important is Information Warfare to the modern battlefield?
If Will is indeed correct that people, and not states, are the new center of gravity of modern warfare, then Information Operations are more critically important than ever. In a State-based war paradigm, regardless of the propaganda efforts of either side, the relevant parties (government and military leaders) know when they have won or lost based on the objective realities on the battlefield. But if people – decentralized and operating outside the realm of the State – are the primary actors in a war, one side cannot "win" without first convincing the other side (and 3rd party observers) that they have "lost." Victory and defeat in such a war is largely a state of mind, irrespective of the physical realities of the battlefield (body counts and such).

Although I hate to mention Vietnam and Iraq in the same breath, these are both examples of tactical success for the U.S. military, but operational and stratigic Information Operations failure.

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IO As I've Seen It by VnutZ

One thing to note, most of the Information Operations are being conducted by Field Artillery guys. The fastest way to make a gun bunny cry is to take away his artillery tubes. I hesitate to say that IO failures are their ‘fault’ because it was a role they have been thrown into with relatively little training. The Army does have a public affairs branch that is trained for dealing with the media. The Army also has PSYOPS to work IO. But for the magnitude of the operation, neither had the capacity to meet the need and FA was drawn into the mix. I still recall my roommate harping about the analogy as it was explained to him – ‘artillery is about area effects and information operations is kind of like an area effect on people … so we’ll make them do it.’

Is it really so bad that Arab media is being fed news stories? The real question is – are the stories true? If the stories are true, then who cares if they’re being paid to air them. It puts money into the local economy. It adds legitimacy to their media. It indirectly supports their government’s stability. It offers the people another perspective from which to draw conclusions. Some of these stations may not have aired the truth because they are under death threats from the AIF. A little money can buy them some security whereupon they can air the story without fearing for their families. We lose a lot of local contractors because they are afraid to come for fear of association with the coalition. Or they get assassinated (usually execution style to the head) and left out on the street as a message. I would wager that money from America to air a story is better than a death threat from an insurgency to air a story.

Now what if the story was false? For the Iraqi theater – that is just a bad idea. There is too much on the line for the coalition and fledgling government to risk losing legitimacy over a false story. Now in open warfare in a different time and different place, truth can be gray. But not here.

What have I seen for IO? I know before a mission goes down, the companies have to backbrief their talking points. These are messages that platoons are ready to talk about when interacting with locals for information or when encountering the media. Flyers are made and translated into Arabic for dissemination. Handouts, radio spots, television spots, etc. Each IO product has to go through several channels for official distribution (JAG approval, BDE CDR approval, etc.) Unless a unit is violating the guidelines and just posting stuff on their own, a high level of scrutiny is put into the IO campaign.

What challenges do the IO staff members face? Again, my roommate was shaking his head one day after spending a day in sector spreading products when a local man came up to him. Holding the flyer and looking puzzled, he told the interpreter, ‘I don’t know what this says, I cannot read.’ So the next major emphasis was made on how to promote your cause through pictures and simple, common words. The only way to get around this for complex messages is through radio and television via spoken word. It’s going to cost money to get that meida exposure. But no matter what products the Army is able to put out there, we cannot compete with the fear of execution, the AIF’s ultimate propaganda tool.

The crazy thing is that this was probably expected in Iraq. They probably said “Finally the Americans are catching on.” Corruption is pretty institutionalized elsewhere in the world and this story probably only plays well in Europe and the US, except where it can be used by our enemies for propaganda value. That is one of our biggest threats in Iraq once we get the government and the new Iraqi security forces established—corruption. They could do a tail slide and corruption could set back in and years down the road you end up at square one. Another thing that makes it kind of funny is that idiot Noam Chomsky and his followers claim that Western media is co-opted, bought and paid for via commercial revenues, and therefore the media is in bed with corporate America and the government. I know this is one step removed from outright paying to have a story run, but a lot of what you see in the Western media has an awful lot of “product placement” and “editorial content”, but both are far from pushing ideas down people’s throat. I guess Chomsky and all the people who are screaming about this event think the average person is too weak minded to discern the truth and make decisions for themselves.

I don’t think it was smart to do some half-assed covert paid program (poorly executed “gray propaganda”), but we have to get our message out. This is our biggest shortcoming in this war. Al-Qaeda and other groups are masterfully playing the mass media and politics to their advantage. Another correlated problem with this is information security, which is hindering some of our big successes from being recognized, and keeping us from exploiting IO to the fullest. Many people have been bashing the President for forgetting about Osama bin Laden and saying that the war in Iraq is distracting us from finding him. I disagree and say that catching him now is analogous to a police stake out. We keep him under surveillance and wait for him to slip up and grab him, while systematically taking down his organization and its ability to plan and prosecute operations. You keep him on the alert and give him vital information about where you are and aren’t looking for him, who he can and cannot trust and so forth every time you hold a big press conference on CNN giving a progress report on the latest in the hunt for Osama. You also give him propaganda tools every time you announce a big failure to net him and give him free advertising for his efforts.

We need to get our message out and our side of the story to the American public and the other actors involved in Iraq. When Western media outlets labeled our efforts as propaganda, they took sides by choosing this inflammatory reference that has a lot of stigma and intellectual baggage associated with it. In fact, propaganda is nothing more than telling your side of the story, which was not happening in Iraq. Propaganda is not necessarily deception or lies in any way, but can be. MG Lynch said that everything that was reported was true and supported by facts he was prepared to present. The reporting in Iraq is anything but fair, independent and unbiased, so how were they supposed to get their facts out? On one front it sets us back to play along with and perpetuate the corruption we want to stamp out, and delays the independent fair journalistic integrity and governmental transparency we want to leave behind there. The immediate value is we get our message out so people will vote, turn in insurgents, and make all of that possible in the first place. In this case, there was no real subterfuge at all, and therefore no real ethical dilemma. Since BBC or whomever popped the story, obviously there wasn’t a huge effort to cover this up or to coerce the Iraqi media to run the stories and conceal their origins, it was all pretty much in the open to the extent where it was almost like a political ad or a normal commercial.

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