U.S. strategy to blend intel, psy-ops, PR
|Ben Kingsley as "Cosmo" in the cyber-thriller "Sneakers"|
There's a war out there, old friend. A World War. And it's not about who's got the most bullets. It's about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think. . . it's all about the information.
-Cosmo, Sneakers, MCA Universal Pictures, 1992
Hasan trial an early experiment in 'strategic communications'
Ft. Hood – Today's testimony included the details, delivered one answer at a time to non-leading questions posed by one of the Army's most effective prosecutors in the laconic language of a forensic pathologist.
Multiple gunshot wounds claimed the life of PFC Aaron Nemelka on Nov. 5, 2009, as he sat in a medical waiting room at this central debarkation point for units headed for the war in Afghanistan.
When former Army psychiatrist Abu Nidal Malik Hasan walked into the Soldier Readiness Program, he shot only at men and women wearing the combat uniform of the United States Army. A forensic pathologist told the General Court Martial panel exactly how the multiple bullets he fired at Private Nemelka left him dead, sitting up so straight in a chair that a witness who survived the deadly onslaught testified earlier that he was dead, but just “hadn't realized it yet.”
In fact, according to Sgt. First Class Maria Guerra, an NCO in charge, medical people responding to the need for rapid triage of victims of the withering fire from Hasan's ultra-sophisticated FN Herstal laser-sight-equipped pistol repeatedly mistook Private Nemelka as someone in need of medical attention while they left people who were bleeding to death unattended. That frustrated her to the point that she inscribed “D” on his forehead with a magic marker; at the time she recorded that fact, as well as on the visages of several other victims, with a felt-tipped pen.
Private Nemelka suffered a wound to his abdomen that pierced his liver and left a bullet shattered into three fragments. Another struck his left femoral area; there was a penetradig gunshot wound to his head that left five bullet fragments strewn throughout, and a grazing wound to his neck. His death was instantaneous as a result of multiple gunshot wounds.
Hasan turned that waiting room into a field of battle in a sophisticated war of attrition designed by the leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban to impress people watching the rapidly shifting scenes from venues worldwide, as much as to take the lives of non-combatants, unarmed in a giant garrison from which fighters and the war materiel it takes to field them are transshipped to combat zones throughout a zone that stretches from North Africa to the borders of Pakistan and Iran.
Top commanders of the enemy forces have a doctrine, and it's been captured in letters and e-mails by signals intellignce officers repeatedly. Here is a sample gleaned from “Military Review” of November-December, 2005.
“. . . I say to you: that we are in a battle, and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. And that we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Umma,” Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote Musab al-Zarqawi in a letter captured 9 July 2005, according to a chapter in an Army handbook section titled “Massing Effects in the Information Domain.” (Info Ops U.S. Strategic Command and Public Affairs, Handbook 09-11, Dec. 2008) The meaning of the word “umma” is an Islamic community.
“If I were grading I would say we probably deserve a "D" or a "D-plus" as a country as to how well we're doing in the battle of ideas that's taking place in the world today.” -Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, 9 July 2005
Ayman al-Zawahiri is an Egyptian physician and Islamic Theologian, a top leader of Al Qaeda. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a militant Islamist who ran a para-miliary training camp in Afghanistan. He is believed to be responsible for a series of bombings, beheadings and attacks during the Iraq War before he died in 2006.
According to a brutally honest after-action critique, this is how al-Zarqawi beat back a successful campaign by U.S. Marines at Fallujah, according to the authors of the handbook:
U. S. forces unilaterally halted combat operations after a few days due to a lack of support from the interim Iraqi Government and international pressures amid unsubstantiated enemy reports of collateral damage and excessive force. Marines won virtually every combat engagement throughout the battle and did so within the established rules of engagement. The missing element was an overall integrated information component to gain widespread support of significant influencers and to prepare key populations for the realities of the battle plan. Without such advance support, the finest combat plan executed by competent and brave Soldiers and Marines proved limited in effectiveness. The insurgent forces established links with regional and global media outlets that had agendas of their own. The failure to mass effects in the global information sphere proved decisive on the battleground in Fallujah.
At the point where the authors pick up the narrative, national elections in Afghanistan had upset the balance of power to the extent that the Taliban had headed for the hills, searching for a new role.
In 2004, watershed events (successful registration of more than 10 million voters, a successful presidential election, and the president's subsequent inauguration) gave rise to a fledgling democracy in Afghanistan after more than 25 years of war and violence. Replacing the rule of the gun with the rule of law signaled the end of an era, gave hope to millions of Afghans who had lived through years of oppression.
When an unsubstantiated report torpedoed a key operation, coalition commanders found themselves at pains to repair the damage.
The challenge is to coordinate PA, IO, and PSYOP functions so each maintains its own integrity while maintaining credibility with the media. A problem arises, however, when PA and IO are aligned too closely. The basis of information used for IO purposes might be truthful, but it might also be manipulated to achieve an outcome. And, if the altered information cannot be substantiated with verifiable facts, credibility comes into question. For instance, while in Afghanistan, an IO officer claimed through the news media that the Taliban was "fracturing." The media asked for specific facts to substantiate the claim, but the substantiating facts were not releasable and, therefore, not verifiable. When the Taliban denied the claims, the media became incredulous, and the people were left to decide whom to believe. This is only one example, but if this action is repeated multiple times, the result could be the perception that the United States is no more credible than the enemy.
On the other hand, the Taliban forces in Afghanistan used the American theater in a ready-made psychological warfare operation that used the services of a walk-on – a psychiatrist no less – trained, equipped, sheltered and protected by the United States Army.
That's why the Army Judge, Col. Tara Olson, the prosecutors, and the rest of the III Corps apparatus at this historic legal proceeding are at pains to keep all extraneous religious and political rant, cant, and doctrine out of the record and off the air.
But the goal doesn't stop there, according to the manual:
So how do commanders better synchronize all of the communications assets at their disposal? One way is to study and emulate industry.
Leading a strategic communications operation takes educated, experienced, seasoned communicators. In the civilian world, whether for political campaigns or for consulting or conducting business, those looking for leaders for important or strategic communications programs seek seasoned communications professionals with the requisite education, industry contacts, and years of experience. The Army tends to label senior PA and communications personnel as generalists and assigns people with virtually no communications education, training, experience, or contacts to lead the Army's communications operations.