The media discover info ops, with outrage!

The media have discovered that our military has mastered the key 4GW skill of running information operations.  Thoroughly researched and well-written, the following is probably one of the most important news stories of the year.   I strongly recommend reading it.

Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand“, New York Times, 20 April 2008 — “A Pentagon Campaign:  Retired officers have been used to shape terrorism coverage from inside the TV and radio networks. “

This should not be news.  In November 2007 I described good news:  our military had learned how to run successful information operations.  Unfortunately, they were running them against us.  Mine was not the first such article. 

One of the best to date examined the propaganda of the pre-war and early war phases.  Boehlert’s account of Bush’s Imperial press conference on 6 March 2003 is worth the price of his book, recounting the moment in which “please stand for the President of the United States” in effect gave way to to “bow before the President of the United States.”

Lapdogs“, Eric Boehlert, Salon (4 May 2006) — “Cowardly and clueless, the U.S. media abandoned its post as Bush led the country into a disastrous war. A look inside one of the great journalistic collapses of our time. This is an excerpt from former Salon senior writer Eric Boehlert’s new book Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush.”

Many do not see any problem with this, like this post at Winds of Change.  Almost nobody discusses the real problem with government propaganda:  it undermines people’s trust of and identification with the State.  That is bad even for tyrannies like the USSR; it is a potentially terminal problem for a republic. 

Whatever the short-term benefits of info ops — in this case, building public support for a long war — it undermines the foundation of our political regime.  That should be an unacceptable price in the Decline of the State era, in which strengthening people’s relationship with the government must be a paramount strategic goal.

Update:  A comment about this story by W. Patrick Lang (Colonel, US Army, retired), posted at Sic Semper Tyrannis (19 April 2008):

I was invited to one briefing at the Pentagon. At the meeting, many of those mentioned in this article were present. The purpose of the meeting was to give Rumsfeld the chance to explain the Abu Ghraib mess. I asked some awkward questions and was not invited again.

Update:  A comment by Matt Armstrong at MountainRunner (23 April 2008) that concurs with my conclusion (mentioned above).  The full post is worth reading!  Excerpt:

In the end, I don’t see this as an issue of legality, but one of credibility and trust. The Rumsfeldian Defense Department clearly failed to understand the importance of these two elements in Information Age conflict and counterinsurgency, which has been ably documented elsewhere.

( click for more about how our military has mastered this key 21st century military skill)

8 thoughts on “The media discover info ops, with outrage!

  1. I never accepted the whining about AQ info war superiority – both sides are superior in info war in their own culture and fail miserably when trying to convince foreigners.
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    Inwards propaganda is in my opinion a threat to democracy – a well-working democracy needs info, not propaganda. I believe that propaganda serves the government, not the nation. The nation will support a good action if it’s well-informed – no need for inwards propaganda.
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    Inwards propaganda“, posted at Defense and Freedom (3 September 2007)

  2. Whatever the short-term benefits of info ops — in this case, building public support for a long war

    One of the problems with “InfoOps” during WWI was that it fueled isolationist resistance to acting against Hitler’s subsequent aggression.

    The DNI blog has a post about how Germany’s WWI invasion of Belgium turned out to be a propaganda defeat. However, one aspect of that WWI Belgian propaganda campaign was that people became cynical regarding reports of 1930’s and 1940’s mistreatment of the Jews, which were often viewed as more Belgian-type propaganda.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The DNI post mentioned above is “The Art of Nonlearning in the Real World“, Chuck Spinney (13 April 2008).

  3. “Whatever the short-term benefits of info ops — in this case, building public support for a long war — it undermines the foundation of our political regime. That should be an unacceptable price in the Decline of the State era, in which strengthening people’s relationship with the government must be a paramount strategic goal.”

    1) what is “good” about building support for war? Wars should be fought in situations that are obvious to all, and not need special promotions. No two or three people at the top of government should be able to launch a war simply on their assertion that there is a threat from somewhere.

    2) “Strengthening peoples’ relationship with government” is an ambiguous way to state it. I think you mean strengthening peoples’ *confidence* in government, but ironically that end may only be achieved by first increasing their scepticism of government. “Dissent is patriotic” kind of thing!

    (BTW, does anyone else have the problem, while typing a comment, of the last few characters of the line disappearing under the light blue sidebar at the right?)
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    Fabius maximus replies: Agree on all points! Your phrasing in #2 is much better than mine.

  4. I’m a little puzzled by this, since the issue of the impact of information operations on the domestic polity is kind of exactly what I was asking about…
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Please explain. I do not understand your comment. When/where were you asking about this?

  5. Here’s your quote:

    “Many do not see any problem with this, like this post at Winds of Change. Almost nobody discusses the real problem with government propaganda: it undermines people’s trust of and identification with the State. That is bad even for tyrannies like the USSR; it is a potentially terminal problem for a republic. ”

    Here’s a quote from the post you linked to:

    “But – our government can’t play. Not only are there legal restrictions, but the simple fact that information was given to commentators, bloggers, or reporters by the government – in the hopes that it can shape the information battlespace – is illegitimate, and is itself a major meta-story.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to be concerned about the government shaping the news. I think it’s necessary to shape perception as a part of any successful counterinsurgency.

    But those two principles seem to be in a midair collision, and as a consequence it’s going to keep raining aluminum.”

    So help me understand what the conflict between those two positions is…
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    Fabius Maximus replies: He says it is not “wrong.” I believe it is wrong. First, this is imo contrary to the spirit of our Republican form of government. Second, even if tactically successful (which I doubt), it is distructive of our strategic strengths.

  6. It’s OK if the retired officers would have publicized their dependence. Nothing is wrong about speakers for an organization/government.

    But imagine this; you ask an expert for his opinion (in form of a study), he delivers (the study) and you expect that you got a good answer by an expert. But in fact he was the speaker of a specific company – and the study was about comparing the products of two different companies.

    That’s not OK – but essentially it’s what happened (apparently).

  7. Update added to the post: A comment by Matt Armstrong at MountainRunner (23 April 2008) that concurs with my conclusion (mentioned above). The full post is worth reading! Excerpt:

    In the end, I don’t see this as an issue of legality, but one of credibility and trust. The Rumsfeldian Defense Department clearly failed to understand the importance of these two elements in Information Age conflict and counterinsurgency, which has been ably documented elsewhere.

  8. More news about this issue!

    News of the generals conflicts of interest should not have been a surpize, as seen in this article from April 2003. Below that are two articles by Glen Greenwald desribing the TV media blackout on the story, and the TV networks refusal to answer questions. They would loudly denounce such behavior in any other organization.

    TV’s Conflicted Experts“, By Daniel Benaim, Priyanka Motaparthy and Vishesh Kumar, The Nation (3 April 2003) — Excerpt:

    One might have expected a pro-military slant in any former general’s initial estimation of the US invasion. But some of these ex-generals also have ideological or financial stakes in the war. Many hold paid advisory board and executive positions at defense companies and serve as advisers for groups that promoted an invasion of Iraq. Their offscreen commitments raise questions about whether they are influenced by more than just “a lifetime of experience and objectivity”–in the words of Lieut. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a military analyst for NBC News–as they explain the risks of this war to the American people.

    McCaffrey and his NBC colleague Col. Wayne Downing, who reports nightly from Kuwait, are both on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a Washington-based lobbying group formed last October to bolster public support for a war. Its stated mission is to “engage in educational advocacy efforts to mobilize US and international support for policies aimed at ending the aggression of Saddam Hussein,” and among its targets are the US and European media.

    … NBC News has yet to disclose those or other involvements that give McCaffrey a vested interest in Operation Iraqi Freedom. McCaffrey, who commanded an infantry division in the Gulf War, is now on the board of Mitretek, Veritas Capital and two Veritas companies, Raytheon Aerospace and Integrated Defense Technologies–all of which have multimillion-dollar government defense contracts.

    Howard Kurtz on why media outlets ignore the ‘military analyst’ story“, Glenn Greewald, Salon (28 April 2008)– “Their coverage of this important issue has been pathetic. The story makes the networks look bad, and their response, by and large, has been to ignore it.”

    Brian Williams’ ‘response’ to the military analyst story“, Glenn Greenwald, Salon (30 April 2008) —
    “The NBC News anchor is finally forced to address the NYT exposé — on his blog. His self-defenses raise far more questions than they answer.” Excerpt:

    Just consider what is going on here. The core credibility of war reporting by Brian Williams and NBC News has been severely undermined by a major NYT expose. That story involves likely illegal behavior by the Pentagon, in which NBC News appears to have been complicit, resulting in the deceitful presentation of highly biased and conflicted individuals as “independent” news analysts. Yet they refuse to tell their viewers about any of this, and refuse to address any of the questions that have been raised.

    More amazingly still, when Brian Williams is forced by a virtual mob on his blog yesterday finally to address this issue — something he really couldn’t avoid doing given that, the day before, he found time to analyze seven other NYT articles — Williams cited McCaffrey and Downing as proof that they did nothing wrong, and insists that his and their credibility simply ought to be beyond reproach because they are good, patriotic men. But those two individuals in particular had all kinds of ties to the Government, the defense industry, and ideological groups which gave them vested interests in vigorous pro-war advocacy — ties which NBC News knew about and failed to disclose, all while presenting these individuals to their millions of viewers as “independent.” Is there anyone who thinks that behavior is anything other than deeply corrupt?

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