Step To Victory No. 6

Major Egland’s last step of his Six Steps To Victory addresses what this blog is all about — countering the enemy psyops that are sapping our will, damaging our morale and clouding our judgement.

6. Accept the realities of warfare in the media age by decentralizing the sharing of information with both the Iraqi and the American public.

The government and military must better communicate its message–to both Iraqis and the American public. The hurdles posed by political correctness and self-imposed bureaucratic constraints must be cleared in order to balance the insurgents’ current control of the airwaves. Their “flaming car bomb-a-day” television propaganda campaign has dominated the media debate since late 2004, negating or neutralizing any reports of positive news.

The lack of reporting on the incredible progress being made in Iraq every day is the media equivalent of trees falling in the forest but no one hearing them. In today’s media environment,  progress only counts when it is filmed and reported.

Also, it is clear that “good news” must come directly from the units on the ground or the Iraqis themselves. Anything coming from higher headquarters or the Pentagon is dismissed, fairly or unfairly, as propaganda. Recent reports that the Pentagon is building its public relations efforts, including “message development” teams and “surrogate” spokesmen, demonstrate an awareness of the problem. More Pentagon talking heads, however, will have less impact on broadcasting a more balanced message than authentic reporting from the troops.

Some units have embraced the internet to communicate their message, even going so far as to promote soldiers blogging on a personal website to the unofficial position of “unit blogger.” In one case, this not only helped unit morale by keeping friends and family back home better informed, but it also improved local media coverage around that unit’s home base because there was more complete coverage of progress and setbacks, rather than just the “flaming car bomb-a-day.”

Thus, the Pentagon should abandon its reflexive instinct toward control of information that has led it to seek to ban personal cameras and blogs. Instead,  a “unit blogger” approach should be applied across Iraq, with appropriate guidance and training to preserve operational security. Tactical units should each have two members who are trained in public relations and equipped with high-quality cameras and laptops with video editing software, and offered incentives and rewards for effective reporting. They should record unit activities in writing and video, and share them with the American people via sites modeled on wildly successful pro-military websites, such as Blackfive.net and MoveAmericaForward.org.

Also, the embed process that helps journalists visit ground units must be streamlined. The general staff in Baghdad should measure the success of its public affairs effort by how many journos get out on the ground, in contrast to recent reports of the staff making life difficult for proven combat communicators like Michael Yon to embed with units. Yon, a former special operator, does so much to report an authoritative, balanced perspective from Iraq that the generals should instead assign him his own helicopter, and perhaps a limo.

Along with sharing more information with the American and Iraqi public, U.S. forces should also be empowered to share more information directly with locals in Iraq. The messages U.S. forces often share, however, are those that have been approved for nationwide dissemination by staffers in Baghdad and are therefore vague and generic.

Surprisingly, units are not permitted to create and distribute their own flyers without approval from the generals in Baghdad, which is a non-starter, because they are understandably concerned that troops would distribute inappropriate flyers that would end up on the news and create a public relations nightmare.

But, instead of solving that by banning the flyers, more effective leadership would give guidelines and provide samples of acceptable flyers. In short,  empower the units to develop and share a message that works in their neighborhoods. Better communication between tactical units and Iraqi locals will help to build on the existing success that has led to significant growth in the quantity of intelligence tips received per month from Iraqi locals, from about 400 in early 2005 to over 4,000 in 2006, according to the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index.

While the U.S. stutters and stammers with the Iraqi and American people, the enemy waxes eloquent, masterfully sharing its message to the people of Iraq and the rest of the world. Specifically, the enemy maximizes the exploitation of their attacks for purposes of propaganda and recruitment. 

We must improve our ability to get our visual message out, while contesting the enemy’s current domination of the visual information environment. Recently, the Minnesota National Guard offered a striking example with their powerful visual rebuttal of a US senator’s slander of the troops.

The bolding is mine.  This is profound IO the good Major is preaching, and if enough of US act on his words WE can make it happen whether the petty dictators in Washington and Baghdad like it or not. 

Decentralization. Distributed Public Affairs/Information Operations from the company-level. You and I can help push this. We can join this effort as auxiliaries. We can tell the people we interact with about this. We can blog about it. We can call in to talk radio shows and mention it. We can write letters to the editor in our hometown fish wrappers. We can enable the good guys by aiding and abetting their efforts until a tipping point is reached and the bureaucrats are presented with a fait accompli and they decide they like decentralized, distributed IO after all.

The military has no monopoly on information, and you don’t have to wear a uniform to be an information operator. All you need is some very basic literacy and an internet connection and you, too can be a force multiplier for the good guys.   You can be a civilian irregular information group IO auxiliary.

Now doesn’t that give you more warm and fuzzies than watching Dances With the Stars?

Everybody in theater with something to say ought to have an auxiliary back in the rear.

H/t: Blackfive

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