Reference: U.S. Governmental Information Operations and Strategic Communications: A Discredited Tool or User Failure? Implications for Future Conflict

Advanced Cyber/IO, IO Deeds of War, IO Impotency, IO Models
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U.S. Governmental Information Operations and Strategic Communications: A Discredited Tool or User Failure? Implications for Future Conflict

Dr. Steve Tatham


Through the prism of operations in Afghanistan, the author examines how the U.S. Government’s Strategic Communication (SC) and, in particular, the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Information Operations (IO) and Military Information Support to Operations (MISO) programs, have contributed to U.S. strategic and foreign policy objectives. It assesses whether current practice, which is largely predicated on ideas of positively shaping audiences perceptions and attitudes towards the United States, is actually fit for purpose. Indeed, it finds that the United States has for many years now been encouraged by large contractors to approach communications objectives through techniques heavily influenced by civilian advertising and marketing, which attempt to change hostile attitudes to the United States and its foreign policy in the belief that this will subsequently reduce hostile behavior. While an attitudinal approach may work in convincing U.S. citizens to buy consumer products, it does not easily translate to the conflict- and crisis-riven societies to which it has been routinely applied since September 11, 2001.

View the Executive Summary

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Matthew Wallin's Comments on the Monograph

Posted by Contributing Editor Berto Jongman

Robert Steele's Summary Review Below the Line

The author has brought together in one place a devastatingly brutal review that captures the essential nature of non-kinetic IO (with a passing glance and what China and Russia are doing), and the details of how badly the US is at implementing IO.  This monograph does not cover “black” IO (Military Deception (MILDEC), Electronic Warfare (EW), or Computer Network Operations (CNO)). It addresses the complete lack of intelligence support to IO (INT2IO) throughout, but does not address Adversary IO at the tactical and operational levels.

High points of this monograph:

01 [Implicit] White IO needs to be separated from black IO so as to allow the full and open development of White IO in a Whole of Government/By With and Through manner. [The security obsesion associated with black IO makes leaders, if responsible for both, often ineffective and sometimes irresponsible in how they manage white IO.]

02 PAOs are the internal enemy. This segment includes advertising companies, journalists, and other Westerners that think IO is about telling a lie often enough to be effective irrespective of the cultural realities.

03 Contractors are the internal enemy — Rendon, Lincoln, and LEONIE are mentioned specifically.  [In my experience, it is the founding leaders of such companies that are dishonest snake oil salesmen, the actual front-line employees are good people trapped in a bad contractual system managed by uniformed leaders with their own limitations.]

04 The US contracting system and the US field staffing systems (9-12 month tours) makes it impossible to plan, program, and execute any serious IO program. In particular it does not allow for direct small contracts with non-US firms.

05 No level of command, from strategic to tactical, has a single belly button for IO.

06 IO is still primarily a military construct, not a Whole of Goverment or Coalition Forces, or (still less so) a by, with, and through supported government capability.

07 IO is completely lacking in intelligence support to IO (INT2IO). The US has failed abysmally to achieve “Understanding” as the precursor to everything else about IO.

08 IO has three lanes: informational, attitudinal, and behavioral. Current efforts are confused and uninformed.

09 IO based on top-down sender-based messaging is ineffective idiocy.  A failure to understand the reality of the target audience, in their complex terms, is a death wish.

10 Measures of Effectiveness (MOE) must be baselined if they are to mean anything, this means tha Target Audience Analysis (TAA) must be done FIRST and in-depth.

11 IO campaigns can be tested in pilot projects, a failure to do this is a failure of command and demonstrates a lack of integrity.

12 China is developing IO across DIME (Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic) and knows how to blind our technical intelligence collection systems. [Implicit: Our OODA loop is vulnerable because we are uninformed and dishonest.]

13 Russia distinguishes between IO Technical and IO Psychological, with a focus on distracting, overloading, paralyzing, and influencing their opponent.  Russia has advanced to develop reflexive processes and controls (second and third order effects).

14 The author concludes that US IO is in a “state of some chaos;” that a big part of the reason is (citing General McChrystal) US “frighteningly simplistic view of the enemy;” that our senior commanders have no clue how to lead, evaluate, or implement IO; that our lack of understanding at the strategic level has led to the reality that the Muslim world believes America is its enemy; and that now is not the time to reduce investments in IO — instead we need to ramp up INT2IO and the professionalism of the IO function.

See Also:

Information Operations at Phi Beta Iota

Journal: William Polk on Afghanistan Non-Strategy Plus Consolidated Journal, Review, and Reference Links for Afghanistan

Review (Guest): 1993 Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology

Review: Endless War–Middle-Eastern Islam vs. Western Civilization

Review: Making Friends Among the Taliban

Review: Operation Dark Heart–Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan — and the Path to Victory

Review: Pakistan on the Brink–The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan

Review: Surrender to Kindness (One Man’s Epic Journey for Love and Peace)

Review: Taliban — The Unknown Enemy

Review: The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam

Review: Wrong Turn – America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency

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