Producing Change in Army Public Affairs:
"In the end, internationally, if adversaries are sure we can (defeat) them, they are more likely to stay in their box. If Americans know how good we are, they will support our needs. If our base/post neighbors know how important our mission is, they will put up with noise and traffic. If each Soldier knows the story, he will be a better Soldier."1
Americans, through the media, are far more inclined to listen to senior officers than junior Soldiers on large, substantive issues such as readiness, efficacy of operations, and future development. Ongoing interviews with both junior Soldiers and senior officers are necessary. Senior leaders must step out of the shadows, take the prudent risks, and talk to the American people.
Why Must Army Public Affairs Change?
PA, like any operation, is a commander's program. Although PAOs execute PA missions, without direct commander involvement, they only achieve mediocre results. Commanders must establish clear PA objectives. PAOs, adopting some of the ideas below, can develop the commanders' plans and maximize the use of all means available to effect results.
The U.S. armed forces are populated by the finest military professionals in the world. Soldiers at all levels must understand that they are part of the team that will achieve PA results. A concerted effort to tell the military story should be a vital part of military life. The world of instant media and the reality that the public quickly shifts its attention to other events demands great effort to maintain a PR edge.
"It doesn't make any difference how good you are if nobody knows it. Take the Marine example. When you hear that word [Marine], it evokes a variety of images, mostly positive. But you are certainly not left without an emotional response. That's partly because they have 160,000 PR people-their total force."2
A World of Ideas
Commercial organizations compete in a world of ideas through advertising and PR. Radio, television, every form of print publication, the Internet, music, billboards, handbills, and phone banks inhabit a global marketplace, and there is a commensurate ongoing competition among the various media outlets to capture information and deliver it to a widely diverse set of audiences.
Although the Army and other military organizations are not directly competing with national commercial institutions for market shares, commanders and PAOs can harness the competition between the information publishers and brokers to forward the Army's ideas and positions. The media intensely seek out new information to sell their products. Innovative commanders and PAOs can leverage regularly scheduled and special events for greater media impact by employing a deliberate program of continuous interaction with key members of the media and other influential community leaders.
Exploiting the Use of Personalities
Perhaps the most controversial change in an Army culture that stresses team accomplishment is repeatedly putting certain individuals in the media spotlight. Senior leaders with charisma and media savvy can become media personalities and, therefore, respected spokesmen for the Army.
While this ostensibly runs counter to the institutional desire to avoid a cult of personality, it can provide benefits to the organization for many years. GEN Colin L. Powell, until becoming Secretary of State, was a popular circuit speaker. He related his military experiences to rapt audiences, despite having retired in 1993. GEN Powell may indeed be a rarity; however, many bold personalities are within our ranks.
The Army must make a concerted effort to identify such personalities and use their media talents for organizational advantage. Although this individual focus undoubtedly will cause some discomfort, the advantages are clear:
Effective future Army PA will blend the current triad of community relations (COMREL), internal information (also known as command information), and media relations into a single-minded effort based on a commander's stated intent for PA. This intent, created with the assistance of the PAO, is to describe the commander's goals for providing information to key public groups and the general public, to meet the recurring information needs of key public groups, and to conform to higher-level PA guidance.
Restructuring PA offices with the new focus on conducting PR will require little, if any, changes in the number of personnel. Indeed, current PA manning for COMREL, command information, and media relations is sufficient to create a new PR team.
PA offices cannot and should not compete with commercial newspapers. Small-town newspapers, with little or no responsibilities for COMREL or media relations, publish newspapers with staffs that dwarf most PA offices. Installation newspapers usually have one editor and a small number of reporters. The reporters and to some degree the editors may have only a few years of experience. Reporters on commercial newspaper staffs may have many years of experience and much greater educational backgrounds than Soldier-journalists. Additionally, commercial newspapers may employ sectional editors (i.e., sports, news, and community).
It is apparent that despite the best efforts of installation staffs to prepare newspapers, their current focus on "news" items, irrespective of any commander's intent for PA, cannot yield the quantity or depth of a commercial newspaper. More important, PA staff members in a PR model are part of the team, not roving reporters looking for a scoop.
Installation and operational PA staffs should abandon the current focus on collecting the "news." By employing methods that are focused on the needs of the commander and key public groups, they can refocus post newspapers using a model that provides necessary information, supports the commander's intent for PA, and maximizes the strengths of current PA manning policies.
Internal Notes and Publications
With the emergence of computer communication for providing command information, post newspapers are less important. In seconds, commanders can distribute command information to each key subordinate and quickly gain meaningful feedback. Other relatively new developments, such as the commander's cable channel on continental United States installations, Internet bulletin boards, and public folders on intranets, further limit the usefulness of the post newspaper as a tool for disseminating command information.
However, that does not mean that post newspapers should be eliminated. Indeed, new developments in technology can assist in the new approach suggested in this article. Other than the bulletin-board type of information that appears in every newspaper, many future articles should be designed for internal and external audiences. Some articles will, of course, lend themselves to only the internal audience.
Each Army journalist must demonstrate knowledge of the commander's intent for PA. Every article must withstand the scrutiny of the PAO in meeting the requirement to support the mission of the command. The post newspaper is not a venue for attempting to win a Pulitzer Prize for examining society's latest problem, unless such an examination supports the needs of the commander.
Training Army journalists will require adjusting the focus for acquiring news. Soldier-journalists will not approach subjects for articles in the same manner as a commercial reporter. As a member of the organization, Army journalists will work from the commander's intent in developing information articles.
Using "grip-and-grin" photo opportunities (which include Soldiers receiving awards and ribbon-cutting ceremonies) represents a change in the mindset of today's PA practitioners. Many commanders and command sergeants major ask for such efforts from their PAOs, often meeting at least some resistance. Indeed, past regulations suggest such events yield little in the way of newsworthiness.3 However, concerns about newsworthiness simply miss the point. Such opportunities provide the commander a tool for achieving his information needs.
PAOs should reexamine the reasons for their reluctance. "Grip-and-grin" photos, while not always useful for newspapers, can have a positive internal or external PR effect. Further, with the emergence of digital photography, photo production is much easier. Sharing photos is also quick through e-mail and posting on Web sites.
PAOs may consider creating systems that incorporate "grip-and-grins" in support of the commander's intent for PA:
Create an electronic file that includes e-mail addresses; Web sites; fax numbers; and points of contact for local, regional, and national media outlets. This data is important in forming the structure of the database, but that is only part of the process. Such lists, while useful, require constant updating, not unlike the improvement of a defensive position.
Working the lists is essential to successfully implement ongoing and future projects. By working the lists, the PA practitioner routinely calls or contacts the primary outlets and, just as importantly, constantly seeks out new media outlets.
Send cover letters and prepackaged material (such as video products, special edition newspapers, and visitors' guides) to a broad range of targeted local, regional, and national media outlets. Often, periodicals with seemingly no apparent interest in military matters (city and county newsletters and newspapers, scientific journals, special-interest publications, and business magazines) as well as documentary writers and producers of various types (consult with the Chief of Army PA, Los Angeles Branch) will see something in your packet they can use.4 In addition, there may be daily newspapers and television affiliates outside the local installation's normal circulation area (which may not have been considered before) that are interested in various projects.
This effort is endless. There are thousands of media sources that have constant needs for story ideas. It is important to note that many print, broadcast, and Internet reporters have limited knowledge of military matters. Coach them along and develop interest where there may have been none before. Make a strong effort toward providing opportunities for reporters to participate in events to the fullest extent allowable by law and good sense. You may think your three-day Multiple Launch Rocket System live-fire exercise is business as usual. However, it may be the first time the reporters (and the general public) sees the sky ignited by streaking rockets.
Remaining current is the hard work of the PA business. Develop plans that ensure recurring events or key Army strengths are presented forcefully and often. For example, CBS News followed the progress of a student through the Ranger Course one summer. The series of stories that resulted from that coverage demonstrated the commitment, hard work, and sense of duty required to complete the course. It was a great series; however, those stories aired more than 10 years ago. Virtually no potential recruit, Reserve Officers Training Corps student, or West Point prospect has any recollection of the reports. Key Army stories cannot be told "once and for all" through an article, radio broadcast, or a television episode. (See "super-reporting.")
Using the example above, other logical stories have been (or could be) coverage of the Army's Best Ranger Competition, a documentary on Ranger missions or training, or a series of print human-interest stories. Such stories offer a poignant portrayal of the meaningful and rigorous work of the force and, what is more important, provide a solid, human-face connection between the force and the American public.
Keys to program vitality:
No Manipulation of the Public
In the bygone era of limited media outlets and few key media representatives (reporters), PR specialists sometimes sought to manipulate the public through clever (occasionally deceptive) methods. This could explain developing an Army PA apparatus distinct from PR.
Two factors have largely moved the PR profession away from such practices. The first factor has been the explosion of media outlets, print and electronic, through such means as improved distribution, the Internet, and 24-hour cable television. These factors alone have made it impossible to easily manipulate views over a sustained period (of course, there are exceptions).
The second factor has been the general professionalization of the PR community. PR specialists understand the sustained power of the truth. More important, they see themselves as professional advisors to their clients on business practices. Their advice can sometimes result in a business changing its behavior in a way that maintains its goals and may mitigate potential crises. It also can enhance the public's perception of the company by demonstrating a responsible approach to dealing with potentially explosive issues.
Use of Conferences
Major corporations employ convention organizers to schedule conventions, conferences, and seminars. Army-related organizations, such as the Association of the United States Army and others, plan and execute similar events.
The Army and its major subordinate commands can develop highly focused, message-intensive events. The goals and purpose of such events cannot be limited to photo sessions and general presentations, although elements of both will occur. Plan the events with definite themes. Establish key media centers.
Follow the event with a media-impact analysis:
"Super-reporting" involves the constant surveillance of electronic broadcasts and printed materials and the anticipation of internal and external information needs and planning factors to maximize opportunities. PAOs must "super-report" to gain and maintain an information edge over the internal and external audiences. PAOs must understand trends and creatively find ways to take advantage of media information needs.
Electronic databases are an essential element of "super-reporting." PAO databases must contain the following elements:
All of the items above can be maintained on an off-the-shelf spreadsheet program. At higher levels, database programs may be more desirable. Major commands must share their databases and constantly provide other PAOs with new and promising venues for telling their stories.
PAOs can gain important leading-edge information by joining civic groups, attending town council meetings, organizing and participating in COMREL events, and maintaining personal contacts in the community and the media. PAOs should develop information-collection plans and routinely scour notes for internal and external dissemination. Such a system will allow PAOs to properly target media outlets, prepare useful press releases, and schedule well-timed interviews to support commanders' programs.
When deployed, PAOs usually have the added task of producing an internal information publication (newsletter) but are not tasked with providing COMREL. The COMREL task is much broader in a theater of operations and is conducted as part of information operations by civil affairs personnel. PAOs also have the task of continuing to provide the home installation with internal information. In garrisons or in a theater of operations, PAOs must continue to research and provide for key media opportunities.
Commanders Lead the Public Affairs Effort
Commanders greatly influence the flow of information, as well as the tenor and content of their subordinates' media input, by being conspicuously prepared to encounter the media. The following suggestions provide the basis for commanders and command sergeants major to be more innovative when interacting with the media:
". . . promotion of the Army in any form that is deceptive (in fact or source) or "puffery" (gratuitous self-praise) is outlawed as "propaganda"... ."5
Gratuitous self-praise, however, is easily avoidable by being honest when engaging the media. It is not gratuitous self-praise to introduce the winner of the yearly installation rifle competition to the media or to highlight achievements by the local retention Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) of the Year. Moreover, accomplishments of units in the field are worth knowing by the general public; such knowledge can even be seen as necessary.
Know the Organization
All PAOs must ensure that they are "thoroughly familiar with all facets of (the) command."6The PAO should be able to give a full command briefing that relates a unit's missions, capabilities, training methods, major weapons systems, equipment platforms, ongoing projects, history, and command philosophy.
A PAO who does not understand the mission of the organization is not a useful member of the staff. Beyond possessing the simple "just the facts" knowledge listed above, it is essential that the PAO understands and can articulate the values of the organization. It is of little worth to a PA program if a PAO has a bundle of media contacts but is unable to deliver key values-based messages. Commanders and PAOs should work to craft solid messages that accurately reflect the organization's goals and aspirations.
Find Populations of Knowledgeable Parties
With a thorough knowledge of the key public audiences, the organization, and the organization's values, the commander and PAO continually seek out populations of knowledgeable parties and try to communicate with them. PAOs must ensure key public audiences understand the organization's values and that the command understands the audiences' thinking.
The Emperor Has No Clothes
PAOs assist commanders in developing a list of the key public audiences. One of the PAO's major functions is to consistently inform commanders of what these audiences are thinking. How does the public perceive the command? This feedback is gained through media analysis; COMREL event after-action reviews; and a myriad of other sources, including internal and external town hall meeting minutes and civilian town or county council minutes.
While some PAOs will insist that this service is already provided, this new approach to PA will make such efforts much more vital.
Advising the Commander
The following example is fictitious. Its purpose is to provide PAOs with an understanding of the necessity of advising the commander. It illustrates how the PAO, who is not necessarily an expert on the underlying issue, can provide sound, practical information to a commander to limit or eliminate potential PA crises.
Background. Fort Columbia had a problem. During World War II, it was a central transportation point for processing troops en route to the Pacific theater. A consequence of this activity was that hundreds of railcars were left in a large holding area after the war. The railcars sat unused for decades with little notice. Meanwhile, advances in environmental knowledge led to the creation of an environmental office on the installation, complete with inspectors and a large set of federal regulations. Inspectors made their way through the installation's training areas; offices; housing areas; and, ultimately, to the rail yard. Upon examination, inspectors discovered numerous major environmental hazards that required a significant cleanup. Local reporters, long suspicious of the environmental state of the railcars, did not know the actual depth of the problem.
Some advised the garrison commander to leave the railcars in place and suppress the results of the report. Obviously, the commander could not do that. He was obligated to start a cleanup effort. The commander then was advised to conduct the cleanup but not to make the matter public. He faced the dilemma of whether to publicly acknowledge the cleanup effort or to conduct the cleanup without advising the public through a media release.
Advice from the PAO. Acknowledging the cleanup effort was only one of the things the commander could do to limit the effects of this situation. While he could not possibly placate every faction of the public, a detailed media campaign could satisfy the public that his installation was doing what was required to address this problem. The campaign could start with an announcement of the cleanup effort from the commander, include a tour of the area, have a detailed plan for press packets, and provide background briefings by installation environmental officers in charge of the cleanup. Do this both for internal and external purposes. The commander's initial statement should point out that his installation discovered the problem, took steps to alleviate the problem, and will continue to announce progress of the cleanup.
The commander could activate the speakers' bureau and arrange (through the COMREL program) for senior officers to talk to important civic groups. He could also dispatch briefing teams to speak to key audiences. The installation newspaper, of course, should provide key information about the project.
In the above example, neither the PAO nor the commander is an environmental expert. However, both have applied good sense and integrity to a potentially explosive situation. Had the commander chosen to ignore the problem, the situation details could have leaked to the media and led to a "scandal" angle in the media coverage. Had the commander chosen to start the cleanup and not inform the media, a similar scenario could have played out. By addressing the issue up front, the commander and PAO were able to set the conditions for a message that showed that the installation was conscientiously attacking the problem and dealing with it systematically. Again, this will not satisfy everyone in the public or the media. Such a state is probably not possible with any course of action. However, the key audiences and the general public will not view this issue as a "scandal."
Ensure that feedback given to the commander provides accurate data. This is no time to hold back needed information for fear of upsetting sensibilities. Too often, commanders are told that the military is held in high esteem, and it is left at that. In fact, such general respect is easily displaced by specific negative information. Handled poorly, bad information festers and transcends an otherwise high opinion of the military.
Role of the Public Affairs Officer
As information continues to grow in importance, the role of the PAO must change to support the commander's critical need to know what key audiences think. The PAO can no longer simply function as a funnel through which news clippings pass. The PAO must provide the commander with advice on how to mitigate or eliminate the effects of potentially damaging information, without resorting to deception. This advice should contain definitive behavioral steps to determine the best course of action. PAOs must be willing to encourage commanders to change behaviors that can lead to negative media. Such changes must always be positive and affirm the Army values system, even to the short-term detriment of the organization. The PAO will consult with key staff agencies, develop a PA plan, and proactively approach pre-crisis management.
PAOs can improve their understanding of PR through professional memberships and advanced schooling. Consider the following to further professional expertise:
In the world of ideas, deliberate and repetitive voices are heard. To meet challenges in this world of ideas, Army PA must adapt through refocusing and using current manning levels. The Army can exploit the advantages of using media savvy senior leaders to effectively communicate the Army's message. PAOs must learn to provide commanders with PR products and advice, with the goal of supporting a stated intent for PA. PAOs will provide products and conduct operations that have not been part of the formal conduct of PA in the past.
Old paradigms must change. PAOs will seek out markets, just as PR specialists do for commercial enterprises. PAOs will "super-report"; that is, they will beat reporters to the punch on issues affecting the command. PAOs will provide solid advice during the planning and decision cycles for commanders. Commanders will expand their focus for PA by staying prepared for inquiries and standing ready to spread their messages. All of this will occur within the parameters of honesty and integrity. The public expects nothing less. Presenting the Army message is now harder only because of the endless number of potential venues. Plan well and maximize the benefits to the Army's great Soldiers.
Note: Previously published in Military Review, May-June 2007, and reprinted with permission.
The simultaneous expansion of information operations (IO) and the effects-based approach to operations is challenging traditional notions of military public affairs (PA).1 Politicians looking for more support in waging an ideological war against extremism and military commanders seeking more precise effects on the battlefield through the coherent application of all elements of alliance and national power are blurring the boundaries between IO and PA.2
The Pentagon's short-lived Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) is an example of the move toward a more propagandistic information model. According to one news report, the aim of this Orwellian organization was to "influence public opinion abroad," a mandate that some U.S. generals felt would "undermine the Pentagon's credibility and America's attempts to portray herself as the beacon of liberty and democratic values."3
Although OSI was dismantled (at least in name), the U.S. military and many other armed forces are continuing to invest in IO capabilities. At the same time, commanders are pressing PA to contribute more tangibly to achieving effects or gaining influence on the battlefield and elsewhere. PA doctrine, however, traditionally seeks to inform audiences, not influence them. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) policy, for example, specifically states that while PA's "overall aim is ultimately to promote public understanding and support of the alliance and its activities, information is provided in such a way that media representatives and the citizens of the countries concerned are able to make their own judgment as independently as possible."4
Similarly, U.S. doctrine, as cited in a Department of Defense (DOD) directive, states, "Propaganda has no place in DOD public affairs programs."5 Some might suggest that this statement only applies within America's borders, but the same directive says, "Open and independent reporting shall be the principal means of coverage of U.S. military operations."6
At a glance, these lofty principles seem to offer politicians and military commanders little hope that PA can bring any tangible capabilities to the battlefield or anywhere else. Where are its measurable effects? In contrast, the effects of enemy propaganda seem evident, from decreasing support for U.S. interventions to increasing numbers of suicide bombers.
It may be true that PA "effects" are not always immediately evident, but this is a consequence of Western political ideology, which calls for transparent government, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and other such principles that militate against shaping public opinion. Therefore, before discarding current doctrine because of a desire to see immediate effects, carefully consider its origins in the democratic tradition.
Modern democracies find their roots in the 17th-century Age of Reason and the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment. The philosophers of those ages nurtured the radical notion that all men and women are created equal. This belief began to erode the long-accepted view that kings, queens, and other nobles were somehow superior and better suited to rule. Early liberal democracies like France and the United States entrenched these notions in their constitutions.
The American Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, reflects this new political outlook: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."7
Central to the new outlook were the notions of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. One of the most influential arguments in favor of such rights came from the English poet John Milton, whose pamphlet "Areopagitica" assailed the British government's licensing of books. Milton wrote: "This I know, that errors in a good government and in a bad are equally almost incident; for what magistrate may not be misinformed, and much the sooner, if liberty of printing be reduced into the power of a few?"8
The First Amendment of the 1789 U.S. Bill of Rights adopted Milton's arguments: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."9
Two centuries later, the constitutions of most democratic nations include similar provisions, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press as fundamental human rights. The constitution of one of NATO's newer member nations, Romania, states: "Freedom of expression of thoughts, opinions, or beliefs, and freedom of any creation, by words, in writing, in pictures, by sounds or other means of communication in public are inviolable."10
Of course, such rights do have limits. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for one, "guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."11
Although limited, these rights extend far beyond national borders. They are found enshrined in international treaties and conventions. Article 55 of the United Nations (UN) charter says that the UN shall promote "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion."12 These rights are more broadly delineated in a separate document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the UN adopted in 1948. Article 9 of the Declaration reads, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."13
Freedom of speech and the press are not the only democratic rights stipulated in the UN's Declaration. According to Article 21, "Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives . . . The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures."14
NATO nations are doubly bound to honor these human rights by virtue of their simultaneous membership in the UN and the Alliance. The NATO treaty proclaims "the Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments."15
The NATO alliance also adopted the principles of democracy as part of its 1994 Partnership for Peace program, an initiative designed to help former Warsaw Pact countries with post-Cold War transition. The framework document states: "Protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms and human rights, and safeguarding of freedom, justice, and peace through democracy are shared values fundamental to the Partnership. In joining the Partnership, the member States of the North Atlantic Alliance and the other States subscribing to this Document recall that they are committed to the preservation of democratic societies, their freedom from coercion and intimidation, and the maintenance of the principles of international law."16
That a political-military alliance like NATO committed itself so unequivocally to the principles of democracy is significant, for it implies that such principles are not limited to the national borders of the member nations or the boundaries of the Euro-Atlantic region, but extend to the battlefields where Alliance troops are sent. The Geneva Conventions, also ratified by all NATO nations, offer specific protections of human rights on these fields of battle, including the rights of journalists.
Article 4 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War states: "Persons who accompany the armed forces without actually being members thereof, such as civilian members of military aircraft crews, war correspondents, supply contractors shall be treated as prisoners of war" [boldface added].17 The term "war correspondent" was found somewhat restrictive, however, and additional provisions for journalists were added to the Geneva Conventions in 1977 under Protocol I, relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts.18
Article 79 of Protocol I specifically addresses "measures or protection for journalists," stating that "journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians [and] shall be protected as such . . . provided that they take no action adversely affecting their status as civilians."19 (Interestingly, embedded journalists could therefore be imprisoned if captured, while journalists not accompanying armed forces should be accorded the same rights as civilians.)
If any conclusions are to be drawn from the above legacy, foremost would be that the international community views the trampling of fundamental human rights, including freedom of the press, as one of the underlying causes and consequences of war. It was by trampling such rights that the Third Reich rose to power and committed the most horrendous atrocities in history. Codifying such rights was one way by which the international community hoped to avoid "the scourge of war" in the future.20
At the Tehran conference in 1943, Winston Churchill told Joseph Stalin that, "in wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."21 The British prime minister was speaking of allied efforts to deceive the Germans in advance of the Normandy invasions. When directed at an enemy, such deceit is justifiable. However, the notion that in wartime the truth should "always" be protected by lies is precisely what the international community was trying to circumvent. Notions like freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the safeguards.
The tension between today's PA and IO doctrine reflects the historical struggle between truth and deceit. U.S. joint PA doctrine explicitly states in bold letters: "Tell the Truth. PA personnel will only release truthful information. The long-term success of [PA] operations depends on maintaining the integrity and credibility of officially released information."22 British joint media operations doctrine also cites the importance of truthfulness: "All communication with the media must be honest, transparent and accurate."23
Romania's military PA policy states: "No information will be classified nor will it be prevented from release in order to protect the military institution against criticism or other unpleasant situations."24According to British policy, "Information should be withheld only when disclosure would adversely affect [operational security], force safety or individual privacy."25
On the other hand, NATO's IO policy holds that influencing or deceiving one's adversaries is, at times, justifiable: "The primary focus of [information operations] is on adversaries, potential adversaries and other [North Atlantic Council] approved parties."26 While "approved party" is a vague term, it is understood not to include the Alliance's own citizenry.
Still, many governments do routinely seek to influence domestic public opinion through such things as recruiting advertising or health promotions. Likewise, government communicators routinely develop "messages" designed for target audiences. Such practices differ from IO, however, because they are normally transparent and follow policy decisions openly taken by elected governments. They are also subject to democratic checks and balances, including the scrutiny of the free press, attacks by elected opponents, and legal challenges. Finally, the news media resist being repeaters of government messaging and strive for balance by questioning government policy and seeking alternative viewpoints.
Notwithstanding the existing doctrinal divisions between PA and IO, many commanders still desire the more tangible effects promised by information, deception, and psychological operations; thus, they lean toward integrating PA into IO. Concerns that some of these commanders were blurring the lines between the "inform" doctrine of PA and the "influence" doctrine of IO led by GEN Richard B. Myers, the former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, to issue a letter directing the military's top brass to keep PA distinct from deception and influence functions.27
Can PA deliver the effects commanders desire without violating current doctrine and all of its attendant liberal-democratic baggage? Like other military disciplines, PA has to adapt to a changing world with asymmetric threats and a ubiquitous media environment that showers the entire planet with streaming multimedia. In this new information world, terrorists can propagate their information faster than Western militaries can respond.
NATO doctrine calls for the "timely and accurate" release of information. Despite this, the Alliance and its member nations have had difficulty getting inside the enemy's so-called observe, orient, decide, act (OODA) loop.28 In the OODA-loop theory of decision cycles, time is the critical element, but Western forces tend to be hindered by time-consuming processes or decision-making loops that often require approvals from multiple national capitals across a spectrum of time zones.29 The challenge, then, is not necessarily a doctrinal one for PA; rather, it is predominantly a process issue that requires political will and trust to be resolved.
In terms of tangible effects from PA, many nations are already taking steps to push the doctrine of "informing" to a new, proactive level. Since the 1990s, Canada has been routinely sending its several combat camera teams off to cover Canadian Forces operations around the globe. The video and stills the teams bring or transmit home is then pushed to national and international media.
In 2004, the U.S. military invested more than $6 million in the Digital Video and Imagery Distribution System hub at Atlanta, which collects and distributes raw video to U.S. and international broadcasters on a daily basis. Additionally, U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, has made the move from reactive media relations to a robust proactive program by standing up a full-time team of PA specialists who suggest story ideas to the media.
While some nations are moving to invest in more proactive PA capabilities, the current trend is to invest robustly in IO and psychological operations (PSYOP). Once IO and PSYOP are activated on operations, there is also a trend to continue applying them to audiences that are no longer adversarial. The term "IO" is even being used to define communication activities where there is no defined adversary.
Given that the majority of what nations and coalitions are communicating is factual information, these trends are counterintuitive. Meantime, PA offices continue to be understaffed, under-trained, and under-resourced. If more resources were invested in simply informing the media and the public, the results could be impressive. The power of the truth, presented factually, should not be underestimated.
Moreover, if target audiences understood they were not the targets of IO or PSYOP, they might find conveyed information more credible. America's black propaganda program in Iraq, where articles were surreptitiously placed in newspapers by the Lincoln Group (initially contracted through a military PA office), damaged U.S. credibility.30 It aided and abetted the enemy's portrayal of America as a hypocritical interloper.
In the face of IO, the obvious questions an adversary might pose are: If Western nations are so confident in democracy, why do they resort to propaganda? If they are so confident in the truth as a moral force, why lie?
It might be justifiable to deceive an adversary for the sake of saving lives and winning battles, but in accordance with national and international laws and conventions, it is not acceptable to violate the human rights of those who have done no wrong. Telling the truth is not a simple proposition in today's complex media environment where information targeted at an adversary in a remote location will inevitably bleed into media and reach friends and allies in every corner of the globe.
As with lethal weapons, there will be collateral damage in the information war. So long as the military PA arm of government remains true to its doctrine, friendly publics will be told the facts, and the free press will be accorded its place. If the West is so confident that this works at home, then this confidence should be projected into the regions where the West sends its fighting troops. In the meantime, those seeking immediate effects must be reminded that it takes time to build democracy, and that although it can be painful at times, the truth will ensure democracy's survival.
Last Reviewed: May 18, 2012