Information Operations, United States Strategic Command, and Public Affairs
LTC Pamela Keeton, U.S. Army Reserve, Retired, and MAJ Mark McCann
Note: Previously published in Military Review, November-December 2005, and reprinted with permission.
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.
These events also signaled a change in military strategy in Afghanistan from combat operations and counterterrorism to counterinsurgency, reconstruction, and development. This shift required Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan (CFC-A) to rethink how it would meet the challenges of the new political, military, diplomatic, and economic environments. The command's operations required close coordination with Afghan government agencies, the U.S. Department of State, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. An effective information campaign was critical to the command's success.
The command found itself in a public affairs (PA) campaign to maintain local Afghan and international support to help rebuild an Afghanistan ravaged by years of war and establish the country's new democratic government. Information operations (IO) were critical in discrediting insurgents and what remained of the Taliban to ensure Afghanistan would never again become a cradle for despots or a haven for international terrorists.
Theater-Wide Interagency Effects
To approach the diverse requirements of running a communication operation in this strategic environment, CFC-A created a new organization called Theater-Wide Interagency Effects (Effects) to synchronize communications-based PA, IO, psychological operations (PSYOP), and political-military operations. Effects was designed to generate nonlethal effects in support of coalition military operations. One might compare the organization to the Strategic Communications Office that provides the same type of support for operations in Iraq.
Both organizations use nonlethal IO effects to help commanders achieve operations success. Both have generated discussions about a "crisis of credibility" that PA might encounter if and when the media discover how closely it is aligned with IO and PSYOP.
An initial challenge for public affairs officers (PAOs) within the Effects organizational structure was to gain access to the commander for guidance and directives. Traditionally, PAOs serve as special staff officers and report directly to the commander. However, within the Effects organization, reporting can get lost because of the additional layers of bureaucracy. The organization was also not without risk, because by aligning PA so closely with IO and PSYOP, there was a chance PA would lose its credibility with the media.
The Role of Public Affairs
The importance of strategic communications creates a challenge for commanders to develop strategies, processes, and organizations that lead to effective communication. In Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders created new organizations to better synchronize communications and achieve certain desired effects in operations. Some commanders modeled their communications operations after those the Pentagon envisaged for the Office of Strategic Influence. This stirred debate between the PA, IO, and PSYOP communities about how to create a synergy that leverages the effects of all three into a coordinated, synchronized, comprehensive communications effort. To do so, they had to answer three questions: What, if any, role remains for PA? Where should PA fall within the organization? How can PA be made more effective?
In theory, the idea of merging PA, IO, and PSYOP appears to make sense; however in practice, the goals of these three functions are quite different. PA is charged with informing the public with factual, truthful information, while IO and PSYOP seek to influence their audiences to change perceptions or behavior.
Doctrinally, IO and PSYOP functions have been aligned with operations within a headquarters. PA has always been an independent special staff section that reports directly to the commander. PA is the voice of the commander and a conduit of information between the command and internal (command information) and external audiences, including but not limited to the media. The function of PA is to provide factual, timely information, not to affect public opinion by leading grassroots efforts or engaging in lobbying. PA does not exist to create news or overtly influence public opinion; it exists to provide factual information so its audience can make informed opinions.
In the Global War on Terrorism, information is almost as powerful as bullets and bombs. Winning this war is as much about winning the trust and confidence of the people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and throughout the world as it is about winning tactical battles on the ground. Therefore, commanders must tailor IO to achieve desired effects with critical audiences and help ground commanders achieve success in tactical operations. However, they must take care not to use the news media to effect change in people. This is not the media's purpose; however in today's global information market, there is a growing temptation to do just that. The important lesson here is that in attempting to win the information battle, the military must ensure it does not lose the strategic war. In trying to win people's trust and confidence, it must not lose the people-whether they are the ones it is trying to affect or whether they are the ones it must rely on for support.
Coordinating Public Affairs, Information Operations, and Psychological Operations Functions
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.
To avoid a crisis of credibility and to maintain the command's integrity, the PAO should always report directly to the commander and be free from outside influence. Rather than create new structures to combine PAO, IO, and PSYOP, it is best to adhere to established, proven doctrine. While the PAO maintains integrity by reporting directly to the commander, IO and PSYOP should remain in the realm of the operators.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters appears to be creating a synergy among the three functions without upsetting the natural balance. Rather than creating a new organization to coordinate and synchronize communications, CENTCOM is using a committee approach to bring the right people together to develop plans and coordinate efforts.
For most PAOs, the debate would end here. But for those who have lived during "real world" operations, separating PA, IO, and PSYOP will not solve the challenge of communicating strategically using all the resources available to the commander. 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.1
A report from the Defense Science Board on strategic communications notes that "strategic communications requires a sophisticated method that maps perceptions and influence[s] networks, identifies policy priorities, formulates objectives, focuses on 'doable tasks,' develops themes and messages, employs relevant channels, leverages new strategic and tactical dynamics, and monitors success."2 A generalist, even with U.S. Department of Defense schooling or training with industry (TWI) experience, is not qualified to lead a strategic communications effort. Becoming a strategic operator/communicator takes time, training, and years of practical, relevant experience, and it requires officers who seek nontraditional tracks and are groomed and promoted in the military. To this end, the Army PA community has not achieved the level of respect afforded other specialists and might soon find itself subsumed within the larger, nebulous community of strategic communications.
Training Skilled Communicators
A second key point is that one or two jobs in PA does not make one a strategic communicator. Commanders are quickly frustrated when their PAOs do not have the experience, skills, and knowledge to run PA operations in a strategic environment. Understanding cause and effect, building effective international press operations, dealing with multinational and international agencies, and managing a large PA staff requires an officer's leadership qualities, a campaign manager's political acumen, and a senior executive's vision.
Creating a career model for PAOs based on competencies inevitably leads to dealing with a rigid Army culture. PAOs simply have not achieved the level of importance bestowed on lawyers, doctors, nurses, or even signal officers. Their perceived inferiority perpetuates the erroneous idea that any officer from any background can do the job of strategic communications.
While writing this article, I solicited opinions about PA from others, including senior officers. The attitudes I encountered were often surprising. When the topic of growing PA leaders among PAOs arose, one senior officer replied bluntly that one does not normally find the Army's best and brightest officers in PA, so they normally do not make good leaders. He also said the best PA chiefs have come from outside the ranks of PAOs. He might be right, which is why it is incumbent on the PA community to develop officers who have the skills, acumen, and experience to lead the Army's strategic communications efforts.
Producing leaders with the right skills at the right levels for strategic communications during the Information Age requires more and varied training opportunities, improvements in leader development, and better resourcing of all communications-related operations. The PA community must take a greater role in providing opportunities for its officers to grow and develop into seasoned, experienced communicators. PAOs must have the opportunity to serve in positions that provide increased levels of challenge and experience-from division through corps and up to major command. The Army can provide such opportunity by alternating PAOs through operational jobs like command of a PA detachment or a mobile PA detachment, service as division or corps staff PAOs, and duty in major theater commands. Deployments as PAOs are essential to understanding how the system works and where it can be improved.
Training with Industry
PAOs also must have greater opportunities to work with larger media organizations and with firms that have broader PA practices, not just straight public relations. This step requires rethinking and opening up the TWI program to a larger pool of officers, not just the four or five people selected each year. TWI should focus on giving officers a broader understanding of strategic communications and how they can apply it in support of organizational goals.
Officers' TWI experience will provide better benefit if they focus more on selling ideas and issues to important constituencies than selling cans of cola to teens or learning how the media operate. Officers attending advanced civil schooling should focus on mass communications, journalism, advertising, and political science to better help them understand the areas that make up the broad spectrum of communications and to gain the insights they will need to deal with the myriad challenges strategic communicators face. While this might be too much to ask, it is still worth considering if the trend continues toward better strategic communications operations Army-wide.
Another radical approach might be for the Secretary of the Army to appoint a civilian PA chief and a military deputy, similar to the organizational construct of the Army's Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Office. The civilian chief should be an experienced communicator who can develop and lead the overall program, while the uniformed deputy leads the schools and serves as the branch proponent. A combination of uniformed military, Department of Army civilians, and consultants from the public relations industry would carry out the functions within PA, provide valuable strategic and tactical counsel, and be the arms and legs needed to reach the various audiences interested in defense.
While organization and training are important in strategic communications, another critical point should be its focus. Any strategic communications effort should begin with a plan that clearly states communications goals, strategies, and tactics and assigns roles and responsibilities between the staff and supporting elements.
If commanders are frustrated by communications, they should take the longer view, as well as a few lessons from industry rather than create new bureaucracies and chase after experimental processes. To win the information and communications war, the Army must maintain doctrinally sound structures while improving processes and investing in a new generation of smart, experienced communications leaders who are able to tap into outside resources as missions dictate.
Massing Effects in the Information Domain
LTG Thomas F. Metz with LTC Mark W. Garrett, LTC James E. Hutton,
. . . 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.1
-Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, 9 July 2005
-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 27 March 2006
In 1995, the Department of the Army, Forces Command, and the Training and Doctrine Command began a joint venture called Force XXI, which focused on how information-age technology could improve the U. S. Army's war-fighting capabilities. While the Army conducted many experiments with information technology and theory, the Task Force XXI (TFXXI) and Division XXI Advanced Warfighting Experiments (AWE) were the capstone events of this venture. More than 70 initiatives were reviewed in the TFXXI AWE, which culminated with the 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 4th Infantry Division's (4ID) National Training Center rotation in March 1997 at Fort Irwin, CA.
At the heart of this experiment was the near real-time knowledge of the location of friendly units down to individual vehicles and, in some cases, individual Soldiers. The experiment proved that knowing "where I am and where my buddies are" is powerful information for a combat leader. Leaders at all echelons became convinced that information-age technology would help Soldiers, leaders, and units become much more capable.
Post-AWE, the Army decided to reduce its combat power in combat and combat sustainment units. The Army has not fully exploited the available technology, especially in the domain of information and knowledge management operations.
Information Operations in the Advanced Warfighting Experiments
After graduating from the U. S. Army War College and serving as a division G3, brigade commander, and division chief of staff, I was assigned to the Training and Doctrine Command with duty at Fort Hood, TX, in the 4ID to support the Force XXI Joint Venture. Although I had no background in information technology or acquisition experience, I was involved with the preparation, execution, and after-action reviews of the TFXXI AWE and the preparations for the Division XXI AWE.
In the summer of 1997, I was assigned as assistant division commander for support of 4ID. As I took on this assignment, I was optimistic that the results of the Division XXI AWE would support what we had learned with the TFXXI AWE and that the Army would continue to aggressively pursue applying information-age technology to improve war-fighting capabilities. Although I lacked a technical background in information technology, I was confident that we were only beginning to understand the potential improvements to warfighting. I believed that funding, developing, understanding, and maturing these capabilities were certainly going to be challenging. I was excited about their prospects. However, I was not prepared for the management of information operations (IO).
Shortly before the Division XXI AWE, an objective was added to the experiment, focusing attention on IO. Because the simulation that would drive the Division XXI AWE was not designed to train this new aspect of warfighting, a "Green Cell" was established that would inject information operations events. MG William S. Wallace, commanding general of the 4ID at that time, gave me the task to manage this new IO challenge.
I wasted no time gathering all I could find on the subject of IO and began to study it. At this stage of the division's preparations, standing operating procedures, battle rhythm, and command post drills were well established. Adding IO at this late date seemed to be a good idea added too late. Nevertheless, in the short time available, I learned as much as I could about the five disciplines that make up doctrinal IO: psychological operations (PSYOP), deception, operations security (OPSEC), electronic warfare (EW), and computer network operations (CNO).
Information Operations Importance in Iraq
Although I do not think we enhanced the AWE by adding IO, the opportunity to focus on this new doctrine did pay dividends six years later when, as the commanding general of III Corps, I found myself preparing the corps headquarters to deploy to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although IO doctrine had not changed over those six years, its importance to a successful campaign in Iraq and to the Global War on Terrorism was crystal-clear to many in and out of uniform.
On 1 February 2004, III Corps relieved V Corps. LTG Ric Sanchez remained the commander of Combined Joint Task Force-7, and I became his deputy. Over the next 13 months, 5 months as Sanchez's deputy and 8 months as the commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC- I), the staff, subordinate units, and I gained a healthy respect for IO and knowledge and perception management, primarily because the enemy was better than the U.S. Army in operating in the information domain, certainly in perception management. Although little has formally changed in IO doctrine, many leaders, both friends and foes, understand its awesome power. So is the U.S Army not the best at IO as it is in so many other areas? Where is its initiative? Where is its offensive spirit?
In April 2006, with the help of the Battle Command Training Program (BCTP), III Corps conducted a constructive simulation to train the headquarters of the 1st Cavalry Division (1CD) as it prepared for its potential return to Iraq. As the exercise director of this Warfighter, I was disappointed at what little progress had been made in IO. The capabilities to move information not only around the battlefield, but also around the world have grown exponentially; IO's importance grows daily; and our enemy, who recognizes that victory can be secured in this domain alone, has seized the opportunity to be the best at operating in the information domain.
The Green Cell had matured over the eight years since the Division XXI AWE, and although its formal objective for the 1CD's BCTP Warfighter was to drive IO, it spent little time in the five disciplines of doctrinal IO. It did, however, spend time helping division headquarters prepare for the perception of the war it might face in Iraq-regretfully by being reactive instead of proactive.
I am absolutely convinced that we must approach IO in a different way and turn it from a passive war-fighting discipline to a very active one. We must learn to employ aggressive IO. We cannot leave this domain for the enemy; we must fight him on this battlefield and defeat him there just as we have proven we can on conventional battlefields.
The Current Information Situation
In an open letter to President George W. Bush published in the January 2006 issue of the Armed Forces Journal, Joseph Collins, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability Operations in Bush's administration, predicted that "[i] f our strategic communications on Iraq don't improve, the strategy for victory will fail and disastrous consequences will follow."3 The U.S. military is not consistently achieving synergy and mass in strategic communications (IO, public affairs [PA], public diplomacy, and military diplomacy) from the strategic to the tactical level, but blaming the IO component for the overall situation is too convenient and too narrow. The perception that IO should shoulder the blame is based on expectations that are beyond the doctrinal charter or operational capabilities of IO as currently resourced. The collective belief is that the Army lacks the necessary skills, resources, and guidance to synchronize IO in order to achieve tangible effects on the battlefield.
Further complicating efforts in the information domain is the fact that units are facing an adaptive, relentless, and technologically savvy foe who recognizes that the global information network is his most effective tool for attacking what he perceives to be the center of gravity- public opinion, both domestic and international. The enemy is better at integrating information-based operations, primarily through mass media, into his operations. In some respects, U.S. forces seem tied to legacy doctrine and less than completely resolved to cope with the benefits and challenges of information globalization and too wedded to procedures that are anchored in the Cold War-Industrial Age.
Nevertheless, there appears to be an emerging recognition among warfighters that a broader and more aggressive, comprehensive, and holistic approach to IO-an approach that recognizes the challenges of the global information environment and seamlessly integrates the functions of traditional IO and PA-is required to succeed on the information-age battlefield. Furthermore, a clear need exists for strategic and operational commanders to become as aggressive and as offensive-minded with IO as they have always been with other elements of combat power and war-fighting functions-movement and maneuver, fire support, intelligence, and so on. Given the follow-on successes of XVIII Airborne Corps and the current success of V Corps, units are clearly making progress, but they still have much to do to ingrain these advances into the institutional structure.
Examples abound of failures to mass effects and leverage all of the available tools in the information domain; likewise, units have effectively bridged the gap between IO and PA to achieve integrated full-spectrum effects. Comparing Operation Vigilant Resolve and Operation Al-Fajr clearly illustrates the power of an aggressive, holistic approach to integrating IO into the battle plan. A careful study of IO in support of Operation Al-Fajr suggests three imperatives for the future of full-spectrum operations:
In April 2004, in response to the murder and desecration of Blackwater contractors in Fallujah, coalition forces led by the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) launched Operation Vigilant Resolve, an assault to restore control of Fallujah. In spite of the superior combat power of I MEF-in leadership, movement and maneuver, and fire support-the operation failed because operations in the information domain were not integrated into the battle plan; the warfighter-on-the ground was not given the best opportunity to achieve a decisive victory. Steps to prepare the information battlefield, including engaging numerous and varied Iraqi leaders, removing enemy information centers, and rapidly disseminating information from the battlefield to worldwide media, were not woven into the plan.
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.4
Raising the Information Operations Threshold
As the summer of 2004 passed and the Fallujah brigade experiment failed, it became imperative that the city's festering insurgent safe haven had to be removed. Planning began for Operation Al-Fajr, an assault to decisively clear Fallujah of insurgent activity. A key task for MNC- I planners was to ensure that the information defeat of Vigilant Resolve was not repeated in Operation Al-Fajr. Accordingly, they focused planning to avoid replicating Vigilant Resolve and to prevent the worldwide media clamor and international public condemnation that would negatively impact operations.
To articulate a clear intent in the information domain, planners developed "the IO threshold." Its purpose was to enable the MNC-I commander to visualize a point at which enemy information-based operations (aimed at international, regional, and local media coverage) began to undermine the coalition forces' ability to conduct unconstrained combat operations. As Operation Vigilant Resolve proved, the enemy understands the idea of an IO threshold. He is capable of effectively using the global media to impede operations by creating the perception that combat operations are indiscriminate, disproportionate, and in violation of the rules of war.
Using the commander's intent for massed effects in the information domain as expressed in terms of the IO threshold, planners illustrated to subordinate commanders that they had to conduct lethal shaping operations underneath the IO threshold; that is, they could not remove a city block to prepare the battlefield because such an act could create negative effects in the information domain. Any resulting negative international and local media coverage could impair the conduct of the overall campaign, as had happened during Operation Vigilant Resolve.
Planners used the same concept to brief the operation to Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF- I) commander GEN George Casey and to convince him that when I MEF executed the decisive operation, crossing the IO threshold could not distract the division from its tactical and operational objectives. Once across the threshold, the division planned to achieve success in days and hours.
Using this intent as a guideline, MNF-I, MNC-I, and Multi-National Force-West (MNF-W) developed courses of action to mass effects in the information domain, thereby raising the IO threshold and creating additional "maneuver" room for combat operations in Fallujah. They deliberately countered enemy information campaigning; planned and executed IO shaping operations; and executed carefully planned senior leader engagements, military diplomacy, and public diplomacy activities. Because of these synchronized, integrated, and complementary actions, they were able to mass information effects and build a strong base of support for combat operations in advance of the operation; in other words, they were able to raise the IO threshold by preparing key influencers and agencies for the impending operation.
This offensive mindset and aggressive massing of effects resulted in two additional complementary effects: (1) MNC-I placed additional pressure on the enemy throughout Iraq through the elimination of widespread support for his activities, and (2) Decision makers were prepared for the pending operation and given the necessary information to prepare their constituencies for the operation.
Information Operations in Operation Al-Fajr
As with other operations, massing effects in the information domain requires disciplined execution by leaders, Soldiers, and staffs at all echelons. In Operation Al-Fajr, this meant precise, painstaking execution of all the core elements of traditional IO, as well as other elements of combat power that had information implications. Doctrinal IO-PSYOP, deception, OPSEC, EW, and CNO-played a significant role in shaping operations. Fallujah became a textbook case for the coordination and use of the core elements of IO capabilities in support of the tactical fight.
Deception and OPSEC. MNF-I, MNC-I, and MNF-W used deception and OPSEC to conceal the buildup of forces north of Fallujah. They attempted to focus the enemy's attention on the south by constant and aggressive patrolling and feints from the south, while simultaneously executing precision strikes in the southern parts of the city. Movement by the British Black Watch Battle Group and employment of a maneuverable BCT in a dynamic cordon also aided in this effort.
PSYOP. MNC-I conducted effective PSYOP encouraging noncombatants to leave the city and persuading insurgents to surrender. These doctrinal PSYOP might have been the most important aspect of operations to defeat the enemy in Fallujah, as some estimates showed that 90 percent of the noncombatants departed the city.
Electronic warfare. MNC-I and MNF-W also controlled the enemy's communications capabilities by restricting his access to select communications, which not only denied the enemy a means to communicate but also directed him to a means that could be monitored.
Computer network operations. The enemy must not be allowed to win the battle in cyberspace. The massing of information effects in Al-Fajr was apparent in the incorporation of information considerations into the application of other elements of combat power. The seizure of the Fallujah hospital by Iraqi commandos during the early stages of the battle provides an excellent example of the integration of full-spectrum planning, rehearsing, and executing IO in support of overall campaign objectives. During the military decisionmaking process, MNF-W identified a piece of key IO terrain that it believed had to be secured early in the operation to begin eliminating the enemy's ability to disseminate misinformation and propaganda. The Fallujah hospital had long been used as a propaganda organ by insurgent forces and had been one of the most significant sources of enemy information during Operation Vigilant Resolve. By securing this key IO terrain, MNF-W could significantly disrupt the enemy's access point to disseminate information.
The Iraqi 36th Commando Battalion captured the Fallujah hospital in the first major combat operation of Al-Fajr. Documented by CBS reporter Kirk Spitzer, this operation established coalition control of the enemy propaganda platform, while building the legitimacy of the Iraqi security forces as well as the interim Iraqi Government. Although this small attack garnered only a footnote in history, it was decisive to winning the IO battle-without this portal, the enemy had a much weaker voice.
Bridging the IO-PA firewall. In order to mass effects in the information domain and effectively integrate IO into the battle plan, the warfighter must find a way to bridge the doctrinal firewall separating IO and PA without violating the rules governing both. This firewall is essential to ensuring PSYOP, deception operations, EW, and CNO do not migrate into PA and discredit the PA effort. The military needs to be proud of its values and prepared to underwrite the risk that it will expose too much in the service of transparency; this risk is counterbalanced with an implicit trust that its values and the truth will eventually prevail. Truth and transparency are strengths and not hindrances. Truth and transparency in PA are the military's legal obligation, and they reinforce the effectiveness of IO by providing a trusted source of information to domestic and international media. Providing information is only effective in the end if the information is truthful and squares with the realities faced by its recipients.
The challenge is getting the truth out first and in an appealing package before the enemy does. Timing is critical. Furthermore, current global media gravitate toward information that is packaged for ease of dissemination and consumption; the media will favor a timely, complete story. The enemy knows this, but he is not encumbered by the truth or regulations, which makes the challenge that much harder.
As the main force entered Fallujah from the north (which the enemy did not expect until 2,000- pound precision weapons breached the railway berm and the main attack launched), they did so with the following guidance:
Specific guidance was handed down to key elements to develop bite-sized vignettes with graphics and clear storylines.5 An example of massing effects, this small component of the battle enabled the coalition to get its story out first and thereby dominate the information domain. For example, MNC-I used information from combat forces to construct a document that illustrated insurgent atrocities discovered in Fallujah. To borrow a football analogy, MNC-I flooded the zone with images and stories that the media could-and did-use.
The PAO and other staff sections can use information gathered from external sources. For example, the 1CD, operating as Task Force Baghdad, used information gained from multiple sources to create a product for public distribution. On the eve of the January 2005 election, insurgents attacked the U. S. embassy with rockets and killed embassy personnel. Media outlets fixated on the event. Some media coverage initially focused on the coalition's inability to stop the insurgents even in the most secure areas. Even though the truth of the matter was that the insurgents had no targeting capability and had merely struck the building through luck, the storyline still had resonance.
The division simultaneously recorded the event, and the recording was quickly taken to the public affairs officer (PAO) and edited for delivery to media. The product showed the rocket firing, the insurgents attempted escape from the area, and their capture. Using the relatively new capability for posting such items to a publicly accessible Web page via the Digital Video and Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS), the division alerted the media to its availability.6 Media outlets downloaded the product, and the storyline in the media shifted from the coalition's inability to stop insurgent activity to how successful the coalition was in detaining the insurgents.
Was this PA or IO? Developing a packaged product for dissemination might appear more like IO than PA, but it was clearly a PA action to utilize the DVIDS's capability. No media outlet could have collected this information independently. The PAO is charged by the commander to determine how best to provide information about the conduct of operations within the construct of doctrine and law. Surely, close cooperation with IO officers fits within doctrinal and legal parameters. Of course, such work should be done in conjunction with embedding reporters and encouraging senior leader to access the media as often as possible. Firsthand reporting by reporters from commercial outlets is indispensable to commanders seeking transparency; in fact, embedded reporters were critically important in the media coverage of Operation Al-Fajr. Over 80 embedded reporters worked with MNF-W during combat operations.
In reality, these two vignettes (Al-Fajr and the embassy attack) are clear examples of how units can mass effects in the information domain by leveraging all available tools. The 1CD PAO decided to use available technology to deliver a clearer public message about the course of events. Why should units not use situational awareness technology and network-centric warfare to give them an asymmetric advantage over their enemies? In Fallujah, when enemy forces used a mosque, a minaret, or some other protected site as a sniper position, the rules of engagement rightfully-and legally-enabled Soldiers and leaders to engage with lethal force.
Units must have the ability to use their technological advantage, too, so that as a main gun round moves downrange to destroy a sniper position, simultaneously the digital image of the sniper violating the rules of war plus the necessary information to create the packaged product can be transmitted for dissemination to the news media.
In the weeks leading up to the historic January 2005 elections in Iraq, we in the MNC-I public affairs office had developed a comprehensive plan to publicize important aspects of pre-election preparations together with whatever events might unfold during that historically important day. Part of that plan included having obtained clearance to have Fox news reporter Geraldo Rivera cover events from the command's joint operations center in Baghdad. During the preparation phase of this plan, we arranged for Rivera to visit several units "outside the wire," including accompanying mounted and dismounted patrols in Mosul. This preparation phase culminated with us dropping him off in Tikrit two days prior to the election for a final sensing of the Iraqi population.
However, on the evening just prior to the election, the MNC-I chief of staff called me in to inform me that higher headquarters had made a last-minute decision not to permit interviews with MNC-I forces on election day. This was a stunning development owing to the many commitments we had made to the media. Fortunately, we were able to negotiate a modification to the guidance that permitted interviews with battalion and lower level elements. However, we were unable to clear media access for interviews at headquarters MNC-I. This placed us in a very difficult position with Rivera, potentially putting him and his network in a bad position at virtually the last minute and compromising our ability to show an immensely important dimension of what we believed was going to be a great and vitally needed story.
Both concerns weighed heavily on me as we scrambled to find alternatives. I viewed the situation as a matter of honor, believing that the broken commitment could easily be perceived as a betrayal of trust. The anxiety apparently showed on my face as I went to the helipad the next day to meet Rivera coming from Tikrit. As Rivera saw me walk towards him, he asked me what was wrong. I paused, and then said, "Geraldo, I've got some bad news."
His chin dropped, his face became tensely serious, and his eyes narrowed with concern. He said: "What's wrong-what happened?"
"Well," I began "though I know that we committed to support your coverage of the election from here, for reasons I am not at liberty to explain, we have to cancel your access to the MNC-I operations center."
At that point, his eyes opened, his face regained its composure, and he let out a gasp of relief. He then grabbed my head, with his hand behind my neck, placed his forehead on my forehead- skin to skin-and said: "Is that all?" Continuing, he said, "Man, you had me worried. I thought you were going to tell me another helicopter with troops was shot down or something like that-man, am I relieved." After briefly discussing our efforts to find alternative ways to cover the election, he then said, "Don't sweat it-this is just bureaucratic B.S.-we'll figure something out."
As it turned out, the 1CD's public affairs officer, LTC James Hutton, was able to set up a visually-rich opportunity at a police station in Saba al Boor, supported by the 256th Enhanced Separate Brigade of the Louisiana National Guard. Ironically, the change of venue resulted in some of the most dramatic and famous coverage of election day. Rivera reported from polling stations and featured the work of the Soldiers of the 256th, who demonstrated the great effort that had gone into making the election a resounding success.
Subsequently, Rivera continued to provide some of the most consistently comprehensive, informed, and accurate reporting that we saw during III Corps' entire tour in Iraq.
Editor's note: The above anecdote was solicited by the editor of Military Review, from the public affairs officer, COL Dan Baggio, who served under LTG Metz in Iraq during the period encompassing the first Iraqi election.
Implications for the Future
The big issue in our world is whether our doctrine and our policy are up to date. We owe more thinking to the combatant commanders. What are the things that should be balanced when you look at information and communications issues?7
-Lawrence Di Rita
MNF-I, MNC-I, and MNF-W were successful in massing effects in the information domain in Operation Al-Fajr for three reasons: They articulated an achievable end state; they took pains to integrate, synchronize, and execute all of the elements of combat power (leadership, movement and maneuver, intelligence) and all elements of the information domain (traditional IO, PA, engagement, and political actions); and they were able to bridge the firewall between IO and PA to achieve their desired end state without violating the rules of either discipline.
This integration has broader implications. How will tactical actions influence the operational and strategic levels? Because of its failure to influence important audiences, Operation Vigilant Resolve offers a cautionary tale for anyone who would downplay the significance of information in modern warfare.
If units are expected to compete and win the information battle in the global media environment-and this appears to be the general perception within the Army-then the Army must reshape its doctrine and develop ways to train in the new domains in ways that will evolve with the Information Age. The Army should restructure the definitions of IO and PA and the relationship between them and develop a considerable global mass marketing and public-relations capability. There is no other option because "winning modern wars is as much dependent on carrying domestic and international public opinion as it is on defeating the enemy on the battlefield."8
This idea is not without controversy. The recent debate in the media concerning the use of the Lincoln Group to push written opinion-editorials to Iraqi news outlets by paying for their placement illustrates that there are no clean lines in this discussion. Despite this situation, innovation and the use of new techniques will help win future campaigns. The new reality simply will not enable Cold War methods to figuratively outgun technologically-able enemies unfettered by cumbersome processes for disseminating information.
In an article published in the New York Times on 22 March 2006, Lawrence Di Rita, co-director of a Pentagon panel studying communications questions for the Quadrennial Defense Review, said Rumsfeld and other senior officials were considering new policies for regional combatant commanders. Di Rita noted that "[t] he big issue in our world is whether our doctrine and our policy are up to date. We owe more thinking to the combatant commanders."9
Massing effects in the information domain can be achieved, as evidenced by Operation Al-Fajr. Functional progress within the realms of the communications professions (IO and PA) requires that the Army accommodate the globalization of information. After III Corps departed and XVIII Airborne Corps took over as the new MNC-I in early 2005, it remains clear that in Iraq, U.S. and coalition partners have inculcated the lessons of Vigilant Resolve and Al-Fajr.
The Army must address the challenges an interconnected global media/communications environment and its processes pose to information-related operations, an environment in which timely and fully packaged stories are far more valuable than mere imagery. While acknowledging continued greater levels of globalization, the Army must be able to harness all of the elements of national power in an integrated manner. Doing so is critical if the United States is to defend itself successfully. Failure to do so could be ruinous.
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
Task Force (TF) Marne, Multi-National Division-Center (MND-C), 3rd Infantry Division, recognizes the vital nature of gaining and maintaining information superiority and allowing the commanding general (CG) and his subordinate commanders to use information to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. As the focus in TF Marne's operational environment has shifted from security to governance and economics (lethal to nonlethal operations), information operations (IO) is playing an ever-increasing role.
In TF Marne, as in other divisions, the Assistant Chief of Staff G7 is the principal staff officer for all matters concerning IO including plans, current operations, and IO-related targeting. The G7 has coordinating responsibility for IO and coordinating and synchronizing the many elements and related activities of information.
This article will focus on TF Marne IO task organization and two components of IO: psychological operations (PSYOP) and the Iraqi media.
In TF Marne, the G7 section falls under the nonlethal effects cell (see Figure 4-3-1). The division created the cell prior to its deployment in March 2007. The CG provides guidance and input to the nonlethal effects cell as part of the nonlethal targeting process, and he is the ultimate decision maker.
Nonlethal effects task organization
The key task of the nonlethal cell headed by the effects coordinator (ECOORD) is to integrate all available nonlethal means. The G7 is responsible for conducting thorough target audience analysis to better focus PSYOP series, themes, and messages. Nesting PSYOP series, themes, and messages with those of corps and other multinational divisions yields quantifiable results and shapes the operational environment. Leveraging Iraqi media by targeting local audiences with coalition "good news" stories while developing and executing IO rapid response battle drills expedites product development and dissemination.
The G7 section is organized into six areas: current operations, PSYOP, Iraqi media, future operations, military deception, and the attached PSYOP company (see Figure 4-3-2). The current operations section is responsible for the IO working group (IOWG), rapid response battle drills, operations security (OPSEC), and the IO video teleconference (VTC).
Information Operations (G7) Task Organization
Product development and dissemination in PSYOP continue to be an important part of TF Marne nonlethal operations. Current series, themes, and messages focus on countering al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), influencing local nationals not to support insurgents, and promoting job opportunities throughout TF Marne's operational environment (see Figure 4-3-3). To date, The G7 section has supported 11 division-level operations, developed more than 750 PSYOP products, and disseminated more than 12 million copies of these products. Planning is ongoing for current and future operations to continue the fight against AQI, deny the enemy sanctuaries, and target malignant foreign influences.
The Iraqi Media Section
TF Marne made a conscious decision to capitalize on the capabilities and advantages of a previously underutilized capability, the Iraqi media, by establishing an Iraqi media section (IMS). The IMS in TF Marne falls under the direction and oversight of the G7 and the ECOORD, not the public affairs officer. Although this veers from current joint and Army doctrine, the CG developed clear lanes of responsibility for both sections, allowing public affairs to focus on Western and internal audiences and the IMS to focus on the Iraqi audience. The IMS produces press releases, works with the Iraqi media, and monitors the publication and perception of stories in the Arabic media. The IMS was created in order to align Iraqi media correspondents with "high payoff" brigade-level events. The goal is to influence Iraqi local nationals to support the coalition, Iraqi security forces, and the Government of Iraq. The section captures atmospherics by monitoring Iraqi and Pan-Arab television, reading various media reports, and scanning the Internet.
For the CG's situational awareness and potential realignment or allocation of combat power or nonlethal resources, the section also correlates, analyzes, and provides all media monitoring information daily to include stories particular to TF Marne. The IMS disseminates its stories and pictures to its Iraqi media contacts (see Figure 4-3-4). The section currently has contacts with 11 radio stations, 8 television stations, 27 newspaper outlets, and a large number of media Web sites. The IMS has an exclusive contract with one popular Baghdad newspaper in order to maximize dissemination of key stories of interest or of strategic importance.
Because many Iraqi journalists have little experience with coalition forces, it is important for IMS and its escorts to make their initial experience a positive one. The Iraqi cultural advisor and bilingual, bicultural advisors are important in establishing credibility and ensuring that translations are correct. The advisors can recognize subtle linguistic nuances, such as the use of the term "foreign fighters," which includes coalition forces. This puts the battle for the minds of the Iraqis in the hands of the ECOORD and IO officer to effectively coordinate operational themes and messages.
Sample section of an Iraqi media section press release
RELEASE #20080121-01: "Night Air Raid Destroys 34 Targets,
ARAB JABOUR, Iraq-More than 30 targets were hit Jan. 20 during a nighttime air raid on suspected al-Qaeda safe havens in Arab Jabour. (Number) bombs were dropped, with a total weight of 21,500 pounds. The joint operation involved precision air strikes by F-16 and F-18 fighter jets and B-1 bombers. Coalition forces took careful consideration and coordination to prevent damage to private property, schools, mosques, and civilians. . . .For queries, contact the Multi-National Division-Center Iraqi Media Section at MNDC-IMS@iraq.centcom.mil, or by phone at Iraqna 0790-110-5244.
The IMS continues to disseminate stories of interest pertaining to division combat operations, improvements in the economic situation, governance, and the rule of law. Although they are resource intensive, the IMS does coordinate battlefield circulations, support brigade combat teams (BCTs), and highlight BCT-level high payoff events across all lines of operations (LOO). Additionally, IMS covers the planned and controlled release of Iraqi detainees. Standard "good news" stories include school openings and the grand opening of a local Iraqi radio station.
IO as part of nonlethal activities has proven decisive in the current counterinsurgency fight in Iraq. The way TF Marne has task organized to conduct IO, the use of PSYOP, and the unique nature of the IMS have enabled MND-C and TF Marne to shape the information environment and set the conditions for success across all LOO.
Remember actions always speak louder than words-every Soldier and Marine is an integral part of IO communications. IO are executed every day through the actions of firm, fair, professional, and alert Soldiers and Marines on the streets among the populace.
-Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, December 2006
Last Reviewed: May 18, 2012