The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Top Iraq general seeks tighter control of info

Top Iraq general seeks tighter control of info
Critics: Change opens way for propaganda

By Julian E. Barnes
Los Angeles Times
Apr 19, 2007

Since the end of the Vietnam War, the military's public-affairs officials have tried to rebuild the Defense Department's credibility by putting distance between themselves and Pentagon efforts that use deception, propaganda and other methods to influence foreign populations.

A 2004 memo by Gen. Richard Myers, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, codified the separation between public affairs, which communicates with the media and the public, and "information operations," which attempts to sway people in other countries.

But Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has asked for changes that would allow the two branches to work more closely together. His request has unleashed a debate inside the Pentagon between those who say the separation has made the Defense Department less agile and those who believe that restructuring the relationship would threaten to turn military spokesmen into propagandists.

A senior military officer close to Petraeus said the memo now in place prevents coordination between the information-operations officers and public-affairs officers.

"The way it is written, it puts a firewall between information operations and public affairs," the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "You shut down things that need to be done."
Petraeus, who is considered adept at handling the U.S. media, asked in mid-March that the 2004 memo be rescinded or revised. A Defense official said yesterday that Myers's memo would not be revoked but that the Pentagon would begin work on a new policy outlining the relationship and interaction between information operations and public affairs.

Pentagon officials have told Petraeus's aides that, while the new policy is being developed, they should not interpret the Myers memo as a prohibition against coordination between public affairs and information operations.

The proposed rules would have stressed the need for coordination between public-affairs officials and information-operations officers.

"Conflicting efforts could impede operational success," the proposed new wording warned, emphasizing the need for the two branches to "be aware of each other's activities."

Although the proposed guidelines would not take the place of the 2004 memo, they could form the basis of a new policy. However, such policies typically take months to develop because they must be widely reviewed and vetted within the military.

During the Vietnam War, military news conferences were derided as the "five o'clock follies" because of misleading or irrelevant information provided to the news media. Since then, Army public-affairs officers adopted practices that disavowed the use of misleading or deceptive information.

The military instituted its formal Information Operations effort in the 1990s, bringing together an array of activities including deception, psychological operations and electronic warfare.

The changes proposed by Petraeus have reignited a wider debate within the Pentagon regarding the use of information during the Iraq war.

In one highly controversial information-operations undertaking, the U.S. military used the Lincoln Group, a Washington defense contractor, to pay Iraqi editors to publish articles casting the American military in a favorable light. Although the articles, written by U.S. troops, were truthful, some public-affairs officers criticized the practice after it was revealed in the Los Angeles Times in 2005, because it appeared as if the military was peddling propaganda to journalists.

Advocates of lowering the wall between public affairs and information operations point to one missed opportunity last month. Army Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero revealed at a Pentagon news conference that insurgents had placed two children in the back seat of a car laden with bombs as decoys to get past a military checkpoint. Once through, the bombers tripped the explosives, killing the children and three bystanders.

The incident was widely reported. But some officers said the story would have had greater influence if released in a more dramatized way to underscore the barbarism of the insurgents.

Those who favor more aggressive information management say public-affairs officials should work for information-operations offices.

Military officials in Baghdad said Petraeus did not want to manage the news. Under the Petraeus plan, public-affairs officials would continue to work directly for unit commanders, but they would coordinate extensively with information officers.

Many brigades in Iraq already have public affairs and information officers in adjoining offices. The senior military official close to Petraeus said public-affairs and information-operations officers should work out of the same planning cell. That would ensure that messages spread by information-operations officers and public affairs would not conflict and "work at cross purposes," the official said.

Although many of the military's public-affairs officials trust Petraeus, some fear that other commanders could use Petraeus' policy request to subordinate public-affairs officials to information-operations officers.

Information operations may encompass what the military calls psychological operations - a range of persuasion techniques to influence local populations in foreign countries. Operations can be as simple as spreading truthful information via a loudspeaker truck or giving deliberately false information on a televised broadcast.

In 2004, for instance, a Marine public-affairs officer announced the start of a U.S.-led effort in Fallujah on CNN; the assault did not begin until three weeks later. The false announcement was intended to gauge insurgents' reaction.

The senior officer close to Petraeus said that information-operations officers in Baghdad were not engaging in deception and that there was little risk to military credibility.

"Public-affairs officers will not be involved in deception operations," the officer said. "There are red lines public affairs will not cross. They will not jeopardize their credibility."

Others are more skeptical of Petraeus' request, believing that information-operations officers engage in deception at times and that military press agents must steer well clear.

"They will tell you (the use of psychological operations) is always truthful. But you know how the game works," a senior defense official said.

Those who favor rescinding or altering the Myers memo argue that it is better for public-affairs officers to know what information officers are up to, so as to better prevent misleading information from filtering to the American public.

Other Pentagon officials expressed concern that as soon as information operations and public affairs started working together regularly, reporters would start questioning the information they received.

"You will start asking constantly, 'Am I being spun?' " the senior official said. "The audience will lose trust and confidence in the commander's message."


Post a Comment

<< Home