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Friday, May 21, 2004

Asymmetric Infowar  

Ralph Peters, Kill Faster!
This is the new reality of combat. ... The media is often referred to off-handedly as a strategic factor. But we still don't fully appreciate its fatal power. Conditioned by the relative objectivity and ultimate respect for facts of the U.S. media, we fail to understand that, even in Europe, the media has become little more than a tool of propaganda.

That propaganda is increasingly, viciously, mindlessly anti-American. When our forces engage in tactical combat, dishonest media reporting immediately creates drag on the chain of command all the way up to the president.

Real atrocities aren't required. Everything American soldiers do is portrayed as an atrocity. World opinion is outraged, no matter how judiciously we fight.

With each passing day — sometimes with each hour — the pressure builds on our government to halt combat operations, to offer the enemy a pause, to negotiate . . . in essence, to give up.
Diggs at 4 Mile Creek, Anti-American Media is Not a Military Problem
The media slant towards the enemy is a problem that does not require a military solution. Speeding up the kill, as Peters suggests, will only lead to greater and greater inaccuracies in who we kill, leading to more reporting on this type of "collateral damage" that is so damaging to our warfighting efforts. ... If we kill faster, but sloppier, we will have worse press, not better. ...

I believe the efforts needed to counter a completely hostile media such as we have today have to come from other than the military. The State Department would be a good place to start, with efforts along the lines of the old VOA ...
Demosophia responds to something else (but not entirely):
I'm thinking that the source of the massive distortion we're seeing is a result of the enormous power of big media as much as ... bias. ... The Internet provides a far more level playing field than exists in the major media realm right now. There is also some evidence that the very fact of a level of parity and constant competition creates a self-correcting environment. Big errors tend to persist in major media out of pure dumb inertia. They don't last long in the blogosphere.

I agree something has to be done. The enemy seems more or less unfettered in their ability to bombard us with phony images that find willing eyes, and with lies that find willing ears and hearts.
Some thoughts: There's growing agreement on the idea that the media are objectively on the other side in the WOT. Whether that's where their sympathies really lie, a post-Vietnam institutional reflex, or simply because they're being expertly played, is a question for another time (and perhaps for those fascinated more by process than outcomes). The immediate concern is solutions.

Peters is right about the need to get inside the media's OODA loop, and Diggs is right about this being a two-front war where one front is non-military. Likewise Demosophia (and Instapundit, in passing) about the disruptive effects of blogging. All parts of the puzzle - but let's expand the intractable problem a bit.

War is changing fundamentally. No more mass armies - in part because we've learned that they're vulnerable to 4th-Generation Warfare from small, fast-moving groups of independent irregular fighters. We've responded on the battlefield by shifting to small, fast-moving co-ordinated fighting teams. But the second front - the infowar - is still being fought using mass media. And we're losing. So let's adapt.

To orient inside the media loop is to recognize how important the scoop is. We don't need to kill faster - we need to get the story out faster. The military shouldn't be getting information out at next-day press briefings to reps of the mass media who then intermediate to their mass audiences, but directly. Onto the internet, just like DOD is already doing with transcripts of briefings and interviews, but far more publicly and direct-to-public.

Action reports should be posted as well, as quickly as possible. This would apply both to fire contact actions, and to civilian contacts. The information flow has to be both up and out, and immediate, from the lowest possible level. Maybe this is a new MOS for the enlisted, or something everyone in OCS gets drilled in. Maybe both; see what works out better.

Embedded reporters should be permanently attached to units - not just during major combat ops. And not just from the major media: from local newspapers, and broadcast stations, and bloggers, and j-school interns. Maybe ROTC could develop an info-officer program with closer ties to the liberal arts programs that turn their backs today.

Finally, start using irregulars of our own. Call them journillas: highly mobile, lightly equipped (a digital camera and a way to connect to the ubiquitous military broadband), able to publish and vanish. Identify a weakness - a story not being reported - and blanket the net; explode a lie, and slip away.

What else ... bring in the State Department, or VOA? I'm not entirely convinced that State is objectively on our side, either, but this might be a way to get institutional buy-in. Or run parts of this through DOD's new Peacekeeping service branch.

This is a long-term strategy; transformation always is. For now, we can take a little comfort that the wedding party claim will be regarded with some scepticism from now on. (Hey, it worked in Afghanistan; try again, right?) The first step in winning a war is recognizing that we're in one. One war; two fronts; many campaigns.

Buckle up, bloggers.

Update: Scott at Demosophia:
"[A] crack counter-propaganda outfit could contact people seen giving false testimony ... and grill them 60-Minutes style to reveal inconsistencies and coaching. From a military intelligence standpoint we ought to find out who put them up to such lies. If it turns out that there's an active cell of propaganda-specializing Al Qaeda or something, we could target them.
Counter-propaganda is a nice formulation. Similar to counter-terror or counter-force, it reminds those who need it that propaganda is an important weapon in this war.

The pack is thinking. Are the herders listening?

posted by Kelly | 1:30 PM link