America wrangles over propaganda control

The US Strategic Command (appropriately, STRATCOM) is wrangling with the Central Intelligence Agency and other parts of the military over contro of the ”strategic communication’ space. They are, according to Marc Ambinder over at The Atlantic, using their role in Information Operations take a larger part of the communications pie.

Ambinder puts the tension well:

The CIA doesn’t think STRATCOM should play in this lane. But neither does Robert Gates, the Defense Secretary, or the State Department, or the National Security Staff. Information Operations involves five fields: deception, psychological operations, computer network operations, electronic warfare and operations security. When you hear these terms, you think military, war, penetration of secret bunkers and the like. The State Department and the others want to make sure that Information Operations don’t conflict with what they call Strategic Communications — getting the message out that the US isn’t fighting against Islam, that the Afghan military is a credible institution. State sees IO from the perspective of an ad agency: what does the customer need? STRATCOM sees IO from the perspective of a military targeter: what’s the target, and how to we use all resources to manipulate it.

Which is interesting because its fairly well acknowledged that the military doesnt do so well at at the communications necessary to help build hearts and minds. I presented at a seminar at the United States Institute of Peace in February where there was broad acknowledgement that the psy-ops, strategic communications and ‘hearts and minds’ communications of the American military – with vastly larger budgets than Department of State, or the Agency for International Development, wasnt really working. Instead the participants agreed that ‘extremist propaganda cannot be effectively dealt with through counter-propaganda. Instead, the provision of a robust and credible media environment that encourages an exchange of ideas around needs and solutions is vital in mitigating extremist messages‘ (you can read the account of the seminar here).

But will the Defense Department win?

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