Pentagon Weighing News And Spin




 
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Pentagon Weighing News And Spin
 
April 18th, 2007  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Pentagon Weighing News And Spin


Pentagon Weighing News And Spin
Los Angeles Times
April 18, 2007
The top general in Iraq seeks to pierce the wall between public affairs and efforts that attempt to sway foreign populations.
By Julian E. Barnes, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON 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 B. Myers, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, codified the separation between public affairs, which communicates with the press and public, and "information operations," which attempts to sway people in other countries.
But Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has asked for changes that would allow the two branches to work more closely. 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 propaganda tools.
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 when discussing the internal debate. "You shut down things that need to be done."
Petraeus, who is considered adept at handling the American media, asked in mid-March that the 2004 memo be rescinded or revised. A Defense official said Tuesday that Myers' 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' aides that while the new policy is being developed, they should not interpret Myers' memo as a prohibition against coordination between public affairs and information operations.
Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon's top military planning group, considered a new version of the memo that would have stripped much of Myers' language on the need to keep the two functions separate. Instead, the proposed rules would have stressed the need for coordination.
"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 will 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 press conferences were derided as the "5 o'clock follies" because of misleading or irrelevant information provided to the press. Since then, Army public affairs officers adopted new 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 over 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 American 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 though the military was peddling propaganda to journalists.
Nonetheless, some officers believe the Iraq war has demonstrated the problems of failing to aggressively manage information. They note that during World War II, nearly all information from the war theater was censored. Other officers believe that any substantive changes would erode the military's credibility and consider it nave to think the U.S. public would tolerate 1940s-style censorship.
Advocates of lowering the wall between public affairs and information operations point to one missed opportunity last month. Army Major Gen. Michael D. Barbero revealed at a Pentagon news conference that insurgents had placed two children in the backseat of a car laden with bombs as a decoy to get past a military checkpoint. Once through, the bombers tripped the explosives, killing the children and three bystanders.
The grisly incident was widely reported. But some officers believe the story would have had greater impact if released in a more dramatized way to underscore the insurgents' barbarism.
Those who favor more aggressive information management believe public affairs officials should work for information operations offices.
Military officials in Baghdad say Petraeus does not want to try to manage the news; they insist he is not interested in extreme changes. Under the Petraeus plan, public affairs officials would continue to work directly for unit commanders, but would coordinate extensively with information officers.
Many brigades in Iraq already have placed 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 do not conflict and "work at cross purposes," the official said.
Although many public affairs officials trust Petraeus, some fear that other commanders, who may care less about the military's credibility with the press, 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 Fallouja on CNN; the assault did not begin until three weeks later. The false announcement was intended to gauge the reaction of insurgents. However, Pentagon officials said the use of a military spokesman also deceived American and Iraqi citizens.
The senior officer close to Petraeus said that information operations officers in Baghdad are not engaging in deception, so 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 the information operations officers engage in deception at times and that military spokespeople must steer well clear.
"They will tell you" psychological operations "is always truthful. But you know how the game works," said a senior defense official.
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 back to the U.S.But other Pentagon officials say that as soon as information operations and public affairs start working together regularly, reporters will start questioning the information they are getting.
"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."
 


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