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Armstrong on Wikileaks

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Matt Armstrong has a must-read, incisive, take on the manipulatively edited propaganda popularly known as the “Wikileaks video”:

The true fiasco exposed by Wikileaks

….The Wikileaks release apparently caught the Defense Department flatfooted. Even today, three days after its release, there is largely silence from DOD, save a brief public comment and a link to documents and photos at http://www.centcom.mil/ (hidden in plain sight through the link labeled “Link to FOIA documents on July 2007 New Baghdad Combat Action“). Don’t bother going to http://www.defense.mil/ as that site, and hence the Pentagon, has nothing readily available either. The April 6 briefing pack did not include the explanatory imagery and there is no news release explanation the Department’s position. It’s as if nothing happened. When asked about the situation, senior official at DOD pointed me to the “great piece” in The New York Times explaining how trained soldiers view and operate in these events differently than civilians. This, however, misses the point.

Despite the vigorous discussion online and over the air whether there was a violation of the laws of war, the old belief that if you ignore a problem it will go away continues to dominate.

Read the rest here.

Big Pair of Stones Award, Take II

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

LTC. Matt Morgan, USMC and Director of Public Affairs at US Marine Corps Forces Command, rolls up his sleeves and takes the highest ranking member of the US Armed Forces to task in a take-down guest post at Mountainrunner:

Guest Post: The Rosetta Stone for Strategic Communication? More like Speak ‘N Spell

….Unfortunately, the reason for this gap can be laid at the feet of a few members of the Chairman’s own personal staff. Over the past few years, Adm. Mullen’s Public Affairs Office has systematically refused to take part in DoD’s various attempts to develop its integration processes or other Joint Staff and DoD efforts to coordinate organizational communication. As such, select members of the office appear ignorant to the efforts of other professionals across the U.S. military. They have failed to be the good listeners they claim to hold in such high esteem, and have consequently produced what reads like a condescending lecture from the Chairman.

Let us all be clear as to what this is really about. This is a turf war, and the authors have committed the ultimate sin of a staff officer: They have used their boss’ visage to advance their agenda, and in the process drawn an unfair portrait of a senior leader blind to the most progressive thinkers in his organization.

The authors are quick to undermine the term Strategic Communication, writing that the Chairman doesn’t care for it because, “We get too hung up on that word, strategic.” I don’t know who the “we” is in this case, but I can assure the Chairman that this is only true among those afflicted by what I call the “Type A” misunderstanding; that is, those who cannot get beyond the most literal comprehension of the word strategic. Oh, yes, a few of these types are out there. But when it comes to military leadership, anyone who has ever used the now-cliché term strategic corporal has at least a basic understanding of the notion that tactical actions can affect communication – for better or worse – at the strategic level.

The stated thesis of the essay, however, is belied by its conclusion:

Strategic communication should be an enabling function that guides and informs our decisions and not an organization unto itself. Rather than trying to capture all communication activity underneath it, we should use it to describe the process by which we integrate and coordinate.

Ah, there it is. The fear of subordination revealed.

Ouch! Read the rest here.

If in fact, CJCS ADM Michael Mullen did not write his editorial, as LTC. Morgan asserts, I will have to retract my earlier praise. “Leadership” is not lending your name out to your staff to play el supremo. It’s fine for a busy man to lay out an outline of positions to an aide and then edit the aide’s draft; Eisenhower and Reagan, both excellent speechwriters, stopped writing their own speeches once they became POTUS. But saying “Here…do my thinking for me”, is not ok. It’s weak.

Assuming that Admiral Mullen did write his editorial, then the exchange with LTC. Morgan is what a healthy, intellectually open, adaptive organization should encourage and reward. Ideas matter, not rank.

Censoring the Voice of America

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Matt Armstrong delivers an on-target op-ed in Foreign Policy:

Censoring the Voice of America

Earlier this year, a community radio station in Minneapolis asked Voice of America (VOA) for permission to retransmit its news coverage on the increasingly volatile situation in Somalia. The VOA audio files it requested were freely available online without copyright or any licensing requirements. The radio station’s intentions were simple enough: Producers hoped to offer an informative, Somali-language alternative to the terrorist propaganda that is streaming into Minneapolis, where the United States’ largest Somali community resides. Over the last year or more, al-Shabab, an al Qaeda linked Somali militia, has successfully recruited two dozen or more Somali-Americans to return home and fight. The radio station was grasping for a remedy.

It all seemed straightforward enough until VOA turned down the request for the Somali-language programming. In the United States, airing a program produced by a U.S. public diplomacy radio or television station such as VOA is illegal. Oddly, though, airing similar programs produced by foreign governments — or even terrorist groups — is not. As a result, the same professional journalists, editors, and public diplomacy officers whom we trust to inform and engage the world are considered more threatening to Americans than terrorist propaganda — like the stuff pouring into Minneapolis.

Read the rest here.

Amen, brother!

Strategic Communication, Science, Technology

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Blogfriend Matt Armstrong had an important post regarding The Strategic Communication Science and Technology Plan, April 2009. An excerpt:

The plan describes current efforts within the Department of Defense, the military services, the combatant commands and other agencies on SC. In total, these efforts could be linked together to form the foundation of an S&T thrust area for strategic communication. The report also includes a macro-analysis of capability gaps not being addressed by ongoing initiatives and lays out potential areas for future S&T investment.

While the request for the plan itself represents recognition from Congress that SC plays a critical role in the public and private response to current and emerging threats, it also highlights that there is much research and development already underway and many tools available to increase the government’s effectiveness in global engagement. The rub today is the need for strong leadership and coordination to ensure: 1) awareness of the long list of capabilities; 2) incorporating these capabilities into plans; and 3) participation by stakeholders across the US government, NGO’s, industry, and private citizens.

The S&T plan sorts current efforts into the following categories:

  • Infrastructure: Enabling and facilitating access to information from news to markets to vocational
  • Social Media: Knowledge Management, Social Media, and Virtual Worlds
  • Discourse: Analysis of radical and counter-radical messages and ideas
  • Modeling and Forecasting: Gaming and anticipating adversarial messages and ideas as well as our counters and pre-emptive measures
  • Collaboration: Increasing collaboration and training across and beyond Government
  • First Three Feet: Empowering, Equipping, Educating, and Encouraging media and others to exist and freely report on events for what they really are
  • Understanding: Develop country, culture, and regional expertise, including polling
  • Psychological Defense: Planning and capacity building for dealing with critical strains on society in peacetime and wartime

The interesting thing here for me is that “strong leadership” is lacking because the people spread across and outside government who have the shared awareness of technology, social media and national security at a level of sophistication where they could actually craft a strategic communication policy, are usually many levels removed from the appointee policy deciders for whom these variables are (usually) fuzzily understood.

To use an analogy, the chefs are valet parking cars outside while trying to get the manager of the restaurant to acknowledge their recipes. Or, maybe that there should be cooking going on in the kitchen if they want to have any customers. Or that the business is, in fact, a restaurant and not a nicely organized room full of tables.

A White Oak for Public Diplomacy

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

The chronically poor state of American public diplomacy has been a topic of discussion in the foreign policy-mil-national security blogosphere for years. As with COIN on the military side of things, pressure has built from conversation to a greater public awareness of the inadequacy of American public diplomacy toward strategic planning and lobbying for reform. Few people have been more active on this important issue than my blogfriend Matt Armstrong, who recently participated in formulating the….

White Oak Recommendations: Rethinking Public Diplomacy (Updated)

Over the weekend of January 30 through February 1, the Howard Gilman Foundation, Meridian International Center, and The Public Diplomacy Council brought together seventy people – public and private sector stakeholders frustrated with this demise and determined to restore public diplomacy as a viable tool of foreign policy – to discuss the structure of America’s global engagement at the White Oak Conference Center in Florida.

The product of the conference is a short, easily read document of common sense recommendations that would otherwise be in larger reports. All but three of the conference participants endorsed the report. Those who abstained did so because their employers do not permit even personal endorsements. The report is simple and straight forward, so much so that the endorsements run longer than the report.

Download the Recommendations here (26kb PDF).

Download the Endorsements here (84kb PDF).

Matt also organized a blogger’s roundtable with members of the White Oak Conference ( he was kind enough to invite me but unfortunately, I had a schedule conflict that day):

On February 19, I moderated a sixty minute roundtable discussion between Doug Wilson of the Howard Gilman Foundation and Bob Coonrod of The Public Diplomacy Council. Tara Sonenshine was originally scheduled to attend but had a scheduling conflict at the last minute. The participants were Pat Kushlis of WhirledView, Shawn Powers of Intermap.org, John Brown of PDPBR (and now Notes and Essays), Kim Andrew Elliot of http://www.kimandrewelliott.com/, Steve Corman of COMOPS, Jennifer Bryson of Public Discourse, Chris Tomlinson of the AP, and Danielle Kelton from PD 101.

White Oak-Related posts:

Read the rest here.

American public diplomacy is beyond broken – it borders on non-existent. There’s a great deal of building that needs to be done and the White Oak Conference was an important step forward.


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