Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Psyop Blues

How to lose the information war: rigid, micromanaging bureaucracy vs. decentralized, nimble adversary.

The squadron commander and S-3 thought I could drive through a neighborhood blaring a loudspeaker message and things would be hunky-dory. And, if they weren’t, it must mean that I wasn’t doing my job. Try as I might to explain otherwise, they wouldn’t listen. They simply saw non-lethal kinetics the same as an artillery fire mission. Fire, splash, result. It doesn’t work that way in PSYOP.

One of the major problems with the Army’s PSYOP program is the product approval process. Product (such as leaflets and pamphlets) are typically designed and generated at the Product Development Detachment (PDD). A designed product has to be approved at numerous levels and by various people. As goes with many things Army, EVERYONE wants their fingers in the pie, even when it’s not their pie to stick their finger in. For example, JAG has to sign off on a product concept to ensure that we’re not violating any laws with it. However, JAG officers will typically say, “oh, I think this color should be different” or “why are you using that picture” when it’s really not in their purview to judge something like that. Long story short, from the time I request product at the tactical level until the time I get the product back to actually disseminate it can be as long as two to three weeks. I have heard that some product that has been disseminated has gone all the way up to one of the SECDEF’s underlings. Clearly, micromanagement is a key hang-up in PSYOP.

Unfortunately, time is of the essence when you’re fighting an information war. And, to put it bluntly, the enemy does not have to deal with the same bureaucracy that we do. Quite simply, this is why we’re losing the information war in Iraq so badly. PSYOP has to compete with Imams who put out messages several times daily in support of their favorite cause (in my AO, it was Sadr). PSYOP teams are not permitted to openly compete with that (i.e. blaring responses at the same time on our loudspeakers) because it was not allowed by our higher command. Or, take for example these movie posters made into PSYOP product. It was likely done by some insurgent using a nice PC and some graphics program. Just posting this product on the internet (even if it never gets printed up) guarantees maximum dissemination to a plethora of target audiences. Sure, it may not affect a grunt getting ready to go to Iraq. But, what does it do to his family and friends who see it? And what does it do to a political staffer or even a politician himself that sees it? Another example is television. Products made for TV dissemination are often restricted because most Iraqis receive their TV through satellite. And, because we cannot guarantee that a PSYOP product won’t be broadcast outside the borders of Iraq, we are not permitted to broadcast through satellite TV. However, al-Jazeera and other organizations can broadcast what they want and how they want to their heart’s content.

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