25 February 2011

Was It Really PsyOps? Or Standard Briefing Practices for VIPs? (UPDATED)

There's a lot of flap about Michael Hastings' new Rolling Stone article about supposed 'psyops' folks targeting US VIPs.

When Holmes and his four-man team arrived in Afghanistan in November 2009, their mission was to assess the effects of U.S. propaganda on the Taliban and the local Afghan population. But the following month, Holmes began receiving orders from Caldwell’s staff to direct his expertise on a new target: visiting Americans. At first, the orders were administered verbally. According to Holmes, who attended at least a dozen meetings with Caldwell to discuss the operation, the general wanted the IO unit to do the kind of seemingly innocuous work usually delegated to the two dozen members of his public affairs staff: compiling detailed profiles of the VIPs, including their voting records, their likes and dislikes, and their "hot-button issues." In one email to Holmes, Caldwell’s staff also wanted to know how to shape the general’s presentations to the visiting dignitaries, and how best to "refine our messaging."

Congressional delegations – known in military jargon as CODELs – are no strangers to spin. U.S. lawmakers routinely take trips to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they receive carefully orchestrated briefings and visit local markets before posing for souvenir photos in helmets and flak jackets. Informally, the trips are a way for generals to lobby congressmen and provide first-hand updates on the war. But what Caldwell was looking for was more than the usual background briefings on senators. According to Holmes, the general wanted the IO team to provide a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds." The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. "How do we get these guys to give us more people?" he demanded. "What do I have to plant inside their heads?"

One thing that jumped out at me was the desire of the info on the congressional reps: voting records, campaign stances, etc.

If some S3 flunky had been tasked for that instead of the psyop team, would we still be wringing our hands over this?
If the psyop team got the tasker because there wasn't enough psyop work to do to keep them busy, and the general thought they were capable of handling it, does that make it an inherent psyop mission?

Now, there seem to be enough other concerns elsewhere in the article to be worth investigating more deeply, but some of the 'issues' that Hastings/RS raise are not (to me) worthy of the level of hype they're being given, in part b/c I think the authors/editors lack some context on how those taskers get assigned and how regularly those sorts of things happen in other places with other functional specialties.

Hell, it happened w/ us in '95 in California during the Apache Longbow trials. We were briefed on the incoming VIPs that were there to see what we were doing, including whether or not they were hostile to the program and its funding.

There's a lot of commentary all over the web on this one, but the best I've found yet is over at the blog Ink Spots.
More links to other coverage:
Danger Room at Wired.com
Tom Ricks at FP.com
Exum/Abu Muquwama at CNAS.org

By: Brant

1 comment:

Guardian said...

News flash: a smart sales person wants to understand their customer. And, yes, entertaining a CODEL or any other VIP is indeed selling: your unit, your mission, your capabilities, and your budget.

Up next, after this short commercial break: water is wet.


-- Guardian