Back Issues of PDAA Today

Back issues of PDAA Today, PDAA’s quarterly print newsletter are now online and available for download.

2018 Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy Announced

The Public Diplomacy Association of America (PDAA) congratulates Nicholas G. Barnett, the Information Officer at American Embassy Addis Ababa, for being awarded the 2018 Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy.

Photo of Nick Barnett

Speaking at the opening of DevFest-Addis, Embassy Spokesperson Nick Barnett (above) said, “Technology can be a powerful tool for giving people a voice and the means to improve their societies through innovation. The U.S. Embassy is proud to be a partner for this event and hope that participants will find resources here at our American Center that allow them to continue to pursue their interests.” Barnett is the recipient of the 2018 Murrow Award.

The State Department announced the award and said Barnett’s selection was based on his strategic use of public diplomacy programs and tools to promote Ethiopia’s political reform and lasting viability as a strategic U.S. partner.

The prestigious award recognizes significant contributions in the field of public diplomacy and sustained demonstration of the special qualities that reflect the integrity, courage, sensitivity, vision, and dedication to excellence that Edward R. Murrow exemplified so well. The award consists of a certificate signed by the Secretary of State and $10,000. PDAA has made Mr. Barnett an honorary member for 2019.

Please share ...

Future of South Africa Discussed at November 19 Luncheon

South Africa was the focus of PDAA’s Nov. 19, 2018, luncheon discussion. The rule of law, the future of the African National Congress, and “state capture” under the Jacob Zuma régime were among the topics covered. The speakers were  sociologist Fran Buntman, who teaches Criminal Justice, Law, and the politics of South Africa at George Washington University and Sherwin Bryce-Pease, UN Bureau Chief of South Africa Broadcasting Corporation News. The discussion was led by Witney Schneidman, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Obama administration.

Photo of panelists at Nov. 19 PDAA event

Sherwin Bryce-Pease, UN Bureau Chief of South Africa Broadcasting Corporation News; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Witney Schneidman; and GWU Assistant Professor Fran Buntman at the Nov. 19 PDAA discussion on South Africa. (Photo courtesy of Alan Kotok)


Photo of Sherwin Bryce-Pease

Sherwin Bryce-Pease is UN Bureau Chief of South Africa Broadcasting Corporation News. (Alan Kotok)

Bryce-Pease’s remarks follow:

The topic today is Nelson Mandela’s legacy and the prospects for the Ramaphosa administration, and I see my role as a journalist to present you with a summary of some of the current developments there and then we can discuss later.

Madiba is an important part of South Africa’s democratic consciousness: he was the unifier when we needed one desperately, he was the glue that surprisingly held us together in a country that today still remains largely racially and spacially divided. I have lived in the US for over ten years now and it’s amazing that when I go home one can still go to a restaurant with only white patrons and black staff serving. And yes, this is clearly changing over time but there are definitely legacy issues that visibly remind us of where we have come from and the road that lies ahead.

So while Nelson Mandela’s example of reconciliation is something many in South Africa feel they have a responsibility to emulate, there are very hard questions of historic redress that will test our constitutional democracy moving forward.

I think there is broad consensus that South Africa’s trajectory post-1994 has been mediocre. It remains one of if not the most unequal societies in the world. The official unemployment rate is at around 27% currently, while youth unemployment is at an astonishing 57%. The economy is in a technical recession and current estimates have the economy growing at 0.7% this year – way below the five percent – at a minimum – required to tackle this massive problem.

Corruption became endemic under the administration of Jacob Zuma, who was finally ousted by the African National Congress earlier this year, but many would argue that the damage was already done and that the ANC was complicit in the actions of the executive. This was clear when the ANC’s hegemony on power was challenged during the 2016 local government elections, when for the first time since democracy they lost power not only in Cape Town, which has been a traditional stronghold of the opposition Democratic Alliance, but also in the economic centre Johannesburg, the capital Pretoria and the largest city in the Eastern Cape Province, Port Elizabeth –which woke the ANC up to what might lie down the road at the provisional and national levels in 2019.

The election in parliament of Cyril Ramaphosa and his first State of the Nation address soon thereafter gave many South Africans an injection of optimism and euphoria about the future. That was to be short-lived due to the confluence of bad news about the levels of corruption across various sectors that continue to emerge. The momentum he is trying to build is happening at a time when factional battles are being waged in the ruling party, with a strong Zuma faction still wielding some power within the structures of the organisation. After all, Ramaphosa won by just 179 votes over Zuma’s preferred candidate. More on that in a bit.

The term State Capture is what the Zuma Presidency will be remembered for – and his family’s close relationship with the wealthy Indian Gupta family that appears to have wielded undue influence over government ministers, their departments and State Owned Enterprises – the subject of which is now being probed by a Commission of Inquiry which President Zuma was forced to establish by South Africa’s former public protector, Thuli Madonsela – who is regarded as a rockstar anti-corruption crusader in South Africa . That commission is now hearing testimony from a variety of actors, former government officials, ministers, who paint a bleak picture of how decisions were arrived at, how tenders were awarded, how cabinet ministers were appointed or fired.

South Africa’s Reserve Bank Governor recently told an audience of investors in New York that one of the primary causes of weak growth in the country has been the severe decline in South African governance in recent years – a period of political decay which according to him is “only now coming to an end.” Quote: “This episode known throughout South Africa as ‘state capture involved a hollowing out of institutions and, in many cases, the looting of public resources for private gain. One of its many consequences was a large decline in business and consumer confidence. This, in turn, has contributed to investment stagnating over the past five years” – close quotes. In short, State Capture burdened the Government with fruitless and wasteful expenditure and undermined the capacity of the government to deliver services to the most vulnerable in that society.

President Ramaphosa and several of the ANC’s leaders, who now talk about a new page in South Africa, cannot quite shake their complicity in the extent of the corruption. After all, as deputy President to Zuma, Ramaphosa had a seat at the table even though he has denied that he was aware of the extent of state capture. Some would argue it happened on his watch right, under his nose. He was there when Ministers were removed without proper explanation, without due process being followed even though this was the President’s prerogative, much as it is in the United States. (There are many Jeff Sessions types walking about South Africa today.)

The ANC also largely shielded the Zuma administration from the oversight that parliament for example was meant to exercise over the Executive, and several opposition-led processes to remove the President were blocked by the ANC majority despite the evidence of malfeasance piling up. The argument now becomes “well, look at what we are doing now,” but the opposition is saying, “what took you so long?” We’ll see how that plays out in the months ahead and to what extent the ANCs liberation credentials and its new President can still engender a sense of loyalty among the voting majority. It’s also worth noting that Ramaphosa faces very much a balancing act within the ANC – factional issues are real and there are some views that the ANC might break up as a result of these ideological differences within this big tent. A former leader of the official opposition this weekend wrote that Ramaphosa moves with a chameleonic caution against the worst and most corrupt elements of both his party and the state. There’s no question that he’s walking a tightrope.

A big bone of contention in the current political dynamics in the country is the question of land and its expropriation without compensation and what that would mean for the property rights clause entrenched in the constitution. This has been an albatross around the neck of the new administration as they are being outflanked on this issue by the emergent Economic Freedom Fighters – a small but vocal opposition party under the leadership of Julius Malema, ousted from the ruling party for indiscipline a few years ago and who refers to himself as the Commander in Chief of the Organisation.

They have a larger role in determining the political narrative in the country than their 6% national support in the last election would suggest. They have made the land question and its expropriation without compensation a central issue in their push for political power – and a parliamentary committee has just voted to change the country’s constitution to make more explicit the ability to do just that – something that will now be debated in the national assembly and the national council of provinces before a final vote on amending the constitution is taken – but like so many things in South Africa, this too will eventually end up in the country’s constitutional court. The President has been at pains to make this process transparent, he has said that land is one of apartheid’s legacy issues that must be addressed to give the majority of black South Africans some redress. He has also said there would be no Zimbabwe-type land invasions, that this would be an orderly process within the confines of the rule of law, that property rights would be respected. With all that said, it does give those looking in from afar some pause.

Some of the issues that confront the split-personality of the ANC are questions like the independence of the Reserve Bank (there is a group within the ANC that believes the bank should be nationalised and there is actually and ANC resolution to that effect adopted at the last national conference). Other ANC resolutions call for the withdrawal from the ICC and closing down the country’s embassy to Israel.

My SA colleague journalist Stephen Grootes recently pointed out that there are trends to watch out for in South Africa – which I feel are worth repeating here. One, a weakening of the ethos of non-racialism – a fundamental tenet of the Mandela years: could we see this principle begin to unravel with an accompanying rise in ethnic chauvinism, particularly from groups like the EFF? Second,a sustained tolerance for immoral or even criminal behaviour by politicians: state capture didn’t happen overnight. And thirdly, the widening of and still racialised inequality in South Africa. By and large, the face of poverty in South Africa is black: where will this growing impatience with poverty/inequality/corruption lead us to?

Ok, so that was some of the negative stuff, but what else are we observing in this 24-year-old democracy? (1) A strong and independent media and publishing industry that have been absolutely crucial in exposing the bad stuff that was happening in South Africa. (2) The media has largely stood tall in its investigative work and in exposing the levels of state capture. (3) Joined by civil society, and the independence of the country’s judiciary and its chapter 9 institutions like the public protector, the auditor general, the independent electoral commission, the Human Rights Commission – these pillars of the country’s democracy are what made the difference in steering the ship in a different direction. And effectively changed the posture of the country’s parliament that has finally assumed its oversight responsibilities with greater vigour.

Recent polling suggests the ANC will win a majority in parliament but could dip below 60% for the first time since 1994, possibly even below 50%, which means coalition government could be the future for the country. The Democratic Alliance, which won above 22% in the last national poll, is struggling to shake the label that it remains a white party and needs to attract a broader segment of the black majority if it is going to grow. Certain comments by its former leader and premier in the Western Cape that colonialism wasn’t all bad didn’t play well with the black majority in the country. They have also been accused of racism for the recent incompetent ousting of Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille over yet untested corruption charges. She has subsequently, yesterday to be precise, announced that she would be launching a new political party to contest the next election.

The DA’s first black leader Mmusi Maimane is accused of being a front for white control of the party, and he’s struggled to assert himself in a party that has strong white support and influence but one that needs to unshackle itself by appealing to a broader segment of the country if it is really serious about governing nationally. South Africans face a dilemma in that there is nothing priggish about all of their options heading into 2019 and will be faced with the question – what’s my best worst option?

So I think that while its fair for me to say that the future of the country is at best uncertain, we still have the bedrock that is this wondrous constitution that secured marriage equality, ensured wider distribution of ARVs to combat HIV during the intransigence of the Mbeki administration, a constitutional court that held President Zuma liable for costs incurred to upgrade his private residence and ordered the president to implement the rulings of the public protector, which included establishing the commission looking into state capture. This is a court that ruled that political parties should make their funding sources accessible to the public and dismissed Oscar Pistorius’ appeals for the murderer that he is – and the list goes on. This some would argue is democracy in action, and while some of the levies might have broken, the pillars that define any democracy – freedom of expression, association, independent courts, independent, boisterous civil society and so on — have, at the end, made all the difference.

Zuma for all his faults has never disobeyed a court ruling. Long delayed corruption charges have been reinstated against him while dubious appointees at the National Prosecuting Authority, at the SA Revenue Services on boards of state-owned enterprises, have been or are in the process of being removed. Cyril Ramaphosa is seen as better than his predecessor, but the jury is out on how quickly he can clean up government, SOEs like Eskom, Transnet and so on, whether he can infuse mission impossible with a bit of Madiba Magic that many yearn for. The Ramaphosa effect on the ANC’s election prospects shall be tested next May. Having Zuma gone doesn’t help the opposition. But he also now faces questions about a half a million rand payment to election campaign by a company linked to corruption, particularly dirty bribes for government tenders. He has promised to pay back the money but at what cost politically we don’t know.

To conclude, I believe South Africa is entering a phase where the pillars of our democracy will be severely tested but there is no evidence yet that attempts to erode it have actually collapsed those pillars. And despite all of this, there is no question that South Africa today is a much more open, progressive, transparent society than it was 25 years ago. The test is whether it can hold onto those gains while ensuring greater equity in a prudent and timely fashion.

I will end with this quote from our Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago speaking in New York earlier this month: “As you all know, forecasting economic events is hard, but predicting the interactions between political and economic events is all but impossible. Once something has already happened, we are all quite good at stitching together a causal narrative that makes that outcome seem inevitable. Sadly, our ability to explain the past is much stronger than our capacity to prophesy the future.” I have no doubt those words very much apply here today.

Please share ...

Prospects for the Ramaphosa Administration Focus of November 19 PDAA Lunch Program

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses book launch honouring the centenaries of President Nelson Mandela and Struggle heroine Mama Albertina Sisulu, as well as the writing of South Africa’s democratic Constitution. (Photo GCIS, reprinted under Creative Commons) President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses book launch honouring the centenaries of President Nelson Mandela and Struggle heroine Mama Albertina Sisulu, as well as the writing of South Africa’s democratic Constitution. (Photo GCIS, reprinted under Creative Commons)

(Updated 10/24/18) For its second program of the 2018-19 year, PDAA will focus on Nelson Mandela’s legacy and the prospects for the Cyril Ramaphosa Administration. The discussion will take place on November 19 at noon at the DACOR-Bacon House.

The speakers include sociologist Fran Buntman, who teaches Criminal Justice, Law, and the politics of South Africa at George Washington University. Her book, Robben Island and Prisoner Resistance to Apartheid (Cambridge, 2002) reconstructs the inmates’ resistance strategies to show how these men created a new political and social order while behind bars. Professor Buntman has written for academic and law journals and been interviewed by The Boston Globe, Al Jazeera, the Turkish New Agency, the Christian Broadcast Network, and the Kojo Nnamdi Show of WAMU, NPR, among others.

Sherwin Bryce-Pease is UN Bureau Chief of South Africa Broadcasting Corporation News. Mr. Bryce-Pease has been with SABCNEWS since May 2002. He was elected president of the UN Correspondents Association in 2017 and re-elected in 2018. His address for the Association’s Celebration of World Press Freedom Day is available on its website

The discussion will be led by Witney Schneidman, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

The event will take place on Mon., Nov. 19, from 12:00 to 2:00, at DACOR Bacon House, 1801 F St. NW. To register, please complete the form on page 7 of the newsletter or register on-line To register, please complete the form on page 7 of the newsletter or register using the drop-down menu below. Deadline is Nov. 15 at 5:00 p.m. Thereafter, we will maintain a waiting list.

Select appropriate price from the drop-down menu

Optional: The PDAA Awards Program is one of our most important activities. To make a voluntary contribution:

Contribution amount

Please share ...

History and Future of Public Diplomacy Focus of November 5 Lunch Forum

photo of window of United States Information Service center

A special luncheon forum focused on the History and Future of Public Diplomacy will take place on November 5. It is part of the monthly “First Monday” luncheon discussions presented by PDAA, the Public Diplomacy Council, and the USC Annenberg program.

The panel will include (in alphabetical order):
Donald Bishop, Bren Chair of Strategic Communications at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia
Nicholas Cull, Professor and Director, USC Master of Public Diplomacy program
Cynthia Efird, President, PDAA An Association of Public Diplomacy Professionals
Greta Morris, Vice President, Public Diplomacy Council, and President Emerita, PDAA An Association of Public Diplomacy Professionals
Michael Schneider, Director of Syracuse University’s Washington DC public diplomacy program (moderator)

The forum will convene at 12 noon at the George Washington University’s Elliott School, 1957 E Street NW, 6th floor.

This program is free and includes lunch, but participants are asked to register at to enable an accurate catering order.

Please share ...

PDAA Program Year Gets Off to a Start with Focus on DOD-State Cooperation in PD

speakers at PDAA's September 24 luncheon discussion. LTC Greg Tomlin (at podium) and LTC Scott Howell (left) and retired FSO Don Bishop spoke at the September 24 luncheon discussion at DACOR Bacon House on DOD and State Department collaboration in strategic communication. (Alan Kotok)

PDAA’s program year got started on September 24 with a program that focused on DOD and State Department collaboration in the information domain. Retired FSO Don Bishop started the session, followed by LTC Scott Howell and LTC Greg Tomlin. Bishop’s remarks and an article by Tomlin that were the basis for his remarks follow:

The Instruments of U.S. Informational Power Need to Work Together

by Donald M. Bishop

Events since the terror attacks of 9/11; the transformation of patterns of global communication set in motion by the internet and social media; the use of the internet for radicalization by actors such as ISIS and al-Qaeda; and aggressive influence and disruption efforts by Russia, China, Iran, and other nations lead us once again to examine informational power.

We all know that American informational power mostly derives from our schools and universities, media, entertainment and movies, museums, NGOs, foundations and endowments, libraries and the influence of English as a global language.

I would say that Public Diplomacy officers know this better than anyone, and PD work much involves leveraging these knowledge- and culture-exporting institutions to present the United States and its policies to people in other nations and to inform, educate, and advocate.

At the same time, foreign policy and national security practitioners know that these organizations with informational power have their own corporate or institutional goals. Harvard, Hollywood, and the Hoover Institution don’t respond to the U.S. government, the State Department, or military commands.

We all know that the U.S. government can deploy informational power through (1) Public Affairs, (2) Public Diplomacy, (3) the USG international broadcasting networks, and (4) information operations (IO) by military commands.

In my experience, Public Diplomacy professionals know Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy in depth, and they know the ABC’s of USG international broadcasting. But generally PD practitioners have weak knowledge of IO and the influence disciplines in the armed forces.

The knowledge they do have mostly comes from working with MIST teams, from collaboration during the occasional deployment of US forces for exercises, and seeing IO in Afghanistan and Iraq. These contacts, however, don’t give PD officers a full view of OIE by military commands.

Looking at people and organizations, the COCOMs all have staff elements dedicated to IO. Special Operations Command regularly integrates “operations in the information environment” into its planning. Psychological operations is formally an Army branch like infantry or artillery. Exercises at the Army’s national training centers include play and evaluations of PA, CA, and IO.

The IO schoolhouses – for all the services – are at Fort Bragg and MacDill AFB in Tampa. These are serious enterprises: the Foreign Service Institute gives a few weeks of training to new State Public Diplomacy officers before sending them to embassies and consulates. In comparison, the course to qualify a psyop soldier lasts 44 weeks.

Looking at concepts and doctrine, the armed forces are in a period of creative ferment. New joint publications are appearing each year, and I’ve found it hard to track just the nomenclature – psyop, MISO, information operations, information warfare, and the new OIE, “operations in the information environment.”

One relevant lens is “domains.” Back in the day, domains were simple — land, sea, undersea, air, and space. Now there’s the cyber domain, and clusters of IO experts are examining the “cognitive domain.” Information has been recognized as the seventh joint function.

Once upon a time, “information operations” or “psychological operations” meant leaflets and loudspeakers. Because of the 2016 elections; the theft of American corporate, government, and defense secrets by other nations; and the “weaponization of information” by Russia, there’s now a more urgent analysis of “information warfare.” This reckoning now integrates such concepts as “hybrid warfare” and “the gray zone.”

The armed forces are also thinking through the relationships between “cyber” and “information.” From my perspective, “cyber” occupies the public imagination, and there’s lots of talk about “cyber,” “cyber defense,” “cyber offense,” “bots,” “trolls,” and “hacking.” Cyber, however, is simply communications between microprocessors.

The larger challenge is about “information” — which embraces facts, knowledge, logic, argument, education, theory, beliefs, judgment, interpretation, opinion, thought, narrative, norms, values, ideas, Jefferson’s “facts submitted to a candid world,” and, yes, truth. Armed forces thinkers see it this way too.

Said another way, to prepare for cyber conflict, study computer science and information technology. For information competition, study international affairs, history, economics, religion, and philosophy.

I have long urged that the instruments of U.S. informational power need to work together. I recently gave a presentation on PD and broadcasting at Joint Special Operations University in Tampa, and the faculty members realized that they have shorted teaching these instruments of U.S. informational power. My impression is that FSI’s Public Diplomacy training gives just the briefest introduction to IO. So there’s work to be done.

It’s commonplace to note that though the world is full of information challenges, the U.S. since 1999 has had no single institution dedicated to responding. Unification won’t happen, but what I call alignment seems possible.

In Kabul, David Ensor and I saw that in just one area of the information fight, broadcasting, there were many U.S. actors, but there was no cooperation and not even awareness. Both VOA and RFE/RL broadcast in Pashto. USAID had set up the Salam Watander network of small radio stations across the north, and both the Combined Joint Psychological Operations Task Force (CJPOTF) and the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) had set up small regional radio networks. And deployed Army and Marine battalions all had “Radios in a Box.” In 2009 and 2010 at least, none of these broadcasters shared content or cooperated with one another.

My own PAO experience with MIST teams was mixed. In theory they worked for the Embassy’s PAS, but I found they indeed marched to their own drummer. In my experience they play their cards close to the chest.

So, I talk of alignment. We begin by beginning, and the first step is knowledge. And that’s the purpose of our session today. Here in our audience we have some of America’s greatest experts on Public Diplomacy and U.S. broadcasting – with literally centuries of experience. Let’s hear from active duty officers who are leading thinkers and practitioners of information operations.

“The Last Three Feet,” Reinvesting in Tactical Information Operations

by Greg Tomlin

It has always seemed to me the real art in this business is not so much moving information or guidance or policy five or ten thousand miles. That is an electronic problem. The real art is to move it the last three feet in face-to-face conversation. —Edward R. Murrow

Leaders in any unit occupying a forward operating base (FOB) for the first time will walk the surrounding terrain to lay obstacles and create standoff distance from any would-be suicide bomber. Soldiers construct watch towers, develop sector sketches for crew-served weapons, register howitzers for counterbattery, and rehearse quick-reaction drills against potential enemy attacks. Prior to every guard shift, squads receive an intelligence update to ensure that they understand the current enemy situation. Commanders implement these force protection measures to allow those living inside the FOB to focus on other critical tasks and, when not on duty, sleep soundly.

Now for a moment, consider eliminating one or more of these security measures. As nonsensical as that sounds, the Army’s 2016 Modification Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE) did just that, by reducing the ability of a brigade combat team (BCT) to maximize standoff distance around a FOB.¹ The MTOE change did not affect the inventory of weapons or engineering assets available to a BCT commander. Rather, the revised MTOE eliminated the information operations (IO) officer billet from the brigade staff, thus centralizing IO planning at the division level. This decision seriously jeopardizes a BCT’s ability to engage the local population who, in turn, informs friendly forces about suspicious behavior or denies enemy forces sanctuary in the brigade’s area of operations. Indeed, the tangible results of tactical-level IO can include generating standoff distance from adversaries by influencing the local populace to support the mission of the deployed unit.

From the Balkans to the Middle East and Afghanistan, modular BCTs often occupy noncontiguous operational environments with considerable autonomy from division headquarters. For nearly two decades, the desire to provide a BCT commander with more organic resources—including intelligence, signal, and engineering components—led to significant MTOE changes. In 2000, then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki lauded the Initial Brigade Combat Team program as “a milestone on the road to transforming the entire Army into a force that is strategically responsive and dominant at every point on the spectrum of operations.”² Given current and potential future mission requirements, the need to conduct tactical-level IO remains essential for dominating the entire spectrum involved in multi-domain operations. Underscoring its relevance, Defense Secretary James Mattis established information as the seventh joint function in 2017.³ This article advocates that in the next round of MTOE adjustments, the Army should reestablish the brigade IO officer to empower BCTs to refine their information campaign to the same level of granularity as their maneuver, fires, and sustainment operations.

Forget Cyber (for a Moment)

During the Cold War, the U.S. Information Agency coordinated public diplomacy and strategic communications on behalf of the U.S. government. For four decades, the agency grappled with how to adopt emerging technologies—from shortwave radio to satellite television and the internet—into efforts to advance U.S. policy by engaging with foreign publics. The agency’s most celebrated director, journalist Edward R. Murrow, cautioned his staff against fixating on new media platforms and to focus instead on tailoring messages for specific audiences around the world. Carrying the message the “last three feet” often required U.S. Information Agency employees to personally engage in conversation with inquisitive visitors to U.S. embassies, consulates, or one of more than a hundred libraries operated overseas by the agency. Through one-on-one dialogue, many foreigners began to discern the differences between the empty promises of communist utopia and the real potential for progress offered in the American model.

Since the formation of U.S. Cyber Command in 2009, captivation with cyberwarfare has dominated Army discussions on how to prioritize IO efforts. Certainly the intrigue surrounding Russian disinformation campaigns and the prolific use of social media by al-Qaida and the Islamic State to recruit foreign fighters necessitates investing in defensive cyber measures. However, by shifting resources so heavily toward 2nd Army (the service component to U.S. Cyber Command), senior leaders have implied that IO is preponderantly strategic in nature. Removal of the brigade IO officer from the MTOE further implies that the information domain cannot be influenced significantly by those with boots on the ground—those most capable of carrying the message the “last three feet” to a host-nation populace. The foundation for tactical IO remains face-to-face engagements between soldiers on patrol and local residents as well as those between commanders and indigenous leaders. IO messages developed by the division staff provide a starting point for preparing a platoon leader to speak with villagers during a patrol or for a company commander to meet with a civic administrator. However, just as junior officers must develop their own scheme of maneuver based on a battalion operations order, they should prepare their own information messages nested with their higher headquarters’ IO themes to ensure they will help achieve the commander’s intent. Since brigade commanders would never authorize a lethal strike until the fire support officer refines the target location published in a fires plan from division headquarters, they should not accept generic messages for nonlethal engagements in their area of operations either.

Effective IO requires more than broadcasting radio infomercials or plastering walls with eye-catching posters encouraging the local populace to support the rule of law. For IO themes to influence behavioral change—to persuade individuals to reject the allure of the enemy’s information campaign—they must be delivered in a manner that resonates on a personal level. Gaining credibility with people already suspicious of the intentions of U.S. forces operating in their community requires a willingness for soldiers to engage them in dialogue and feel comfortable responding to their questions. Too often IO officers develop messages in reaction to a crisis or to counter the enemy’s latest false accusation about U.S. operations. Such platitudes ring hollow if the BCT fails to develop a rapport with the inhabitants before the need arises to react to disinformation.

Refining tactical-level messages should be done in information working groups at the BCT level, where the brigade IO officer can collaborate with battalion representatives. Regular input from the battalions about local demographics, security concerns, economic frustrations, and political viewpoints will improve the substance of IO messages disseminated to soldiers for use when conducting patrols. In addition, feedback on earlier engagements will inform the brigade staff about the reception of specific themes by the populace, an invaluable planning consideration for future IO efforts. By continuously assessing the effectiveness of messaging, the BCT can develop relatable talking points and questions for soldiers to use to spark conversations with indigenous people, rather than to speak at them.

Once locals feel comfortable asking soldiers about their mission or the larger goals of a coalition operation, soldiers have an opportunity to share more about themselves as individuals. Sharing personal stories about life back home in the United States to a group of teenagers on a soccer field, to women in a market, or to village elders in a café may humanize IO efforts and improve the likelihood of fomenting trust. In As Terrorism Evolves, Philip Seib describes the value of this “think smaller” approach: “Such projects, multiplied a thousand-fold, might help make extremist activity less alluring because the targets of recruitment would decide that their lives, although far from ideal, have a chance to become better.”(4)

As a force multiplier, key leader engagements remain a critical face-to-face technique for BCT leaders to collaborate with respected community members to amplify IO messages on behalf of the unit. Individuals wary of listening to U.S. soldiers may be more inclined to trust their own cleric who condemns violence during a sermon, or their mayor who encourages constituents to report the location of a terrorist cell to the police. This requires members of the unit to convince local leaders that it is in their best interest to amplify the command’s messages. The absence of a brigade IO officer limits the command’s ability to build and maintain an exhaustive list of key leaders, often referred to as “spheres of influence,” across the area of operations.

Maintaining a listing of key leaders and their designated BCT counterparts, from the brigade commander to the platoon leader, helps to prevent “information fratricide.” This form of unintentional damage occurs when two members of the same unit engage a local individual separately without strategizing their messages in advance. For example, if the battalion and company commanders meet independently with the district police chief, they may agree to contradictory promises on behalf of the unit. Alternatively, if a battalion commander meets with the police chief first, the chief may not accept meeting with a company commander for the remainder of the deployment because of the perception of losing prestige by speaking with a more junior officer. The IO officer’s involvement in scheduling key leader engagements aids in scoping the focus of each meeting and prepares the unit representative to address defined goals. While BCTs rotate through the area of operations, local leaders reside there and will remain invested in the community for a lifetime, which means that they can provide continuity as new units acquaint themselves with the environment.

Similarly, the IO officer can assist senior leaders with conducting negotiations, a more sophisticated meeting than an ordinary key leader engagement. As William Wunderle argued in a 2007 Military Review article, the prenegotiation preparation may be the most critical step for achieving an outcome advantageous to the unit. In the lead-up to the meeting, each party “identifies its strengths, assesses its interests, and works to understand the negotiation’s wider context.”(5) Certainly the brigade intelligence officer should provide background on the local individual’s personality and viewpoints. However, the IO officer would be better suited to arrange a preparation session for the senior leader to review the goals of the negotiation, practice responding to anticipated questions, and gain confidence in speaking through an interpreter—an underrated but essential skill for bilingual conversations. Whether in attendance during the actual negotiation or not, the IO officer should schedule a postnegotiation out brief with the senior leader to assess how the outcome of the engagement should shape future messages.

Integrating All Capabilities

Joint Publication 3-13, Information Operations, emphasizes that in IO planning and execution, “it is not the ownership of the capabilities and techniques that is important, but rather their integrated application.”(6) From civil affairs (CA) to psychological operations (PSYOP) and electronic warfare, BCTs receive a variety of enablers for a deployment, with attachments often arriving for the brigade’s training exercise at a combat training center prior to departure. When the brigade commander and staff fail to integrate these unique elements into their operations during training, the BCT arrives in theater suffering from an avoidable tactical disadvantage. Without clear guidance from the brigade, attached units may receive direction from division-level authorities on how to operate within the brigade’s sector, and this can lead to unnecessary friction between well-meaning attachments and the brigade’s leadership. It may take months into the deployment for the commander and staff to realize their mistake prior to integrating IO enablers into the information campaign and regain the momentum lost by the setback.

Through no fault of their own, most BCT operations officers from the armor or infantry branches possess limited knowledge about IO enablers, particularly since most attachments hail from the National Guard or Army Reserve. When pressed to publish an operations order in time for a briefing or rehearsal, combat arms officers can easily dismiss the information function in favor of the more familiar tasks of integrating the command-and-control and movement-and-maneuver functions. Brigade staff primaries include field grade officers to develop the intelligence, fires, protection, and sustainment annexes of an order, but with the lack of an IO officer, the staff may never write an information annex. Without providing a task and purpose for each IO enabler or refining division-level messages, the brigade will struggle to incorporate the information function into its overall synchronization matrix for operations.

Although CA has its own annex in an operations order, a CA detachment should not operate in a BCT’s area of operations without understanding the brigade’s information messages. Working with nongovernmental organizations, provincial officials, and host-nation community groups, CA soldiers coordinate humanitarian aid distribution, education programs, and the construction of public infrastructure. High-profile events, such as the groundbreaking ceremony for a new hospital, draw crowds and the local press. However, the brigade loses the opportunity to influence the population when the staff fails to prepare the CA commander to speak to the captive audience about other topics critical to changing their perceptions about the U.S. or coalition mission. Just as the IO officer could prepare brigade leaders for key leader engagements, the CA commander should confer with the IO officer prior to meeting with local officials about the timing and location of development aid projects.

To further amplify brigade messages, PSYOP teams perform a unique information function, not only for stability operations but also for high-intensity conflict. Whether the team arrives with a speaker-mounted vehicle or its own handbill printing capability, PSYOP can deliver mass or surgical effects to inform the population. During the brigade planning process, the IO officer could ensure that courses of action consider leveraging PSYOP techniques to clear routes of civilian traffic for tactical convoys or to deceive adversaries about the location of the brigade’s main effort. The IO planning ensures that the PSYOP team appears on the synchronization matrix managed by the operations officer, that the team leader participates in BCT rehearsals, and that maneuver battalion commanders acknowledge their requirement to provide the team with force protection.

The IO officer should also integrate the public affairs officer into the information campaign. The reliance on internet-based information sources blurs the line between IO and public affairs, making it impossible to bifurcate the two staff functions during multi-domain operations. As Walter Richter observed in his 2009 Military Review article, “While each environment has its own characteristics, IO can no longer consider these environments simply as friend or foe.”(7) Add to this complexity the near-instantaneous impact of tweets and YouTube videos released by adversaries that elicit emotional responses from the local populace, and the brigade must consider its online presence and ability to engage the indigenous population through the virtual domain.

Typically, BCTs maintain a Facebook page to share information with families back home about the unit’s deployment, but adversaries and curious residents of the brigade’s area of operations visit this publicly accessible site too. Without sacrificing operational security, an IO officer could assist the public affairs officer in considering the advantages of uploading specific pictures from key leader engagements or development aid projects, knowing that these images would make their way into the social media feeds of some locals. Photos with respected community leaders do not require captions translated into the host-nation language to make a favorable impression. Without compromising the credibility of the public affairs website by using it for deception operations, the inclusion of positive news stories could help indigenous residents who visit the page to navigate through the internet’s “white noise” of propaganda spewed by adversaries and the wildly irrelevant stories intended to excoriate the U.S. or coalition mission. Just as brigades must build rapport through face-to-face conversations, establishing credibility in cyberspace requires daily interaction at the tactical level.

While divisions, joint task forces, and combatant commands maintain their own websites and social media accounts, the creation of brigade-level outlets would further advance the information campaign. During a deployment, BCTs have a responsibility to nest their messages with those developed by their higher echelons. However, beyond projecting enduring messages, the need to inform the local populace immediately after a tragedy, such as a suicide bomber killing dozens of civilians in a market, necessitates reporting on events without waiting to staff every tweet or Facebook post through a division for approval. In the absence of a timely and accurate report posted online by the BCT, an adversary can quickly plant a false narrative blaming the brigade for the atrocity. Even if the local population does not find the adversary’s story convincing, the adversary succeeds in seeding doubt about the U.S. mission whenever the brigade fails to leverage the information domain as quickly as a platoon would react to an enemy ambush by establishing security and clearing the threat.

A Worthy Investment

Despite the sophistication of today’s joint fires architecture, we would never consider centralizing fire support at the division level. Likewise, without an IO officer preparing leaders and synchronizing assets across the BCT to dynamically engage the local population, generic information messages will fail to influence perceptions, behavior, action, or inaction. The absence of an IO officer at the brigade level reinforces the misconception within the U.S. Army that information is a separate function, rather than a related capability—no different from intelligence or fires—to integrate, synchronize, and direct operations.

In the absence of an IO officer, who on the brigade staff is best suited to assume responsibility for the information function as an additional duty? Day-today priorities overwhelm the operations officer, and his small cadre of captains lack experience or formal training in IO. The fire support officer—a favorite surrogate since the Balkan peacekeeping missions of the 1990s— may seem like a logical selection, particularly during stability operations when few indirect fire platforms require synchronization. However, IO engagement is not the same as lethal targeting, and it would be incongruous to try to align nonlethal effects on the indigenous population with the joint targeting cycle’s selection, engagement, and assessment of targets. The joint targeting cycle used to shape the air tasking order should not be accepted as the best process for IO planning or assessments because of the extensive time required to build credibility and influence the local population. The success of IO often depends on engaging a host-nation population continuously over multiple BCT rotations, evidenced by ongoing operations in Afghanistan.

When Mattis established information as a joint function, he directed the Department of Defense to consider the implications across doctrine, organizations, education, and personnel. This article explored one dimension that the Army should address by updating the BCT MTOE to reestablish the permanent position for a field grade IO officer on the brigade staff. Regaining a principal staff officer formally trained in IO and designated by duty description to focus on the information function will empower the staff to more capably integrate IO capabilities and refine information messages for the brigade’s area of operations.

Lt. Col. Gregory M. Tomlin, PhD, U.S. Army, is chief of the Targeting Doctrine and Policy Branch, Directorate for Intelligence, the Joint Staff. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he holds a PhD in history from the George Washington University. He is author of Murrow’s Cold War: Public Diplomacy for the Kennedy Administration and coauthor of The Gods of Diyala: Transfer of Command in Iraq.

End Notes:

Epigraph. Edward R. Murrow, transcript of Issues and Answers, ABC, 4 August 1963.

1. Account holders may access the current Modification Table of Organization and Equipment from the U.S. Army Force Management System website at secure/req_account.asp.

2. Eric Shinseki, quoted in “Fort Lewis Brigades Begin Conversion to IBCTs,” Army Logistician 32, no. 4 (July-August 2000): 56.

3. James Mattis, Memorandum to the Department of Defense, “Information as a Joint Function,” 15 September 2017.

4. Philip Seib, As Terrorism Evolves: Media, Religion, and Governance (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 168.

5. William Wunderle, “How to Negotiate in the Middle East,” Military Review 87, no. 2 (March-April 2007): 34.

6. Joint Publication 3-13, Information Operations (Washington, DC: Government Publishing Office, 20 November 2014), I-5.

7. Walter E. Richter, “The Future of Information Operations,” Military Review 89, no. 1 (January-February 2009): 109.

Please share ...

“Broadcasting the Voice of America in the Era of Disinformation” focus of October 1 event

Dr. Haroon K. Ullah, Chief Strategy Officer, U.S. Agency for Global Media (previously the Broadcasting Board of Governors), will be the featured speaker at the October 1 First Monday luncheon sponsored by PDAA, the Public Diplomacy Council, and the USC Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.

At USAGM, Dr. Ullah oversees the Office of Policy and Research, where he strives to elevate the new agency’s policy engagement in the interagency, strategic planning, and strategic initiatives functions. In addition, he oversees USAGM’s Office of Internet Freedom (OIF), which focuses on the technological and innovative efforts to circumvent internet censorship around the globe. Ullah’s main responsibility is “to lead the Agency to become a more strategically relevant agency within the national security, foreign affairs, internet censorship, and global media spheres.”

Ullah joined the erstwhile BBG from the Department of State, where he most recently worked on Secretary Tillerson’s Policy Planning Staff covering digital innovation, public diplomacy, and public/private partnerships.

He is also a visiting professor at Georgetown University and is a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Ullah has also served as a senior Harvard University Belfer Fellow and International Director of SAB Negotiation, and his TV production “Burka Avenger” won a Peabody Award.

Ullah has an MA from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a joint Ph.D. from Harvard and the University of Michigan, and he was a J. William Fulbright Fellow, a Harvard University Presidential Scholar, and a Woodrow Wilson Public Service Fellow. His award-winning books include Vying for Allah’s Vote (Georgetown University Press), The Bargain from the Bazaar (Public Affairs Books), and the upcoming Digital World War (Yale University Press), which focuses on new uses for technology, transmedia, and digital content.

The First Monday program will take place at the Lindner Commons, Room 602, at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, 1957 E Street NW, beginning at noon.

This event is free and includes lunch; those planning to attend are asked to register by sending a message to so that there is an accurate count for catering.

Please share ...