The Pentagon's management of information operations and strategic communications "has systemic problems" and only works on the battlefield "in spite of itself," an internal report has concluded.
After the New York Times published a story about how a Department of Defense employee named Michael Furlong allegedly used Pentagon resources to fund a covert spying ring, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ordered an internal review of information operations, which the Pentagon defines as "a military function integrating various capabilities to achieve impact in the
information environment." Traditionally, IO has encompassed all overt and covert means of influencing opinions, perceptions, and tactics on the battlefield, whether via operational
security, electronic warfare, military deception, psychological operations, or offensive and defensive cyber-space operations.
A summary of conclusions from that review has been provided to the Atlantic.
It calls for a "rebalancing" of information, and "adjustment and clarity" in authorities -- the DoD's way of saying that few senior managers know what IO is, who does it, or for what purposes. Leadership and oversight exist, the report concludes, but IO is "fragmented at the top." Even though the Pentagon is "plagued with confusion" over information operations, military commanders in the field use it quite effectively, the report concludes.
The report obliquely mentions "some 'jewels' that must be protected," a reference to covert intelligence programs.
The report distinguishes information operations from "strategic communications," defined as a "U.S. government process combining
words and actions to support the strategic narrative," but notes that senior officials often use the two terms interchangeably -- and "wrongfully."
According to the report, the Office of the Secretary of Defense is scrutinizing all of the contracts that the Joint Information Operations Warfare Center, where Furling worked, has taken out. Located at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, the JIOWC is the focal point for the military's information operations activities, which often use contractors. The Pentagon is also trying to determine which JIOWC programs, most of which are highly classified, are better carried out by intelligence units or by other government agencies.
The report calls for Gates to designate an executive agency for information operations and make sure that IO operations have sufficient personnel. It also tasks Mike Decker, Gates's assistant for intelligence oversight, with a full audit of IO contracting procedures.
The conclusions will be interpreted as criticism of the U.S. Strategic Command, which runs information operations, space and nuclear forces, and the cyber command. In aggressively pursuing its vision of IO, STRATCOM managers may have crossed departmental lines. Gen. Stanley McChyrstal, the commanding general of the international security assistance force in Afghanistan, and his intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, have complained about how STRATCOM operations are not well integrated into the country's overall intelligence strategy for the region.
In 2007, Gates, newly minted as Defense Secretary, joked that the U.S., which had invented public relations, was "miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals." He called it "embarrassing."
"Strategic communications, information operations and psychological operations have been a mess for years, and we need top commanders to finally focus on this because we're too often getting beat in the battlefield," said a consultant who works on sensitive IO issues and who has seen the report.
During the Bush administration, operational efforts in the war on terrorism were focused on killing the bad guys. Strategic communication was left to political advisers like Karen Hughes, who worked in the State Department. President Obama is even more focused than Bush was on the operational efforts to kill bad guys.
The Pentagon finds it frustrating that Obama's National Security staff believes that the President's speeches and outreach are sufficient basis for an offensive information campaign against Al Qaeda. Indeed, they believe that the lack of strategic guidance for information operations may be one reason why battlefield commanders and Pentagon officials decide to freelance. (The White House doesn't want to plan offensive IO operations.)
The President's National Security Strategy, released two weeks ago, focused heavily on the need for strategic outreach, and Secretary Gates has ordered his planners to focus largely on IO reorganization for the 2012 budget cycle.
Pentagon officials worry that the public perception of chaos in the realm of Information Operations will give Congressional appropriators the chance to cut IO's budget. At a meeting of senior officials in late May, Brigadier General John Davis, the deputy commander of the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations, described Gates as being "sensitive to budget issues on the Hill," according to the notes of a participant. Gates will prioritize Information Operations in the 2012 budget, Davis said. He also said that U.S. adversaries are quite agile in the IO environment and often "outmaneuver" the U.S. in shaping and influencing opinions.
Pentagon spokespeople did not return emails seeking comment.
A new anatomical understanding of how movement controls the body’s stress response system
Elite tennis players have an uncanny ability to clear their heads after making errors. They constantly move on and start fresh for the next point. They can’t afford to dwell on mistakes.
Peter Strick is not a professional tennis player. He’s a distinguished professor and chair of the department of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. He’s the sort of person to dwell on mistakes, however small.
“My kids would tell me, dad, you ought to take up pilates. Do some yoga,” he said. “But I’d say, as far as I’m concerned, there's no scientific evidence that this is going to help me.”
Still, the meticulous skeptic espoused more of a tennis approach to dealing with stressful situations: Just teach yourself to move on. Of course there is evidence that ties practicing yoga to good health, but not the sort that convinced Strick. Studies show correlations between the two, but he needed a physiological mechanism to explain the relationship. Vague conjecture that yoga “decreases stress” wasn’t sufficient. How? Simply by distracting the mind?
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Women engage in indirect aggression and slut-shaming, even in clinical research studies. Why?
One day in Ontario, 86 straight women were paired off into groups of two—either with a friend or a stranger—and taken to a lab at McMaster University. There, a researcher told them they were about to take part in a study about female friendships. But they were soon interrupted by one of two women.
Half the participants were interrupted by a thin, blond, attractive woman with her hair in a bun, dressed in a plain blue t-shirt and khaki pants, whom the researchers called “the conservative confederate."
Every year, hundreds of people attend the Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot, cultivating a love for assault weapons in an era of mass violence.
It was Saturday at the 16th-annual Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot and Trade Show, and I had my thumbs on the trigger of a Browning M1919, prepared to unleash hellacious destruction on an unsuspecting refrigerator.
The Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot is one of several “machine-gun shoots” around the country. For two days in June, hundreds of people traveled to Wyandotte, Oklahoma, for the opportunity to fire nearly every species of automatic weapon from the past century. There were UZIs and M16s, Barrett .50-caliber rifles, WWII-era belt-fed Brownings, and even a Minigun—a giant, chair-mounted cylindrical device powered by a car battery. As of 10 a.m., all 84 firing positions were trained downrange onto a hill stocked with junked cars and dead kitchen appliances, waiting for the starting signal.
One black woman tries to reconcile her faith with the institution’s history of discrimination.
It’s been six years since I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Each year has been a lesson in faith and doubt, stretching and engaging what it means to be black, a woman, and Mormon. The decision to join on my own was not an easy one. As the child of a Protestant mother and a father who converted to Islam in his teens, I was doing something unheard of in my family by becoming a Mormon. And as a black woman, I had a heightened awareness of what it means to potentially be the only black person in any given congregation in the United States.
As a child, I watched as preachers in my congregation espoused their deepest beliefs about God. They spoke to the horrors faced by black people in the United States in their dealings in life and death. There was intense power in their sermons, one that was complemented by the soft presence of a “Black Jesus,” a savior who understood the plight of African Americans in word and form. He represented the long tradition of resistance within the black church to white-supremacist theology: Racialized violence in the United States was often supported by white Christians who recognized whiteness as good and blackness as evil. Within the walls of my congregation, blackness was not discounted, but embraced in all its various forms from the pulpit to the pews. Islam also informed my faith; I witnessed the immense devotion in my father’s prayers and the care with which he kept his Koran. These two traditions of my childhood shared a reverence for and recognition of a version of God who is not racist.
The choice to leave academia does not have to mean life as a barista.
There is a widespread belief that humanities Ph.D.s have limited job prospects. The story goes that since tenure-track professorships are increasingly being replaced by contingent faculty, the vast majority of English and history Ph.D.s now roam the earth as poorly-paid adjuncts or, if they leave academia, as baristas and bookstore cashiers. As English professor William Pannapacker put it in Slate a few years back, “a humanities Ph.D. will place you at a disadvantage competing against 22-year-olds for entry-level jobs that barely require a high-school diploma.” His advice to would-be graduate students was simple: Recognize that a humanities Ph.D is now a worthless degree and avoid getting one at all cost.
A 160,000-mile quest to visit all 59 of the country's natural treasures
Mark Burns spent five years visiting all 59 of the United States' national parks. Captured in stirring black and white images, his landscape photography project was completed just in time for the National Park Service's centennial celebration. “It's a time to reflect on the rich history of our national parks,” Burns said of his 160,000-mile journey, “but it's also a time to plan wisely for the next 100 years.” Glacier Bay's wild coastline, Death Valley's parched terrain, and Yellowstone's surging geysers are all pictured in searing detail. One image from each park is currently being exhibited at the Houston Museum of Natural Science until September 5th. A selection can be found below.
A man who served the regime recounts his efforts to bring it down.
The theory of Jung Gwang Il’s work is essentially this: Tiny packets of information just might bring an end to decades of tyranny in his homeland. From his base in South Korea, he sends USB drives, SD cards, and other devices—loaded with Hollywood movies, South Korean television shows, and testimonials from North Korean defectors—across North Korea’s borders. His weapons against North Korea’s repressive, nuclear-armed regime are Skyfalland South Korean soaps. His battlefield is a country with no free press, virtually no internet (there’s an intranet), and minimal relations with much of the planet. Jung’s mission, in other words, is to funnel fragments of the outside world into the most information-starved nation on earth—and to thereby undermine a government for which he was once willing to sacrifice his life.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
Recently I sat down with Vice President Joe Biden to explore whether his approach to foreign policy challenges, and his patterns of interaction with global leaders, constituted something distinctive enough to call “The Biden Doctrine,” which I wrote about here in The Atlantic. In a fascinating, wide-ranging discussion that touched on America’s current political contest, the vice president shared some of what he believes are Hillary Clinton’s strengths and weaknesses. And in a powerful ending to our chat, Biden indicted the leadership elites of both parties for looking down on and leaving behind Americans who deserve better. I felt that this material deserved its own space, and wanted to share the larger conversation with readers. The transcript, condensed and edited for clarity, follows.