Saturday, March 24, 2007

Losing the Information War

We've often taken the military to task for its handling of information operations in the GWOT. On many occasions, it seems that the terrorists are far more nimble and adept at getting information into the MSM or online, while the Pentagon moves at a glacial pace, relying on press briefings and releases that are often ignored.

Happily, that trend is beginning to turn. Over at the Danger Room, Noah Shachtman notes that some elements within the public affairs corps are taking a more proactive--and cutting edge--approach in highlighting the military's side of the story. U.S. Central Command seems to be taking the lead in this effort, providing regular updates and material for interested bloggers. And, just this week, I learned that U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) will mount a similar effort in the near future. Some of the military's professional schools (such as the USAF's Air Command and Staff College) are now offering classes and seminars about the blogosphere as an information tool, in an effort to educate future commanders.

While those developments are certainly encouraging, not everyone in the military is enamored with bloggers. Case in point? U.S. Army Major General Vincent Brooks, best remembered as CENTCOM's "official" spokesman during the invasion of Iraq four years ago. General Brooks is now back in Baghdad, this time as deputy commander of the coalition's Multi-National Division. For whatever reason, Brooks seem to have it in for Michael Yon, and is apparently trying to run him out of the country.

Given Yon's superb reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan--and the huge audience it attracts--General Brooks' effort is puzzling to say the least. Brooks is a sharp guy who should no better. Before returning to the Middle East, he served as the Army's chief public affairs officer, and was referred to as the "face" of that service. It is worth noting that CENTCOM's blog outreach effort began after General Brooks left that command and became the Army's Chief PAO. For that, I suppose, the blogosphere should be thankful, although it will be interesting to see how Brooks' efforts play out. The CENTCOM outreach effort clearly has the blessing of senior comanders. At some point (hopefully), wiser heads will tell General Brooks to shut up and color. If his approach carries the day, then his former command and the multi-national division will be taking a giant step back in getting their story to the American people.


crosspatch said...

As I understand it, the problem this PAO general has with Yon is that Yon joined a firefight. I am guessing that this would have generated complaints from other journalists who might fear that such an action on Yon's part would possible endanger them or remove any sense that the journalists are observers only.

In other words, Yon's action, which I am not going to pass judgement on because I wasn't there, might be seen by other journalists as possibly tainting all of them and the embedding process itself.

I don't think it has to do with his reporting, but this incident where Yon picked up a weapon and joined a firefight is likely to be the root of the issue. If he is going to operate as a paramilitary combat photographer, fine, he just needs to be above board on that score.

Spook86 said...

IMO, Gen Brooks shouldn't judge Yon on the basis on that incident, which happened more than two years ago. Read his dispatch on the climactic battle in the fight for Mosul; he picked up a weapon only because the soliders he was with (the commander and the CSM) had become separated (momentarily) from the rest of the unit; they were attacked, wounded, and in Yon's estimation, in serious danger. After the engagement, Yon was thoroughly chewed out by a senior officer, with the understanding that similar behavior along those lines would result in him being permanently banned from Iraq.

Interestingly, there are other examples of correspondents picking up weapons. At the Ia Drang Valley engagement in 1965, a young reporter named Joe Galloway joined in the fight when it appeared that his position would be overrun. He was later awarded the Bronze Star for helping save wounded soldiers. Galloway spent years covering the fighting in Vietnam; apparently, that sort of conduct 40 years ago wasn't a problem.

I believe the Brooks-Yon feud runs deeper than the Mosul incident. And, I find it rather odd that a couple of prominent milbloggers--Yon and Mike Fumento--have recently run into trouble with the PAOs and the Army. Coincidence? We'll soon see. But whatever his rationale, I think the general is wrong. We're wasting embeds on guys like Bryan Preston of AFP (who have a clear anti-military agenda), while milbloggers are having a tougher time getting in

Angevin13 said...

I agree with crosspatch, that it's probably based on the firefight incident. But Spook, you're correct that Gen Brooks should not judge Yon on that incident.

With regard to IO, it seems the U.S. military has been, and continues to be, slow in recognizing its potential. It's clear that the "propaganda war" is a large component in the war on terror. But IO has been important in conflicts all throughout history, with some devastating consequences, so it's surprising to me how this has been neglected. One particularly interesting example is the "information war" between King Richard I (the Lionheart) and the French king, Philip II, in the late twelfth century, where the weaker French king shrewdly used propaganda and disinformation to elicit political victories which compensated for his inabiity to defeat Richard on the battlefield. There's some interesting comparisons and implications for the war on terror...

crosspatch said...

No way am I judging the rightness or wrongness of what he did. I would likely defend my countrymen if faced with that choice myself. And I can think of other situations where I would be tempted to involve myself, particularly if a child were involved.

I meant to point out what was likely to be the root of the issue and a reason why this particular general might feel the way he does. But in any case it is all speculation anyway because I wasn't then, and am not now, nor have I ever been there.

Papa Ray said...

Yea, the shoot up brought Yon the wrong kind of attention. But Yon has a couple of traits that don't make him higher's poster boy. He respects authority, but can't stand ignorance or ineptitude in anyone, no matter what their rank or position. Some of that bleeds through in his dealings with the military.

I witnessed those traits back before he was a somebody, and he has not mellowed.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Making The Wheels Turn said...

This entire issue is going "viral" and for a whole lot of different reasons (and from a ton of different sources), MNF IRAQ is going to feel like they just walked smack into a hurricane if this entire situation persists.

If General Brooks thinks this all is going to go away in a week or so, he's dead wrong. The "inquiries" to his chain of command are only starting.

Gen. Brooks may be thinking "military", but he SERIOUSLY needs to be thinking "Political" (and I don't mean "PC").

Huntress said...

Crosspatch shows up on various sites and makes the same inane remark about Mikes actions in Gates of Fire. If the Army really had a problem with his actions they would have thrown him out then and there.

While they may claim publically that it was a problem privately they understand that these circumstances were extra ordinary. Mike was honest and forthright about what he did. The real issue with Gates of Fire apparently had to do with the Army implying that they didn't want Kurilla's injury to be made known.
But it had already been reported in the MSM before Gates was published.

So it seems CPIC can't even come up with ONE real reason why they didn't want Gates of Fire published. In was Proximity Delays that they had a real problem with. The hassle of Gates of Fire was payback for Mike publishing Proximity Delays.

If Brooks really had a problem with Mike's action in Gates of Fire, Mike would not have been given another opportunity to embed earlier this year.

The fact that he was granted embed status proves that some in the military at the highest levels, including Petreaus, understands the value Mike brings.

But they also understand that Mike is the voice of truth and will point out problems that often place the spotlight on CPIC and the Military in a less than flattering way. To some like Brooks, Casey, Kimmet this is and was a problem. To men like Petreaus, who "Get it", it isn't!

For the record Crosspatch, Brooks is being a vindicative fool but likely he's motived more by the fact that he is the General who was forced to settle with Mike over the Army stealing or "infringing on Mikes copyright" for that iconic photo of Major Beiger with Farah. This copywright infringement occured under Brooks watch and likely with his knowledge. Mike was about to launch the lawsuit when the Army caved in the face of guilt.

Mike isn't being denied an opportunity to embed with units, he just isn't being provided the proper neccesities to POST THE DISPATCHES.
Why go out on missions and then not be able to tell the story of those missions??

And Mike is notalone in this situation, as he points out,even the MSM is suffering from the same problem unless they happen to have bureau offices in B'dad! Is it any wonder why there are such few embeds?

CPIC has a history of using bullying tactics with Mike but also with the MSM. So this email threatening to throw him out of Iraq is yet another bullying tactic they have used in the past with other embeds including those of the MSM.

CNN, Fox News, and others have been bullied and denied embeds for no reason other than "we simply can"

Gen Kimmit enjoyed (just because he could do this) antagonizing the media, and butted head with Dan Senor. Dan was a bit of a
primadonna but during OIF he was based at Centcom Headquarters in Qatar, serving as Dir.of the Coalition Information Center and understood the value of working with the media, and not antagonizing them, and so when embeds were denied for no real reason, or when the media was being bullied, it was a point of contention between Dan and and certain Generals.

Truth is, SecDef Rummy, Di Rita, Casey, Kimmit all had a direct hand in pulling the plug on any embeds because EVERYTHING had to go that route if it went MSM.

They mirco- managed the embed process and did a f**cked up job of it, all the while blaming the media for the antagonistic relationship. It was never their fault..only the medias.

Mike saw through this bullshit, and put forward his piece "Censoring Iraq". He was spot on, and the Military knew it.

Kimmet denied CNN embeds, just for the hell of it and CNN didn't take to it kindly. When they tried to circumvent the denials by going above him, they were shot down by the above mentioned people.

I'm betting that if we can trace a timeline back, we would notice that shortly after that happened CNN's coverage took a major turn LEFT ---if you get my drift.

The other "issue" CPIC threw at Mike was that they didn't feel his "reach" was all that extensive so they allege that is one reason for this lack of space to send dispatches from. That argument was proven bogus when Brian Williams wrote that:
"At a later date, I plan to share some residual notes from our travels in Iraq -- including some recommended reading. One link that cannot wait another day is the blog of Michael Yon. Michael is a Special Forces veteran who is now a unilateral embedded journalist. His dispatches are the most true-to-life that I've ever encountered -- raw writing from the soldier's point of view. He is best-known for one in particular, called Gates of Fire, a gripping account of a firefight that required him to briefly revert from journalist back to soldier in order to save American lives. I had the pleasure of getting to know him on this trip, and it is easy to see why he enjoys near-rock-star status among members of the military, both active and retired."

What Brian writes is true, Crosspatch, and it's a huge slap in the face to CPIC .While CPIC and the Military have done a miserable job of winning the media war, Michael Yon continues to win the hearts and minds of the most influential media elites and that's why Brooks and his band of ego driven fools are acting out in this manner.

To paraphrase a great line from "A Few Good Men""They can't handle the truth"

Al Reasin said...

Huntress you commented on the story better than I would have. One additional point, Michael got involved in the firefight when a junior officer and enlisted man, both new to Iraq, froze and their commander had been wounded 3 times and was still under fire. I would have done the same thing. Yon knew he could have been kick out of Iraq, but unlike others in the media who believe you should remain neutral, Michael showed he was a real American; but one who will report the bad and ugly, as well as the good. even when it is against himself.

Howard said...

I'm a vet and my experience tells me that no matter the shroud of modernity or Ivy education that officers wear, underneath they remain a "my way or the highway" mentalities. I served in many units and reading material was censored; even movies in town were put off limits (everybody ignored that crap). I submit that it's the natural inclination of a class that demands obedience at every level that they will inevitably tell people what to read, see, and write. Brooks couldn't do what he's alleged to be doing to Yon without approval from above, and don't kid yourself.

paul a'barge said...

Brooks is a sharp guy who should no better...

know not no

Ikez said...

I always got the impression that Brooks was an excellent communicator and leader back in the early stages of OIF.

crosspatch said...

"Crosspatch shows up on various sites and makes the same inane remark about Mikes actions in Gates of Fire."

I believe I made the remark at two places, possibly three but two that I know of ... here and at Bill Roggio's site. I believe I made the comment that it could be possible that Brooks is a partisan and a couple of other sites.

General officers are political animals and have been going back a very long time. But some people carry a grudge when they make a command decision (like Brooks apparently did way back when) and are countermanded. They don't like people going around them up the chain of command. So it really isn't much of a surprise that Brooks might have a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

As for the rest of your post, I don't think it is productive to stoke an adversarial relationship with the military or for the military to do so. This appears to be something personal between Brooks and Yon and it seems from here that Brooks is going to do everything in his power to give Yon a hard time. If that is the way it is going to be, them Yon would probably do better to get as far away from Brooks' sight as possible because one thing I learned is that the brass can generally make your life a lot harder than you can make theirs. There are exceptions to that rule, but they are far between. I also see that Mr. Yon has not been taking any extreme measures to inflame things, quite the opposite.

But look at it a different way ... lets say you are PAO and one of your embeds joins in a firefight, your other embeds complain about it saying it places them in danger so you make a command decision to eject the guy but that decision is overruled from above. Yeah, it would be embarrassing for Brooks and I could understand at a human level why he might not exactly bend over backwards to help Yon. There is still also the possibility that Brooks is a partisan but I don't know enough about the guy nor am I much inclined to spend a lot of time researching him.

I think Michael Yon's stuff from Iraq is outstanding and a great service to our country. I would wish that things could be settled between him and General Brooks in a way that would allow him to continue his work as efficiently as possible.