Information Warfare: Enlisting Freud's Nephew


January 23, 2009: The U.S. military has always taken the lead in Information War, especially the use of electronic devices to eavesdrop and disrupt enemy communications. This went big time during World War II, and has not stopped since. But American commanders are becoming more concerned at their failure to make the most of opportunities to spin the mass media. Meanwhile, there are more pressing issues to attend to.

The main thrust of U.S. effort, driven by the combat needs of Iraq and Afghanistan, is the growing fusion of intelligence analysis, reconnaissance, electronic warfare and combat. It works something like this (when it does work, and it has done so increasingly.) First, an area where the enemy is believed to be operating, is covered 24/7 with UAVs and electronic intelligence aircraft (that listen to just about everything broadcast from below). In real time, analysts go over the data, looking for clues to where the enemy is, what they are up to, and exactly who they are. Increasingly, a lot of this analysis is being done, at least partly, by computers. When a likely target is identified and located, human analysts confirm it, and an attack is made (from the air, with a Hellfire missile or a smart bomb, or with ground troops stationed in the area for that purpose.) The ground approach is usually employed when you want to capture some enemy troops alive, or to search the wreckage of smart bomb damage for additional information.

The speed with which targets are found, identified and attacked is usually too much for the enemy. Morale suffers, as they realize they are always vulnerable, and can be attacked at any time, without any warning. The speed of these attacks is achieved partly through the use of realistic simulators. Using video game technology, this training puts all the participants in these Information War ambushes in realistic drills for what they will actually encounter in combat. The enemy, at least in Iraq and Afghanistan, has no such training resources. The enemy is usually slow to respond and quick to panic. The result is an ever increasing ratio of enemy to friendly dead (about 15:1 in Afghanistan). The enemy is relying more on roadside and suicide bombs. But, as the experience in Iraq amply demonstrated, that is a losers game. The dead civilians turn public opinion against the bombers, and not that many enemy (and local) troops are killed.

The one area where the United States in particular, and the West in general, lags is public relations (or spinning the media). This is particularly galling to American commanders, because modern PR was invented by an American (Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud) 80 years ago. Out of that came many modern advertising and promotion techniques. Aside from Douglas MacArthur (and a few other generals), the military has not really picked up on the need to use the media for military (and non propaganda) purposes. That, however, has been changing. For the last two decades, the U.S. military has been well aware of the problem, but has not made an all out effort to deal with it. This is the "MacArthur Effect." Because MacArthur was so good at spinning the media, many journalists hated him for that, and continue to try and tarnish his reputation. But the military attitudes towards mass media is changing, despite the sensitivity of the media to being spun by friendly troops. The enemy is another matter, because exciting, profitable news is, by definition, bad news. If it bleeds it leads, and all that. The Western mass media tolerate getting played by Islamic terrorists because it's difficult to disprove a lot of the outrageous items the bad guys put into play. But new methods are being developed to overcome the inherent problems and take the media advantage away from the terrorists. A lot of it relies on using "new media" (like the Internet and cell phones). Freud's nephew would have loved the Internet.




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