Friday, December 29, 2006

The U.S. Military and the Blogosphere

Another title for this post could be “Where are CENTCOM’s Blogs?”

Many in the armed services have firmly esconced themselves in the blogosphere, as evidenced by the numerous military blogs one can find in a Google search. Yet the military establishment overall remains largely aloof to the relevance of blogs as a critical component of the infosphere. Thus far, there are relatively few articles in professional military journals on the blogosphere and the military’s role in this new, emerging environment. The majority of published work generally deals with matters relating to blogs’ impact on operational security matters.

An exception to this is a monograph published in 2006 by James Kinniburgh and Dorothy Denning entitled “Blogs and Military Information Strategy”. The authors recognize and document the role of blogs in information operations through examples in Iraq and the War on Terror. The paper also discusses metrics to measure the effectiveness of blogs as a communications/information medium.

“Blogs and Military Information Strategy” is noncommittal towards the overall utility of blogs, however. The paper discusses at length the sifting through “threat blogs” to gain intelligence on an adversary, and spends less than a page examining the implications of blogging as an activity in its own right.

Like the Kinniburgh/Denning paper, the weakness of most military analyses of the blogosphere is the traditional view of information as a commodity to be protected, and a view of blogs as unguarded or unauthorized gates into one’s camp; those in uniform fail to see blogs, bloggers, the readership, and all of the linkages therein as an entirely new complex, adaptive system. As such, military organizations have a negligible presence in the blogosphere, and are at a disadvantage when compared to some sophisticated adversaries.

More importantly, without blogs, the military can only interact, inform, and shape understanding of their operations in a limited manner, through traditional media and press releases. The military has no control over the traditional media either, and thus must rely the various entities comprising it to synthesize and transmit their message; they therefore have no direct way to shape the transmitted message of what their forces are seeing, observing or achieving. The lack of a presence in the blogosphere therefore is a self-imposed limit on the military’s ability to impact the collective narrative that shapes the public’s, our allies, and adversaries’ perceptions. As time goes on, and the number of blogs and people relying on them for information and communicate grow geometrically, the United States military is at an ever-increasing disadvantage.

While blogs realistically are not the key to overall victory or defeat in war, the military’s aloofness and nonexistent presence in the blogosphere certainly does not bode well for achieving its objectives in current and future operations. Likewise, commanders lacking familiarity or access to this medium have no way to counter the information and narratives being shaped by adversaries.

What should the military do, then? Many things, actually. All of the actions should start now, and be executed over a short term and intermediate term horizon.

In the near term, the military needs to expedite its understanding of blogs and blogging. The public affairs sections of commands down to the Brigade combat team level should be required to assist their commanders at maintaining a presence in this medium (ie a blog!), and use it to shape perceptions and understanding of their operations, the environment they are working in, and the Service members themselves. The Combatant Commands (ie USCENTCOM) should have a well-developed information operations strategy which includes how to establish, employ, and synchronize blogs in a given theater of operations.

More needs to be done over time, however, to ensure that the military's personnel better understand the new medium and are more capable of having an effect within it. At intermediate and senior level service schools (ie the Command and General staff Colleges, War Colleges, et al) officers should receive robust instruction on information operations that includes the blogosphere and blogging. Specialty schools like the Advanced Military Studies Programs (SAMS), Naval Post-Graduate School, and the Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC) program should be directed to produce monographs and theses on the subject as well. Between the graduate level research and actual experiences in the field, the military can then develop standing doctrine for operations within the blogosphere.

Hopefully these actions are set in motion sooner than later. The American military possesses the human and material capital to develop and maintain a serious capability in the blogosphere, impacting the understanding of the American public, the nation’s adversaries, and literally everyone in between. And yet, while the nation can project the lethality of an airborne brigade combat team anywhere in the world within eighteen hours, it has yet to deploy a single Soldier into the blogosphere.

7 comments:

Pangloss said...

I followed your comment back and see you are thinking along the same lines I am. I think that any unit of brigade combat team size or bigger should have an IO operation with at least one motivated and gifted writer/blogger writing in English for the home team and one writing in the local language for local consumption. Draw attention to notable successes and emergent threats, and always inoculate with truth and facts against the lies and conspiracy theories spread by insurgents, terrorists, and the agenda-driven wing of the media.

For other readers, my first steps of exploration along this path can be found here.

whit said...

I think the Military and the Executive have been remiss in their public information exercises. When I was young, there was a weekly television program called the "Big Picture" which constantly informed the public about the US efforts in regard to the cold war. Perhaps our society is too cynical, too diverse, too politically correct, whatever. But hearts and minds must be won both at home and abroad.

2164th said...

Bob, Whit put you up at the Elephant Bar. We look forward to having you drop by anytime with links you think are of interest.

Bob W. said...

Whit,

thanks for linking to my site, I returned the favort as well from here.

I agree with your point on the weakness we have of linking the fight to the American people; to most, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a mere afterthought.

I am thinking about writing an article for a military journal about it. We'll see.

Harrison said...

bob w., I linked your post over at the BC in this thread.

You should take a look at evanston's reply at 1/04/2007 11:46:03 AM.

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