By Walter Pincus
Monday, December 1, 2008
The Defense Department, with more money and personnel than the State Department, continues to plan for sophisticated information operations in the war on terrorism that in the past were the purview of diplomats and even the CIA.
Central to the Pentagon efforts is the U.S. Special Operations Command. As Michael G. Vickers, assistant secretary of defense for special operations, low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities, said last month: "On any given day that we wake up, our Special Operations forces are in some 60 countries around the world. I think through this decade and into the next one, [they] have been and will remain a decisive strategic instrument."
Discussing Special Operations forces' information role in the "war of ideas" with Islamist terrorists, Vickers said during an appearance at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that the "themes you emphasize, how well they resonate, the distribution mechanisms, who's giving the message" are important factors.
"How do I implement that and how do I protect myself while I'm implementing?" he asked.
One possible answer is reflected in a Special Operations Command notice posted Oct. 30 for contractors. It updates a proposal to develop and operate "influence websites" that, when needed, would support combat commanders in the war on terrorism. The Web sites, in local languages, would "shape the global media landscape" using Internet technologies, including "slideshows, video content syndication (podcasts) . . . blog integration, streaming video/audio, and advanced search."
According to the proposal, "The government estimates a minimum of two and no more than twelve websites" will be needed in languages that may include Arabic, French, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Armenian, Azeri, Farsi, Georgian, Hindi, Punjabi, Tagalog, Urdu, Russian and Chinese. The Pentagon, under its Trans-Regional Web Initiative, has such sites in North Africa, Magharebia.com, and in Iraq, Mawtani.com.
The proposed contingency Web sites would be "ghosted," -- that is, accessible by user name and password -- ready to go active and open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, upon approval by the Joint Military Information Support Command of the Special Operations Command.
The purpose is to present "news, sports, entertainment, economics, politics, cultural reports, business and similar items of interest to targeted readers" following "guidance provided by the appropriate combat commander," according to the proposal. "Content will provide open and unbiased analyses of major events in the targeted regions and the ramifications of those events on the target audiences," it adds.
Contractor surveys and focus groups of target audiences are to help determine "design styles, colors and web site features" and develop "a network of indigenous content stringers and staff editors and site managers."
Links to other "appropriate" national, regional and internationally oriented Web sites "that support the established objectives of each respective combat command" will be attached only after approval by the Special Operations Command. The "foot print of the government" must be low, but there must be "open attribution," as with other Pentagon sites, in the clickable "about us" link at the bottom of the home page.
National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.