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  •   NATO's Info Strategy Bombs

        Bill Arkin

    By William M. Arkin
    Special to
    Monday, April 26, 1999

    Does anyone still question the fact that the United States and NATO lack an information strategy to accompany bombing?

    Notwithstanding news reports of exotic computer-killing weapons and Internet war pronouncements, the battle for hearts and minds has been hopelessly ineffective.

    Secretary of State Madeleine Albright conceded that the U.S. information warfare strategy was failing.

    Last Tuesday, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright conceded that the U.S. information warfare strategy was failing. She told Congress that the Yugoslavs "have managed to jam a lot of what we've tried to do" in terms of radio and television broadcasts into the country.

    Still, she maintained that "modern methods" were being employed to get the American message to the Serbian people. Albright told Congress that because of her Serbian language broadcasts into Yugoslavia "I'm not very popular there."

    Come on: if Albright isn't liked in Belgrade, it isn't because of anything the so-called information warriors have done.

    Yugoslav jamming? You mean we haven't bombed Yugoslav jamming sites and equipment yet? Or electronically neutered them?

    Last week Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre dismissed the widely reported hacker attacks on NATO as "very incoherent and amateurish." But let's be honest: Serbian TV was finally bombed only on April 23. For all the billions the military and intelligence community spends on its new information warfare gadgetry, and for all of the assets of the U.S. government, it is its information campaign which seems incoherent and amateurish.

    Messages in the Wind

    A decidedly un-modern method of information warfare employed by NATO is the use of leaflets. On April 16, the propaganda broadsheets began falling on Yugoslavia. Those dropped near Belgrade, the capitol, urged the people to dissociate themselves from the "crimes" of Milosevic, telling the people that Serbian police and Army units "have emptied villages and towns in Kosovo, burning or destroying thousands of homes."

    NATO leaflet. The caption reads: "NATO remains adamant to protect the vulnerable on Kosovo. ..."
    (Obtained electronically from the YJ)
    The leaflets denounce Milosevic, asserting that the Serbian leader is "gambling with the future of the Serbian people" and the nation's "cradle," that is Kosovo. Leaflets dropped in Kosovo by Air Force F-16 aircraft warn Yugoslav units to abandon their equipment. "If you decide to stay," they read, "NATO will attack incessantly from all sides."

    An official Yugoslav Army (VJ) spokesman brushes aside this ancient psychological operations tactic. "NATO does not enjoy any support whatsoever among the people," he observes. The spokesman, contacted via e-mail, calls the leaflets "clumsily, almost amateurishly written, lacking the basic knowledge of the people's spirit."

    The VJ colonel was quick to provide what he claims is an electronic graphic showing the NATO leaflets, and he scoffed at the poor Serbian wording and syntax. "The fact that they could not even find a decent translator to provide grammatically and logically correct messages" speaks to the bankrupt strategy, he says.

    The Army had no comment on the matter. The State Department said it would prefer not to discuss what the United States and NATO were doing in this regard.

    The VJ says that leaflets have included five radio and television channels people can tune in to receive NATO radio and television broadcasts. But confirming Mrs. Albright's gloomy news, The Washington Post's Michael Dobbs reported last week that the frequencies were still under the control of Belgrade media, and that NATO programming was unobtainable.

    You Say What With that Bomb?

    Beyond leafleting, NATO's escalation bombing against "leadership" targets associated with Milosevic this week also has an information warfare effect. Even if it is opposite to what NATO intends.

    No doubt NATO thinks that hitting party buildings or presidential residences in Belgrade sends a stronger message of "resolve" about NATO's military campaign.

    The reality?

    The expanded target list merely communicates NATO's frustration at not being able to achieve its political objectives within the target list it had been pursuing. For Milosevic and his inner circle, the bombing of Belgrade political buildings is a blessing. Not only does it serve as another spark for people to rally round the flag, but it also becomes another opportunity for the government to portray Yugoslavia as the victim.

    And they will undoubtedly use still intact internal propaganda organs and mobile TV and radio transmitters to get their points across.

    Waging War on America

    Does anyone think we are winning the war for hearts and minds? I found one contrarian in Martin Libicki, information warfare (IW) maven at the Rand Corporation. Libicki sees some success in this realm, that is, if IW is defined as less wondrous than hacking, and includes the need for NATO and the United States to persuade its own publics to support the war effort.

    "Slobo is kindly providing us not only with tearful refugees but appropriate metaphors of the last great war."
    — Martin Libicki, RAND Corporation

    "Our effective line is that we are there for humanitarian reasons," says Libicki, "and Slobo is kindly providing us not only with tearful refugees but appropriate metaphors of the last great war (for example, sealed railroad cars)." Libicki points out that support for ground warfare increased significantly amongst the public as a result of these images.

    But the info warriors did not manufacture these images, and they still have fundamentally failed to get any of them to the Serbian people so that they can SEE what is going on in their own country.

    Does Libicki really think that this is the first "cyberwar," as Hamre boasts, or that information warfare has reached anywhere close to its potential? Hardly.

    "Since everything about this operation is a disaster," he says, "is singling out IW really fair?

    William M. Arkin, author of "The U.S. Military Online," is a leading expert on national security and the Internet. He lectures and writes on nuclear weapons, military matters and information warfare. An Army intelligence analyst from 1974 to 1978, Arkin currently consults for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, MSNBC and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    Arkin can be reached for comment at

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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