Hearts & Minds (Games)

If you can spend an hour frowning and shaking your head then by all means read the 10-page article in Columbia Journalism Review about how the U.S. government has used information as a weapon in Iraq. Meanwhile, give me a few minutes to hit a few points in CJR associate editor Daniel Schulman’s piece, Mind Games — including an official suggestion that the U.S. use hot Western chicks to win the hearts & minds of Muslim men, and the assertion by a retired colonel that one White House communications operation was “part of the effort to re-elect the president.”

The bit about using hot chicks comes from what Schulman says is a 72-page document titled “Information War: Strategic Influence and the Global War on Terrorism,” co-authored by Air Force Brigadier General Simon “Pete” Worden and provided by Worden to CJR. Schulman includes an excerpt from that document in which it is suggested that there might be an Internet strategy to counter the allure of martydom among Muslim men. CJR prints this quote from the document:

“A focus on the charms of Western women in the here-and-now might divert would-be terrorists from contemplating the purported charms of virgins in the afterlife as a reward for Martyrdom.”

Schulman also writes about a post 9/11 initiative called the Office of Global Communications. The article quotes “Daniel Kuehl, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who directs the Information Strategies Concentration Program at the National Defense University” as saying that this operation was aimed at a domestic, not global, audience. Here is an excerpt from CJR:

“In my opinion, the global issue wasn’t the reason why they were created,” he (Kuehl) told me (Schulman). “They clearly had a completely domestic focus. They were part of the effort to re-elect the president … . I’m going to be real pejorative here: Their goal was psychological operations on the American voting public. That was part of the political arm doing that.”

I e-mailed Kuehl this morning to ask whether this accurately reflects his remarks, and will post any comment. I would also have appreciated seeing a PDF of the Worden document, posted online, to substantiate the report.

Why does this matter to me? Aside from being interested as a citizen and journalist, I’m a veteran of the U.S. military public affairs effort. From 1974 through 1978 I was a Navy journalist. I was trained at the Defense Information School to handle military news and public relations. I don’t know if this is still the case but back then, we used to jokingly refer to ourselves as “DINFOS-trained killers.”

I served mainly in peacetime and never had to confront life and death. But I do recall the mantra that DINFOS instructors drummed into our heads: “We send the news your way, with maximum disclosure and minimum delay.”

So I was gratified to read in Schulman’s article that it was Public Affairs Officers in the U.S. military — the officer version of what I did an enlisted man — who pushed back against the policy of disseminating what CJR described as “truth-based” messages — “information that is often vague and one-dimensional, sometimes misleading and frequently includes statements that are subtly derogatory.”

Whatever else may be the case, I’m glad the current crop of DINFOS-trained killers gagged on that Orwellian slant on military public information.

PostScript: I received the following email reply from Dan Kuehl:
“The two quotes that Dan Shulman used were accurate. Some of my friends in the DOD/Administration may not like them, but they are accurate!”