Thursday, February 24, 2011

Not the Stuff of Bud Light Lime

I've been reading the latest cover story of Rolling Stones by Michael Hastings titled Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators. This is a very well written article, so I encourage people to read it before reading further. Reading the article is quite necessary to understand what is actually happening here.

Read it? Good.

I have taken from the article all of the quotes from Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes that were used to frame the context of the story. Holmes is the leader of the information operations unit that works for Lt. Gen. William Caldwell. I have intentionally left out all the "context" Michael Hastings added to the story to frame the narrative.

The way the article is written, one would likely get the impression some shenanigans were going on in Caldwell's office. Perhaps, however, if we add our own context to the very same statements, a different picture emerges.

It starts with Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes describing in his words what his job as a social software internet messageboard warrior is in the Army.

My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave"

"I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line."
Facebook friending a House Armed Service Committee member is bad. Got it. No Farmville with the Senator from North Dakota. Got it.

This is where it gets interesting, because this is where Lt. Gen. Caldwell assigns Lt. Colonel Holmes a job to do.
According to Holmes, who attended at least a dozen meetings with Caldwell to discuss the operation, the general wanted the IO unit to do the kind of seemingly innocuous work usually delegated to the two dozen members of his public affairs staff: compiling detailed profiles of the VIPs, including their voting records, their likes and dislikes, and their "hot-button issues." In one email to Holmes, Caldwell’s staff also wanted to know how to shape the general’s presentations to the visiting dignitaries, and how best to "refine our messaging."

According to Holmes, the general wanted the IO team to provide a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds."

The team was also instructed to "prepare the context and develop the prep package for each visit."

"How do we get these guys to give us more people?" he demanded. "What do I have to plant inside their heads?"
In other words, Lt. Colonel Holmes and his IO team are being asked to take a break from their messageboard warrior time and Facebook friend time and being delegated to do staff nerd work, and their job is to prepare Lt. Gen. Caldwell for the dog and pony show of visiting VIPs. The ego of this Holmes guy is incredible, because he is making the suggestion through this Rolling Stones article that his skills with a keyboard are so l33t, the simple task of being assigned the role to prepare a General for a briefing with VIPs equates to an information operation against elected officials by deploying his Google searches and subsequent analysis as an influence weapon. The irony is, this kind of staff work is usually done by someone all the time, and the great offense here is that the IO Team, which is basically a social software debate club, is being assigned this work. The shame!

How did Holmes approach his responsibility as a staff nerd?
"We called it Operation Fourth Star," says Holmes. "Caldwell seemed far more focused on the Americans and the funding stream than he was on the Afghans. We were there to teach and train the Afghans. But for the first four months it was all about the U.S. Later he even started talking about targeting the NATO populations."

Under duress, Holmes and his team provided Caldwell with background assessments on the visiting senators, and helped prep the general for his high-profile encounters. But according to members of his unit, Holmes did his best to resist the orders.
In other words, being delegated to a mere research assistant was so offensive, that he lashes out at his boss for giving him the remedial task of providing "Caldwell with background assessments on the visiting senators" to help "prep the general for his high-profile encounters." Instead of doing the work assigned as ordered, because Holmes thinks his keyboard skills are lethal, he "did his best to resist the orders."

Are you kidding me? A disgruntled Lt. Col. who normally does information operations in the Facebook fan club of Caldwell's social software shop gets assigned staff work for VIP visits, and the article frames that assignment to Holmes - leveraging his opinion of being assigned what he considers work beneath his keyboard skill set - as a crime? Yep, and that context is reinforced by the author with this statement in the article.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, a spokesman for Caldwell "categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors."
That statement is accurate, because for it to be inaccurate we would have to believe that the research skills of Lt. Col. Holmes are so incredible that his background research alone can "influence Distinguished Visitors." Does Michael Hastings realize the insult he is delivering regarding the intelligence of Congressmen and Senators for that assertion of his to be true?

Some are suggesting there needs to be an investigation. Based on what, the claim by Hastings that Holmes is so skilled at research that such research is influential to the point that it represents an information operation? Seriously, show me the allegation by Holmes that something illegal took place, because the article makes clear he was asked to do prep work for VIP visitors, and the implication being made here is that only because it was HOLMES who was asked to do that work is it somehow improper. Oh no, dude has to do work other than counter Jihad on the messageboards... oh the shame - the criminal shame!

Sorry folks, but I don't see this as the stuff of Bud Light Lime. The only allegation being made is that Caldwell dared to ask this Holmes and his internet nerds to research and plan for a visit by VIPs for the purposes of briefing and prepping Caldwell for the visit, and the intent was so that Caldwell would be prepared to communicate more effectively his needs for more money and more people. Those are the specific allegations made by Holmes in the story, everything else in the story was the narrative that implied illegal activity added by Michael Hastings.

All we have learned is that either Holmes of Hastings are excellent at PSY-OPs, because either Holmes pulled an excellent PSY-OP over Hastings to burn his former boss in Rolling Stones magazine, or Hastings pulled an excellent PSY-OP on Rolling Stones readers to suggest that Army staff work done for the purposes of preparing for VIP visits is criminal.

What I see here is a disgruntled staff officer with an axe to grind against his boss, and a reporter willing to play along.

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