Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The keyboard is mightier than the pen

The press and political pressure helped 'lose' the first battle of Fallujah, an Army report says. UPI reports:

A secret intelligence assessment of the first battle of Fallujah shows that the U.S. military thinks that it lost control over information about what was happening in the town, leading to "political pressure" that ended its April 2004 offensive with control being handed to Sunni insurgents. ...

The authors said the press was "crucial to building political pressure to halt military operations," from the Iraqi government and the Coalition Provisional Authority, which resulted in a "unilateral cease-fire" by U.S. forces on April 9, after just five days of combat operations. ...

Crucial to the failure, the authors said, was the role of the Arabic satellite news channels Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. An Al Jazeera crew was in Fallujah during the first week of April 2004, when the Marines began their assault on the city of 285,000 people. ...

By contrast, the assessment stated that later in 2004, when U.S.-led forces successfully retook Fallujah, they brought with them 91 embedded reporters representing 60 press outlets, including Arabic ones. "False allegations of non-combatant casualties were made by Arab media in both campaigns, but in the second case embedded Western reporters offered a rebuttal," the authors said.

The key to counteracting disinformation campaigns like that mounted during the First Fallujah, was to break the stranglehold of "access journalism". As the Army report concluded, once there were a multiplicity of reportorial sources on-scene it became difficult to manipulate the message. Fake messages can still be generated, but they must compete with those produced by other observers. After a while the fake messages become outliers because, as tends to be the case, the larger the sampling size the greater the tendency of the statistic to converge to the true value. The open source software maxim that "all bugs are shallow when there are many eyes" also applies to reportage. False testimony cannot survive if there are many witnesses.

Al-Qaeda and the Sunni insurgents also drew their conclusions from the belated arrival of the second wave of journalists to the First Fallujah and became determined to prevent its repetition. And the most effective way for insurgencies to recreate the "access journalism" so advantageous to them was to kidnap journalists. This they did to great effect. The process through which they cleared the information battlefield of anything they didn't control is plain from the stats. For example, the nearly all of the journalists kidnapped in 2004 were foreign, many from major news agencies like the New York Times, the Times of London and Radio France. By 2005, the majors had been driven into the Green Zone. The kidnap victims for 2005 tended to be the lower tier: freelancers, reporters from obscure agencies like Romania Libera or Iraqis. By 2006, all but one of the kidnapped journalists was Iraqi. The sole exception that year was Jill Carroll. In 2007, every single one of the journalists kidnapped was Iraqi. Direct access by the Western press had been effectively ended.

These figures demonstrate how the insurgency purposely drove the press from the field to recreate the information monopoly they found so advantageous in the opening days of the First Fallujah, when only journalists from Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya were reporting from the scene. The kidnapping campaign compelled news outlets to rely on stringers who could then be controlled by the insurgency and who could be counted on to miraculously stumble on photo opportunities showing insurgents in action, such as the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of an Iraqi election worker being killed on Haifa Street. The effective riposte again turned out to be finding ways to break the reportorial stranglehold the enemy had established. The information blockade runners turned out to be bloggers and journalists embedded in the military, of whom Michael Yon is perhaps the most famous. The Iraqi bloggers were protected by their anonymity and the embedded journalists were protected by coalition troops. These reporters outflanked the wall of "access journalism" which was gradually restricting the majors and created alternative sources of reportage. Although few in number these blockade runners played a pivotal role in penetrating the "bodyguard of lies" with which al-Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency had surrounded itself.


Blogger timmiejoebob said...

It is breathtaking how completely successful AQI was in clearing the information battlefield. It is also breathtaking how silent key media outlets have been about being manipulated in this way. Why have they not pushed back? I don't think they realized how totally they were pushed right out of the picture and how by not pushing back they abdicated their role in maintaining the free flow of truth.

I'm also dismayed that we have not identified media outlets that have abetted the enemy and aggressively attacked them both militarily and verbally. If they are active propaganda departments of Al Queda then they are open coalition enemies and should be eliminated. One way of fighting asymmetric warfare is by creating some symmetry.

1/02/2008 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...


We have identified them, starting with the New York Times. It's just that we're not allowed to question their patriotism.

And thanks, W, for explaining what happened in First Fallujah. Your original analysis, the troops on the raised positions controlling enfilading fields of fire into the town, the utter almost-victory you described there was what first hooked me on the Belmont Club. I always wondered what went wrong.

1/02/2008 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger Marzouq the Redneck Muslim said...

Nice case study of 4GW. It is heartening to see how quickly the US forces figured out how to deal with the "news" element. "News" has always been another word for information warfare because of all News organizations' bias.

It has been stated the best propaganda is verifiable truth. As we have seen there is much political theater in the ME. Hezbollah, Hamas and Fatah have been caught at it so many times! Think about that Mohammad alDurah episode.

Happy New Year and salaam eleikum yall!

1/02/2008 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

journalists from Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya

When did Bilal Hussein start reporting for AP and the NY TImes?

1/02/2008 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger El Baboso said...

I think that the informational battlefield might have been a little more kinetic than the UPI piece lets on. The first engagement of 2nd Fallujah was to seize via a raid the hospital, which had been jihadi press central in 1st Fallujah.

1/02/2008 07:16:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

They wrongly assumed, as Osama often claimed, that Americans were too morally weak to fight. They believed they could use physical remoteness and terrorist tactics to wage "asymmetrical warfare" on an American force geared to fight conventional battles -- the army of Desert Storm. Both these assumptions have proved poor bets. There are now tens of thousands of Americans with a good understanding of the Middle East; there are many systems now coming online which are designed to fight the terrorist enemy. They are going to get snowed under by the same tidal wave that buried the Imperial Japanese Army and the Wehrmacht in World War 2.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Fallujah Again

1/02/2008 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Somebody needs to take down Wikileaks. That was a SECRET document. Everybody who read it is supposed to be tracked down and debriefed and sworn never to divulge what they read, but that's impossible now. And the leaker will probably get away with it. That in itself is a successful enemy Morale Operation. I'm depressed over it. I used to have a clearance, and we used to take that sort of thing seriously.

The American and British Main Stream Media are an essential part of the al Qaeda strategic communications campaign. They have been from the start. The forces of good have an obligation to bring them to account for that.

1/02/2008 10:06:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

We lost the first battle of Fallujah because we didn't send in enough troops. Had nothing to do with the press. We saw we couldn't win and we had to retreat. There is no sugarcoating it.

1/02/2008 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger Valentine Smith said...


Try and imagine the political consequences of running black ops against stringers for AP or any of the major news outlets. It would be like bombing the NY Times.

My guess is that it was probably very tempting for local US military authorities (as it were) in Iraq to at least use proxies to counter the amazing luck these photographers had in getting just the right photo. I mean check the Times, see the photo, check the credit. Simple. Only tempting mind you, tempting. Smacks way too much like disappearing people.

1/02/2008 11:32:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

We can't be afraid of our own reporters, even the Fiskians. It's the information competition that uncovers the truth, and if we're not fighting for the Truth, we shouldn't be fighting. It makes me think about Michael Yon. What an amazing job that guy has done! But most of the time he was fighting an uphill battle against the Army brass to get the most basic reporting tools.

If memory serves, I think Petraeus had success on the information front from the very beginning.

1/02/2008 11:40:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

jj, they are no longer ours. The U.S. still has a national military, it no longer has a national media.

1/03/2008 01:54:00 AM  
Blogger timmiejoebob said...

I realize it is quite popular to beat up on the NYT and I have certainly done my share, but my point had nothing to do with them or other Western media outlets. According to the UPI article they were out of the picture in Fallujah I. My point was intended at Islamic news outlets as described in the article.

"Crucial to the failure, the authors said, was the role of the Arabic satellite news channels Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya."

Western media can certainly be a thorn, but the Arabic outlets were, at least by my understanding of the article, active and willing participants in the enemy's disinformation plan. Our military has done an exemplary job of remaining open to a wide array of journalistic viewpoints and they should continue. Many western journalists, against our protests, seek independence in order to not be seen by either side as affiliated combatants. The same cannot be said for some members of AJ and AA. It is those propagandists that should be treated as enemy combatants and aggressively fought by whatever means prove most effective.

1/03/2008 06:43:00 AM  
Blogger Valentine Smith said...

And my point was that anything you do to AJ or AA might as well be done to the NY Times. The reaction of the media would be the same. They see themselves as the sacred cow—inviolate, pure, noble. You want to define the arab media as the enemy, which of course they are, but American media won't allow it. To physically strike at AJ or AA would be seen as an abomination. Hence the temptation to go covertly after the stringers.

Also, however unlikely now, AJ and AA could be very useful in the future.

1/03/2008 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But there's hope we can do better.

Here's an example: an important reason why the MSM and ant-war activists/politicians haven’t been as successful in shaping public opinion as they have in the past can be explained by Colonel John Boyd’s OODA loop - (among many other sources about Boyd)

OODA – observe, orient, decide, act – is a decision process. And if one can get inside another’s OODA loop, that is, make faster decisions, victory is the outcome. It’s an important concept on which the military bases much modern warfighting doctrine.

The quick response of bloggers to fauxtography and other disinformation means the blogosphere has a tighter OODA loop than the MSM and the public. The quick and large scale response of bloggers to MSM stories happens faster than the public can digest those stories, disrupting opinion-shaping strategies.

1/03/2008 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger RattlerGator said...

I remain convinced that "losing" the first battle of Fallujah was one of the best decisions made by the U.S. command.

To this day, we are still underestimating the soup that was being brewed by the Russians and Iranians in Fallujah through their proxies. It was going to be a propaganda bonanza for these fools had we continued to fight and the feminized/pussified world media would have wailed and wailed and wailed right on cue. The effect would have been devastating.

Pulling out to fight another day, and fight on our terms, was brilliant.

1/03/2008 07:37:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

If pulling out of Fallujah I to fight another day was brilliant, then pulling out of Vietnam must have been beyond genius. Oddly enough, though, I can't tell exactly what it gained us in either instance, but I'm sure you must be right in your analysis that losing really means winning.

1/03/2008 09:42:00 PM  

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