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Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication

Chair: Vince Vitto,
C.S. Draper Laboratory

September 2004

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A report by a Defense Science Board task force, completed in September 2004 and released to the public later in the Fall, outlines the critical role played by what it calls strategic communication, and recommends steps that executive branch leadership and agencies, and the private sector, can take to strengthen these functions.

The full task force report (111 pages, PDF format) is available online.

Executive Summary

The Defense Science Board Summer Study on the Transition to and from Hostilities was formed in early 2004 (the terms of reference are contained in Appendix A) and culminated in the production of a final report and summary briefing in August of 2004. The DSB Task Force on Strategic Communication conducted its deliberations within the overall Summer Study schedule and revisited a topic that was addressed in October 2001.1 Task Force members and Government advisors are identified in Appendix B. The current Strategic Communication Task Force re-examined the purposes of strategic communication and the salience of recommendations in the earlier study. It then considered the following questions:

(1) What are the consequences of changes in the strategic communication environment?
(2) What Presidential direction and strategic communication means are required?
(3) What should be done about public diplomacy and open military information operations?

The Task Force met with representatives from the National Security Council (NSC), White House Office of Global Communications, Department of State (DOS), Department of Defense (DOD), Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), and the private sector (the schedule of meetings, briefings and discussions is contained in Appendix C). Based on extensive interaction with a broad range of sectors in the government, commercial, and academic worlds, as well as a series of highly interactive internal debates, we have reached the following conclusions and recommendations.

This Task Force concludes that U.S. strategic communication must be transformed. America’s negative image in world opinion and diminished ability to persuade are consequences of factors other than failure to implement communications strategies. Interests collide. Leadership counts. Policies matter. Mistakes dismay our friends and provide enemies with unintentional assistance. Strategic communication is not the problem, but it is a problem.

Understanding the problem.
Strategic communication is a vital component of U.S. national security. It is in crisis, and it must be transformed with a strength of purpose that matches our commitment to diplomacy, defense, intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security. Presidential leadership and the bipartisan political will of Congress are essential. Collaboration between government and the private sector on an unprecedented scale is imperative.

To succeed, we must understand the United States is engaged in a generational and global struggle about ideas, not a war between the West and Islam. It is more than a war against the tactic of terrorism. We must think in terms of global networks, both government and non-government. If we continue to concentrate primarily on states (“getting it right” in Iraq, managing the next state conflict better), we will fail. Chapter 2 of this report examines the complex nature of this new paradigm and implications for sustained and imaginative action.

Strategic communication requires a sophisticated method that maps perceptions and influence networks, identifies policy priorities, formulates objectives, focuses on “doable tasks,” develops themes and messages, employs relevant channels, leverages new strategic and tactical dynamics, and monitors success. This approach will build on indepth knowledge of other cultures and factors that motivate human behavior. It will adapt techniques of skillful political campaigning, even as it avoids slogans, quick fixes, and mind sets of winners and losers. It will search out credible messengers and create message authority. It will seek to persuade within news cycles, weeks, and months. It will engage in a respectful dialogue of ideas that begins with listening and assumes decades of sustained effort. Just as importantly, through evaluation and feedback, it will enable political leaders and policymakers to make informed decisions on changes in strategy, policies, messages, and choices among instruments of statecraft. Chapter 3 of this report addresses ways in which strategic communication can be generated and managed with effect.

We need to move beyond outdated concepts, stale structural models, and institutionally based labels. Public diplomacy, public affairs, psychological operations (PSYOP) and open military information operations must be coordinated and energized. Chapter 4 of this report recommends changes in the strategic communication functions and structures of the Departments of State and Defense, U.S. embassies and combatant commands.

Leadership from the top.
A unifying vision of strategic communication starts with Presidential direction. Only White House leadership, with support from cabinet secretaries and Congress, can bring about the sweeping reforms that are required.

Nothing shapes U.S. policies and global perceptions of U.S. foreign and national security objectives more powerfully than the President’s statements and actions, and those of senior officials. Interests, not public opinion, should drive policies. But opinions must be taken into account when policy options are considered and implemented. At a minimum, we should not be surprised by public reactions to policy choices. Policies will not succeed unless they are communicated to global and domestic audiences in ways that are credible and allow them to make informed, independent judgments. Words in tone and substance should avoid offense where possible; messages should seek to reduce, not increase, perceptions of arrogance, opportunism, and double standards. These objectives mean officials must take full advantage of powerful tools to measure attitudes, understand cultures, and assess influence structures – not occasionally but as an iterative process. Policies and strategic communication cannot be separated.

Swift and sustained Presidential direction is also required to connect strategy to structure. In 1947, America confronted new threats and opportunities as well. The President with bipartisan support in Congress carried out policy and organizational initiatives that shaped U.S. national security for two generations. Today, we face challenges of similar magnitude, made more formidable by a world where geography, military power, and time to react are no longer sufficient to ensure our security. Strategic communication and other 21st century instruments of statecraft require changes different in kind but similar in scale to the National Security Act of 1947 and the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. These changes will occur only with sustained, enthusiastic, and deeply committed Presidential leadership – and the collaborative and bipartisan support of the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees of Congress.

Government-private sector partnership. Finding new ways to harness strategic communication to the flexibility and creative imagination of the private sector will be central to successful strategic communication in the 21st century. The commercial sector has a dominant competitive edge in multi-media production, opinion and media surveys, information technologies, program evaluation, and measuring the influence of communications. Academic and research communities offer vast untapped resources for education, training, area and language expertise, planning and consultative services.

Effective sharing between government and society in the conduct of strategic communication is not new. Government grants to private organizations have long been a way to carry out international educational and cultural exchanges, foreign opinion polling, democratization and media training programs, and much of U.S. international broadcasting. Grants extend the reach of government programs and capitalize on the expertise and flexibility of non-government partner organizations.

Recent study groups, including the October 2001 Defense Science Board Task Force, have recommended more extensive collaboration. These observers see value not only in leveraging private sector competencies but in new structures and a degree of distance that attracts credible messengers with non-government resumes, creative thinkers and talented communicators uncomfortable working with government agencies, and skilled, language-qualified professionals available for temporary crisis deployment.

Collaboration between government and the many benefits of private sector thinking and skills should be strongly encouraged. The complexity of strategic communication problems calls for balanced coordination of effort. Independent analysis is required in a wide range of fields: cultures and values, international intellectual engagement, communications studies, and applied science. Teamwork among civilian agencies and military services will be necessary to draw effectively on the seminars of universities, professional skills of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and imagination of the media production industry. Appropriate controls and risk assessment will be needed. For all their strengths, private organizations represent particular interests. Investments in strategic communication must be grounded in the public interest as determined by appropriate executive branch and Congressional authorities.

Election cycles and episodic commitment have shaped implementation of U.S. strategic communication for more than half a century. New thinking and new collaborative structures hold promise of a transformed and continuous strategic communication capability that serves America’s interests.

The Task Force has made a set of recommendations listed below which we believe will make a significant difference . The time line and scale of their impact is difficult to quantify but we will not succeed in revitalizing Strategic Communication if we tinker around the edges. Given the enormous challenges we face, we can succeed only if we use all the instruments of national power. We should expect to see some progress within a year but we are dealing with at least a decade to have a significant impact. US public diplomacy efforts in the Cold War, the creation of the Peace Corps and the launch of a new brand or product within the private sector in a highly competitive environment are examples of efforts that have required comparable time scales and the challenges we face today are potentially more complex. We must begin and maintain our intensity and focus until we succeed.

Recommendations

(1) The Task Force recommends that the President issue a directive to: (a) strengthen the U.S. Government’s ability to understand global public opinion, advise on the strategic implications of policymaking, and communicate with global audiences; (b) coordinate all components of strategic communication including public diplomacy, public affairs, international broadcasting, and military information operations; and (c) provide a foundation for new legislation on the planning, coordination, conduct, and funding of strategic communication.

(2) The Task Force recommends that the President should establish a permanent strategic communication structure within the NSC and work with Congress to create legislation and funding for a:

  • Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication;
  • Strategic Communication Committee within the NSC; and an
  • Independent, non-profit, non-partisan Center for Strategic Communication

The Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication should chair a Strategic Communication Committee. Its members should have the equivalent of under secretary rank and be designated by the Secretaries of State, Defense and Homeland Security; the Attorney General; the Chief of Staff to the President; the Director of the Office of Management and Budget; the White House Communications Director; the Director of Central Intelligence; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of the Agency for International Development; and the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Unlike previous coordinating mechanisms with nominal authority, this Strategic Communication Committee should have authority to assign responsibilities and plan the work of departments and agencies in the areas of public diplomacy, public affairs, and military information operations; concur in strategic communication personnel choices; shape strategic communication budget priorities; and provide program and project direction to a new Center for Strategic Communication.

(3) The Task Force recommends that the President work with Congress to create legislation and funding for an independent, non-profit and non-partisan Center for Strategic Communication to support the NSC and the departments and organizations represented on its Strategic Communication Committee. The Center should be a hybrid organization modeled on federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), such as the Rand Corporation, and the National Endowment for Democracy. It should be a tax-exempt private 501(c)(3) corporation that would receive an annual appropriation approved by Congress as part of the Department of State budget. The NSC’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication and the members of the Strategic Communication Committee should provide program and project direction to the Center.

The Center for Strategic Communication should be governed by an independent nonpartisan Board of Directors that would include distinguished Americans drawn from relevant professions and members of Congress appointed on a bipartisan basis. The NSC’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication should be an ex officio member of the Board. The Board of Directors should appoint the Center’s Director and ensure mission coherence and quality of performance.

The Center should be guided by three purposes:

  • Provide information and analysis on a regular basis to civilian and military decision makers on issues vital to U.S. national security including global public opinion; the role of culture, values, and religion in shaping human behavior; media trends and influences on audiences, information technologies, the implications of all source intelligence assessments, and non-departmental, non-political advice that will sharpen their judgment and provide a basis for informed choices.
  • Develop mandated and self-initiated plans, themes, products and programs for the creation and implementation of U.S. communications strategies that embrace diplomatic opportunities and respond to national security threats.
  • Support government strategic communications through services provided on a cost-recovery basis that mobilize non-governmental initiatives; foster cross-cultural exchanges of ideas, people, and information; maintain knowledge management systems, language and skills inventories, and procedures to recruit private sector experts for short term assignments, deploy temporary communications teams; augment planning, recruitment, and training; and continually monitor and evaluate effectiveness.

(4) The Task Force recommends that the Secretary of State redefine the role and responsibility of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs to be both policy advisor and manager for public diplomacy. The Under Secretary should serve as the Department’s principal on the NSC’s Strategic Communication Committee; have adequate staff for policy advice, program direction, and evaluation; direct the Department’s foreign opinion and media research activities; approve senior public diplomacy assignments; and review the performance ratings of public diplomacy office director and embassy public affairs officers. All foreign policy initiatives and directives should have a public diplomacy component approved by the Under Secretary. The Department’s current resources (personnel ∓ funding) for public diplomacy should be tripled from current levels and placed under the control of the Under Secretary. The Department should provide a core funding grant to the Center for Strategic Communication in the amount of an annual appropriation in the Department’s budget.

(5) The Task Force recommends that public diplomacy office directors in the Department of State should be at the level of deputy assistant secretary or senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary. Officers promoted to Chief of Mission positions or the Senior Foreign Service should have served at least one tour in a public diplomacy assignment in the Department or in an interagency assignment relevant to public diplomacy. The Bureau of International Information Programs should be directed by an Assistant Secretary.

(6) The Task Force recommends that the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy should act as the DOD focal point for strategic communication and serve as the Department’s principal on the NSC’s Strategic Communication Coordinating Committee. The Under Secretary for Policy should coordinate strategic communication activities with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. The Under Secretary of Defense for Policy should extend the role and responsibility of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs to act as the Department’s focal point for military support of public diplomacy and create a new Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs to coordinate all activities associated with military support for public diplomacy; and provide adequate staff for policy advice, program direction, and evaluation.

(7) The Task Force recommends that the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff ensure that all military plans and operations have appropriate strategic communication components, ensure collaboration with the Department of State’s diplomatic missions and with theater security cooperation plans; and extend U.S. STRATCOM’s and U.S. SOCOM’s Information Operations responsibilities to include DoD support for public diplomacy. The Department should triple current resources (personnel and funding) available to combatant commanders for DoD support to public diplomacy and reallocate Information Operations funding within U.S. STRATCOM for expanded support for strategic communication programs.

Strategic Communication Task Force Members

Chairman
Vince Vitto, C.S. Draper Laboratory

Executive Secretary
Mark Ellis, OUSD

Members
Dr. Anita Jones, University of Virginia
Bran Ferren, Applied Minds, Inc.
Bruce Gregory, George Washington University
Dan Kuehl, National Defense University
Joe Markowitz, Consultant
David Morey, DMG Inc.
Robert Nesbit, The Mitre Corporation
Dr. Michael, Vlahos Johns Hopkins University

Government Advisors
Joel Fischman, Department of State
David Jakubek, DDR∓E
Chris Lamb, National Defense University
John Matheny, Department of Defense SO/LIC
Lloyd Neighbors, Department of State
William Parker, Department of State
Robert Reilly, Department of Defense

Support
Nicole Coene, SAIC
Mark Mateski, SAIC

DSB Secretariat
LtCol David Robertson DSB


1. Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Managed Information Dissemination, October 2001, http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/. The report was briefed to the Secretary of Defense, the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, the Under Secretary of State for Management, and the National Security Council’s Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications and Information and Senior Advisor for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Operations.

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Updated: 12 December 2004.
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