Information warfare 101

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On June 30, the Council for the Protection of Journalists penned a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon protesting a missile attack the previous night on an office building in Gaza. According to the CPJ, whose honorary chairman is Walter Cronkite, the building housed the offices of several foreign press organizations, including the BBC and MBC.

 

According to the IDF and to the Government Press Office, the building in question also housed offices of Hizbullah's Al Manar television and operated as a Hamas communication center. Through it, Hamas maintained constant communications with terrorists, disseminated propaganda and claimed responsibility for attacks like the one the organization had carried out the previous day – the murder of 4 year old Afik Zahavi and 49 year old Mordechai Yosepov by Kassam rockets in Sderot. This fact was ignored by the CPJ.

 

In its penultimate paragraph, the letter stated, "CPJ reminds you that media offices are civilian facilities and are protected from attack under international humanitarian law unless they are used for military purposes. The IDF has not provided any compelling evidence that the office was used in this manner. The attack on the building was also disproportionate to any perceived threat and reckless in endangering civilians – in this case the many journalists who work there."

 

The letter by the CPJ followed a similar protest launch by the Foreign Press Association in Israel.

The fact that Hamas and Hizbullah cohabit a building used by media organizations and hide their operations behind journalistic cover is nothing new. It is standard fare for terrorists, both in the Palestinian population centers and in Iraq, to disguise themselves as journalists and to use journalistic cover to travel freely.

 

Before his arrest by the IDF, Hassam Yusuf, the Hamas commander in Judea and Samaria, sat in a Ramallah office bearing the sign, "Nur Press Office." When last fall the US began pressuring Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to close the terrorist headquarters in Damascus, Assad claimed that they were not headquarters, but press offices.

 

At the beginning of the month, Agence France Presse photographer Mohammed Abed took a picture of two Palestinian terrorists in ski caps assembling a bomb in Rafah refugee camp. The photograph was shot from a distance of less than a meter. How was he allowed to get so close?

 

 

In Iraq there have been several instances of reporters arriving at the scene of terror attacks against coalition forces before the attacks take place. They have admitted that they were tipped off by the terrorists in order to enable them to take real time footage of dying Americans.

 

While Israel was roundly criticized for firing three missiles into the "press" headquarters of Hamas and Hizbullah, neither the CPJ nor the Foreign Press Association issued any condemnatory statement against the Palestinian Authority for the attack on New York Times bureau chief James Bennet in Gaza in May. When AFP photographer Jamal Arouri had both his arms broken by the Aksa Martyr Brigades earlier in the year to prevent him from working, neither organization launched a protest.

A Washington Post article about the US Army's fight against the Sadr army in southern Iraq this past spring includes a revealing line. In a fight in Najaf, US forces fought terrorists in a pitched battle that lasted six hours in order to prevent the enemy from taking hold of a burning Humvee. As one of the officers put it, "We weren't going to let them dance on it for the news. Even with all the guys they lost that day, that still would have given them a victory."

All the above vignettes point to the fact that the ability to harness the media and to control the images of the war is one of the chief components of the terrorist war doctrine. The enemy hides behind press credentials in order to gain operational cover. It stage-manages terrorist theater by giving "scoops" of attacks to fellow travelers with cameras, tape recorders and notepads. It reenacts battlefield defeats as victories before the cameras. It uses its video footage of its own atrocities to both frighten its foes and encourage its sympathizers.

 

In the strategic use of the media to advance their war aims, the terrorists are assisted by Western press agencies. "Reporters" from Al Manar, Al Jazeera, Hamas and Al Qaida websites and other propaganda organs are viewed as "colleagues" rather than agents of jihad and participants in the war.

 

From all of this it is clear that one of the greatest challenges to democracies in fighting and winning the war is finding adequate answers to the question of how to conduct an informational warfare campaign that is integrally linked to the battlefield and diplomatic aspects of the war.

 

The US military rediscovered one of the most potent weapons against terrorist media warfare in the planning stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The decision to integrate or embed journalists with US forces was a monumental achievement. In so doing, the US reinstated a long tradition of battlefield reporting that had been nearly snuffed out in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

 

Having reporters with the troops enables the military to get out the story from the perspective of its own personnel in real time. When I was in Iraq with the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division the necessity of the embed program was constantly in evidence. This was perhaps most starkly brought to my attention with the American seizure of Baghdad airport.

 

As I phoned into Israel Channel 2 news to report that I was at the airport, I was told by the television producer on the other end of the line that I must be mistaken because the Iraqi "Information" Minister had just said that there were no US forces at Baghdad Airport.

 

So embedding journalists with combat units is exceedingly important. But as the war moves on and mutates into increasingly ugly and sophisticated forms of made-for-TV barbarism it clearly is not sufficient. Additional methods of fighting terrorist propaganda must also be found. One of these methods is to refuse to accord journalistic privileges automatically to anyone claiming to be a member of the press. The Iraqi Provisional Governing Authority recognized this when its members last year banned Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya satellite stations from broadcasting in Iraq.

 

 

News organizations should be judged by the impact of their reports and their content as well as by their legitimacy. If they are actively pursuing the cause of the enemy, they should be unmasked as the enemy. And this should be done without apology.

One of the advantages of the terrorists over the democracies they fight is that they have no compunction about lying. So it was in the case of the US air strike against a terrorist drop-off point on the Syrian-Iraqi border: before US officials in Baghdad had information about the raid, Arab "journalists" were reporting that US forces had bombed a wedding party.

 

In Israel's case, the first blood libel of the Palestinian terrorist war – the allegation that the IDF had killed 12 year-old Muhammed al-Dura in October 2000, was created as a result of the slowness of the IDF's ability to check the facts of the case. By the time the IDF had proved irrefutably that al-Dura had been killed by Palestinian forces, weeks had passed and the blood libel had circulated all over the Arab world.

 

To solve this problem, a policy must be adopted of never providing the terrorists with the moral high ground. On a strategic level, this requires never accepting blame for anything until all the facts have been unearthed. It is better to deny – indeed, it is possible to deny because, as a rule, the IDF does not target civilians – than to allow that the allegations may or may not be true. If, after the fact, it works
out that civilians were killed, an explanation of the deaths can be given in a full context. The terrorists must never be granted a monopoly on telling the story.

 

On a tactical level, it means that democratic armies must integrate the informational warfare component into all their operational plans. This may involve becoming more flexible about exposing intelligence information. This may involve bringing army photographers with troops in every operation in order to take control of the visual image emanating from battle scenes.

 

While not according rights to terrorists and their media helpers, democratic armies must protect journalists who are actually doing their job. Reports have surfaced again and again of reporters from the US funded Al Hurra news network being physically attacked and harassed by terrorists and their supporters. This must not be allowed to continue.

 

 

While reporting in war zones always involves risk, democratic forces must do everything they can to provide a modicum of safety for legitimate reporters.

 

The informational component of terrorist-warfare doctrine is one of the most unique aspects of the present war. The proliferation of news sources through the internet and satellite television combined with the post-nationalist, post-modernist preferences of large swathes of the Western media elites have made the necessity of integrating informational warfare components into every stage of battle planning, fighting and post-combat debriefings and overall strategic planning absolutely essential. Getting the story out is now of equal if not greater importance than defeating enemy forces in any particular engagement.

 

 

Because without the story, the battlefield victory will eventually become a strategic defeat.

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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