Dropping leaflets in Afghanistan. / Sgt. Joshua T. Greenfield, 2D Marine Division (FWD)
After years of ad hoc reviews of the effectiveness of military propaganda efforts, the Special Operations Command is on the verge of seeking an independent contractor for a coordinated plan to test whether the programs actually work.
A recent proposal released by SOCOM asks for companies to pitch the command on how they would help determine if the propaganda programs, which the Pentagon calls information operations or military information support operations, are effective in convincing target audiences of U.S. policy aims. SOCOM calls this latest incarnation the Global Research Assessment Program.
SOCOM, which continues to play a larger role in military propaganda efforts, will exclude any contractors that are currently or have within three years produced or disseminated "audio, visual or audio/visual MISO products (e.g. TV spots, radio spots, websites) and Web-based MISO products, YouTube videos, novelty items, leaflets and other printed MISO materials" for the military.
In essence, the SOCOM document says, the command wants a company that will collect and analyze information to help officials plan and evaluate where to conduct propaganda campaigns and use a variety of techniques to see if they work; review open-source and other materials to find and track better ways to handle such programs; and report the results to various commands and to Congress.
The command uses a series of different contractors to perform various reviews "depending on the specific research requirements," said Navy Capt. Kevin Aandahl, a SOCOM spokesman. "In some instances, data is gathered by a third party, and the analysis is conducted by the staff," he said. "In other instances, a third-party research organization provides a report, which is validated and further analyzed."
The new request for potential contractors comes as the command "intends to develop a single assessment contract to enhance our ability to synchronize research and assessment activities under the Global Research Assessment Program as well as realize cost efficiencies from reduced overhead," Aandahl said.
This isn't the first time SOCOM has tried to reorganize how it studies the effectiveness of propaganda campaigns. In 2012, it released a similar request for information for what it then called the Global Assessment Program. The goal then, SOCOM documents show, was to "provide global assessments and prove measures of effectiveness" for propaganda programs. That contract, Aandahl said, was never awarded, because of budget issues.
The military has struggled to assess accurately whether its propaganda programs work. A 2012 report by the RAND Corp. for the Marines said efforts in Afghanistan were not working and the military had not mastered how to determine the effectiveness of the programs. An April 2013 Government Accountability Office report found the same thing; the GAO and Pentagon attempted to keep that report private until it was obtained by USA TODAY a month later.
Propaganda contractors often con military commanders into believing their plans can work miracles and then fail, a report published in December of the Army's War College shows. British military expert Steve Tatham wrote that efforts in Afghanistan failed because of poorly designed programs by contractors who often propose expensive marketing solutions to U.S. commanders incapable of making informed choices.
GAO also found problems with SOCOM's operation of a series of news websites targeted at residents of various areas of the world, such as North Africa. The Trans Regional Web Initiative, GAO found, was not often well coordinated with other propaganda programs or U.S. agencies working in the same areas. The latest defense bill signed last month by President Obama stripped funding for the program.
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