NEW Strategic Perspectives: Deception, Disinformation, and Strategic Communications
Strategic Perspectives 11
Deception, Disinformation, and Strategic Communications:
How One Interagency Group Made a Major Difference
By Fletcher Schoen and Christopher J. Lamb
In this era of persistent conflict, U.S. national security depends on the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic instruments of national power being balanced and operationally integrated. A single instrument of power—that is, one of the country’s security departments and agencies acting alone—cannot efficiently and effectively deal with the Nation’s most important security challenges. None can be resolved without the well-integrated use of multiple instruments of power—a team bringing to bear the capacity and skills of multiple departments and agencies. The requirement for better interagency integration is not, as some have argued, a passing issue temporarily in vogue or one tied only to counterterrorism or foreign interventions in failed states. Interagency collaboration has become a persistent and pervasive trend in the national security system at all levels, from the strategic to the tactical, and will remain so in an ever more complex security environment.
Because of its resources, expertise, and pool of highly developed leaders, the Department of Defense (DOD) will have an outsized role in the future integration of elements of American power. This makes it vitally important that military leaders gain an understanding of interagency best practices. This study on the Active Measures Working Group provides a window into one little known but highly influential interagency group and its methods. Although the study examines just one case, it makes some intriguing arguments about how and why this interagency process managed to work well. Its historical and organizational insights are immediately relevant to many interagency efforts that the military finds itself involved in today. Along with pointing to best practices, this study disproves some conventional notions about the interagency process. Most notable of these is that small interagency groups need to be far away from Washington to work well. The diverse cast of officials involved in the story of the Active Measures Working Group demonstrates that many leadership values the military respects are resident elsewhere in government. Two of the group’s leaders, Dr. Kathleen Bailey and Ambassador Dennis Kux, practiced what some have called "360-degree leadership." They accepted responsibility, exercised initiative, and took in the views of their subordinates, peers, and superiors in a respectful and forthright way. Expertise and a mission-focused attitude were valued above rank. It is important for military leaders to recognize that organizations such as the Department of State have such dedicated leaders, both political appointees and career civilians, with whom they can partner to overcome the institutional and cultural gaps that so often hinder interagency collaboration and high-performing small teams.
The study also reveals another telling lesson: DOD can support an interagency effort without having to lead it. Participants in the Active Measures Working Group commented on the resources and gravitas that military participation lent their successful effort. As readers will see, the presence of DOD representatives, civilian and military, encouraged and emboldened the group. The Active Measures Working Group experience illustrates the profound impact that military officers can have on an interagency effort without being in the lead and without providing a large amount of resources. It is supremely important that the coming generation of U.S. military leaders is educated on how to participate effectively in such interagency fora.
Finally, the strategic nature of the group’s mission highlights the value of the case study. In an increasingly connected age, America will need to protect its public reputation from those who would malign it to weaken our national security. Safeguarding the country’s reputation overseas is a whole-of-government endeavor requiring interagency coordination and collaboration. This study reveals how one small and remarkable interagency group made a major contribution in this area. Beyond its strategic and organizational relevance, this study is a historical behind-the-scenes look into a little known yet successful government effort to counter Soviet disinformation. It is a new and fascinating chapter in the history of the Cold War.
Dennis C. Blair, Former Director of National Intelligence Agency
James R. Locher III, Former President & CEO, Project on National Security Reform
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