Michael Innes (bio) references some fascinating material in a roundup of posts related to the analysis of the Hezbollah telecom network (map) and the use of the media by terrorist entities.
Brigitte Nacos (bio) short essay on Media Power and Terrorists earns a mention and is worthy of a full read:
Once upon a time, Karl Marx assigned power to those who own the means of production. Today it’s safe to say that power is in the hands of those who either own the means of communication or otherwise manage to communicate their messages directly to their target publics. Governments and influential interest groups have always understood this, and so have terrorists. This point was once again driven home in the latest clash between the Lebanese government and its backers and Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that has actually grown into a mighty guerilla and de facto ruling force. While Hezbollah’s own al-Manar television and radio networks carried the threats and hard-line rhetoric of Hezbollah’s leader Sheik Nassan Nasrallah, the organization’s fighters silenced the Sunni majority party by taking its television station off the air and setting its newspaper offices on fire.
Brigitte is right. Governments have always understood this. However, few governments seem to translate that understanding into competent and timely action as successfully as your average terrorist:
To a large degree, though, the U.S. military cannot be blamed for being caught off-guard by their enemy’s sophistication in managing the way battles and campaigns are perceived. In the past two decades, insurgent, terrorist, and guerrilla groups in the Middle East have grown exponentially more sophisticated in the way they use the media available to them in order to affect the way battles are perceived. From the perspective of someone who studies military innovation, it is a remarkable achievement.
Huge advantages in this war, especially the propaganda component, will be secured by the nimble and those who understand that the channels of communication extend far beyond the old media. Our understanding of this has advanced significantly since 2003 but there are still gaps. And, again, understanding has to translate into change or it’s useless. Bureaucracy sucks the life out of anything that requires immediacy and forcefulness. It fears change and fights it at all costs. So even relatively simple concepts like these take root slowly because the roots of bureaucracy and stupidity are set stronger and much deeper:
I note that the US government because of ‘budgetary shortfalls’ is forced to fire analysts in Radio Free Europe/Free Liberty. Those receiving pink slips are apparently to include RFE/RL analysts Daniel Kimmage and Kathleen Ridolfo authors of important reports on Iraqi insurgent use of media The War of Images and Ideas and Al Qaeda’s use of the Internet The Virtual Network Behind the Global Message.
I really don’t get this administration. Actually I do get something: six years into the GWOT they still haven’t got a clue about the nature of the war they are in. It’s not just the ignorance which galls its the studied, committed blindness and warped priorities which they exhibit. RFE/RL’s annual budget is $79 million. By comparison that kind of money would buy you about one half of a single F-22–pilot and fuel not included.
It’s going to be a long war and we’re going to need every bit of it to complete the transformation required to fight and win.