Africa · Broadcasting Board of Governors

DOD shutters two ‘influence’ websites covering Africa


In the explanation for shutting down the websites, I noticed one word, “effectiveness”.

There is one staffer on the hill, married to an agency “influence” person, who has jealously guarded against ‘other agency’s efforts’.  She has allegedly been behind numerous ‘news articles’ attacking DoD IO efforts.  Her name is well-known in ‘information activities’ circles, she was discussed as recently as yesterday.

No, not everything is hunky-dory in the US information activities world.  Besides back stabbers from OSD Public Affairs world, jealously guarding their territory, we also have outsiders leaking misinformation and disinformation to ‘news sources’.  These US citizens, especially this Congressional staffer, have done more to harm US influence operations than any Russian or Chinese propagandists.

In the meantime, US influence operations and information activities continue to take a hit, mostly because of a lack of support.

This lack of support is caused by one thing, primarily.  We lack of “measures of effectiveness” incorporation into initial planning efforts.  This is akin to years of international broadcasting efforts based on a gut feeling, ‘I think this will work’.  In the back-end, our international broadcasting efforts have ZERO measures of effectiveness. We do not have baseline studies saying ‘53% of the people feel this way’ and after the information activity subsequent studies show a 12% rise – directly attributed to ‘information activities’.  We cannot show “change of behavior”, we cannot show change in attitudes. You cannot show that billions of dollars are being spent wisely.  You cannot properly fight propaganda.  You cannot properly fight Russian Information Warfare. Show me otherwise and I’ll state otherwise. I’m not from Missouri, but “show me”.

BBG, the NSC (DNSA for SC), US Department of State, NCTC, and DoD – you are the guilty parties. Stop doing US information activities based on a gut feeling.  Those are my tax dollars at work, you owe me, you owe all taxpayers, the discipline, the planning and the professionalism.

Don’t let her win.


By Adam Mazmanian

Feb 13, 2015

Two websites run by the Defense Department to disseminate U.S. government-approved news in the Horn of Africa and the Maghreb region of North Africa are out of business. They were taken off-line on or around Feb. 10, more than a year after being defunded by appropriations legislation.

Sabahionline.com and Magharebia.com were operated under contract by General Dynamics and published in English and local languages. They delivered regional news along with sports and lifestyle content, and hosted message boards for readers. It appears that the sites are permanently shuttered, though their domain registrations remain active.

A spokesperson for General Dynamics Information Technology confirmed that the company’s work on the contract had been completed. A request for comment emailed to the U.S. Africa Command, which is responsible for the sites, was not answered.

The two sites fell under a program called the Trans Regional Web Initiative (TRWI) run by the Special Operations Command. Related websites covering Iraq (Mawtani.com), the Gulf States (al-Shorfa.com) and central Asia, including Pakistan and Afghanistan (Centralasiaonline.com) are still up and running, supported by the U.S. Central Command. A site covering many of the former Soviet republics in southeastern Europe (SETimes.com) is backed by the U.S. European Command. All the sites are operated by General Dynamics.

The TRWI program is a subset of a larger initiative dubbed Military Information Support Operations — a less threatening name for what used to go under the heading of psychological operations. According to a Pentagon memo, the program’s purpose is to “influence the perceptions, attitudes, and subsequent behavior of selected foreign audiences as part of approved MISO programs in support of [U.S. government] policy and military objectives, plans, and operations.”

Some MISO efforts, such as the websites, are attributed to the U.S. government, while some have a more opaque connection to U.S. actors. They include campaigns that use leaflets, text message blasts and other media.

The TRWI program came under fire in Congress and in a nonpublic report by the Government Accountability Office for being ineffectual and wasting money. The program was ordered closed in Section 344 of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization act.

The joint explanatory statement from the House and Senate Armed Services committees accompanying the final bill noted that “we remain skeptical of the effectiveness of the websites established under the TRWI and believe that available resources may better be used to support tactical and operational military information support activities.”

Lawmakers said agencies outside the military might be better suited to manage such activities.

However, a Pentagon memo issued by the undersecretary of Defense for policy that was cited in contracting documents authorized a shift of TRWI websites from Special Operations Command to regional commands. The memo asserts that “the termination of SOCOM’s TRWI program in response to Section 344 does not preclude commanders from conducting military information support operations on the Internet, nor does Section 344 prohibit all use of the Internet for MISO, such as those in support of commanders’ counterterrorism, security, and stability objectives.”

The documents were posted to justify a sole-source extension of General Dynamics’ work on the sites. Officials cautioned against letting General Dynamics’ contract lapse on schedule in September 2014 because they were concerned that the sites would lose their audiences and Google News would stop aggregating their content if publication stopped to allow for a new procurement.

Those concerns resulted in General Dynamics being given a contract extension with a ceiling of $6.9 million and the promise of a new request for proposals to be issued in November 2014. That RFP never materialized, and General Dynamics was awarded $1.86 million to wrap up work on the sites.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is a staff writer covering Congress, the FCC and other key agencies. Connect with him on Twitter: @thisismaz.

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3 thoughts on “DOD shutters two ‘influence’ websites covering Africa

  1. There is a chance that the websites really were not effective though……

    Juliana Geran Pilon, Ph.D.

    1. I hope you don’t mind. I edited out your contact information, I don’t want you targeted or spammed.

      Joel

      On Sat, Feb 14, 2015 at 5:16 PM, To Inform is to Influence wrote:

      >

  2. The DoD websites have metrics that run circles around anything that BBG or State can offer on their programs. And yet those programs go on. Go figure. We have calls to counter ISIS propaganda and recruiting everyday on TV. The TRWI sites were about the only government effort countering ISIS propaganda. Over and over cases of the sites succeeding in engaging local moderate voices with those of extremism. And yet the sites are being shutdown. Or should we say torpedoed by two staffers? We are shutting down and laying off people at the same time Russia Today is hiring. Whose voice will be heard now?

    Decide, if words mean anything in countering extremist ideology then the sites were an absolute bargain to the US taxpayer. If not then let’s shutdown CSCC and BBG too and just go kinetic.

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