Pentagon drops 'strategic communication'

In this file photo, Seth Moulton, a journalist with the Dan Rather Reports television show embedded with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, photographs an Afghan boy at a bazaar in Helmand province, Afghanistan, in July 2009.


By TOM VANDEN BROOK | USA Today | Published: December 4, 2012

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is banishing the term "strategic communication," putting an end to an initiative that had promised to streamline the military's messaging but instead led to bureaucratic bloat and confusion, according to a memo obtained by USA Today.

Strategic communication had aimed to synchronize the military's messages with its actions. Instead, it led to creation of offices and staffs that duplicated efforts of traditional public affairs offices, according to the memo.

In the memo, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs George Little wrote that over the past six years, strategic communication "actually added a layer of staffing and planning that blurred roles and functions of traditional staff elements and resulted in confusion and inefficiencies."

In the Army, for example, personnel assigned to strategic communication slots increased from seven in 2006 to 38 last year, Pentagon records show. The Army spent $5 million for contractors assigned to strategic communication.

Little's memo to the chiefs of the military's combatant commands said, "We avoid using the term SC to avoid confusion."

Strategic communication has had high-level detractors, including Adm. Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said the military communicated more with its actions than messages crafted by strategic communication staffs. Mullen told USA Today last year that he preferred traditional public affairs offices to provide information and context on military actions.

The military has struggled for the past decade with its strategic communication. In 2001, an advisory board to the Pentagon was advised that it needed to do more to shape public opinion. Since then, several problems surfaced. In 2009, for example, the military severed a contract with the Rendon Group, a strategic communication firm, after it was learned that the company was profiling reporters who might write negative stories.

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