Monday, August 29, 2016

Outpost Washington

Caldwell Continued: The Rebuttal

Over To You, Gentlemen: Vice President Joe Biden (L), General David Petraeus (R)Over To You, Gentlemen: Vice President Joe Biden (L), General David Petraeus (R)
Over To You, Gentlemen: Vice President Joe Biden (L), General David Petraeus (R)
Over To You, Gentlemen: Vice President Joe Biden (L), General David Petraeus (R)
Outpost readers may recall our reporting on the psy-ops scandal surrounding U.S. Army Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who is now commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan.

In a story published in "Rolling Stone" magazine, reporter Michael Hastings presented the misadventures of Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holmes, who says that General Caldwell ordered him to put his knowledge of psychological operations to use in an effort to manipulate members of the U.S. Congress (and other dignitaries) who visited Caldwell's command in Iraq. General David Petraeus, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, has ordered an investigation into the allegations.

Caldwell's defenders were quick to respond. In the interest of helping readers get to the bottom of this story, "Outpost" published a letter from a group of them who took issue with the Holmes account.

Now it's Mike Hastings's turn. (Once again, I should disclose that he and I are old colleagues who both reported from Iraq for "Newsweek.") "Outpost" wanted Mike to have his chance to respond to Caldwell's supporters, and he was kind enough to oblige. His take follows below.

Once again, "Outpost" hastens to add that we have no agenda here. We think that this open debate will help our readers to make up their own minds about this story, which brings up issues of fundamental relevance to America's wars in South Asia. And this should interest not only Americans but also Afghans, Iraqis, and others who are directly affected by U.S. policies.

So, over to Mike:

Hey, Christian, thanks for the note. In honor of our Baghdad days at
Newsweek, it's my pleasure to answer a few of the points you raise:

1)  The claim that General Caldwell had no "information operations cell" is not true. In fact, on June 15th, 2010, his staff issued a memo that said: "Any existing Information Operations cell, section or working group will be immediately restructured as an Information Engagement Cell." If he had no IO cells, why the need to issue a memo prohibiting them? More to the point, why change the name of something that you don't have?

2) As for the Pentagon/media response to the story: Attacking the whistle blower LTC Michael Homes is not where the real story is here. It's funny that more ink has been spilled looking at Holmes record--Holmes, a 20-year plus veteran in the Texas Army National Guard who's done three tours overseas--than on the record of Lt. General Caldwell. Caldwell is in charge of a 11.6 billion dollar-a-year operation, and has been at the forefront of trying to tear down the firewalls between IO and Public Affairs. (In short, trying to tear down what used to separate propaganda from being used on domestic versus foreign audiences.) So, if I was handing out reporting assignments, I would suggest looking closely at Caldwell's comments from his stint as spokesperson in Iraq (they regularly lacked veracity) and the comments and writings he made while at the Ft. Leavenworth. While publicly stating in 2008 that "information operations" should only be used on foreign audiences, he also rather aggressively attempted to expand the reach of propaganda to domestic audiences as well. To redefine information operations, in other words, as "information engagements." That's the key here--that's how you wind up targeting senators with a team of soldiers who know how to conduct psychological operations. 

3) From my perspective, the story gives us a glimpse into the U.S. military's massive spin machine--spin on steroids, really. We all know it exists, but it's often difficult to find a way to write about it. In this case, it's a spin machine that clearly overstepped legal boundaries. Over the past ten days, a few of my colleagues have preferred to defend the Pentagon's propaganda efforts.  That's their prerogative. But after wiping away all the mud that's been flung, the facts of Holmes story can't be denied: An information operations cell, trained in how to conduct psychological operations and military deception, was ordered to manipulate visiting U.S. political leaders into giving more money and troops. That to me is pretty disturbing.  If Caldwell and his friends want to claim they are "innocent"--which I don't doubt they believe--then that's even more disturbing. 

4) I commend General Petraeus for calling for an investigation. But my guess is that the confidence you speak of among Caldwell supporters has little to do with innocence or guilt. It has to do with the fact that--as we've seen over the past decade--these investigations are often just white washes. The brass usually dodges any responsibility, and they hang out the little guys to dry. The only way to really make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again is to have Congress take a look at it.

Pretty clear. So, let's see where it goes from here.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Shakesmyhead from: DC
March 07, 2011 20:12
I worked with LTG Caldwell in Iraq in 2006 and I'm surprised at Hasting's comments. LTG Caldwell did not try to bring IO into his role as the spokesman, and he certainly conducted himself with integrity. To infer that LTG Caldwell's statements as spokesman "lacked veracity" is perplexing. LTG Caldwell and his team went to great lengths to not produce spin and present events through the prism of MNF-I. That is his job...not to spin, but to provide a persective that, especially at the time, wasn't in the mainstream media. To claim this was spin is to ignore the fact that there are many truths at play on the battlefield. It seems to me that Hastings is cherry picking to create a spin that he wants to see become a reality.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
March 07, 2011 20:49
Nice article and glad that RFE continues to dig/follow-up. Winning over hearts and minds (both domestic and foreign) has always been the critical battlefield. Should soldiers try to influence the public which they purport to serve? Good question. I tend to think that they step over a line when they covertly try to influence policy (read Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars” for countless examples of how the game is played at the 3-4 star level). Someone told me that while he was CAC Commander at Fort Leavenworth, LTG Caldwell (or someone in his staff) encouraged students to publish their thoughts in various media outlets. Soldiers should enjoy the same First Amendment rights as the rest of the citizens- except perhaps when they use/abuse their uniform to promote policies which are inherently bad for the republic. Determining the good/bad can be difficult, but as we enter the 10th year of fighting in Afghanistan with still no ending in sight (and this country sinking ever deeper in debt), it is time to put a stop to the military madness. Bereft of any logical strategy, this conflict has become an elaborate laundering machine for the well-connected MIC to further drain the public coffers. Fiscal prudence is patriotic!

by: Really??
March 09, 2011 01:13
Mr. Hastings,
As I read this article I was hoping to see some good rebuttals from you, but I was denied. In fact, your above statements only confirm your obvious bias and agenda. Anyone who has taken a college freshman-level class on critical thinking and logical fallacies can quickly see through your biased screed above. If anyone here is trying to manipulate or influence, it is you sir.

by: CJ from: Temple, TX
March 09, 2011 20:29
Hastings seems to be the one that doesn't know what he's talking about. He contradicts himself in his own explanation, saying that IO DOES exist but quoting a memo that calls the for disbanding of IO. If IO was disbanded, then it, by definition DOES NOT exist. He further contradicts himself by quoting the "20-year plus veteran" status of a National Guard LTC (the equivalent of perhaps 6-8 years of active duty service time) yet then failing to mention the nearly 40-year career of an active duty Lieutenant General.

Secondly, Hastings provides an easy rebuttal without any proof by saying that he has "been at the forefront of trying to tear down the firewalls between IO and Public Affairs." Where is the proof of this, other than the false claims of a disgraced LTC?

Thre reason there is so much ink being spilled on Holmes instead of Caldwell is because Holmes is trying to cover his own ass at the expense of another. Caldwell correctly stated the goal of IO as quoted by Hastings, which shows a clear ignorance by the author on any matters of IO significance.

Finally, I categorically reject his third assertion that any defense of LTG Caldwell is an effort of the "U.S. military's massive spin machine." From MY perspective, Hastings seems to exibit a categorical dislike of the military.

I challenge Hastings to provide the training certificates of these so-called IO cells that have been trained in any form of psychological operations. Psy-ops is a component of IO, not a function of it. If Holmes is being honest in his assertion, he'll freely offer up his official training certificates that prove once and for all that he was trained in Psy-ops and/or IO. These aren't classified documents and can be easily obtained with a simple FOIA request. I doubt Hastings has the intestinal fortitude to stand by his story with anything other than words and actually do some in-depth research. Instead, he's more likely content just trashing the career of a good General Officer while propping a pathetic Field Grade.

By the way, I'm NOT an officer. But, I am an NCO in the Army.

by: PSYOPer from: DC
March 09, 2011 21:40
I worked in Kabul for the bulk of former LTC Holmes' time there, and frequently interacted with him at meetings. It is not true that he was part of some IO cell. Indeed, his role was very vague and lacking clear objectives. This allowed him to, like the jolly cowboy that he is, get involved in anything and everything that struck his fancy, including some rather ill-thought-out public outreach activities.

In my opinion, his situation is one of hundreds of such officers sent into the field without a strict purpose, simply because they are the right rank (and if anyone was looking for a promotion it was Holmes, not Caldwell). More often than not, they are a waste of time and resources for ISAF.

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