Public Affairs Investment Equipment

The United States Marine Corps’ Media Operations Branch is investing heavily in new technology as part of their “Public Affairs Investment Equipment”, or PAIE, program. What is this, and why should you care?

To quote a recent presentation on the subject: “PAIE is a vital, strategic, non-lethal warfighting capability that permits commanders to communicate “The First Truth” about ongoing operations, by facilitating their participation in the 24-hour, continuous, electronic news cycle.”

Basically, once you wade through all the buzzwords – is it really necessary to describe a public-affairs initiative as “non-lethal”? – the USMC is investing in a handful of COTS systems, as well as manpower and other infrastructure, to enable them to disseminate still and moving pictures in near real-time to the media; even, under certain circumstances, to transmit live video in real-time for broadcast.

The point, as stated before, is to communicate “The First Truth”, an idea first thunked up by the USMC a year ago, who make it sound sexier than it needs to – “immediate, non-lethal, non-kinetic operations on the battlefield” reaching “strategic publics”. Another document on the program makes clear what the whole deal is really about – “the ability to insert edited information into the news cycle, mitigating rumor and communicating key command messages”, a capability which “permits commanders to establish a non-kinetic edge by seizing the initiative in the war of words”.

It’s never specified who, exactly, these “strategic publics” are, but it seems likely that the majority of the products of this program will be intended for domestic consumption. In this, one has to wonder if the military’s understandable desire to see more positive coverage of the Global War on Terror has blinded them to the fundamental, democratic importance of an independent media. With an emphasis not on spreading the “Absolute Truth”, or the “True Truth”, or even the “Truthy Truth”, but the “First Truth”, one cannot help but feel the fine line between publicity and propaganda is within spitting distance, and perhaps even in danger of being overrun in the rush to spoon-feed the media a carefully, professionally produced version of reality.

It’s one thing if certain media outlets want to submit to the military’s wishes and report extensively on all the “good things” happening in Iraq and Afghanistan; it suggests, perhaps, a certain lack of impartiality, but that’s certainly nothing new in today’s media. It would, or will, be something altogether more worrisome when the supposedly independant media are merely disseminating what the military tells them to.

Donald Rumsfeld made a lot of decisions that have either come to haunt the military in one way or another or become seen in retrospect as mistakes, and I cannot help but feel that what a lot outside the military see as one of his few relatively great ideas – the decision to permit independant, embedded media in frontline units, rather than the 1990s model of carefully-handled, often-censored reporter pools dependent on briefings and handouts – is considerably less popular in the Pentagon. The military has not been able to exercise any meaningful control over the subject or tone of reporting from the ground in the “Long War”, despite occasional efforts to do so. If the Marine Corps has their way, though, all that could change.

Whether or not that’s a good thing, ironically, will probably eventually be determined in the court of public opinion.

Published in: General, Security | on June 25th, 2007| Comments Off on Public Affairs Investment Equipment

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