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Hybrid Threats Require a Hybrid Government December 29, 2009

Posted by Guest Blogger in Analysis.
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Each Tuesday BFAD features a guest blogger- these are experts from a variety of backgrounds writing about what they know best.  This week features Matt Armstrong, an advisor and consultant who also publishes the public diplomacy blog MountainRunner.us.

Hybrid Threats Require a Hybrid Government

by Matt Armstrong

Nine years ago we went to war with the enemy we had, not the enemy we wanted. For several years after 9/11 we struggled to comprehend how military superiority failed to translate into strategic victory. We created labels like “irregular” and “hybrid” to describe adversaries that did not conform to our structured view of international affairs shaped by the second half of the Cold War. Today, conflict is democratized, not in the sense of bicameral legislatures but strategic influence in the hands of non-state actors empowered by falling barriers to information acquisition, packaging and dissemination as well as easy access to the means of destruction and disruption, physical and virtual.

This new “democracy” is messy and yet we continue to formulate, plan, and execute engagement using “regular” and “homogeneous” bureaucracies and budgets. Today’s threats are increasingly complex, often stateless, and rarely conforming to neat lines of authorities and responsibilities across, or within, government agencies, most of which were designed in and for previous eras.

Calls for “smart power” and a “whole of government” approach has resulted in countless articles, memos, and reports on updating the State Department, the Defense Department, and other agencies to confront the challenges of today and tomorrow. A few more reports – each significant – will come from the Administration over the next several weeks, including the Defense Department’s so-called “1055 Report” (named after the section in the Congressional report requiring it), a new strategy on public diplomacy from the office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and a strategic direction from the National Security Council. Each report is likely to call for the blending of planning and execution across executive branch agencies. The focus on improving the operational elements of national power, while necessary, ignores a critical national security actor that has received little to no attention or pressure to adapt to the new and emerging requirements: Congress.

Blended threats require blended authorities and budgets to support the necessary hybridization of executive agencies. Congressional committees must have a common understanding of current capabilities, problems, and requirements. They should communicate among themselves, just as they are increasingly demanding of the executive branch, but the reality is something else.

Congress must adapt otherwise many of the reforms suggested, required, and even implemented may face unnecessary delays and suffer from uninformed oversight. The Congressional committee system is a valuable scheme providing checks and balances and intentionally dilutes power. In practice, the lack of communication and coordination can create confusion and limit support, oversight, and understanding the requirements of various programs.

In the context of national security, from strategic communication and public diplomacy to the balancing of diplomacy and military power, support and oversight of executive branch institutions, budgets, and programs are – generally speaking – shared by eight Congressional committees, four each in the Senate and the House of Representatives. (For this discussion, I will leave out potential roles of other committees, like Ways and Means, Rules, etc.) Half authorize activities, that is permit or require certain actions or functions while the other half funds the activities, sometimes placing restrictions on the use of money that may or may not be in line with the authorizers. Then there is the Senate and House divide, which is settled in conference when both committees hash out their differences in advance of the President signing legislation.

The authorizers are the Armed Services Committees, one each in the Senate and the House, and the Committee on Foreign Relations in the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the House. The primary appropriators, the committees that actually commit money to budgets established by the authorizers, are actually subcommittees. The Foreign Operations subcommittee (one each under the Senate and the House Appropriations Committees) funds the State Department and Defense subcommittee (also one each under the Senate and House Appropriations Committees) funds the Defense Department.
A recent example of the insular operations of Congressional committees was in July 2009 when the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee slashed the Defense Department’s budget request for information operations for FY2010. Led by Representative John Murtha (D-PA), the committee decided the Defense Department had overstepped its bounds in strategically communicating with global audiences. Acting unilaterally and using the only tool in its kit, the appropriations subcommittee slashed the initial and preliminary budget request by $500 million. In public, Murtha described the Defense Department’s funding request to be for “propaganda,” and stating that “the military’s got nothing to do with this. That should be in the State Department, in my estimation.”

While Murtha could have led an effort to shift funds to the State Department, it would have been highly irregular. Certainly, there were no attempts by the Foreign Operations subcommittee to reallocate even a portion of the $500 million the defense appropriators initially red lined between July and when the final reduction of $100 million came out of the conference between the Senate and House defense appropriators in December 2009.  (The Defense appropriators had a chance to send a real message when funding the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 authorized up to $55 million to the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an authorization that should have been given by the Foreign Relations and Foreign Affairs Committees. The defense appropriators ignored the authorization.)

Murtha’s action surprised the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) which earlier that same month gave their qualified support for the expansion of Defense information activities. HASC wrote that it “encourages the development of strategic communications capability within the Department of Defense as a softpower complement to traditional hard-power tools” while expressing concerns over accountability, leadership, workforce capabilities in Defense information activities.

America’s national security requires better coordination of policy planning and execution across executive branch agencies. It also requires better communication between Congress and the agencies as well as improved communication across Congressional committees.

Representatives Adam Smith (D-WA) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) have taken the first step in informing House members and committees. They chair the recently created the Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus that, according to Smith and Thornberry, is an “informal, bipartisan group of Members dedicated to raising awareness of and strengthening American strategic communication and public diplomacy efforts.” It will “bring together constituencies across all sectors with an interest in successful strategic communication and public diplomacy, and educate other Members on the multifaceted issues related to strategic communication and public diplomacy.” This is a long overdue first step to synchronize efforts in the legislative branch, a demand Congress has had of the executive branch.

It is sensible that Congress does demand, as they have, that the executive branch formulate, coordinate, operate and account for its strategic communications and information operations programs within an enterprise-wide architecture. It is equally sensible that Congress be capable of authorizing, funding, and overseeing such hybrid institutions.

As we begin the second decade of the 21st century, we should begin to seriously address its requirements. It is time the Congress makes the same effort to inform and coordinate its activities. Ultimately, blending responsibilities in Congress through better understanding would increase support, oversight, and improve our national security.



1. Peggie Duggan - December 30, 2009

This article makes excellent points – first and foremost, to fight the enemy we’ve got vs. the enemy we wish we had. Second, the failure of Congress to hold itself accountable for much of the failure on the part of the Intelligence Community to connect the dots. Congressional finger pointing of stove piping of information fails to acknowledge congressional failures of understanding the differences between strategic, operational and tactical aspects of information operations.

2. UNRR - December 31, 2009

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 12/31/2009, at The Unreligious Right

3. opit - January 3, 2010

Peggie Duncan
I suggest you familiarize yourself with the operational parameters engaged in by Mr. Cheney et al re: ‘formulating intelligence around the policy.’ : both in regards to Iraq and Iran.
Activities ‘outing’ the CIA NOC running the MidEast WMD Threat Desk and ‘blowing’ Brewster Jennings because responsible intelligence professionals would not cooperate in the ginning up of information was the failure that outside observers would point up.
Surely at this point in time the convenient lies are more dangerous than ever.

4. Christopher M Schnaubelt - January 3, 2010

For a very comprehensive review of this topic, see Terry Kelly et al, “Fixing Foreign Assistance for Counterinsurgency” (Chapter Eleven) in “Counterinsurgency: the Challenge for NATO Strategy and Operations” at: http://www.ndc.nato.int/download/downloads.php?icode=139

5. oldpapajoe - January 5, 2010

I believe this is called politics. The President must be able to work his way through the politics of funding to get his/our/America’s National Security Strategy funded. It assumes that he or someone can pull it all together on the strategy front. But, the funding is first and foremost a political issue. Legislation cannot take the place of hard fighting domestic politics that accompany and influence all wars. From the times of Thucydedes to today, this is a central problem/challenge of waging war.

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