Small Wars Journal

Military Officials Dispute Claim Army Unit Was Directed to Manipulate Senators (Update 11)

Military Officials Dispute Claim Army Unit Was Directed to Manipulate Senators - Jennifer Griffin and Justin Fishel, FOX News.

"... Holmes was disgruntled because his original assignment to influence Afghans was no longer needed when Caldwell took up the training command. Holmes apparently thought he was supposed to use "psychological operations" to find the Taliban and "turn them," according to the officer. But that wasn't what Caldwell's command wanted of him..."

"Holmes reportedly spent much of his time on Facebook setting up a strategic communications firm called SyzygyLogos with the woman with whom he was accused of having an improper relationship in Afghanistan, Maj. Laural Levine. Holmes denies that charge..."

Army: Gen. Caldwell's Accuser Had No Psy-Ops Training - Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal.

An Army officer who accused a top general in Afghanistan of using "psychological operations" against visiting lawmakers in an article in Rolling Stone magazine was not trained in the military specialty, Defense Department officials said.

The U.S. Army's Special Operations Command announced Friday that their special warfare center has no record of training Lt. Col. Michael Holmes in "psychological operations." ...

.. a military officer who served with Lt. Col. Holmes and under Gen. Caldwell said the accusation is baseless, and that the officer was specifically told not to use information operations techniques...

Rolling Stone's War on Our Troops - Washington Times editorial.

... Mr. Hastings primary source is Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, the head of the information operations (IO) unit who is portrayed in the cliched role of the selfless whistleblower bucking the system. But according to information obtained by The Washington Times, Lt. Col. Holmes is better characterized as a disgruntled soldier who had been caught engaging in alleged improprieties and is using the liberal anti-war press to strike back...

A humdrum staff-support job apparently was not what Lt. Col. Holmes had in mind when he deployed. Our second source said, "[Holmes and Levine] weren't happy about it because they wanted to float around Kabul on their own." When Lt. Col. Holmes was ordered by his superiors to do work he considered beneath him, such as looking up the biography of a visiting dignitary, he "used the 'I am an IO trained person I cannot do that' [argument]." Apparently, that's how some think "an Army of one" is supposed to work...

U.S. Army May Have Used PSYOP Against Senators. How is That Different from PR? - Anna Mulrine, Christian Science Monitor.

According to Rolling Stone, a general asked a psychological operations specialist to help him get inside the heads of visiting senators. The military asks, was he trying to manipulate the Congressional delegation or just be a good host?

... The problem, say some senior military officials, is the often-complex distinctions between PSYOP specialists and public affairs officers, who routinely prepare background dossiers on visiting officials. The distinctions are further blurred, they add, by an increasingly media-savvy American military eager to influence "hearts and minds" both abroad and at home...

Not the Stuff of Bud Light Lime - Galrahn, Information Dissemination.

... Are you kidding me? A disgruntled Lt. Col. who normally does information operations in the Facebook fan club of Caldwell's social software shop gets assigned staff work for VIP visits, and the article frames that assignment to Holmes - leveraging his opinion of being assigned what he considers work beneath his keyboard skill set - as a crime? Yep, and that context is reinforced by the author...

Sorry folks, but I don't see this as the stuff of Bud Light Lime. The only allegation being made is that Caldwell dared to ask this Holmes and his internet nerds to research and plan for a visit by VIPs for the purposes of briefing and prepping Caldwell for the visit, and the intent was so that Caldwell would be prepared to communicate more effectively his needs for more money and more people. Those are the specific allegations made by Holmes in the story, everything else in the story was the narrative that implied illegal activity added by Michael Hastings...

What I see here is a disgruntled staff officer with an axe to grind against his boss, and a reporter —to play along.

Officer Denies Efforts to Sway Lawmakers - Thom Shanker, New York Times.

"... Lt. Col. Shawn Stroud, communications director for NATO's training mission in Afghanistan, sent out a personal e-mail to friends and colleagues to "categorically deny the assertion" that the commander, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, or his officers "used an Information Operations cell to influence distinguished visitors."..."

"... The military has no record of Colonel Holmes being listed as a qualified psychological operations officer, according to Pentagon officials. Colonel Holmes acknowledged that on Saturday..."

Military Denies Use of Intelligence Tactics on Senators - Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post.

"... officers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the investigation, said Holmes never was asked to use psychological operations, deception or other tactics that would be illegal when applied to fellow Americans. He simply was being asked to conduct research using publicly available material, they said. They also said Holmes never attended any of the meetings with visiting members of Congress..."

"... independent specialists in military law said Holmes's position as an information operations officer, regardless of whether he was formally reassigned, does not mean he cannot be asked to perform other legal tasks. If you're being asked to chip in and help someone else, that's a lawful order..."

Hastings, Caldwell and PSYOP Kerfuffle - Benjamin Domenech, The Compass.

"... So why would this article even be written? Why would Holmes and Hastings spin what is at most a benign misallocation of personnel into a grand conspiracy? Well, the answer is included in the same piece: an AR 15-6 inquiry and a disciplinary report filed against Holmes. Hastings depicts the investigation as being retribution for Holmes' claiming he was being assigned inappropriate duties, and compares the memo afterward to the Starr report - but the investigation found Holmes was drinking too much, "going off base in civilian clothes without permission," "improperly using his position to start a private business," and most significantly, "having an 'inappropriate' relationship with one of his subordinates." ..."

"While Holmes and the subordinate in question, Maj. Laural Levine, deny that anything inappropriate was going on (they claim they're merely working on starting that private business together), if the two had been busted for an inappropriate relationship, that is not an insignificant thing. In fact, it's grounds enough to boot them both out of the military if one of the participants is married..."

Psy-ops Against Congress -- Count Me as Skeptical - Jack Goldsmith, Lawfare.

"... as far as I can tell, the factual charges against General Caldwell come from a single source, Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of one of Caldwell's information operations units. Hastings states that Caldwell and his subordinates asked Holmes to "conduct an IO campaign against" visiting officials. But the facts offered in support of this supposed operation are thin. Holmes was (by his account) ordered to research and provide background assessments on the visitors, and prep the General for his meetings. When Holmes complained about the order, it was clarified to specify that he should "only use publicly available records to create profiles of U.S. visitors." Holmes colors this seemingly innocent tasking in dark shades..."

"... Hastings has not charged that Caldwell acted imprudently by selecting the wrong person to prepare him to brief members of Congress. He has charged that Caldwell was running an illegal psychological operation against Congress in order to advance his career at the expense of his mission. That charge is unsupported and highly dubious. The whole story seems like a one-sided hatchet job to me."

Sen. John McCain Responds To Psy-Ops Claims: 'Put Me Down As Skeptical' (Video) - Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) responded on Sunday to a report that he was the target of "psychological operations" by the U.S. military to pressure him on Afghanistan, defending the general at the center of the controversy and saying he was "skeptical" of the accusations.

Hastings Battles Generals on the Pages of Rolling Stone - Editor, War on Terror News.

"When Michael Yon attacked Generals Menard and McChrystal, his readership soared. When Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone magazine published disparaging remarks by General McChrystal's staff, their hits peaked at 943,000 the day after, 600% of their norm. Their American readership soared from 100k to 753k that day. There's no telling how many copies of that issue were sold. The General was fired within hours for daring to note that the POTUS had hardly given him the time of day. Hastings got a Polk Award from for taking down the General. Their online revenue likely hit 6x the norm as well."

"So, it's little surprise, that Hastings and Rolling Stone have decided to try to replicate those numbers. This time, they're going after LTG Caldwell IV, and relying on hearsay and "he said, she said," with a zeal reminiscent of the Inquisition. He's aligned himself with an officer with a bone to pick: LTC Holmes (a married man) was investigated for inappropriate relations with a subordinate and evidently took issue with orders given him by the General, his boss. Hastings decided to get the hackles of Senators up, by implying they had been played."

"But there are some things that don't add up in the LTC's story. He claims that his role is "PsyOps," but one insider has called him out on it. Evidently, the officer was assigned in an "Information Operations" (IO) role, and does not appear to be involved in a "psychological operations" position at all..."

The Men Who Stare At Senators - Blackfive.

"... This whole article is a piece of garbage and Michael Hastings is this century's muck raker extraordinaire. If anyone has access to the 15-6 investigation, I would love to read it. I wonder why Michael Hastings hasn't posted it along with his article? I'm probably going to drop a FOIA on it soon."

"A proper investigation is in order, certainly. I would bet a lot of money that it will reveal that the man with intergrity and honor through all of this is LTG Caldwell and not LTC Holmes..."

"Unfortunately, this creates a significant distraction for a man who's job is relentless in pace with no acceptable outcome other than victory. We wish C3 the best!"

On the Cover of the Rolling Stone: Hastings Aims at Another General, the Military Fires Back - The Brat, Assoluta Tranquillita.

"Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone is at it again. Little punk Mikey, whose most recent claim to fame was writing a story on General Stanley McChrystal, decided to milk his 15 minutes of infamy, and has set his sights on yet another General, in this case LTG William Caldwell IV."

"I really did try to read Mikey's latest breathless prose, but honestly? I just couldn't get past the first few paragraphs to know that, once again, this 'award-winning "journalist" is so intent on claiming another scalp, and yet more notoriety, he doesn't do his homework..."

Rolling Stone Targets Another General - CJ, A Soldier's Perspective.

"Like Blackfive, I wouldn't be surprised if this LTC is out for vengeance and swinging wildly trying to pass the buck. I have worked and do work very closely with Psy-ops units for years and they all know the rules. Being in the military, I see exactly what is happening from this article, but the uninformed that have never served a day in uniform will assume the worst..."

"... I can only surmise that LTC Holmes truly had no grasp of the differences between PAO and IO. I'm confident that LTC Caldwell will come out of this unscathed as I know him to be a honorable, competent, and engaging leader. Believe me, I have no problem saying when I think an officer or any other Soldier is wrong..."

Dissecting the Runaway Journalist - Joe Harlan, Registan.

"Michael Hastings' latest revelation on general officers in Afghanistan reveals more about his sources and how he pastes together his information than anything about how operations in Afghanistan are run. Setting aside the possible motives of LTC Michael Holmes, who at the very least acted improperly by taking what amount to command grievances to the public press, there are some clues as to how Hastings constructs his critiques that need addressing - namely, that he takes a mix of publicly available information, gets a few salacious details from insiders, and writes a piece meant to challenge the powerful. Isn't that what journalists are supposed to do? Not when they get them so fantastically wrong..."

Lawyer Told General His Spin Wasn't Illegal Psyop - Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman, Danger Room.

"The accusation was explosive and unambiguous: A top general in Afghanistan used illegal "information operations" to influence visiting U.S. Senators. But military documents obtained by Danger Room show that at least one Army lawyer deemed the work legal. What's more, the alleged information operator's bosses repeatedly told him that he was just another communications staffer, not some bender of minds..."

Sens. McCain, Lieberman Say Report on 'Psyops' was 'Weird' - Raw Story (CNN Video at the Link).

"Two top US Senators who were reportedly targeted by military "psyop" units said Sunday they don't believe the report was accurate, calling it "weird." Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was particularly hesitant to trust the media over the military given his background as an airman, even though the reporter's last major story forced one of America's top generals out of his job."

Mind Control is Just Not That Easy - Megan McArdle, The Atlantic.

"... I mean, sure, there probably are advanced psychological techniques that could induce senators to appropriate more money for the Afghanistan operations. But those techniques, perfected by Asian communists, are not executed in two hour meetings with a powerpoint deck and an urn full of stewed coffee..."

"... basically the entire story comes from a single guy who seems to have gotten himself into hot water, somewhat coincidentally, not long before he decided to become a whistle-blower. Holmes (and Hastings) argue that this was retaliation for complaining about his inappropriate orders to provide his general reports on visiting legislators. But of course, there's also the possibility that he was the one who was looking for payback..."

Reference Documentation:

NTM-A/CSTC-A-CoS Memorandum for Staff Directors, NTM-A/CSTC-A. Subject: Information Engagement Activities. COL Joseph P. Buche, dated 15 June 2010.

Investigation timeline, undated, authored by COL Joseph Buche, former Chief of Staff at NTM-A, based on a series of e-mails covering the 15-6 investigation concerning LTC Michael Holmes.

26 February 2011 e-mail to Small Wars Journal, from a friend of ours, highlighting the personal thoughts of Lieutenant Colonel Shawn Stroud. LTC Shroud is the Communications Director of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.

More to follow, stay tuned.


G Martin

Mon, 02/28/2011 - 11:37am

I disagree that any of our commanders are "all about winning the war". They may think they are- but that only holds if all of their assumptions are correct and/or they are willing to constantly reevaluate those assumptions.

IF the only way to win the war is to appease the politicians in the short-term with positive short-term metrics and this will still produce an ANSF institution (and GIRoA willingness) that can take over in a politically feasible timeframe and be productive, THEN I'd agree that they are "all about winning the war". Unfortunately I think there are many invalid assumptions in all of that "logic". But, I am willing to concede that our commanders aren't acting with malice: they probably DO think there is no other way to act.

My take on all of this is that we wouldn't have to engage in many (all?) of these activities- Strategic Communication, political engagement, etc.- if we had the support of our population and/or there was a CLEAR connection between what we were doing and the security of our nation. If the politicians need convincing- then maybe the military is involved in something that we shouldn't be.

milprof (not verified)

Sun, 02/27/2011 - 12:49pm


>"Why should we fight with one hand tied behind our back?"

Whether, as a society, America *should* approach the war the way we do is an interesting debate, but one that LTG Caldwell can't settle by fiat during a tour of duty in Kabul. From his perspective, US media and political attitudes are an attribute of the environment in which he must operate.


Sat, 02/26/2011 - 7:52pm

milprof...I don't think the problem arises from the'IO background' per se but more from the fact that neither of the complainers had fully (if at all) grasped the ethos and culture of the organisation they were a part of..

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 02/26/2011 - 6:38pm

milprof, you sneeze the wrong way these days and conditions are set to facilitate an easy hit job.

Caldwell is all about winning this war.

Those that spend extraordinary time fretting about certain risks in the long run do nothing but facilitate a business as usual command mind-set. In these days and times that is the last thing we need. Our enemies don't fret about such trivia and adapt as they see fit near real time. Why should we fight with one hand tied behind our back?

milprof (not verified)

Sat, 02/26/2011 - 6:13pm


Had Caldwell brought in an artilleryman -- or a veternarian, or diesel mechanic, or SSN reactor technician or whatever -- we wouldn't be having this discussion. Bring in any warm body in uniform you like EXCEPT those with a connection to IO or PSYOP/MISO.

The COL Stroud letter linked at the latest update above does seem to confirm that people with "IO backgrounds" were used to help prep the CODEL, and well that may very well been nothing more than an attempt to put underutilized people to better use, using anyone IO-related for that duty ran the risk of exactly this sort of situation emerging. It's not fair, but the conditions to facilitate an easy hit job were unnecessarily created.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 02/26/2011 - 5:31pm

It is dumb, but the issue got legs with only one side of the story being told. Damn shame, the info highway is a path full of road rage.


Sat, 02/26/2011 - 4:40pm

This is all so dumb...

A superior officer gave a subordinate officer a task. That officer, already under a cloud, at best, misinterpreted what was a legal and understandable request.

I suppose we should be thankful that he was 'only' an IO officer and not from the Field Artillery...things might have gotten real messy then...

Tax Payer in Mufti (not verified)

Sat, 02/26/2011 - 12:20pm

Could someone hook a brother up, whose is now on the outside of the institution looking back in?

I seem to be missing something here: if one has a public affairs section, why was it found necessary to go outside of the established procedure, as well as, though not quite clear to me, possibly breach DoD regulations, and utilize other assets, assets that might give the impression of impropriety?

I am certainly not that naïve not to understand that LtGen Caldwells mission was to present what in essence was a sales pitch to his guests in the best light. But the perception to me is that in utilizing assets with even a connection to pysops was borrowing trouble.

Perceptions can become reality, and regardless of how officials might now spin this story, the perception in my community, that is no longer insulated within the military institution, is that support for this war cannot be sold on its own merits, and must be manipulated, ala the five oclock follies that once took place at MAC-V, during our last long adventure.

milprof (not verified)

Sat, 02/26/2011 - 12:16pm

To anon above, it's certainly true that just because you are an FA30 or in a IO or MISO billet, not everything you do falls in those categories.

There is a huge, "HOWEVER", though....

Specifically, due to precisely the possibility for accidentally playing over the line, for misunderstandings, and for exploitation by those seeking to cause you trouble, it is a bad idea to task an IO/MISO person with time on their hands to prep for a CODEL. No matter how innocent their actual duties in performing that prep, it is quite easy for it to sound bad. That's especially true if the commander gives any sense that they are specifically choosing someone from an IO/MISO area to help influence that CODEL. If it was a matter of grabbing an extra hand to summarize the Senator's public bio, and the cook was busy while the IO flunky was free, that still has room for misinterpretation but at least stands up when looked into. If the CDR sought out IO hands, that's asking for trouble, if only due to the potential negative appearance it creates.

To be clear, if Holmes is lying, and Holmes is neither IO/PSYOP trained nor was he even in an IO billet, then obviously this is all hypothetical and Hastings got snookered (probably pretty willingly).

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 02/26/2011 - 11:19am

Note: replace PSYOP with MISO as appropriate to reflect updated doctrine, below.

Hastings recently pointed out that LTC Holmes "received training to conduct these ops at the 1st Information Operations Command in Fort Belvoir, VA, in Sept. 2009" <a href="!/mmhastings/status/41475528162684928">on his twitter feed</a>.

If he is referring to the Information Operations Capabilities Applications and Planning (IOCAP) course (note: <strong>IF</strong> - it's not clear if he is), then we need to clarify something. Taking the IOCAP course does not make you a PSYOP or IO Officer, nor does it train you to conduct PSYOP. It means you know what IO is, the basics of planning and coordinating IO as a member of a staff, and you know enough about the core functions of IO to do those coordinations.

An IO planner requests products or effects from a PSYOP TPD/TPT/other. He may know what a target audience analysis is, but he certainly does not do his own target audience analysis.

But even if we were to concede all of the above - that LTC Holmes received training that trained him to conduct PSYOP or that he received training qualifying him as a PSYOP officer, and that he was performing duties of a PSYOP officer, this still doesn't settle the case for his side of the argument. Just because you're a PSYOP officer or filling a billet for a PSYOP or IO officer, this does not mean that everything you does is PSYOP or IO. I was an Infantry Officer in the Army. This did not mean that everything that I did was an infantry maneuver. Likewise, if somebody is an FA 30, this does not make everything that they do IO. Ditto PSYOP/MISO.

Anon (not verified)

Sat, 02/26/2011 - 2:50am

Baseless? Maybe. It certainly fits the order to only tell good news stories and frame every message to a particular viewpoint, ignoring all others. I suppose the 15-6 investigation will turn out what happened.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 02/26/2011 - 1:08am

What happened to the 15-6 link?

Bill M.

Fri, 02/25/2011 - 10:12pm

This is much more believable than the Rolling Stones tabloid allegations. Both the author of the Rolling Stones piece and misguided officer (and I use the term officer lightly, as only in pay grade) who used them to pursue a personal agenda should be brought up on charges of slander.

Now were wasting a very busy staffs time with a needless investigation. Finally the Rolling Stones editor should publically apologize for not holding his/her writers to basic journalism standards of source validation, instead they presented allegations as fact instead of what they were; baseless allegations. Another sad case of unprofessional media representatives and unprofessional officers joining hands to serve their personal interests.


Fri, 02/25/2011 - 7:18pm

In her blog-piece <a href="… Times You Have to Speak Up'</a> Nilofer Merchant discusses those times when you have to stand up and put forth a point of view, one that may be contrary to the current group-think...reading through this article, it seems like she might want to write one for Rolling Stone, LTC Holmes et al on knowing when to simply shut the hell up...

What they are doing adds no value to the war effort, on either the home front nor in-theatre and illustrates a whistle-blowing syndrome that automatically assumes guilt in the system and not the complaining individual. By the time GEN Petraeus' investigation brings the truth to the fore formally, all people will remember is the original Rolling Stone claims...

Maybe it's time to start using social media as a useful and legitimate tool for military purposes to establish brief windows of information superiority...?