Small Wars Journal

Molding Perceptions: A Response

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Molding Perceptions: A Response

by Lieutenant Colonel Cliff W. Gilmore

Download the Full Article: Molding Perceptions: A Response

In his Small Wars Journal article titled "Molding Perceptions: American Engagement with the Media after the bin Laden Raid", Marno de Boer identified a basic problem associated with U.S. public communication in the days immediately following the bin Laden operation: "During the first 48 hours after the raid," he states, "U.S. officials did not yet have a complete picture of what had happened inside the Abbottabat (sic) complex." This statement raises several significant questions, including:

- Why didn't U.S. officials have a complete picture of what happened inside the complex?

- Why was U.S. public communication about the raid jumbled and frequently inaccurate?

- Why did U.S. public communication about the raid originate from the top of a hierarchy geographically removed from the event?

- Why was comprehensive, deliberate, timely public-communication not an integral part of planning for the raid?

Finally why, when closing on an established long-term goal following more than a decade of persistent warfare in which public perception plays an increasingly critical role, was the U.S. unprepared to shape the strategic narrative?

Download the Full Article: Molding Perceptions: A Response

Cliff W. Gilmore is a doctoral researcher in the field of organization management and leadership with Capella University and a 2010-11 Fellow with MIT's Seminar XXI on Foreign Politics, International Relations and the National Interest. The topic of his ongoing dissertation is principle-based communication as a leadership practice. He is an active duty U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel assigned as Special Assistant for Public Communication to the 8th Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The opinions expressed here are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Marine Corps.

About the Author(s)


Karen Walters (not verified)

Mon, 07/18/2011 - 3:52pm

Do you have an email address that you are willing to supply in order for me to contact you?

Cliff W. Gilmore (not verified)

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 7:53pm

Absentmindedprofessor --

Thanks for the tips. At this point I'm looking closely into the overlap between social comm theories (baseline monologic compared to dialogic/transactional), leadership theories (servant, stakeholder and change), and existing doctrine/directives/orders/policies with an emphasis on Bridges, Axelrod, and Kotter & Cohen. Several of the theories related to ethics come into play as well.

So many theories, so little time to put them to practical use, neh?


absentmindedpr… (not verified)

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 6:21pm

Thanks for engaging.

If I may. As you progress through your dissertation research I would offer that you find a "good theory" which you can hang your thesis on.

The more subjective (interpretive) approach would entail folks like Berger and Luckmann (The Social Construction of Reality) and John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality. Two excellent resources when it comes to "the sociology of knowledge" (originally described by Karl Mannheim in his 1929 [1936 translation] classic work Ideology and Utopia (that one you can read online for free or buy it for next to nothing).

This is only if you want to take the interpretive approach. I am not familiar with a "hard science-like" theory of human meaning.

I wish you the best -- great topic!

Cliff W. Gilmore (not verified)

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 5:41pm

Thom --

Thanks for your kind words and the friendly jibe. Writing this definitely left me mentally exhausted and fighting the incredible urge to MCMAP the next person who walked through the door.

The pattern I've seen develop over time is that as communications tech evolves our assumption that communication (sans "s") becomes correspondingly more complex drives our thinking. Which is odd in light of how these new comms tools actually make comm more convenient -- often by eliminating the need for traditional intermediaries who serve as agenda-driven (though not necessarilly malicious) filters.

Interestingly enough, the marked difference between a slow day and a non-stop day in the life of a PAO is how many queries come in, not how many DIFFERENT queries come in -- but we react to the increase in query volume rather than pre-planning for the finite variety of query content. We react rather than preact because we're habitually freaked out about all those phones ringing. It's almost Pavlovian really.

I like to tell my Marines (and I'm sure they just love me for my catch phrases): It doesn't really matter whether one phone rings or a thousand, there are only so many questions someone can ask: Who, what, when, where, how and why?

Sure, there may be more than one permutation of who, what, etc, but the first four W's and the H are generally pretty straight forward -- effective comm strategy and success in perception warfare are a matter of how we respond to the "why?"

Thom Owens (not verified)

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 12:44pm

Awesome argument. My first response at hearing the initial reports on the bin Laden raid was "if I didn't know better I'd swear that this was a surprise to us." One would think that over the past 10 years or so we would have thought of possible contingencies and the "communication" aspect of the operation would have been planned for. Sadly the evidence does not support this theory. Excellent article. Are you sure you are a Marine? (just kidding) Keep up the fire and Semper Fi!


Cliff W. Gilmore (not verified)

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 11:38am

Davidbfpo --

Solid questions and excellent example. Thank you.

I wasn't involved in the handling of that specific issue, but my general response is that our current communication mindset, principles, process and structure hinder -- if not outright prevent -- the type of planning and execution you described.

Warm Regards,

Absentmindedprofessor --

Thanks for the solid questions. I appreciate your taking the time time to put them out there.

Where I'm going is a thorough change in the communication mindset, principles, process and structure throughout DoD. Or, as long as I'm tilting windmills, across the whole of government.

This resource may answer some of your questions:

Gilmore, C. W. (2010, December). Breaking down the opaque stovepipes: A change-leadership framework for DoD communication. Information Operations Journal 2(4), 14-20.

I also invite you to take a glance through Appendix P of version 3 of the "Joint Commanders Handbook for Strategic Communication and Communication Strategy" (I didn't name it...) located here:…

I'll welcome your comments either here or through direct correspondence. I engage through a couple of discussion groups via FB that should be easy enough to find if you search my name in that venue.

Warm Regards,

absentmindedpr… (not verified)

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 9:26pm


Good commentary, but where are you going with this?

Looking for theory (even if only a single theory) the reasoning for your deductions?

Or are you attempting to create theory from your inductions?

The pathway of your scholarship is unclear (albeit I understand this is probably a very short piece and your audience was for influence not an academic niche).

I am interested to see a bibliography that you are developing as you pursue this, particularly your philosophical stance on "science." What is the underlying ontology (seems mixed or "dualistic")? The related epistemological position (seems mixed or "dualistic")? Are you using theories of linguistics? Morphology? The "sociology of knowledge?" Social constructionism? Information science?

I think you are onto something...just want more depth and relational connections to other scholars' work (even if it is to disagree).


Tue, 07/12/2011 - 6:53pm


Not my area, but yesterday I followed a link to Sgt. Petry's Medal of Honor and the 'Battlescape' was superb:

Now, why wasn't such a set of images prepared for use? Yes it would have required a detailed debrief, even an outline for example the compound's location and setting would have 'scored'. It could have also acted as the official focal point / device and added to at regular intervals.

Neither imagination nor foresight was very evident in the Information Operations aspect of the raid.

Matt S. (not verified)

Tue, 07/12/2011 - 4:48pm

Very good article - you make a lot of good points.

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 07/12/2011 - 2:28pm

Well articulated and argued response. Completely agree.