Influence operations

David Pugliese, one of the few Canadian journalists who writes knowledgeably and critically (because he’s well informed) about Canadian defence issues, reports, in the Ottawa Citizen, that “The Canadian Forces wants to establish a new organization that will use propaganda and other techniques to try to influence the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of Canadians, according to documents obtained by this newspaper …[and] … The new Defence Strategic Communication group will advance “national interests by using defence activities to influence the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of audiences,” according to the document dated October 2020. Target audiences for such an initiative would be the Canadian public as well as foreign populations in countries where military forces are sent … [he says that the document] … is the end result of what Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance has called the “weaponization” of the military’s public affairs branch.

First: Good! This is overdue. So called influence operations are almost as old as war itself. Think of the Trojan Horse and …

… and Radio Free Europe and RT and so on. Influence operations are real, they are being used against us, today. The military is right to want to understand them and to use them in some very specific circumstances and, above all, to help Canada defend against them.

But, and this is a very Big BUT, in my opinion, Canadian military influence operations must never be used against the Canadian public. The recent exercise fiasco about which Mr Pugliese writes ought never to have happened and the authors of the notion to try it, on the Canadian public, need to be punished … in an exemplary manner, “pour encourager les autres:”

General Vance is very correct to want influence operations to be part of the Public Affairs (the Department of National Defence’s public relations and propaganda agency) and NOT, in any way, mixed into the intelligence domains.

But, thus far, as David Pugliese explains it, what is being proposed is, in my opinion, totally back-asswards. Canada needs to be able to conduct influence operations abroad, directed at hostile and neutral populations. They should NEVER be conducted “live” in Canada. It is good and proper to have exercises, conducted in exclusively military domains, using real data. But it must NEVER be shared with anyone outside of the military training and research domains. One “output” of training and research in Canada should be “how to defend Canadians against ongoing, mostly foreign influence operations.” But I’m not sure how that is to be done. I worry that it is not, at all, the military’s job.

Informed comments are most welcome because this is beyond the scope of my experience.

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

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