SNAFU is a word born and bred in the United States military. It is an acronym which stands for Situation Normal – All Fouled Up. This generic description has also created a noun, a snafu, a situation or decision which is “all fouled up.”
According to an investigative report filed late last month by the Associated Press, a key project of the US Army’s Central Command, CENTCOM, has become a classic snafu.
The project, called Web Ops, is an example of what was once called psy-ops, itself an abbreviation for an operation in psychological warfare. It is now classified under a new Army acronym, MISO – no, not the Japanese soup, but Military Information Support Operations, a kind of weaponization of the Kellyanne Conway theme of “alternative facts.”
The Web Ops project’s purpose is to counter on-line propaganda and recruitment efforts by The Islamic State, which has no fewer than 3 acronyms of its own, ISIS, ISIL and, in Arabic, Daesh.
And, if you believe the Defense Department’s press releases, it’s been a smashing success. Unless, of course, you read the DOD release carefully.
The you will learn that the real reason why the Islamic State’s online campaign is faltering has to do with air attacks destroying some of their propaganda-creation bases, real information about the punishment the Islamist radicals have been taking in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Nigeria, and the testimonies of disillusioned former IS recruits about the “bait and switch. They were told they would be fighting the Syrian regime or ‘the crusaders,’” an official told DoD News, “and instead they found themselves fighting against other Muslims — opposition groups.“
The Web Ops program, which involves 120 people, most of them private contractors at CENTCOM HQ at MacDill SFB in Tampa, Florida, utilizes these accounts, and adds carefully crafted messages of its own to dissuade people identified online as susceptible to terrorist recruitment.
Unfortunately, according to AP’s investigation, many of these messages are culturally obtuse, religiously ignorant, and literally absurd, because too many of the Web Ops operatives don’t know the countries being targeted, get confused about doctrinal differences between Sunni and Shi’ites, and have little beyond basic command of Arabic.
One example of the latter is confusion about the similar words in Arabic for “Authority” and “salad,” leading to some pointed Web Ops messages about the Palestinian salad.
According to our guest today, AP investigative reporter Richard Lardner and his chief partner in this investigation, Richard Lardner, the chief characteristics of the Web Ops program are “incompetence, cronyism and skewed data,” meant to make the project look more successful than it is, and “that appears aimed more at enriching contractors than thwarting terrorism.”
Richard Lardner is an investigative reporter for the Associated Press based in Washington.