DoD Stresses Importance of Public Affairs

12.09.15 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

A newly updated Department of Defense publication affirms the importance of public outreach, not simply as a gesture towards democratic governance, but also as an instrument of operational utility.

“The US military has an obligation to communicate with its members and the US public, and it is in the national interest to communicate with international publics,” the DoD doctrinal publication said.

“The proactive release of accurate information to domestic and international audiences puts joint operations in context, facilitates informed perceptions about military operations, undermines adversarial propaganda, and helps achieve national, strategic, and operational objectives.” See Public Affairs, Joint Publication (JP) 3-61, Joint Staff, November 17, 2015.

The public affairs function described in the new publication encompasses most interactions between the Department and the public. It includes all the various ways that the Pentagon tells its own story to the world.

The new iteration of JP 3-61, which supersedes the 2010 edition and is about 50% longer than the prior edition from 2005, describes a hierarchy of “Public Affairs Postures”, ranging from active, affirmative disclosure of information all the way to nondisclosure and absolute unresponsiveness (Appendix B).

Active release” is appropriate “for those plans and activities where it is necessary and/or desirable to be as proactive and transparent as possible in communicating on a subject to include actively soliciting for media and public attention.” Examples include “announcing a personnel policy change” or “promoting an air show.”

Active disclosure can be modulated and limited to a “restricted release” when necessary. Under yet more sensitive conditions, DoD Public Affairs will not initiate disclosure on its own but will adopt a posture of “response to query,” answering questions if and when asked.

Finally, a public affairs posture of “no response” is available “for those plans and activities that due to [classification] and other sensitivities we will not offer any information on, even when directly requested.” Examples include “ongoing special operations” and “capabilities that are classified.”

The new publication also ventures definitions of four categories of interviews that are sometimes confused or misunderstood: On the record, background, deep background, and off the record (Chapter I, p. I-8).

While military deception (MILDEC) to mislead adversaries is an integral part of military operations, it would be counterproductive to employ public affairs (PA) for that purpose, the DoD doctrine says. “PA resources cannot be used as MILDEC capability because such use would undermine the legitimacy of the office and destroy future trust in PA messages” (page II-9).

In any event, “Official information should be approved for release prior to dissemination to the public,” the publication states.

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Another newly updated DoD doctrinal publication addresses Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (Joint Publication 3-68, 17 November 2015).

It notes in passing that “The Department of Justice maintains a world-wide database of biometric data that could be used to positively identify and support security screening of individuals seeking evacuation, if necessary” (page II-8).