DOD confirms Iraq e-mail campaign

Psychological operations strategy floods Iraqi military leaders with 'electronic leaf drop'

193rd Special Operations Wing

In an effort to persuade Iraqi military leaders not to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and other allied forces, the Defense Department last week began sending thousands of e-mail messages to them, promising protection for those who comply.

Responding to reports from CNN and Reuters that quote anonymous military officials, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command told Federal Computer Week that the e-mail program does exist, but he would not divulge any other details.

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Stephen Baker, a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information, a nonprofit, independent research organization, said the e-mail campaign represents a "new and emerging part of the [psychological operations] strategy."

"A lot of folks are considering this one of the most important phases of the conflict — the psychological operations" leading up to war, Baker said. By informing Iraqi military leaders through leaflet drops, radio broadcasts, personal telephone calls and e-mails that they will sustain heavy losses unless they defy Saddam Hussein, the United States and its allies are hoping to ensure a quick victory, he said.

"In many ways, this is an electronic leaf drop," said retired Army Col. Robert Coxe, the service's former chief technology officer. "Instead of using planes, they're using the electronic highway."

Coxe, who is the deputy chief information officer for e-government at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the trickiest part is finding accurate e-mail addresses for the targeted Iraqi officials. But once that is done, e-mailing them from a known or disguised sender, once or repeatedly, is not difficult.

"A [psychological operations] unit could handle that in pretty short order," Coxe said.

Baker said he thinks that the 193rd Special Operations Wing, which is part of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, and the CIA were "certainly" involved in the e-mail campaign, as were Iraqi defectors who may be contacting their former colleagues and imploring them to cooperate with U.S. forces.

The 193rd is equipped with an airborne electronic broadcasting system and is the only Air Force asset whose mission is to support psychological operations by broadcasting programs in the standard AM/FM radio, television, short wave and military communication bands, which they did during the Gulf War.

Senior military sources told CNN that this e-mail effort was the first time the military had engaged in this type of "information warfare campaign."

Reuters published passages from the e-mails, which have a subject line of "Important Information":

* "If you provide information on weapons of mass destruction or you take steps to hamper their use, we will do what is necessary to protect you and protect your families. Failing to do that will lead to grave personal consequences."

* "If you took part in the use of these ugly weapons, you'll be regarded as war criminals. If you can make these weapons ineffective, then do it. If you can identify the position of weapons of mass destruction by light signals, then do it. If all this is not possible, then at least refuse to take part in any activity or follow orders to use weapons of mass destruction."

* "Iraqi chemical, biological and nuclear weapons violate Iraq's commitment to agreements and United Nations resolutions. Iraq has been isolated because of this behavior. The United States and its allies want the Iraqi people to be liberated from Saddam's injustice and for Iraq to become a respected member of the international community. Iraq's future depends on you."

James Lewis, director of the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said the e-mail campaign is low cost and would not require a large amount of DOD resources. However, while spamming the Iraqi military officials is a "cute idea," there are problems.

"The drawback is that in Iraq, all Internet traffic is monitored in real time and it all goes through government-owned ISPs, so it's probably not going to get to too many people, except through word of mouth," Lewis said. Still, even if Iraqi officials never read the e-mails directly, but hear about the messages from someone else, "it's probably worth doing," he said.

A spokesman for U.S. Strategic Command's Joint Task Force-Computer Network Operations (JTF-CNO), which is in charge of defensive and offensive operations for all DOD networks, referred calls to Central Command, and said JTF-CNO officials do not discuss operational issues.

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