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Omaha World-Herald July 7, 2002

Merger gives Offutt role on information battlefield

By Jake Thompson

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was terse. When he announced the merger of the U.S. Space Command in Colorado and the Strategic Command near Omaha last week, he said the new command also will take over responsibility for "information operations."

That's all he said. But those two words mean a lot. The responsibility is global in reach and includes everything from cyberwarfare to Trojan- horse battlefield tactics, from protecting military computers to airborne propaganda broadcasts.

Including information operations as part of the merger brings a shift in focus to Offutt, which for nearly 50 years chiefly dealt with the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal. It puts Offutt, already known for its telecommunications network, in charge of a fast-growing aspect of modern military warfare.

Lt. Col Ken McClellan, a Pentagon spokesman, said the area of information operations has grown in recent decades with the increased reliance on computers.

In 1999, the Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., was assigned main oversight of the broad-reaching but somewhat mysterious Pentagon initiative.

"In the real world, what that has actually consisted of is unclear," said John Pike, a defense expert at GlobalSecurity.org. "I'm sure they've got a roomful of guys out there who think they're in charge of something, but what it is isn't well-known."

McClellan offered a general overview, saying information operations encompasses the military's efforts to protect the integrity of its weaponry and technology. It engages in electronic warfare - cyberattacks to disrupt a foe's communication system and defensive efforts to shield the U.S. military's computer network.

It also employs deceptive military maneuvers on the battlefield and uses psychological warfare techniques to confuse an enemy.

"It's about fooling the eyes of their military (intelligence) officer," McClellan said.

While often top-secret, information operations also undertakes highly public activities called special information operations.

During Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, informational leaflets were dropped that sought to warn the Afghan people of a military offensive so the innocent might not be harmed, according to defense officials.

Also, portable radios were dropped into remote areas of Afghanistan so residents could listen to broadcasts, which were picked up by AM or FM radio bands and by VHF and UHF television bands. Then aircraft packed with electronic gear flew over the region to beam down the programs.

The EC-130E planes used in this type of operation, which are part of the 193rd Special Operations Wing stationed at an Air National Guard facility in Pennsylvania, are dubbed the "Commando Solo" unit. While the Pentagon says the 193rd Wing transmits basic information unavailable in closed societies, some view it as little more than propaganda. Besides spoken messages, the broadcasts in Afghanistan included music, which the repressive Taliban banned.

"It's giving culture at times where there was no culture, so to speak," said Lt. Col Michal Halbig, a Pentagon spokesman.

The 193rd Wing traces its psychological/informational operations to 1968 and remained classified until 1989, according to one published report.

The 193rd Wing also flew broadcast missions during conflicts in Haiti and Grenada, as well as the Persian Gulf War.

Pike, of GlobalSecurity.org, said it makes sense to transfer the responsibility for information operations to the newly formed command in Omaha.

The new command, combining oversight of the nation's defensive network of military satellites and its offensive nuclear arsenal, has a global perspective that the Pentagon's other regional combat commands lack, he said.


Copyright 2002 The Omaha World-Herald Company