Select Committee on Defence Fourteenth Report



233 Computer Network Attack (CNA) and Computer Network Defence (CND) are perhaps the most publicised of the new components of information operations. Only the US armed forces have a doctrine and operational concept for these activities and they played minimal roles in the conflict. Nonetheless, the conflict provided some lessons for the UK and for the Alliance.

234 There is no doubt that during the Kosovo campaign all means were used for intelligence gathering but there is no evidence as to whether the UK, the US or the Alliance made significant use of computer network attack against the Serbian military or civilian infrastructure. As the Pentagon pointed out in its report to Congress—

    ... the command, control, communications and computers (C4) systems provided for Operation Allied Force were unprecedented in terms of capacity and variety of services. ¼ The available bandwidth was nearly double that used during the Gulf War."[555]

However, as the DoD admitted—

    ... training deficiencies ¼ contributed to security vulnerabilities. ¼ Some important network details were not adequately protected. In addition, not all computer hardware and software security features had been enabled."[556]

There was a good deal of publicity given to the activities of Serbian hackers who, with a degree of government sponsorship, sought to disrupt NATO information systems. They had limited success against two NATO websites but failed to systematically disrupt NATO information activities or to gain access to closed defence systems. Nonetheless, Serbian use of CNA, however tentative, is a reminder of the potential of this threat. Especially in light of its efforts to develop a digitised battlefield environment, the MoD is well advised to continue its work with other government departments to ensure that defence and other national, as well as Alliance, infrastructures are secure against future attacks that may display a better understanding of their vulnerabilities.[557]


235 Operational security is an age-old military principle but a crucial element in information operations at both strategic and tactical levels. Given the nature of the Kosovo campaign, there was virtually no scope for its use at the strategic and operational levels. NATO's obvious determination to risk no aircraft or personnel, and its open eschewal of a ground option, left the Serbian leadership with little doubt as to the constraints within which it was operating.

236 Even at the tactical level, operational security was not a key factor in this campaign. Serbian forces were fairly effective in analysing and predicting NATO air operations and in responding appropriately. This appears to have been due to good analysis on the Serb side, helped by integration of a wide range of sources including open source intelligence, communications intercepts and spotters around airbases in Italy. NATO's 'predictable operating patterns and poor understanding of operations security' contributed, according to the DoD, to Serbian successes.[558] Although there were claims in the press of significant deliberate leaking of targetting data to Belgrade from within NATO, there is no hard evidence of Serbia having had access to a significant human source within NATO or the UK government.


237 The political circumstances of Operation Allied Force again provided little scope for the use of deception. The most obvious technique would have been to deceive the Serbian armed forces into believing that a ground offensive was imminent. The open political debate over this option may explain the lack of a significant NATO or UK deception plan, but the lesson to be learned is perhaps wider than this. It may simply be the case that, when operating as part of a broad coalition, strategic and operational deception are very difficult to agree upon and to achieve. US sensitivity to releasing certain types of information greatly inhibited combined planning and operations in some areas. American reluctance to release classified information to other Allies—


238 Before Operation Allied Force, the MoD had renamed Psyops (Psychological Operations) 'Information Support'.[560] But the concept had changed little from the traditional objective of influencing the perceptions of selected target audiences. The precise aims will depend on the nature of the operation and of the target audience. For instance, against an opponent's armed forces the aim may be to demoralise the troops (a technique used during the Gulf War). Against a civilian population, the aim may be to win over 'hearts and minds' amongst those on whose support an enemy may depend. At home, the aim may be to mobilise and sustain support for a particular policy and interpretation of events. In the Kosovo campaign tactical and operational Psyops, including leafleting Yugoslav forces in Kosovo, were mainly undertaken by the USA.[561] The UK's main contribution was in terms of media operations.

239 As far back as the Falklands campaign, media operations were identified by the MoD and our predecessors as an important area of weakness.[562] Kosovo demonstrated that media operations are taken more seriously than in the past. Jonathan Marcus of the BBC World Service observed—

    This is a very particular sort of war ... This is a war of choice, in this rather fortunate phrase that has come to be used. In a war of choice fought by a democracy, fought by a multinational alliance, this aspect of public support for the war, the whole mobilisation of public opinion and so on is very, very important, as the MoD clearly knew only too well.[563]

But planning and preparation appear still to have been ad hoc and under-resourced. The MoD admitted that "there was a lot of improvisation" during the campaign.[564] Preparation and planning within the MoD appear to have been good in parts: for example, doctrine, in the form of the Green Book,[565] had been drawn up between the MoD and the media and served as a reasonably effective guide to operations, and media operations had been included in the MoD's regular exercise programme.[566] It is less evident that senior MoD civilian and military staff had adequate support and training in media operations. Efforts had apparently been made prior to the crisis to build relationships of trust with journalists and to understand the media target audience. This appears to have been a limited activity reliant on individual initiative.

240 There was, apparently, little effort to brief journalists before the campaign.[567] Mark Urban of BBC Newsnight commented in his written submission—

    Compared to the period preceding the 1991 Desert Storm operation, there was very little activity by the Ministry of Defence in briefing journalists. This was a shame as it might have provided valuable background on such subjects as the state of Yugoslav air defences, Milosevic's force build up around Kosovo and the difficulties of bombing mobile or hardened targets. In general the atmosphere for informed coverage of defence issues has declined markedly. Many news organisations have decided they cannot afford dedicated Defence Correspondents and the MoD offers far fewer facilities or briefings than it once did. Contacts within the armed forces have suggested that this is all part of restrictive central information policy. While it may save the Government the occasional embarrassment, alas it also means we are denied the kind of informal contact with senior officers that we used to enjoy more regularly and was vital to providing good coverage.[568]

Planning for augmentation of trained personnel also seems to have remained patchy, even though this problem had been identified internally in 1998. The Army had more experience with media operations and more trained personnel than the other Services but, in 1999, the MoD did not have an adequate system for identifying, training and incorporating media operations specialists to meet the needs of a crisis.

241 According to MoD, the media operations campaign had four key target audiences:

    —  the UK public
    —  NATO allies
    —  Kosovo Albanians
    —  Milosevic and his supporters[569]

A further target audience was British military morale. In conjunction with the Services, the MoD disseminated messages to British forces covering British policy and Alliance objectives. We were told that the key messages were 'the reasons for our action, our determination and our confidence in the final outcome'.[570] In effect, there were two key audiences for the UK's media operations and two key tasks, not necessarily complementary and possibly sometimes conflicting. In relation to the UK public and NATO Allies, the prime task was to mobilise and to keep on-side public and political support for the campaign. The messages here were the legitimacy of the Alliance campaign, the unacceptable behaviour of Milosevic and the Alliance's determination to 'win'. In relation to Milosevic and the Serbian élite, the main objective was to persuade Belgrade of the Alliance's resolve and of its commitment to inflict more pain than the Yugoslav regime could bear.

242 The media operation operated in the context of a number of constraints. These included:

    —  The 24 hour news cycle, which meant that, compared to previous conflicts, the media demanded vast quantities of information at an unprecedented pace. The need for frequent updates, especially on TV, radio and the Internet has left journalists with a constant requirement for new 'news'.[571]

    —  The speed of global media dissemination forced the MoD to operate in a global environment. Messages therefore had to be coordinated between the Balkan region, Brussels, London and Washington to ensure that the media received a consistent line and 'updates' to the story.[572]

    —  The decline of specialist defence reporters across many of the media was both a problem and an opportunity for the MoD. Most journalists were unable to enquire into the strategic and military details of the campaign and did not understand the complexities of military operations, especially over issues such as 'smart' weapons and Battle Damage Assessment.[573] This led to a tendency to paint militarily routine events, such as collateral damage or the loss of the Stealth fighter as major disasters.[574] It was an opportunity on the other hand, since most journalists were unable to challenge the MoD line and relied heavily on official briefings for their copy rather than on a network of contacts or informed analysis.[575]

243 The nature of the campaign, an air operation conducted over a territory from which the media were excluded, meant that there was essentially little new news to report.[576] The media were unable to visit Kosovo to report upon the insurgency or the impact of the NATO campaign and so were left to report upon the air campaign and on NATO's political strategy. Although some British journalists were in Belgrade, their work was inevitably very restricted by the authorities.[577] There was therefore a media tendency to focus on inconsistencies and controversies in the NATO and UK presentation of the campaign—hence a focus on Alliance 'splits' and military errors.[578]

244 Ministers could not be accused of neglecting the media aspects of the battle. From the top-down, the UK government committed its considerable media operations resources to the campaign and to the task of mobilising international and British public opinion.[579] UK doctrine for media operations emphasises the importance of winning the trust of the media and of target audiences. Few journalists appear to believe that they were actually lied to by the MoD. Asked whether he had been the victim of a deliberate, calculated attempt to deceive, Mark Urban responded—

    The short answer is no ...[580]

Jonathan Marcus said—

    I do not think they were deliberately trying to mislead.[581]

Mark Laity added—

    Was I lied to? No. Was I given bum information? Yes. Was I given it deliberately? No.[582]

Especially in a coalition humanitarian operation, the damage to UK and Alliance credibility of being caught out in an outright lie would have been serious. The complaints in retrospect can be seen to have resulted from the inability to collate and disseminate military information fast enough or from simple lack of knowledge, exacerbated by the media's simplification of a complex message.[583] There were two major areas of controversy which emerged in our evidence from journalists.

245 The first was the claim, perhaps never officially made but reported in the media, of 100,000 deaths of Kosovo Albanians during the ethnic cleansing. Much play has been given since the campaign to the argument that the Alliance wildly exaggerated the numbers of Kosovo Albanian civilians killed by the Serbians. It would appear, however, that UK and NATO officials never actually reported that they believed 100,000 had been killed but rather that they estimated this number as being missing.[584] Nevertheless, they do not appear to have done much to cast doubt on the more sensationalist or exaggerated headlines of the tabloid press. More could have been done to give accurate information about the actual number of killings in Kosovo, and to provide some corrective to the more lurid claims. This number was calculated from the low proportion of men arriving in refugee camps. Whilst some NATO officers privately believed that these men had probably been murdered, officially NATO listed them as missing—in fact most had hidden in the forests or joined the KLA.[585] The MoD still maintains its estimate that 10,000 civilians were murdered.[586] However, more recent estimates from other sources have been lower.[587]

246 The second area, which has perhaps attracted greater and more sustained controversy, was information given on the effectiveness of air strikes. There is a general perception that NATO and the UK exaggerated the effectiveness of air strikes. When the media discovered that relatively few strike missions were delivering ordnance on target and that initial assessments of the damage done to Serbian fielded forces in Kosovo were vastly over-estimated, there was a view that NATO and the UK had deliberately deceived the media in order to pretend the campaign was having more impact than it was. We have discussed the shortcomings of the Alliance's battle damage assessments and equipment earlier. Again, it appears that this perception owes more to media misunderstanding and to the difficulties inherent in the analysis and dissemination of battle damage assessment than to a deliberate ploy to deceive. A largely inexpert media understandably wanted quick and clear answers on battle damage assessment and failed to understand the time-honoured problems with this military science which includes much art.[588] NATO's spokesmen naturally wished to portray its achievements in a positive light, but in underestimating the experience and therefore scepticism of its journalistic audience, they made a rod for their own backs when the early claims for battle damage came back to haunt them. Nor can it be said that subsequent efforts to redress the damage done have been marked by a real readiness to engage in open debate.

247 The MoD has identified a number of improvements that need to be made to its media operations in the light of the experience of the Kosovo conflict.

248 Defence Press Office. The Defence Press Office was the focus for the MoD's 24 hour media operation. The MoD notes that 'individual commitment and sheer hard work'[589] meant that the office was successful. However, it has acknowledged that the office was understaffed, so that important tasks such as specialist briefings and rapid rebuttal of Serbian stories could not be carried out effectively. One reason for the lack of resourcing may have been the hope that this campaign would only last a few days. When Milosevic did not capitulate, structures in place came under strain. The MoD has pledged to ensure that a rapid surge capability is in place through use of augmentees from the Services, civil service and the reserve forces for future operations.[590] Overall, the MoD has acknowledged that improvement in its media operations capability is a "very high priority" and that "there shall not be a problem of resourcing".[591] We were told that improvements to the MoD's capability will not be very costly but they will involve attention to training at all levels, cultivation of technical skills and adequate manning prior to a crisis erupting.[592] They may not be costly compared to a new weapons system—but they will not be cheap, if done properly.

249 Press Conferences. The centrepiece of the media operation was a daily London press conference, convened jointly by MoD, the FCO and the DfID. This format, we were told, demonstrated the benefits of joined-up government.[593] The decision to hold the press conference at 11.30 every day in order to fit into the 24 hour news cycle (and influence the American channels) appears to have been well judged. The decision to make the press conference a joint political-military affair with ministerial and senior military representation was also laudable in demonstrating British commitment and unity of purpose.

250 Our media witnesses, however, levelled some criticisms at the format of the press conferences, which were televised live. It was noted that specialist journalists felt inhibited from asking detailed and critical questions, for fear of revealing operational details. Background briefs were designed to fill this gap and to allow specialist audiences to receive "detailed facts about particular areas of operations".[594] The media have complained that these were too infrequent and limited in scope. The MoD has recognised this and pledged to make them better planned and more regular. There was also, apparently, felt to be a problem in gaining direct access to military experts. Jonathan Marcus remarked—

    Speaking purely as a defence correspondent it would be nice in a broader sense to have a greater purely military element in the briefings and rather less of the political side. ... If you go to the Pentagon, 99 times out of 100 your queries are dealt with by a senior officer and usually a senior officer with experience of the area you are talking about. 99 times out of 100 in the British system you speak to a government information officer who may be very well­intentioned and reasonably well­informed but it is not the same thing. There is a small military element in the press side of the MoD but it is very small ... under­resourced, under­staffed and has too many other functions to do along the public relations line.[595]

251 Media Monitoring & Rapid Rebuttal. The MoD operated a 24 hour monitoring and alert service during the campaign. Augmentees were used to monitor print and broadcast media, and the Press Office responded through the press conferences, briefing sessions or by direct contact with the journalist or media outlet. However, this work is very manpower intensive and the MoD has acknowledged the need to boost resources devoted to the task.

252 Electronic Media. The MoD Press Office notes that 'the increased use of the Internet was the single biggest innovation of the media campaign.'[596] The joint MoD/FCO website was regarded as "an enormous success", receiving some 7.5 million hits during the campaign, of which 3 million were from the USA and some 50,000 from the FRY. However, the MoD has acknowledged that it lacked sufficient staff skilled in new media and failed to use the Internet to its full potential. The MoD has committed itself to "think creatively" about uses of the Internet, such as interactive applications.[597] It will need to follow up this thinking with action.

253 In-theatre media operations. Once operations shifted to the ground in-theatre, the primary aim of the MoD media operation was to provide evidence to demonstrate the validity of the message concerning Serbian behaviour in Kosovo. It used the pool system to manage media demand, an approach which had mixed reviews from the media. On the one hand there was praise for the professionalism of military public information and escort officers, and the MoD has noted the importance of training good escort officers. On the other hand, some British journalists have complained bitterly about the restrictiveness and slowness of the pooling system, particularly in a theatre to which the world's media had easy access. Mark Urban commented that—

    The notion of a pool, with its restrictions on the use of material, sits uneasily with the anarchic nature of modern media communications.[598]

The MoD has acknowledged that it needs to review the pool process, in discussion with the media.[599]


254 In contrast to the qualified, but generally approving, verdict passed on the MoD's media operations, it is widely acknowledged that NATO was completely unprepared to carry out high-intensity media operations. Jonathan Marcus, who spent much of the period in Brussels, told us—

The initial military briefings were almost laughable in their lack of information.[600]

Although NATO had gained experience with media operations in-theatre in Bosnia, it had no doctrine, plan or resources to run a media operation from Brussels. Notwithstanding the efforts of NATO's principal spokesman, Dr Jamie Shea,[601] the lack of prior planning and resourcing meant that the Alliance media campaign was a shambles until well into the campaign. Jonathan Marcus concluded that—

    It certainly appeared to me that the media strategy had been devised for a very short war, a short, sharp shock, a matter maybe of days, after which Mr Milosevic would have crumbled. As the air campaign dragged on in the early phases with very bad weather ... I think the pressures on that media strategy were evident. NATO as a whole began the media war, if you like, with a fundamental problem and that is of being a multinational alliance. Clearly, the ... mood of public opinion in the different Alliance countries were very different ... The word "war" was never mentioned. This was an air campaign and something much less than that. That kind of lowest common denominator line was forced on NATO perhaps because of the different sensitivities in different countries. I really wonder at that lack of preparation because ... we were heading so close to the possibility of a ground war with the possibility of real casualties on the NATO side. I wonder how well that media strategy would have really prepared public opinion for what might have lay ahead.[602]

During the campaign, the UK played a leading role in 'rescuing' the NATO media operation. The intervention of the Prime Minister's Press Secretary, Alistair Campbell, in mid-April was instrumental in revamping the NATO press office. Once NATO established its Media Operations Cell, with augmentation from member nations and better information flows up the chain of command, the NATO media campaign became much more effective. With the conflict now over, NATO must address the weakness of its media operations and has determined to improve resourcing and preparation to ensure that the NATO press office can shape the agenda of future crises rather than follow them.

255 Through experience of coordinating activities such as Operation Desert Fox in 1998, the MoD had established good working relationships with the Pentagon press office. However, there appears to have been no prior coordination whatsoever with NATO in Brussels. We were told, for example, that the MoD had not held discussions with NATO prior to the campaign about media operations,[603] and that the MoD's media operations officials only initiated regular contact with Jamie Shea after the air campaign began.[604] We were also told that there were no joint exercises involving NATO media operations prior to the campaign. These failures are not only evidence of NATO's lack of preparation for the media war, but also of a lack of foresight and preparation by the MoD. NATO's early failures in the media war cannot all be ascribed to a failure of imagination in Brussels. As a key player in the media campaign, the MoD must bear some of the blame for the complete lack of preparation.

256 The effectiveness of the media operations can only be assessed in the context of the campaign as a whole. The whole campaign was designed with one and a half eyes on media perceptions. One journalist noted that, under strong American influence, "the conflict had been designed in such a way that the avoidance of having a body being dragged through the streets was almost a central feature of the military strategy".[605] Mobilising and maintaining support on the NATO home front was central to the operational concept. The MoD argues that it did this effectively, claiming that 'we met the challenge' and that the 'media operation was a success' in that 'we successfully communicated our message to the public' and the 'UK was seen as leading NATO in our steadfastness and purpose'.[606]

257 Whilst the campaign directed against home audiences was fairly successful, the effort to influence Serbian perceptions through media operations had limited impact. While Serbian external propaganda was rather ineffectual and untrusted, within the country it appear to have been effective. The régime's monopoly on the media and the predictable response of a citizenry to being bombed appear to have combined to strengthen support for the régime, at least in the short term. Observers such as John Simpson of the BBC, who reported from Belgrade, have argued that—

    ... this was a conflict where it was really important to win the hearts and minds of people within the country [Serbia] ¼ and that was a complete failure. ¼ [It] pained me ¼ to see how ineffectual the NATO side of things was in respect of getting to the people of Serbia.[607]

258 The MoD has concurred with this assessment. It has admitted that we "probably did not get to the Serb audience as much as we would have liked".[608] Nonetheless, it argues that—

    ... as the campaign progressed, co-ordination and integration improved, allowing information operations to become more effective in influencing Serb perceptions.[609]

This statement is reinforced by the MoD's intelligence assessment that—

    ... when [the Serbs] started getting some exposure to some of our media, they thought it was not quite so clear cut. Some people in Serbia started being a little bit more unhappy about what was going on.[610]

The weakness of MoD and NATO efforts to influence Serbian perceptions stemmed from a number of shortfalls. At a strategic level, as outlined above, there was insufficient attention paid to crafting a campaign plan around information operations principles that would have focused on Serbian psychological centres of gravity. In terms of intelligence and assessment, as we have also noted, there were only limited capabilities available, and efforts made, to identify and understand the appropriate psychological levers. Furthermore, direct channels to the Serbian populace and élite over which NATO and the MoD had significant influence were limited.

259 The Chief of Defence Intelligence told us that the Defence Intelligence Service predicted, correctly, an initial rallying of support behind Milosevic once the air campaign started. Subsequently, an inter-departmental assessment, supported by DIS, identified a "slight swing in public opinion."[611] By the end of the campaign, the DIS was monitoring and reporting increased popular unrest and declining military morale, but did not predict a rapid collapse of morale. Aside from such general assessments that differed little from those found in the media, it was striking that the MoD appeared to have little capacity to analyse the linkages between its air strikes, Serbian public opinion and the government's decision making. The MoD has noted that—

    ... we know the sort of effect we were having but how that worked its way through in people's minds was another matter.

The MoD did not feel well placed to—

    ... make an assessment about what the Serb citizen really felt, let alone how much influence individual Serb citizens had on Milosevic's behaviour.[612]

But forecasting of Milosevic's behaviour, understanding of the political and perceptual levers and assessment of public opinion are all critical components of understanding whether a coercive strategy is having effect.

260 The crucial underpinning for all aspects of successful counter-propaganda is intelligence. Whether crafting an overall campaign plan, a targetting strategy or the media operations component, the crucial prerequisite is a fully-formed and detailed understanding of the opponent and of the target audiences. This initial understanding needs to be backed up by ongoing, rapid assessment of the effectiveness of operations, judged against the overall campaign objectives. The key factor in this campaign was the need to understand the Milosevic regime's perceptions and to identify the levers that could be used to influence those perceptions. In this task, neither the MoD nor NATO were effective.

555  DoD, p.46. Back

556  DoD, p.49. Back

557  Q 35 Back

558  DoD, p 74 Back

559  DoD, p 50-51 Back

560  Q 791 Back

561  Q 1088 Back

562  First Report, Session 1982-83, The Handling of Press and Public Information During the Falklands Conflict, HC 17-I Back

563  Q 766 Back

564  Q 811 Back

565   Working Arrangements with the Media in Times of Emergency, Tension, Conflict, or War (The "Green Book") Back

566  Q 84, Q 795 Back

567  Q 815 Back

568  Ev p 268 Back

569  Q 33, Q 812 Back

570  Ev p 247, para 33 Back

571  Q 749 Back

572  Q 33 Back

573  Ev pp 112-113 Back

574  Q 748, Q 751 Back

575  Q 748 Back

576  Q 751 Back

577  QQ 778-9 Back

578  Q 748, Q 751 Back

579  Q 774 Back

580  Q 761 Back

581  Q 762 Back

582  Q 762 Back

583  Q 777 Back

584  Q 764 Back

585  QQ 758, 759, 763 Back

586  Cm 4724, para 3.21 Back

587  (Awaiting Michael Clarke) Back

588  QQ 761-2 Back

589  Ev p 247, para 33 Back

590  Q 798 Back

591  Q 834 Back

592  Q 834 Back

593  Q 33 Back

594  Ev p 247, para 33 Back

595  Q 784 Back

596  Ev p 247, para 33 Back

597  Ev p 248 Back

598  Ev p 268 Back

599  Q 33 Back

600  Q 757 Back

601  Q 893, Q 811 Back

602  Q 748 Back

603  QQ 802, 807-10 Back

604  ibid Back

605  Q 751 Back

606  Ev p 247, para 33 Back

607  Q 753 Back

608  Q 826 Back

609  Ev p 247, para 33 Back

610  Q 364 Back

611  Q 364 Back

612  Q 373 Back

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