Following a recent Freedom of Information request, the British Government has just released an official report on the military’s role throughout the Northern Ireland Troubles.
The report, titled OPERATION BANNER: AN ANALYSIS OF MILITARY OPERATIONS IN NORTHERN IRELAND
acknowledges the poor performance of Information Operations:
716. For several reasons Information Operations were probably the most disappointing aspect of the campaign. In the early stages soldiers and junior officers, given appropriate training, did a very good job of appearing on camera in the immediate aftermath of an incident. The Army certainly learned hard lessons regarding media handling in the early 1970s. However, with that exception, Information Operations were generally poorly conducted; they were ill-coordinated with other government bodies; they were reactive; and often missed significant opportunities. The absence of a government information line was often exploited by the terrorist, sometimes with operational or strategic consequences. Constant criticism in the republican media, notably the An Phoblacht newspaper, was not seriously challenged by Government, NIO or Army Information Operations. Part of the reason for the ineffectiveness lay in the lack of a single unitary authority for the campaign, and the lack of a joint forum to agree Information Operations priorities, messages and means of dissemination. Differing viewpoints on the need for positive Information Operations in Stormont (and the NIO) the Police and HQ Northern Ireland militated against effective Information Operations.9
815. Particular efforts are likely to be needed to overcome the inherent lack of synergy between Government Departments and agencies. In Northern Ireland this was never more the case than in the area of Information Operations. Many contributions to this analysis have described the information campaign in terms such as ‘woeful’, ‘pitiable’ and ‘grossly inadequate’. In simple terms, rarely would anybody in authority other than in the Army take a positive, proactive stance. The result was a regular series of information failures in which PIRA (and occasionally loyalist paramilitaries) held and exploited their advantage. As early as the mid-1970s over 80% of the violence was perpetrated by PIRA, but even that simple and categorical fact was never exploited. Since insurgency feeds off dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction is a sentiment which feeds off perceptions, shaping the perception of the population is critically important. The absence of a unified, proactive information strategy for most of the campaign was a major failing.
835. The core functions within the Manoeuvrist Approach are to Find, Fix, Strike, and Exploit.17 The importance of intelligence in finding the terrorist or insurgent was described above. He was typically fixed through framework operations which denied his freedom of operation or through operational security (OPSEC) measures so that he did not realise he was being targeted. Striking by arrest or attack was relatively easy once he was found and fixed. Exploitation in this context was often not done, but should have been. Successful strikes against terrorists or insurgents could have been followed up through Information Operations. There were a few occasions where local successes were followed up vigorously due to prior planning and intelligence gained from the initial activity.
The report concludes on Information Operations:
854. A coherent, effective high-level information operations campaign will be a prerequisite for success: information operations are crucial in a world with an insatiable desire for information and news, and where the internet ‘blogger’ can broadcast as powerful images and messages as the White House or Downing Street. The Army learned hard lessons about good media relations in the 1970s, but this is an area that needs as much attention as the capabilities of potential opponents; and the high-level information operations effort was, during the campaign, as a rule, weak. Information operations should be conducted at several levels: they are not just a tactical military activity<my bold>.