Rolling Stone’s shot at General Caldwell misfires

posted at 8:48 am on February 28, 2011 by Bruce McQuain

Apparently, after the article he wrote about Gen. Stanley McChrystal was instrumental in seeing McChrystal relieved of command in Afghanistan, Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone believed he had carved out a niche for himself. Going after the brass in war zones.

However his latest attempt, in which he accuses LTG William Caldwell, the general in charge of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, of an effort to use “PsyOps” (Psychological Operations) against visiting US Senators misfired badly. For anyone who read the piece and has spent any time at all in the services the picture that formed immediately in the mind, given Hasting’s source, was “disgruntled officer”. And, as it turns out, that’s pretty much on the mark.

Hastings apparently took the word of LTC Michael Holmes as the premise and theme of his article. In fact he sets it up with a quote from Holmes:

“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”

Except LTC Holmes job wasn’t “in psy-ops” (Psychological Operations) nor is LTC Holmes trained in PsyOps. That is a very specific Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) that requires school training. The place in which PsyOps is taught is the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Ft. Bragg, NC. According to Special Operations Command, the Special Warfare School has never heard of LTC Michael Holmes.

Hastings also implies that Holmes received an official reprimand for “bucking orders” associated with the claim he was to use “psy-ops” on Senators. In fact he was instead cited for numerous violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that included ignoring orders not to go off post in civilian clothes, surrendering his weapon to civilians in civilian restaurants, conflict of interest and telling falsehoods to superiors, among others. The reprimand Holmes received had little if anything to do with the reason implied by Hastings.

When asked by his immediate supervisor, a Colonel, whether LTC Holmes had permission to leave post in civilian clothes, Holmes told his his boss that the former Chief of Staff of the US’s Afghan Training Mission had given he and MAJ Laural Levine permission to wear civilian clothes off post. However, when contacted by the officer who conducted the Command’s AR 15-6 investigation into the matter, the former Chief of Staff, in a sworn statement, denied ever giving anyone blanket permission to wear civilian clothes or dine off post. For one thing, he didn’t have the authority to do such a thing. The former Chief of Staff stated that any such permission would have to be given by a general officer as required by the two different command policies. In this case that permission would have had to come from LTG Caldwell. No such permission was ever given. By claiming that the Chief of Staff had given them permission when that wasn’t the case, Holmes and Levine were in violation of Article 107 of the UCMJ – making a false official statement.

Another officer who was invited to go out with LTC Holmes and his subordinate, MAJ Levine, gave a sworn statement that Holmes said that he and Levine routinely went off post to restaurants in civilian clothes for social purposes not official business, that they surrendered their weapons at the Afghan civilian establishments and that they drank alcohol. All of those activities are in direct contravention of standing orders and policies in Afghanistan. The officer who gave the sworn statement declined the invitation to go with them.

The conflict of interest charge came about when Holmes and Levine decided they could use their experience in strategic communications to start a civilian business. On its face, there’s nothing wrong with that if you wait until you’re in a civilian capacity to do so. But when you use duty time and DoD assets to promote your business, or misrepresent your duty as something other than it is, that raises definite ethical problems. Holmes and Levine did both of these things. And as such were in violation of numerous parts of the Joint Ethics Regulations.

For instance, they used their DoD positions for their own personal gain, namely to pass off their work in training Afghans from the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Defense as work done on behalf of their company SyzygyLogos LLC. On the company’s Facebook page, in an entery dated April 8th, 2010, you’ll see pictures of Holmes, in civilian dress, under a post title which says, “SyzygyLogos LLC, A Strategic Communications Firm – Images from our training sessions with the Afghan Government.”

That was clearly done with the intent to generate business for their private company. Additionally they listed either the US Government or the Afghan MoI and MoD as their “current clients”. All of this activity violated UCMJ article 92 (Failure to obey an order or regulation – i.e. the ethics regulation). Both the article 92 and 107 violations also lead to a third UCMJ charge for LTC Holmes, violation of article 133 (conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman).

As to the implication Hastings has in his article that the punitive action was taken because Holmes and Levine thought the use “psy-ops” on US Senators was illegal, it is obviously false. Neither were cited for anything to do with what the general had allegedly asked nor did they “buck orders” related to that situation other than to ask for legal clarification. Additionally, in a Wall Street Journal article by Julian Barnes, it is clear that LTG Caldwell had determined that PsyOps was inappropriate for a training command:

Several officers said that almost immediately after taking command, Gen. Caldwell determined it was inappropriate for a training command to try engage in information operations or try to influence any audiences with deception or other psychological operations techniques.

Military officers said that following that decision, Lt. Col. Holmes was reassigned to a strategic communications team that was tasked, in part, prepare the command for visits by congressional delegations.

Another officer who worked with Holmes and under Caldwell said that what Holmes was asked to do was anything but inappropriate:

Col. Holmes said he was asked to prepare background briefings on how to persuade congressional delegations on the importance of the training mission. But asking an officer trained in information operations to do the job of a public affairs officer is improper and illegal, Lt. Col. Holmes said.

“What they wanted me to do is figure out what we had to say to a congressional delegation or think tank group to get them to agree with us,” he said. “Honestly this is pretty innocuous stuff. If I was a public affairs officer, it wouldn’t be that bad.”

Lt. Col. Holmes compared the request to asking a CIA officer to investigate a criminal in the U.S. It would be illegal for the intelligence officer to do tasks that are perfectly appropriate for a regular police officer.

But a military officer who served with Lt. Col. Holmes and under Gen. Caldwell said the accusation is baseless, and that the officer was specifically told not to use information operations techniques. The officer declined to allow his name to be used because the command in Afghanistan has asked people not to discuss the case.

“I don’t know of any regulation that would say someone trained in info ops or psy-ops couldn’t put together a briefing packet,” said the officer who served with Lt. Col. Holmes. “There wasn’t any subliminal messages here. It was just look at what issues a lawmaker was championing so we can get our message out.”

Or, in other words, Holmes was asked to gather information about incoming visitors that would be useful for his commanding general in preparation for their visit. It is a task every general officer command would task subordinates to do for their boss. Apparently Holmes resisted this for reasons other than those given to Hastings.

Holmes superior stated in a sworn statement for the 15-6 investigation that he had a hard time getting either Holmes or Levine to do other duties beyond teaching STRATCOM (Strategic Communications) to Afghans. Reviewing their ethics violations, the reason becomes pretty clear. Doing what the general asked interfered with their “company” business.

Hastings either never checked out Holmes’ background and was unaware of the nature of charges against him or preferred to use Holmes version of the truth as his basis for the article because he liked what he heard. And his apparent unfamiliarity with the role of the NATO Training Command is also evident in passages like these:

According to experts on intelligence policy, asking a psy-ops team to direct its expertise against visiting dignitaries would be like the president asking the CIA to put together background dossiers on congressional opponents. Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwell’s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background. “Putting your propaganda people in a room with senators doesn’t look good,” says John Pike, a leading military analyst. “It doesn’t pass the smell test. Any decent propaganda operator would tell you that.”

At a minimum, the use of the IO team against U.S. senators was a misuse of vital resources designed to combat the enemy; it cost American taxpayers roughly $6 million to deploy Holmes and his team in Afghanistan for a year. But Caldwell seemed more eager to advance his own career than to defeat the Taliban. “We called it Operation Fourth Star,” says Holmes.

First, it wasn’t a “psy-ops” team, it was an Information Operations team. And they weren’t “propaganda people”, they were trainers and instructors. As the Barnes article notes, early on “Gen. Caldwell determined it was inappropriate for a training command to try engage in information operations or try to influence any audiences with deception or other psychological operations techniques.”

PsyOps are for use with operational units engaged with the enemy. Caldwell understood that wasn’t his command’s mission and changed the section’s mission to the more mundane of roles of information operations and strategic communications. Holmes was on the STRATCOM side. But none of that precludes a general officer from assigning other duties to his staff officers in addition to their primary duties. All staff officers fulfill a myriad of extra duties in addition to their primary functions on any staff. And that appears to be what happened here. Holmes, for fairly obvious reasons, resisted that.

Secondly, Caldwell’s mission was to train Afghan allies, not “defeat the Taliban”. That again is a job for operational units, not a training unit. The fact that Hastings accepted the Holmes quote above at face value and even tried to expand on it is indicative of his lack of knowledge about the role of Caldwell’s command. It is certainly a sensational quote, but to the knowledgeable, it is utter nonsense.

In short Hastings was gulled by Holmes. If anyone was a victim of “psy-ops” here, it was Michael Hastings. His lack of knowledge about the command plus an apparent desire to put another general officer notch in his journalistic belt left him open to a sob story from a disgruntled officer that may have sounded good to him, but appears to have little or no basis in fact. A story from an officer who had already been reprimanded for making a false official statement.

LTG Caldwell is being investigated now on the basis of these charges by Hastings and Holmes. Most people knowledgeable of the situation expect absolutely nothing to come of it. When Holmes questioned the legality of the directive issued by the command, the command’s Staff Judge Advocate (military lawyer) was asked to look into the legality of the directive. The SJA issued an opinion finding the directive to be legal.

Holmes received a General Officer Memorandum Reprimand for his violations of orders and policy and making a false official statement. Many consider that to have been lenient given his rank and what he did. When you reach the rank of field grade officer, you’re expected to understand how the system operates and to comply with both orders and policy. Willfully ignoring such orders and policy and then making false statements about it are serious offenses to the good order and discipline of the Army. LTC Holmes, as it turns out, got off lightly.


Bruce McQuain blogs at Questions and Observations (QandO), Blackfive, the Washington Examiner and the Green Room.  He’s also a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel.

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

So, there is no more music to review?

Blake on February 28, 2011 at 8:52 AM

Excellent article, Mr. McQuain.

pugwriter on February 28, 2011 at 8:57 AM

So, there is no more music to review?

Blake on February 28, 2011 at 8:52 AM

Unfortunately not. The only new music being created these days are coming from Disney and other tweens.

jeffn21 on February 28, 2011 at 9:03 AM

Like I am going to trust the word of a magazine that seems to insist with almost insane fervor that anything about Lindsay Lohan is still considered to be cutting-edge journalism at its zenith.

pilamaye on February 28, 2011 at 9:05 AM

Appears that Rolling Stone took careful aim right between General Caldwell’s eyes, then proceeded to shoot off their own pinkey toe. Great shooting there, sport.

SKYFOX on February 28, 2011 at 9:05 AM

The Corrupt media Establishment strike again.

Excellent post.

TheBigOldDog on February 28, 2011 at 9:08 AM

Rolling Stone isn’t fit enough to use as litter box liner. Frankly, if that magazine remains in print after 2015, I’ll be genuinely surprised.

Excellent write up indeed, Mr. McQuain.

itzWicks on February 28, 2011 at 9:10 AM

There is so much to unpack here in the way of disgruntled service members and their use of the media. But I am having a really hard time with them going out in public in the guise of armed civilians. For what? Don’t we already have a soldier being held hostage?

Cindy Munford on February 28, 2011 at 9:16 AM

Rolling Stone? Stick to talking about Mick Jagger’s love children.

Bishop on February 28, 2011 at 9:24 AM

According to Special Operations Command, the Special Warfare School has never heard of LTC Michael Holmes.

Army to Hastings/Rolling Stone Mag.:

Gotcha!

Lourdes on February 28, 2011 at 9:28 AM

In short Hastings was gulled by Holmes. If anyone was a victim of “psy-ops” here, it was Michael Hastings.

That ^^ sums things up as well as can be.

Excellent post, by the way.

Lourdes on February 28, 2011 at 9:32 AM

“Rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, in order to provide articles for people who can’t read.” — Frank Zappa, 1993

That describes Michael Hastings AND Rolling Stone perfectly.

Carl on February 28, 2011 at 9:34 AM

Great job McQuain…

Now maybe Rolling Stone can give the military hit pieces a break and do some investigating of the massive amount of corruption coming from the White House…..

….or they can continue their butt kissing festival of Obama and plaster their cover with yet another “liberal messiah” expose’…..

Baxter Greene on February 28, 2011 at 9:37 AM

So, there is no more music to review?

Blake on February 28, 2011 at 8:52 AM

These days? None that’s worth a damn.

Ward Cleaver on February 28, 2011 at 9:39 AM

These days? None that’s worth a damn.

Ward Cleaver on February 28, 2011 at 9:39 AM

Movies as well. Culturally, we are at an ebb. Not a death knell, but an ebb. Can’t wait for the flo to start.

rbj on February 28, 2011 at 10:06 AM

We heart Michael Hastings!

John the Libertarian on February 28, 2011 at 10:14 AM

Bruce, the only thing that is missing here is the disclaimer, “By the way, PSYOPS isn’t the Jedi Mind-trick.”

instugator on February 28, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Hastings really is getting desperate to shoot himself in the foot like this publicly…the good news since he highlighted this LTC’s claim, it looks like he has sealed the weasels fate, it looks like Levine is collateral damage. It’s not the same as civilians – it’s not like he can cut a deal. Unbecoming An Officer. There you go, and Rolling stone via Hastings, made sure his exit is going to be highly publicized.

It really appears that Hastings has no idea the politics that goes on in the ranks. He got used. This is what happens, civilians like Hastings, think military folks are stupid, and naive, far from it. Head Games Indeed.

Thanks for playing Hastings.

Dr Evil on February 28, 2011 at 10:33 AM

So, there is no more music to review?

Blake on February 28, 2011 at 8:52 AM

If you don’t count profanity-laced ghettobabble in rhyme…not really.

I get more musical enjoyment from the Halo soundtrack than most popular tunes.

Dark-Star on February 28, 2011 at 11:22 AM

Or, in other words, Holmes was asked to gather information about incoming visitors that would be useful for his commanding general in preparation for their visit. It is a task every general officer command would task subordinates to do for their boss. Apparently Holmes resisted this for reasons other than those given to Hastings.

Even as depicted in the Rolling Stone article where it was intentionally cast in the most nefarious light possible through Holmes’ own account, subordinates prepping their bosses on visitors was all that evidently anyone was even allegedly asked to do.

But as you are correct to conclude, there’s nothing remotely psy-ops about that anyway. That’s common practice in any large well-run private business too. Any good executive staff anywhere will always prepare a kind of ‘dossier’ of sorts on visiting bosses, clients & prospective clients etc who their bosses need to impress. They’ll routinely gather available info on visitors’ known likes, dislikes, family names, schools attended etc. to help facilitate conversation & establish mutually helpful bonds.

In short Hastings was gulled by Holmes. If anyone was a victim of “psy-ops” here, it was Michael Hastings.

When I first read the RS article and was mystified how anybody could conclude Holmes was asked to perform psy-ops on those visitors based what was in the article itself, I actually suspected Hastings had been duped on purpose in order to discredit him rope-a-dope style as a journalist & wreck his reputation in payback for his earlier McChrystal piece.

But that was before I learned here about Holmes’ credibility problems and conflict of interest.

Great piece which puts a very different light on this ‘exposé’ which strangely didn’t expose much of anything, at least not to me. Thank you.

leilani on February 28, 2011 at 11:55 AM

So, there is no more music to review?

Blake on February 28, 2011 at 8:52 AM

I go way back with RS, and can assure you that their record reviews have been a joke for decades. I stopped taking their reviews seriously oh, around 1980. More times than not since then, they have trashed some great albums and praised a lot of trash.

Del Dolemonte on February 28, 2011 at 11:57 AM

I read earlier that Lt.Col. Holmes was a National Guard officer. Not to trash the Guard, they do many essential jobs well, but discipline is way lower than the regular Army. They are more “civilian” than “military”. After the McChrystal sacking, who would even talk to Rolling Stone let alone the same “reporter”? Holmes’ judgment is also “unbecoming of an officer”.

cartooner on February 28, 2011 at 12:00 PM

[T]heir record reviews have been a joke for decades..

Del Dolemonte on February 28, 2011 at 11:57 AM

Their movie reviews are a joke too. Is there any movie that Peter Travers doesn’t praise to the hilt so he can get quoted on every marquis and every ad for every movie? In fact, he’s known as a “quote-whore” for that reason. There is no movie so bad that it’s distributors can’t manage to cull at least one quote from a Peter Travers review wherein their pathetic turkey of a flick is effusively praised in some way.

leilani on February 28, 2011 at 12:06 PM

But Chris Matthews over at MSNBC said that the Rolling Stone article deserved a Pulitzer prize. Shurely he can’t be wrong?

NORUK on February 28, 2011 at 12:47 PM

I actually suspected Hastings had been duped on purpose in order to discredit him rope-a-dope style as a journalist & wreck his reputation in payback for his earlier McChrystal piece.

leilani on February 28, 2011 at 11:55 AM

Perhaps as a PsyOps classroom training exercise? By it’s simplicity it would be a good training exercise. It is easy to study and critique; a number of lessons could be demonstrated from this type of operation.

You can’t learn it all from the textbooks, you know.

ss396 on February 28, 2011 at 12:59 PM

So, was Bradley Manning unavailable for comment?….Oh, yeah. Never mind.

TugboatPhil on February 28, 2011 at 3:09 PM

Hmmm. That molehill over there would sure make a nice mountain.

———–Rolling Stoned

hillbillyjim on February 28, 2011 at 4:50 PM

Rolling Stone’s shot at General Caldwell misfires

Shot? Do blanks count as shots?

ericdijon on February 28, 2011 at 5:07 PM

Nicely done, sir. An excellent exposition piece disproving a badly researched hit job.

LtCol Holmes needs a dishonorable exit from service.

No pension for you!!

Freelancer on February 28, 2011 at 5:32 PM

As a PSYOPer who is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan later this year, and who in the past hand the responsibility to track the disposition of PSYOP forces in country, I can state unequivocally that there isn’t a single authorized 37f or 37a position in General Caldwell’s command. All the PSYOP for use with conventional forces comes from the Army Reserve and we’ve supplied zip to this organization. Due to manpower constraints we are only supporting operational units, and we don’t even have enough for them.

Hansmeister on February 28, 2011 at 6:13 PM

That is a very specific Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) that requires school training.

Anyone who has ever been in the Army should know that people working outside their mos is not at all unusual.

Murphy9 on February 28, 2011 at 6:28 PM

That is a very specific Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) that requires school training. The place in which PsyOps is taught is the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Ft. Bragg, NC. According to Special Operations Command, the Special Warfare School has never heard of LTC Michael Holmes.

Too funny. This is not exactly a “smoking gun”. In the Army I was trained in areas I never ended up working in and worked in areas I never received school training for.

Murphy9 on February 28, 2011 at 6:38 PM

@Murphy9

It is prohibited for non-PSYOP personnel to engage in PSYOP. And of course this FA30 was claiming to be a PSYPer. He was not a PSYOPer, nor did what he do constitute PSYOP. He seems to merely coop the term for shock value wih a gullible reporter

Hansmeister on February 28, 2011 at 6:52 PM

Never draw fire, it irritates everyone around you. Try to look unimportant, they may be low on ammo. If the sergeant can see you, so can the enemy. Field experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it. To steal information from a person is called plagiarism. To steal information from the enemy is called gathering intelligence.

Murphy9 on February 28, 2011 at 6:53 PM

It is prohibited for non-PSYOP personnel to engage in PSYOP

LOL.

Murphy9 on February 28, 2011 at 6:57 PM

He was not a PSYOPer, nor did what he do constitute PSYOP. He seems to merely coop the term for shock value wih a gullible reporter

Hansmeister on February 28, 2011 at 6:52 PM

Those who can, do. Those that can’t, teach.

Murphy9 on February 28, 2011 at 6:59 PM

And this is why one can get a one year subscription to RS for $4. Perhaps it’s time to put it out of its misery.

kim roy on March 1, 2011 at 6:25 PM