Battle of the Minds: an interview with Major General Douglas Stone

Walter Pincus in the Washington Post wrote about the Blogger Roundtable conference yesterday with Major General Doug Stone (transcript here). Motivated slightly by Pincus's backhanded, but honest, comment yesterday on how none of the four bloggers attending, including MountainRunner, (out of 60 invited) on the call had as of yet blogged on the interview. 

I had the opportunity to ask the General two questions. The first was on his thoughts of using unmanned systems in detainee operations. In the battle of minds, it is not surprising that he looked at robots as not as an opportunity to reduce human contact with detainees but to increase it. The second question was on how he's communicating his plans to State and involving other non-mil resources. Out of that came his thoughts, actually those of Iraq VP Hashimi, of a Work Projects Administration for Iraq. Each of those, as well as other great questions by my three comrades in digital space, Jarred "Air Force Pundit" Fishman, CJ "Soldier's Perspective" Grisham, and Charlie "Wizbang" Quidnunc, deserve more commentary, context, and analysis, but unfortunately time is short.

In no particular order, some highlights, each of which deserve additional commentary for context but I don't have time for at the moment. I suggest you read the transcript because Stone packs a lot of info when he talks.

On working with working against fraudulent clerics and false messages from the Koran, as well as Stone integrating the Koran into his daily to routine to understand who he is working with and against:

I mean, I do read the Koran every morning every day. I -- in fact, I do not give a presentation in Arabic without sourcing the Koran. We are increasingly making the fundamental mistakes that are made in interpretation, whether by omission or commission, of the many Shari'a court, and, you know -- I call them fraudulent, but, you know -- fraudulent imams that are actually inside the compounds. We have a directory now where we can take those arguments and tear them apart.

The many religious leaders, all imams that we have working for us teach out of a moderate doctrine, which brings to bear every one of -- you know, the seven mortal sins and that sort of thing, and tears apart, particularly the Takfirs in al Qaeda's arguments, you know, for things that are -- you know, I mean sort of the basics like, you know, let's kill innocents; you're not allowed to -- you can do various things, which they believe that they can. And once they can read -- and I mean, you're talking about the basics here -- once they can actually read the words themselves and they believe the Koran they're reading -- this is something that we changed, which is a bizarre thing but true -- then they actually can begin a conversation between the two of them.

And since we've now run, you know, a few hundred through this program, we are over-the-top encouraged that two things are present. We are able to determine the guys that don't really give a shit about the Koran in the first place -- they're using it as a discipline -- those guys are beginning to fall into the category of irreconcilables, and that's helpful to me. I want to know who they are. They're like rotten eggs, you know, hiding in the Easter basket, so that's very helpful.

Then it's also equally helpful to have guys who come out and say, "I didn't know that. Now that I know that, I'm going to change my life." And we poly them. You'd be -- interesting to know, because we were trying to figure out if they're messing with us. But we are convinced that they have made a significant change. Now you're not talking about, you know, radicals going to choir boys, but you're talking about radicals that won't use the Koran without -- for violence without a very clear understanding that they're damned if they do.

On a demonstration of empowering moderates against extremists:

...on September the 2nd of this year. We had a compound of moderates, for the first time, overtake Takfirist extremists. It's never happened before. Found them, identified them, threw them up against the fence, and shaved the frickin' beards off of them. That -- I mean, that is historic. I mean, I think -- I mean -- and I could give you another two or three like that. But I mean, when you're in my business and you see something like that happen, you just go, "You're kidding me!"

On using robots in detainee operations:

Well, you know, I'm in the battlefield of the mind right now. The basic care and custody that takes place is done in a very large compound, thousand-person compounds. Now we're -- I think if we were -- if you were on the last time, you might have heard me say we are trying to change that configuration to modular detainee housing units. If we were able to get them into smaller organization -- not necessarily -- smaller configurations, then I think you've got yourself into a physical management problem that's different than these compounds, and robotics, I think, would make a lot of sense.

You know, you certainly could use robotics for perimeter protection or perimeter identification for sensing a lot of things that, you know -- I'd have to back up and, you know, grab a hold of all my robotics background and kind of dig in and sort of see where things are at, but I can see if the physical environment is right how you could use them. But right now, remember, my top priority is obviously to ensure that care and custody is done, but it's also to determine if this detainee is an imperative security risk. That's the only authority under which I'm allowed to hold them, and if I determine that they're no longer a security risk, then I -- you know, I let them go.

So that determination is much more steep in the basics of the program that I've put in place. So I got to identify -- I got to find and identify the extremists and segregate them. I don't know that robotic would help me with that. I've got to dig into their mind. I've got psychiatrists and psychologists, you know, and interrogation work and counseling work. I'm not sure robotics are there yet on that. I've got to work with the -- knock the edge off their understanding or frankly their misunderstanding of the Koran, and you know, so I've got moderate imams that are working with that.

And you can -- if I walk through counseling or I walk through family involvement or multi-layer evaluations, all those, job placement, you know, continuing education, I think there's a role for automation there. And you know, we're working hard on how we might use programming, you know, TV programming or on-demand kinds of things to try to get these guys to basically destroy the destructive ideology that's there.

But once they're no longer a threat, then I -- you know, I'm working to keep them off the streets. And most of these guys are here because they were either threatened or they are unemployed. And I don't know yet how robotics would help. But when they form a prison -- and I don't run prisons; I run detention facilities -- the Iraqis could easily use some form of robotics for primitive security. And I could see how that would -- how that might work.

On providing alternatives to contract insurgents:

...let me tell you what Hashimi -- what Vice President Hashimi gave to the president. And I only know this because he gave me a copy of the letter. Basically it was this program. But it combined -- and I thought this was a very insightful and thoughtful way. I mean, we had talked about this, but he wrote it in a very eloquent manner.

It was, what about doing a New Deal for Iraq? There are, you know, by his estimation, about 4 1/2 million men that need to either get their education, get their -- you know, get the right skill sets -- bring them through a process, put them on a public works program and pay them 300, 350 bucks a month, which is all they need. And that's -- I mean, that's below a cop, right below a cop, and it's above, you know, necessity. That will put the pride back in the individual and the pride back in the family.

So he combined the concept of doing this, in other words, starting on that one end of the flow, assessing them, BATting, whatever you want to do, getting them through. I can see tons, and so can the guys listening in on this. You can hear tons of ways in which you can use this information, right? You get them; you BAT them; you bring them through. But they would then go out and do public works stuff. They'd clean canals and they would, you know, work on the basics, the infrastructure, not compete with private industry in any way and not do it for a long time, in other words, six months or a year.

So I agree with you. And I will tell you, there's not one guy in my line of work; there's not one commander that I have; there's not one guy in interrogation who won't tell you, the number one problem to drain the swamp of the coalition guys -- I mean the countercoalition guys, the ones that we're rolling up, is jobs.

And finally, on succeeding in the Battle o f Minds:

And, you know, winning this war is not going to be like, you know, D-Day, and you guys know that. You know what a counterinsurgency is like. But right now we can turn this thing, and even turn it around to the point where I think you'll see Iraqi leadership step up. I mean, I have watched Vice President Hashimi in the last month slip from ardent, I'm on out, I'm going to kick you on the way out to I'm in and I'm pitching what needs to be done.

General Stone clearly understands the struggle over minds. My money is on Stone to move way up and hopefully out of the military to make a broader impact through State, like a George Marshall, in the restructuring that will come in the next several years as we hopefully harken back to the period after World War II when experienced internationalists, flag military, slide into senior government positions.