Arabic Media Analysts Aid Information War
By Army Spc. Benjamin Crane
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq, Oct. 15, 2008 The phrase “knowledge is power” has been used for many years, and in a time of modern warfare in which technology and information are used as weapons, knowing what the enemy is saying may be the difference between winning and losing.
Nick, a resident of Chicago who serves as a civilian linguist in the Media Monitoring Analysis Cell, 4th Infantry Division, Multinational Division Baghdad, watches an Arabic news channel in his office in the Media Operations Center at Camp Liberty, Iraq, to hear and analyze what is being said about coalition forces in Iraq. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Benjamin Crane
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
For Army Sgt. Andrew Pershing and the nine linguists who work in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division’s Media Monitoring Analysis Cell, finding out what the Iraqi media are saying about the U.S. armed forces, especially as it pertains to the division, is their everyday duty.
The civilian-contract linguists monitor open-source Arab media, explained Pershing, a Marion, Iowa, native, and the noncommissioned officer in charge of the MMAC. “They watch TV, listen to the radio and they look at Web sites and basically collect information about what the Arab media is putting out so we can monitor that side of the media field,” he said.
Four television monitors line the walls of the office inside the Media Operations Center on Camp Liberty, where Nick, Mike, Ray and Marcus, all of whom speak Arabic as their primary language, spend at least seven hours a day getting a feel for what is going out over Iraqi airwaves. For security reasons, they’re being identified only by their first names in this article.
“The Iraqi media reflect what the Iraqi side is talking about, the main issues for the Iraqi people or what the Iraqi channels or the Iraqi parties are saying to the local people about our side and the American troops,” Marcus, a Chicago resident who serves as one of the linguists, said.
“It’s very important, because we consider ourselves as a liaison between the Iraqi people and the American Army,” said Nick, a Detroit resident. “It’s important to the civilians, the State Department and the Army. They need to know what the Iraqi media is saying on their TVs and radios, and they need to know the Iraqi people’s reactions.”
After they gather the information from 15 Arabic TV stations, radio stations and Web sites, the linguists prepare the information so it can be distributed through e-mail to the leaders of 4th Infantry Division and Multinational Division Baghdad.
“The linguists collect the information from their shift and put them in a concise, compiled Word document, and then they give it to me and I ask questions to make sure the story is correct,” Pershing said. “We then put the product out to the people in the International Zone, the leaders of 4th Infantry Division and MND-B so they can use it to further other missions.”
As for what the Iraqi media is broadcasting, those working in the MMAC all say the same thing: It is not completely accurate, but it’s pretty close.
“Its not accurate 100 percent, but most of the channels belong to different parties, and each channel is like the party that they represent. Each party gives different opinions, so that is why we watch and listen to different channels,” Najjar said.
“This is the main issue: If you listen to the same subject as a foreigner, and I listen to it as an Iraqi man, I will feel different than you,” Sorrou said. “I can say it different than you can say it.”
Having Arabic-speaking contractors who know about the Iraqi people to analyze the media gives leaders here an edge in gaining greater support from the local populace and reduces the potential for misunderstandings in a fight where information has become a major weapon, Pershing said.
(Army Spc. Benjamin Crane serves in the Multinational Division Baghdad Public Affairs Office.)