Representatives from 13 countries gathered at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) headquarters in Doral, Florida from April 26th-28th for the fourth annual Information Operations Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE). With the purpose of establishing and strengthening relationships, fostering dialogue, and promoting collaboration among military information experts from the Armed Forces of the Western Hemisphere, representatives discussed common threats, strategies, doctrines, capabilities, and the integration of Information Operations (IO) nationally and regionally. The IO divisions from SOUTHCOM and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) co-hosted the SMEE so that representatives from the entire hemisphere could come together for a collaborative exercise in which to learn from one another’s experiences.
“The goal is to create a common vision and develop a plan to increase capacity in the area of Information Operations, and to improve regional security by working together to confront common threats such as transnational organized crime,” said Lieutenant Colonel Herminio Blas-Irizarry, chief of SOUTHCOM’s IO division.
Participating countries included Bahamas, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Great Britain, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, and the United States. Representatives from NORTHCOM’s and SOUTHCOM’s components, Public Affairs, Strategic Communications, and Civil Affairs divisions were also present.
In an impromptu greeting to the participants, U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt Tidd, SOUTHCOM commander, said, “The most important thing [for the participants] is to take this opportunity to get to know each other and establish relationships and networks, and act on them sooner rather than later, because information sharing is invaluable.”
During the seminar’s opening remarks, Michael Droz, SOUTHCOM’s Deputy Director of Operations (J3), reinforced that message. “We do not have an ongoing fight in our hemisphere, so we take Information Operations very seriously. This forum is an excellent opportunity for everybody to share ideas and try to get out a coordinated, synchronized, and integrated message. We have to understand the challenges we all face and try to solve these problems together, with a consolidated Information Operations plan, not only for the partner nations, but also for the United States. It has to be a collaboration of minds, a collaboration of partners.”
In addition to panel discussions on terrorism, countering transnational organized crime, and gangs, each country spoke on their use of and approach to IO throughout the three days of the conference. Representatives worked in groups to discuss scenarios and put together combined presentations, which they later shared with the other nations.
For some countries, like Brazil and Mexico, the concept of IO was relatively new, and they were present at the SMEE to learn from their counterparts.
“Our participation is so important in this conference because IO is somewhat new in Brazil. Our first [IO] manual was created in 2012 and released in 2013, therefore, we are still learning from the experiences of other countries with more experience in this area, from their lessons learned, so we can solidify our structure and doctrine,” said Brazilian Army Colonel Fernando Costa Adam who is responsible for the information department at the Joint Staff.
Other countries, like Colombia, have more experience in IO and were eager to share their experiences. Following more than 50 years of internal fighting against drug trafficking, Colombia’s Armed Forces are fully involved in this effort, alongside the National Police. Lieutenant Colonel Suldery Vargas Vásquez, chief of the Strategic Communications office of the Colombian Military’s Joint Staff, says Colombia has a lot to share, especially when it comes to strategic communications. “We have a joint center where we focus all the information that will be shared publicly. Depending on what it is, whether a disaster, bad news, or publicizing something of note, we decide who will discuss it with the media. It may be General Juan Pablo Rodríguez Barragán, Commander of the Colombian Military, or even one of us. Each case is analyzed separately.”
For their part, Mexico considered the SMEE a very valuable experience from which to learn. Mexican Army Colonel Everardo Becerra López, chief of the information section at the Armed Forces Joint Staff, said, “We’re here to learn the new tendencies in managing Information Operations and to take advantage of the experiences other countries have had on this topic.”