Wow, that was really good.
The Irregular Warfare podcast (quickly becoming a bump everything, “listen now” podcast) recenlty hosted Dr. Thomas Rid (recent book: Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare) and Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds (USMC Deputy Commandant for Information). The topic was “competing for influence” and information operations broadly speaking.
Great back and forth and they get into topics in information operations that are often neglected. It’s particularly refreshing to hear a discussion on IO that goes beyond “we’re getting our ass kicked in the information environment.”
We need more conversations like this.
Some choice quotes below.
“There are types of tactics in information operations that democracies should not use…You cannot excel at disinformation and democracy at the same time, because, you have to fight with one hand behind your back.”Dr. Thomas Rid (emphasis his)
Agree. Democracies have to fight with one hand tied behind their back – and that’s a good thing.
On questions about the need for a new or different cooridinating agency for information operations.
The more that we can infuse this thinking of Multi-Domain Warfare inside our tradional way of command – that would be my preference. I think another stove-piped commander is not necessarily helpful in this area. I think it doesn’t make things faster.Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds
Yes! Every year, I see another think-piece calling for a new super-organziation that would serve as the coordinating element for information operations or information warfare or some flavor thereof. It seems like an ‘easy-button’ solution – build a new organization. The organizations we have now work. Lt. Gen. Reynold’s puts it this way: “We have to infuse this thinking and figure how we do this at echelon inside the commands that we have today.”
We should focus on building IO thinking into organizations that are effective now. I think this is happening. Sure, it’s slow. But building a new headquarters and then getting the ‘whole of government’ to work with it is 1) expensive, 2) hard to accomplish, and 3) probably ineffective.
On why our adversaries ‘seem’ to be better at this than us.
Our adversaries [China and Russia], from a gray zone perspective, they are a lot more willing to put themselves out there than the United States has been. Call it “willingness to impose friction”Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds
This is another area where I think things are changing. Sometimes the face of operations needs to be the American military officer on the ground or the diplomat in country. This is an area where we need to improve, for sure, and I think it starts with setting left and right limits and letting folks go for it. There will be mistakes, but if we do this right, those will be factored in and written off as part of the cost of operating at this level in the IE.
One more from Lt. Gen. Reynolds:
“I think the challenge is in the competition space. How do you action the information environment in great power competition? And to me, I think it starts with definining the measurable objectives you want to get after, [and then] define what success looks like in the information environment.”Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds (emphasis mine)
This is so important. Too often, success in the IE is amorphous. “I know it when I’ll see it.” IO professionals need to have conversations with their commanders and build a shared understanding of “what success looks like in the IE.” Is it the adversary getting smeared by the public? Is it a partner force highlighting their own success? Is it praise for government institutions? Having an understanding of what success looks like is paramount – otherwise it is likely you will miss the good stuff if it happens, or find yourself chasing tweets and counting ‘likes.’
Finally, on advice for practicioners, researchers, and policy makers who are approaching this problem set (IW, IO, political warfare, etc.):
“Understanding information operations in the 21st century is impossible without first understanding information operations in the 20th century. Although they happen in a different technological environment, the logic, and sometimes the dynamics have not changed. So for example, the temptation to overstate effects, is a large one.”Dr. Thomas Rid
He goes on to discuss that the sum of ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’ often leads people to believe (falsely) that IO today may have a greater effect than IO of the past. There is so much to learn from the past.
This episode, coupled with the recent PSYOP deep dive from the PSYWAR podcast is a good indication that this community is coalescing and growing more professional every day.