MCDP 8 Information

I love the USMC MCDPs (Marine Corps Doctrinal Publications). They’re short, readable, and get to the point.

Last year, I wanted to deep dive MCDP 1-4 Competing because it’s that good, and as far as I’m aware, there is not a better publication on just what “competition” is.

Just look at this graphic.

Unfortunately, I just never got to it.

MCDP 8 Information was released earlier this summer and I wanted to do the same.

It’s worth reading through. It captures the information field nicely.

Some highlights below.

On the “compressed levels of warfare and battlespace”:

Information’s instant, global, and persistent nature compresses the levels of warfare and increases the chances a local action will have a global impact. The ease with which information flows worldwide allows people to continuously monitor local events on
a global scale. This phenomenon is unique to the information age. It is powerful because political actors (state or non-state), interest groups, and individual people can scan the globe for local events and use them to reinforce their cause or narrative of choice.

This access, combined with the relative ease with which our adversaries can distort and manipulate information about events through various media, makes every tactical action-even if beneficial or benign to the local population- a potentially disruptive regional or global incident.

We’ve discussed this before.

Is the below graphic too simplistic?

No, I don’t think so.

Of course, there is a section on “narrative,” which is actually pretty good, but “narrative” is still such a squishy term. Even in this publication, it’s not quite clear what is supposed to be done with it.

I love the below:

PRIORITIZING INFORMATION

The global information environment creates countless opportunities to generate and leverage ambiguity, uncertainty, and friction. It also offers many pathways for world and military leaders to communicate with one another and with relevant populations. Regardless of the situation, commanders, by the very nature of their roles, must prioritize activities that place information considerations at the forefront.

Emphasis mine.

I’ve seen this sentiment in a number of places. What I haven’t seen is the commander turn to the information specialist and say “tell me how to craft this operation to have the most powerful information effect.”

And that’s where we need to be.


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A good article on “narrative”

soldiers getting off a hind d metal gear

Recently, I mentioned the fact that many throw the term “narrative” out there recklessly. We use narrative to define narrative. We kind of know what we’re talking about, but we have a hard time explaining it.

Well here’s a good article that does a better job.

The narrative “links grievances to a political agenda and mobilizes the population to support a violent social movement.” It does this by assigning blame for wrongs, explaining how grievances will be addressed, and proclaiming a call to action that presents the uprising as likely to succeed if the insurgent forces and population work together.

Jonathon Cosgrove, Context is King

As much as you try, you can’t write your own narrative. The narrative exists, and the best you can do is behave inside of it.

This doesn’t mean all is lost. It just means you need to recognize reality, and then operate, slowly, inside of it, towards your aim.


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Well, it has “information” in the name

alice frustrated from alice in wonderland

There are titans and oracles among us in the fields we study.

From one, I’ve come to understand that “irregular warfare is the military’s contribution to political warfare.

From another, I’ve also come to understand that we don’t need to bring back the United States Information Agency (USIA) or any variation of it in order to be successful.

In case you missed it, Matt Armstrong and Dr. Christopher Paul wrote an article last week debunking some of the myths around the USIA. This has become a bit of a pet project for Matt, as there are new think-pieces on this topic sprouting up all the time.

How exhausting.

Part of this comes from the constant cries from some leaders that we’re “getting our asses kicked in the information environment.”

We’re not, by the way.

To address that concern, smart people look at the problem, do a little research, and come to the conclusion that the reason we’re “getting our asses kicked” is because we don’t have a mega-organization that manages all of this.

Well, we used to have a United States Information Agency – maybe we should bring that back?

After all, it has ‘information’ in the name.

The whole thing reminds me of something Colin Powell once said regarding seemingly simple solutions that have no basis in fact or history. He was on Face the Nation discussing the issue of how to try terror suspects in court. There were a lot of calls at the time to hand over terrorist suspects to the military to be tried in “military commissions,” instead of the federal court system.

Here’s how Powell responded (12:25):

“So the suggestion that somehow a military commission is the way to go isn’t born out by the history of the military commissions….a lot of people think just give them to the military and the military will hammer them.”

Colin Powell, Face the Nation, 2/21/2010

It’s similar to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ statement that some people have a “cartoonish” view of military capabilities.

“It’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces,” he said. “The one thing that our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm’s way, and there just wasn’t time to do that.”

Robert Gates, Face the Nation, 5/12/2013

There are no simple solutions to what we are trying to accomplish. I’ve become a true believer in Matt’s thesis that to “do” information right (warfare, operations, whatever) it starts with setting a very clear vision for where we are trying to go. What is the vision? What is the story we are trying to tell? From there, we have robust capabilities to make that happen.

You have to be able to picture what “right” looks like first.

Sure, there are things we can do to tweak the system, and we should. But those things are mostly procedural, not organizational.

The challenge here is there is no shiny object being carted out. New organizations are exciting. So are new capabilities or tech. Think-pieces without a big reveal don’t get a lot of attention.

As frustrating as it must be to continuously have to champion the same argument, I’m glad that Matt (and others) are out there doing so. If you’re not following his newsletter (infrequent, but always great), you can subscribe here.


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All the Domains: “Mobilizing public opinion and galvanizing the will”

mass effect first contact war garrus

Episode #102 of the Cognitive Crucible podcast. This one on the Marine Corps’ ‘All Domain Effects Team” (ADET) concept.

 ADETs are task-organized forces that integrate information capabilities with lethal fires to achieve effects in the forward operating environment across the competition continuum in support of joint, allied, and coalition forces. These teams are intended to provide a scalable, mobile, and lethal force capable of operating across air, land, sea, space, and cyber domains simultaneously. 

Episode #102, Cognitive Crucible Podcast

A discussion on the composition of the ADET teams starts at about the 14:00 minute mark, starting with the “inform and influence” team.

“People will be like, whoa, pause, how can you have those two working together?

Brian Schweers, ~14:15

He’s not wrong – people will be like “whoa, pause.”

And they shouldn’t be. If we’re not synchronizing and coordinating, then we’re doing it wrong.

What is “information awareness?”

“There is an overall lack of doctrine and taxonomy in the informational world to understand what does ‘informational awareness’ mean.

Yup. Different things to different people.

On “narrative.”

It’s plainly obvious, especially when we look at the Ukrainian-Russian war, how Ukraine has used the narrative to gain that international support. Mobilizing public opinion and galvanizing the will, realizing the narrative, is power.

Isn’t odd that we know what we mean when we use the term “narrative” but it isn’t actually anything baked into doctrine? How do you “do” narrative? What do we even mean?

I hear it every day. “We have to get the narrative right” or “we need to push the narrative.”

Ok, I know what you mean. But do you?

There’s a good vignette at the ~36:00 mark on how to leverage media rapidly in a tactical environment. The whole thing hinges on “release chains” and release authority. To get it right, there needs to be an understanding of what you might see and what you might do before you see it and before you do it in order to get the authority to execute into the right hands.

Finally, when asked where there is room for growth and what academic questions need to be answered:

How do you actually measure effects in the cognitive realm in the informational domain?

You know my answer.


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A ‘crystal ball’ for info warfare

mass effect andromeda artificial intelligence

Two short articles I came across recently.

The first: Google exec to UN: Ukraine ‘a crystal ball’ for info warfare

“States must find a way to turn the volume down and settle on some kind of deterrence doctrine for the cyber domain,” Jared Cohen said at a council meeting on hate speech, incitement and atrocities in Ukraine. 

He argued that while tech companies have needed expertise, “there is no magical algorithm or single fix for this,” and finding a solution will take a lot of experimentation.

And then, later in the article:

A recent report from Mandiant, a cyber security firm, found that Russia used disinformation, fear and propaganda to demoralize Ukraine and divide its allies.

“Hate speech can also be a war crime,” British deputy U.N. Ambassador James Kariuki said Tuesday, calling on Russia to “stop making such statements.”

And then this: Why We Fall for Disinformation

A good primer on the psychology that underpins the effectiveness of propaganda.

Here’s the offered solution:

Our analysis, suggests another path that merits additional attention: empowering individual citizens to reject the disinformation that they will inevitably encounter. Our work outlines two promising categories of techniques in this vein. One is to provide preventive inoculation, such as warning people about the effects of disinformation and how to spot it. The other is to encourage deeper, analytical thinking. These two techniques can be woven into training and awareness campaigns that would not necessarily require the cooperation of social media platforms.

I don’t think the above is wrong, but I have little confidence that this can be accomplished quickly. Critical thinking skills take years to develop. And one of the chief problems here is that everyone thinks they have those skills and they can see clearly. It’s those “other” guys who are being duped.

We’ve been hunting for a solution to this for a long time.


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Should platoons have a designated “hacker” assigned?

girl sitting at computer terminal cyberpunk hacker

Still catching up, so here we are.

Episode 53 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast was right on target.

In Episode 53 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, we consider how cyber tools and weapons are used at the tactical level within irregular warfare.

DIGITAL IRREGULAR WARFARE: CYBER AT THE TACTICAL LEVEL

A smart and nuanced conversation that touches just about everything in this orbit – cyber, information warfare, psychological warfare, authorities, and more.

Reminds me of this episode: Should platoon’s have a designated “hacker” assigned?

Some choice excerpts below.

Being ‘afraid’ of information warfare.

In Army doctrine, we are afraid to introduce the phrase ‘information warfare.’ So, what can cyber contribute to irregular warfare? We’re going to limit ourselves if we only are allowed to talk about that in the context of creating technical effects, or using technology to create kinetic effects. I think there is a lot more possibility in the information warfare space, but we don’t have an organizational structure or an authorities structure, or a set of policies, or even a national strategy, or even a service strategy – we’re just missing all of the other stuff that allows us to execute that.

Sally White, ~14:00

I agree completely with the first part – fear of the phrase information warfare and limiting ourselves by thinking about cyber only in the context of tech. But I disagree with the second part, on being limited in our ability to operate because we’re “missing” something.

This is something that is discussed all the time – including right here. “If only” we had some mega-command or a special policy that allowed us to “do” the things we want to do. We also fail when we focus on the whiz-bang aspects of information warfare, instead of the hard work of navigating real bureaucracy.

At the end of the podcast Sally makes some important points that gets to the core of where it seems our issues lay.

There is a need for adjustment when it comes to the intersection of cyberspace as a physcial domain and the cognitive informational realm that frankly is also the primary purpose of cyberspace when it comes to how we’re operating with the human element and populations. When it comes to things like cyber-enabled information operations, or the information warfare question… I think we should probably devote a bit more time and intellectual energy to thinking through what is the actual problem that we need to solve, and are we limiting ourselves by keeping things separate in their distinct bins of cyber, of psychological operations, of information operations, et cetera. Are they [these distinctions] inhibiting our ability to be effective in the broader information environment of which cyberspace is a part?

Remember lumping vs splitting?

Cyber is not IO. Cyber is not PSYOP. There are terms (and everything that comes with it) that should be lumped, and there are some that should be split.

But, I tend to agree with Sally that anyone who is in this realm does themselves a disservice by playing too close to their own specialty. This stuff has to be a team effort.

A lot of this could be solved if we stopped thinking of information warfare as the “bits and bytes” or the “nouns and verbs” and instead focused on the actions we take. Everything else comes after that.

Lastly, I love this question posed as an area of needed research.

How can we come up with an integrated theory of information that encompasses both the physical and cogntive realms?

There’s a lot more in this episode, including some really good reasons for why we don’t push some of these capabilities down to the platoon level. Worth the listen.


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That’s just Joe

cobra unit metal gear solid 3

Episode 93 of the Cognitive Crucible podcast. This one on information operations and the law.

If interested, I’d pair this episode with this article on the same subject from earlier in the year. Both the podcast and the article discuss similar things (free speech and the ickiness of influence operations).

Tell me the below isn’t true.

Before, if you had somebody with an extremist view, they were on the soapbox in the town square, and everybody knew – ‘that’s just Joe, that’s who he is.’ But now, the Joe in each village can link up with all the other Joes in every other village and reinforce each others’ extremist ideas and thinking.

Todd Huntley, Ep 93, The Cognitive Crucible

It is one thing to have the weird guy in your family obsessed with conspiracy theories. It’s another to have that same guy link up with others across the country and across the world.

And even that seemed to be ok for a while, so long as it seemed mostly like a nerdy hobby.

But when it mutates into action, that’s when it becomes a problem.


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Behaviors shape Attitudes

the atlantic saudi arabia women praying

A fascinating write-up in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood on Saudi Arabia. The focus is on MBS, but there is a detour that describes the Kingdom’s efforts at deradicalizing jihadists.

Instead of trying to “deprogram” or otherwise convince jihadists that their attitudes and beliefs are wrong, they have them do mundane office work.

Nothing is stranger than normalcy where one least expects it. These jihadists—people who recently would have sacrificed their life to take mine—had apparently been converted into office drones. Fifteen years ago, Saudi Arabia tried to deprogram them by sending them to debate clerics loyal to the government, who told the prisoners that they had misinterpreted Islam and needed to repent. But if this scene was to be believed, it turned out that terrorists didn’t need a learned debate about the will of God. They needed their spirits broken by corporate drudgery. They needed Dunder Mifflin.

Absolute Power, by Graeme Wood (The Atlantic)

Logical thinking tells us that in order for someone to change their behavior, they need to change their attitudes first. This is why see influence efforts focus on convincing someone of something first in an effort to ultimately change the behavior.

It makes logical sense, but when you start to dig into the psychological research, it doesn’t quite work that way.

It turns out that if we engage in a behavior, and particularly one that we had not expected that we would have, our thoughts and feelings toward that behavior are likely to change. This might not seem intuitive, but it represents another example of how the principles of social psychology—in this case, the principle of attitude consistency—lead us to make predictions that wouldn’t otherwise be that obvious.

Changing Attitudes by Changing Behavior

This partially explains why veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely to support those wars than the general public.

  • 53 percent say the war in Afghanistan was worth fighting vs. 30 percent of Americans overall.
  • 44 percent think Iraq was worth fighting vs. 38 percent of the general public.

Source: Washington Post, April 2014

Why is this the case? Cognitive dissonance.

Once placed into a situation (like the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan), to admit that it wasn’t worth it might impact self-esteem or self-worth. Instead of adjusting your attitude, you shift in the other direction and rationalize the behavior to alleviate that dissonance.

For the jihadists, sitting them in a room and trying to convince them that their views are wrong was fruitless. But putting them into a situation where they have to spend time working and churning in an environment seems to have the desired effect.

Their behaviors, over time, influence their attitudes.

They have time to reflect on what they’re doing. It just kind of happens.

Powerful efforts to convince or bludgeon people with information rarely works in terms of changing behavior. Instead, the efforts should be on changing the behavior which can then change the attitude.

Admittedly, this is much harder.

It’s easy to build a flyer with some factual information or a campaign to convince jihadists to “turn away.”

It’s not new information they need. It’s a different behavior.

Think of anyone you’ve tried to convince of something who was resistant because they had a personal experience that informs their thought.

It’s a fool’s errand.

But if you can get the same person to actually try the thing?

The behavior changes the attitude.

Creating experiences and situations where people are forced to behave in certain scenarios is more likely to have the effect you’re looking for.

Anything else is shot-in-the-dark advertising.

Image Source: The Atlantic (Lynsey Addario)


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Info ops and legality

revolver ocelot a cold war fought with information and espionage

Published just as the year began – I must have missed it in the deluge of activity that marks the new year.

Terrific and tightly written article on the challenge of military information operations.

This is one of the best (short) articles I’ve read that captures why we seem to be “getting our asses kicked” in the information environment. It’s not about talent, techniques, or will – it’s about authorities and norms.

As well as vision, or “commander’s intent.”

First, the prospect of military engagement to counter adversary information operations during competition raises very significant legal concerns that must be addressed—concerns foundational to our constitutional system. On the other hand, these legal concerns play a significant role in hindering the development of a coherent information strategy in competition. This article will attempt to bring these issues to light, so that the underlying and implicit concerns can be stated, which is a necessary first step to crafting an effective, comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to respond to our adversaries’ malign influence campaigns. This article will discuss the underlying legal concerns and conclude with thoughts on the development of an integrated strategy.

Static Inertia: The Legal Challenges to Making Progress on an Effective Military Information Strategy – Modern War Institute

I especially enjoyed this upfront rationale:

Behind all the discussions is a nagging sense that the entire enterprise is just wrong—after all, the United States is a liberal democracy, we do not engage in state-sponsored propaganda, and there should be no Ministry of Truth in America. The whole prospect sounds utterly distasteful.

Yup. For lots of reasons, we tend to treat anything “psychological” as a dirty word.

Additionally, this:

The job of the military has been to fight and win our nation’s wars, not engage in propaganda campaigns, even in foreign contexts. 

Correct. But…

With its extensive cyber capabilities and resources, the US military is currently in the best position to counter the adversary in the information arena.

Agree, but this goes far beyond cyber.


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