The Revolution Will Be Televised

Short article with the Irregular Warfare Initiative on the primacy of information in future (now) war.

Of all the lessons of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, one stands out: the importance of achieving dominance in the information domain. From the first days of the war, Ukraine has used information to shape the course of the conflict to its advantage. But American policymakers should not be too quick to mock Russia’s failures in the information environment: the US military itself is underprepared for war in the information age, where the actions of military units and individual soldiers may go viral in an instant. As the US Army continues to reconceptualize the role of information as both a weapon and a battlespace, it should learn some lessons from Ukraine’s success.

GOING VIRAL: PREPARING GROUND FORCES FOR COMBAT IN THE INFORMATION AGE

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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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Informational Entropy

lord of the flies ending

Another good episode from the Cognitive Crucible, who I recently learned have their own YouTube channel.

This one discusses informational entropy, information “power” (something that I think we’re better at than we give ourselves credit for), and more.

There’s also a Lord of the Flies reference. Nothing wrong with that, I’ve used Lord of the Flies to make a point in the past myself.

Very interested to hear that Glen Edwards is a gamer, too.


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The First Thing They Hear

Most people, in fact, will not take trouble in finding out the truth, but are much more inclined to accept the first story they hear.

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

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Gladiator School

gladiator school podcast teaser

New podcast in the information arena – Gladiator School.

II Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group (II MIG) presents the first episode of Gladiator School (podcast). The first Episode features Colonel Brian Russell, Commanding Officer of II MEF and 2nd Lt. Rebekah Harasick, II MIG Communication Strategy and Operations officer, discussing how II MIG operates in the information environment.

I listened to the audio version (subscribe here) before I checked out their YouTube channel. Really well done, and good quality.

There’s a lot to like about this first episode.

First, I particularly appreciate the way we’re not getting hung up on terms (is it ‘information warfare’ or is it ‘operations in the information environment?’ – not actually super important). Getting worked up about that (which many people do) doesn’t help.

Second, the recognition that “we’re in it.” Whether you like it or not, we’re all “in” the information environment. You don’t really get to choose.

You do, however, get to choose how you participate.

The USMC is doing a lot of work. I recently listened to the ADETs episode and I’ve become a fan of the Phoenix Cast as well.

Looking forward to seeing where this podcast goes.


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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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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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Beat them to the punch

jonah jameson throwing something in spidermand

Fascinating episode of the Pineland Underground featuring former Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (SEAC) John Wayne Troxell.

Lots of interesting takes from the former SEAC on messaging, the role of social media in the modern military (both good and bad), and choosing whether to be an enabler or an agitator in retirement.

What I found particularly interesting was his vignette early in the episode about the E-Tool incident.

Somehow, I missed all that at the time.

While that story is interesting as it stands, I found the behind-the-scenes discussion about it especially compelling.

While visiting troops and making comments suggesting the E-Tool could be used as a non-standard weapon in the fight against ISIS (it absolutely can), a reporter who heard the remarks and took offense told him that he was going to make them public.

So I called up my trusty Public Affairs guy… and I said this reporter is going to go public with this and he said “Well let’s beat him to the punch.”

SEAC(R) John Wayne Troxell, Pineland Underground Podcast ~6:45

So, a picture of the CSM holding an E-Tool with a defeat ISIS message was put together and shared on social media. And of course, like all effective messaging, it garnered strong opinions, some in support, some against.

It’s another example of the importance of getting to the story first. Framing matters. And being shy in the information space can easily put you on the defensive.

What makes these types of efforts successful? A supportive chain of command that is willing to accept failure. And if there are failures, learn from them and move on. Leaders get timid in the information space when they believe that one errant move can implode a mission, a team, or a career.

We’re willing to send them up that hill or around that corner or into that breach, fully knowing the potential outcomes. We can’t continuously lament that we’re “getting our asses kicked” in the information environment while simultaneously eating ourselves alive whenever something we put out there actually does well.


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