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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The future is algorithmic propaganda

raiden off your console

And it’s not going to be a lot of fun.

American factions won’t be the only ones using AI and social media to generate attack content; our adversaries will too. In a haunting 2018 essay titled “The Digital Maginot Line,” DiResta described the state of affairs bluntly. “We are immersed in an evolving, ongoing conflict: an Information World War in which state actors, terrorists, and ideological extremists leverage the social infrastructure underpinning everyday life to sow discord and erode shared reality,” she wrote. The Soviets used to have to send over agents or cultivate Americans willing to do their bidding. But social media made it cheap and easy for Russia’s Internet Research Agency to invent fake events or distort real ones to stoke rage on both the left and the right, often over race.

Jonathan Haidt, WHY THE PAST 10 YEARS OF AMERICAN LIFE HAVE BEEN UNIQUELY STUPID

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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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What is hybrid warfare?

a venn diagram displaying the range of warfare

“In Putin’s mind, America is the country that has been waging hybrid warfare, political warfare, irregular warfare, against Russia for decades.”

That line from a recent IWI episode buried itself into my head where it has been sitting ever since.

I only recently took the time to dig into defining irregular warfare, and that was a slog.

These terms get thrown around so cavalierly and while I can’t be certain, my sense is that most folks who are using them don’t exactly know what they’re saying.

So what is ‘hybrid warfare?’

The first place to start is always the DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms – for which there is no definition.

Just because there isn’t a definition doesn’t mean it’s not real. Our doctrine could just be lagging behind the current reality.

Digging a little further, it becomes apparent that the biggest problem with hybrid warfare is the fact that no one can agree on what it is – or if it’s even anything at all.

There is a good article in SWJ from February that takes this on – ‘Hybrid Warfare: One Term, Many Meanings.’

Even better, after a bunch of senior defense officials began using the term in congressional testimony, there was a Government Accountability Office examination into the term (back in 2010!).

Check out the summary of their findings:

  • DOD has not officially defined “hybrid warfare” at this time and has no plans to do so because DOD does not consider it a new form of warfare.
  • DOD officials from the majority of organizations we visited agreed that “hybrid warfare” encompasses all elements of warfare across the spectrum. Therefore, to define hybrid warfare risks omitting key and unforeseen elements.
  • DOD officials use the term “hybrid” to describe the increasing complexity of conflict that will require a highly adaptable and resilient response from U.S. forces, and not to articulate a new form of warfare.
  • The term “hybrid” and hybrid-related concepts appear in DOD overarching strategic planning documents (e.g., 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report); however, “hybrid warfare” has not been incorporated into DOD doctrine.

I found myself feeling refreshed having read this. I’m not alone in thinking there’s not much there when we use the term hybrid warfare.

As the report states, when people use the term, they are likely referring to the increasing complexity of modern warfare, as opposed to some new form of warfare that we are only now discovering.

If we really want to use the term, though, we might be able to say that hybrid warfare is a blending of traditional warfare (state-on-state conflict using traditional armies) and irregular warfare (state and non-state actors vying for legitimacy and influence over a population).

Maybe sprinkle in some ideas about criminals and you’ve got yourself a Venn diagram.

Now, all of this is looking at the concept of hybrid warfare from a Western perspective. That is, what does it mean for “us?” 

As I’ve gone further down this rabbit hole, there’s another detour that looks at how others define it. How do the Russians define hybrid warfare? Or the Chinese? Or the Iranians?

Another post for another day…

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“If you have a phone, you can be a resistance fighter.”

cyberpunk reaper mural art

Episode 50 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast.

In Episode 50 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, our guests discuss the history of technological innovation, examples of current and burgeoning technologies that will impact future warfare, and how governments can (and sometimes cannot) regulate the development and distribution of potentially dangerous technologies to malign actors.

Power to the people.

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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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Tape Measure Hero

viral video tape measure pick up keys from across room

Recently finished another Phoenix Cast episode. Around the ~17:30 mark, the hosts discuss the problem with believing what we see on the internet.

Specifically, they’re talking about videos.

There was this series of very viral videos back in the day of construction workers using tape measures to pick stuff up from ten feet away, and it’s all fake, it was all a marketing campaign for a midwestern hardware chain.

…and there’s a guy who breaks down those videos into exactly how they do the cuts, how they do the pull outs, and it’s important to be able to look for things like that.

Conti and Current Events, Phoenix Cast

Did you ever see this?

Impressive, right?

As they mentioned in the episode, the whole thing was fake. It was part of a marketing campaign.

Unfortunately, they didn’t link to the videos in the show notes so I had to spend some time digging around to find them. But I’m glad I did.

Here’s the first breakdown:

And then the coup de grâce.

Do you know what’s important here? It’s not that these videos were fake or deceptive, or that they could be picked apart with some careful analysis.

It’s that most people who saw these videos believed that they were real. They probably saw it at some point, laughed, shared it with their friends, and never gave it a second thought.

That’s how propaganda works. You never go back to watch the debunk videos. The first one was good enough.

And you want to believe.

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Irregular, Hybrid, Political Warfare

metal gear solid 3 the boss colonel volgin bridge

A deep dive into Russia’s motivations.

In Episode 48 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, we discuss the historical motivations and modern methods behind Russia’s use of hybrid warfare on the international stage. Our guests begin today’s conversation discussing how significant historical events and Russian cultural memory shape the Russian worldview, with particular emphasis on the role that the collapse of the Soviet Union had on the psyche of Vladimir Putin himself. They explore Russian motivations and methods since the end of the twentieth century and then pivot to potential Western responses to an increasingly aggressive Russia. Our guests conclude with implications for both the public and the practitioner.

THE MOTIVATIONS AND METHODS BEHIND RUSSIAN HYBRID WARFARE, Irregular Warfare Podcast

Ok, but what is hybrid warfare?

In Putin’s mind, America is the country that has been waging hybrid warfare, political warfare, irregular warfare, against Russia for decades.

Dr. Rob Person, ~21:55

It’s not political warfare and it’s not irregular warfare. It is its own thing, apparently.

We know what irregular warfare is (and what it is not), and we know that irregular warfare is the military’s contribution to political warfare.

So where exactly does hybrid warfare fit in?

I’m going to take a look, but my gut tells me that it’s just another hodge-podge of sub-terms that gets lumped together to form a new, different, more confusing term.

In the episode, I particularly enjoyed this breakdown of Cold War tactics and the splitting of terms done here.

There is stuff we throw in the hybrid warfare bucket that I really don’t think belongs in that bucket. For example, a lot of Russian cyber activity is indeed routine espionage. Now, you don’t have to like it, but I’m afraid it is routine espionage that most major powers do against one another.

Shashank Joshi, ~31:00

“A Cold War, fought with information and espionage.”

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Shallow Fakes

Surely by now you have heard of “deep fakes.”

In their most insidious form, these are doctored videos that appear real. As technology improves, so does the ability to create convincing and deceptive videos.

The fear is that people will believe these deep fakes which will then lead to some change in attitude or behavior.

While deep fakes are interesting, we have been dealing with instances of this forever. We’ve always had the “shallow fake,” or low-effort deception.

And these can be surprisingly effective.

My favorite example is from 2005. The insurgency in Iraq was intensifying and becoming more dangerous. A militant group claimed to have captured US soldier “John Adam.” I remember seeing this photo making its way around the internet.

Of course, it looks fake now.

But in 2005, when the internet was still a pretty new thing, it gave pause. I remember scrutinizing the picture myself, thinking it must be fake, but still wondering.

Deception doesn’t always have to change minds or win the war. It can just cause angst and bureaucratic churn.

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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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