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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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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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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Polite propaganda

rush radio journal image

My podcast diet continues to grow.

I recently finished the first three episodes of the RUSI Journal Radio – each focusing on different aspects of information warfare.

The Royal United Services Institute is a UK-based think tank. It turns out they have a bunch of different podcasts.

Here are the first three:

Episode 1: The Realities of Information Warfare

Episode 2: Emotion as a Policy Tool

Episode 3: 21st Century Propaganda

I especially enjoyed the discussion in episode 2 regarding measures of effectiveness (and the fact that they are often meaningless).

While discussing atmospherics, the host asks “how do you measure it?”

It’s hard. It’s not something easy, especially in a discipline or in an environment such as policy-making where we like things to be quantified. We want metrics to be able to show that something has impact.

But having worked in politics and policy for a few years, I’ve come across people, often politicians, strategic communicators, very good strategists, who have this innate and intuitive sense of ‘this is the mood right now, this is the moment, something has changed.’

Claire Yorke, Emotion as a Policy Tool, ~5:00

The conversation moves onto the qualitative aspects of analysis – which is something that doesn’t lend well to putting numbers on a chart. We trust this analysis because it comes from someone who has put in the work and has studied the subject matter over time.

We shouldn’t need to be wowed by the methedolgy.

We can measure things this way, and yes, it is subjective. But that’s ok.

So to measure it is subjective and we have to be comfortable with the ambiguity and the subjectivity of it.

This podcast also has the calmest, unimposing intro music of any I’ve heard. A welcome break from the hum of impending doom that begins most American security-themed podcasts.

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Administrative Warfare: Deception + third person effect

iran f-14 winnie the pooh posing

The use of deception and the third-person effect to exploit an administrative process for military advantage.

He knew that they were paranoid.

He knew that the Iranians guarded their oil facilities with their F-14s, and his Air Force [the Iraqi’s] was terrified of dog-fighting the F-14s because at the time the F-14 was pretty much unmatched as a fighter aircraft.

So he figured the best way to get our aircraft to strike the oil refinery is to get the F-14s out of the air and the only way to get them out of the air is to ground them.

We don’t have the means to strike their airfield, so he called one of the Gulf leaders, I’m not sure if it was the Saudi king or somebody else, and he essentially told them, “Hey, we have received intelligence that an Iranian F-14 wants to defect in a couple of nights and they are going to come to your country, so just keep an eye out – there’s an F-14 coming.”

[Saddam] knowing full-well that that Gulf leader was going to leak that information to the Iranians – they did.

The Iranians heard ‘one of your F-14s is going to defect.

They panicked and put all of the F-14 pilots in jail, and while all the F-14 pilots were in jail being investigated for a possible treason plot, Saddam struck the oil refinery.

Aram Shabanian, How the Iran-Iraq War Shaped the Modern World, Angry Planet

Photo source.

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Ok, but what should the Army do to combat this?

quake 3 arena logo

Good episode of The Convergence Podcast last month. Guests were Joe Littell and Maggie Smith, who recently co-authored a good article on information warfare for the Modern War Institute.

In the podcast, they discuss the article and its implications for the military.

What I like about both the article and the podcast is that we are hearing directly from practitioners – in this case in the fields of psychological operations and cyber.

Often – and especially as of late – we are hearing everyone’s opinion on these fields, whether they hold expertise or not.

One thing that I think gets to the crux of many of the military’s issues in dealing with information warfare came in the form of a question. After a long back and forth on some of the background concerning information warfare on a grand scale – political polarization, distrust in media, misinformation/disinformation, etc – the host poses the following question?

“How does the Army combat this?”

It’s not a bad question – and it is literally referencing the problem addressed in the guests’ article. The issue here is the solution to the problem goes way beyond the scope of what the Army can do. Even those tiny parts of the Army that deal exclusively with these issues.

What is the role of the Army? To win our nation’s wars.

We do ourselves a disservice if we ask it to do more than that.

There are limits to what the military can achieve in a traditional sense. Look at Afghanistan.

But there are also limits to what the military can achieve in an irregular sense. It doesn’t matter what combination of tactics, techniques, or tools you can pull together. There are extreme limits to what can be accomplished when dealing with the complexities of the human condition.

Thinking that it’s possible to fix everything, that we just haven’t discovered the right tool or educated the right people in the right way is dangerous.

This isn’t a cause for cynicism. Rather, it’s a cause for critical thinking and clearly understanding the role of the military and executing accordingly.

And pushing back when asked to do the impossible.

Lastly, there was a good conversation towards the end on the need to move away from the terms misinformation and disinformation. I agree. They are used everywhere now, mostly interchangeably or without a clear meaning.

Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re going anywhere. For what it’s worth, this is how I think of them.

For those who hang in there until the end, you’ll learn a couple of interesting facts about Joe and Maggie.

“Hangin’ with railbait like you is gonna lower my rep.”

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Administrative Warfare: Fake Bomb Threats

the city of kyiv at dusk with no lights

Read this yesterday afternoon about the ongoing “hybrid” war taking place in Ukraine.

Another new tactic, according to Ukrainian authorities, is bomb threats.

Ukrainian police said there were nearly 1,000 anonymous messages in January, mostly by email, falsely claiming bomb threats against nearly 10,000 locations, from schools to critical infrastructure.

Kateryna Morozova’s 7-year-old daughter called her last month asking to be collected from school as teachers had told her to leave quickly. A teacher soon said on a messenger group that there had been a bomb threat against the school. Children who had been swimming had to grab what clothes they could and rush outside into the cold and snow, she said.

Russians Have Already Started Hybrid War With Bomb Threats, Cyberattacks, Ukraine Says, Wall Street Journal

Many places have automatic procedures that take place when a bomb threat is received. This is easily exploitable by someone willing to take advantage of it.

This is a form of administrative warfare. That is, tactics that take advantage of administrative policies and procedures that can wreak havoc at minimal cost.

There are lots of possibilities for this kind of warfare.

The only limitations are willingness and imagination.

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Psychological Reactance

“Why is it that a child sometimes does the opposite of what he is told? Why would a person sometimes dislike receiving a favor? Why is propaganda frequently ineffective in persuading people? And why would the grass in the adjacent pasture ever appear greener?”

We all know a contrarian. The one who is against whatever everyone else is for.

This is psychological reactance.

Psychological reactance manifests itself when someone feels the urge to resist what they’re being asked, influenced, or persuaded to do (or believe). It manifests itself when people do the thing that they are being asked not to do.

And it manifests itself when they refuse to do the thing they are asked to do.

This phenomenon is especially potent when it comes to things where people feel they may be losing some measure of freedom.

Related is the “Streisand effect.” That is, attempts to conceal information tend to increase people’s desire to know more about it, which can ultimately bring about its revelation.

We always want what we can’t have.

This is what makes propaganda so ineffective.

And everyone has a different degree of built-in psychological reactance. What works for one, might not work for the other.

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“It’s psychological warfare, just done with modern tools”

soldiers in a tank from the animatrix

There was a good segment on information warfare in one of the recent Mad Scientist podcasts.

The character of warfare has consistently changed over time, with technology evolving from edged weapons, bows and arrows, gunpowder, and battlefield mechanization, to more advanced technologies today, including long-range precision weapons, robotics, and autonomy.  However, warfare remains an intrinsic human endeavor, with varied and profound effects felt by Soldiers on the ground.  To explore this experience with those engaged in the tactical fight, we spoke with the following combat veterans, frontline reporters, and military training experts for this episode of The Convergence.

48. Through the Soldiers’ Eyes: The Future of Ground Combat

“It’s psychological warfare, just done with modern tools.”

Always has been.

The statue of liberty is kaput.

“Before the Russians conducted the major offensive, they were all getting cell phone messages saying ‘You’re all going to die,’ ‘Your commander betrayed you.’ It’s the equivalent of dropping leaflets over your enemies in other wars.”

“A lot of the aspects of airpower, for which it was originally conceived has been replaced by these modern electronic tools – whether it’s taking out infrastructure, degrading morale, [or] interfering with the command and control process.”

Nolan Peterson

Here’s what it looks like from someone on the receiving end.

“We got these messages saying something like ‘Ukrainian soldiers go home…’ – Really stupid stuff, it wasn’t effective, but we knew that they had the equipment that could pick up the cell numbers, scan, and send the message.”

Denys Antipov

There was also mention of how states engage in information warfare against one another, targeting not just each other, but those who are watching.

This is political warfare.

“That sort of thing is going to be background noise in future war and we need to figure out how to counter it because it’s going to be there. Our opponent is going to think that we’re in the right and that they’re winning and we’ve got to figure out how to deal with it.”

COL Scott Shaw

This is absolutely right. My only addition here is that for the most part, we don’t have to counter it, we have to ignore it.

Commanders everywhere feel a pressure to “do something” whenever something pops up in the information environment. That inclination is almost always wrong. It’s noise. It’s designed to get you to act.

Be patient.

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