Information operations · Information Warfare

IO Qualification: “He Or She Gets It”

I’m feeling good.

A very respected colleague, in a very respectable position of importance, just wrote to me saying, ‘You’re the only one who got my Facebook post!’

The subject was information warfare, what it is, what it is not, and so on.

We had a conversation, yesterday, about Information Operations, Information Warfare, Influence Operations, Strategic Communications, Public Diplomacy, Public Relations, and all the other names by which what we do is known.  We now need to include counter-propaganda, counter-disinformation, counter-misinformation, counter-information warfare, and so on.

This morning I had a respectable exchange with some other professional colleagues, wanting to have and use one of the strategies I just wrote, for their purposes.

I wasn’t comfortable sharing. I want the recognition for being the author, I want to be paid for all the hard work, I want to keep the strategy as pure as possible, and I do not want it mucked up as a ‘cyber strategy’. Information Warfare/Influence and Cyber work together but are not synonymous. When I saw the concept of “Cyber-Influence Teams” thrown around during the conversation, I had to groan. I knew they did not “get it”.  I’ve known at least two of the people in the conversation for 20 years, but they’re cyber purists. It felt exactly how IO was treated back in the early days, in the mid-90s.  A plan would be written, then the Commander or the Operations Officer would say “IO guy, sprinkle some IO stuff on this plan!”  In other words, they didn’t get the sheer potential of IO, did not understand that IO needs to be an integral part of the planning process from the very beginning, and, as a result, the full potential of IO would not be realized.  Here it is 2017 and the same basic semantic and ideological battles are still being fought. It doesn’t help that IO at OSD has ceased to exist and nobody has been named the head of IO at OSD.  It doesn’t help that nobody is named and working as the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications in the White House. It does not help that nobody is named and working as the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the Department of State.

Which brings me to my last point. “He/she gets it”, that has been the qualifier since the mid-1990s for Information Operations (IO). Someone can read and write IO word, line, and verse, but unless they understand the nuances of how it works together and, more importantly, the potential and limitations, they don’t “get it”.  I’ve met and worked with a few of them through the years, the ones that do not “get it”.  The lights were on but there was nobody home.

I’ll tell you what.  I do not know if SECDEF Mattis gets IO or not, but I do know he understands the limitations.  On 14 August 2008, he wrote a memorandum, as the commander of JFCOM, doing away with Effects Based Operations.  To grossly paraphrase, he said ‘we do not understand the human psyche sufficiently and we lack the computing power necessary to deal with all the variables to predict the outcome.’

In the same vein, I do not know if anybody at the national level understands Strategic Communications, Influence Operations, Public Diplomacy, Information Operations, or how information functions as an element of national power.  At first glance, the appointment of Monica Crowley as the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications displayed a lack of understanding of what the position actually was supposed to do.  It would take years of patience, hand-holding, and extensive lessons to teach someone, even of her intellect, what the position entailed.

I just hope whoever is finally put into that position “gets it”.


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