Information operations · Information Warfare · Public Diplomacy · Strategic Communications

Definitions for IO and IW, a common sense approach


I read an interesting article this morning, one of the authors even has experience with Army IO.  He and his partner tried to make the case that Turkey had waged an Information Operation to expose the Kashoggi assassination by Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi Case- Analysis of an Information Operation – Security Studies Group.

When I read the article, I coughed up a furball. Figuratively, of course. This was definitely not an IO campaign.

I sent a response to my respected colleague who sent it to me.  I said, basically, that the article lacked even the basic components of an IO campaign or operation.  My colleague agreed, the authors did not make the case.  Furthermore, some of their assumptions were not accurate.

Normally I might have blogged the article and ripped it apart with an editorial.  I realized, however, that there are no accepted definitions for many of the phrases they used, and this might be the cause for problems within the article.  There is a definition for Information Operations in the Department of Defense but there is a problem of context.

According to Joint Pub 3-13, “IO are the integrated employment, during military operations, of IRCs in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own.”  IRCs are Information Related Capabilities, which are not limited to computer networks and the internet, but also includes books, face to face talk, a speech, a sermon, magazines, telephone, and related communication means, etc.

A wee bit of the history about the term Information Operations. When the Department of Defense first began to do influence operations using information in the early 1990s, they used the term Information Warfare.  Policy, Doctrine, and guidelines were written and staffed (meaning passed around for comments) to all parts of the US government. The Department of State objected to the term Information Warfare, if they were to cooperate with the Department of Defense on this matter, the term Information Warfare was not acceptable.  Why?  Because it contained the word warfare and State doesn’t do warfare.  The term Information Operations was proposed and accepted. The term Information Warfare was dropped from the Pentagon’s Joint Staff term lexicon, Joint Publication 1-02, the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, in 2006. Now the term Information Warfare is used by the US Navy as a euphemism for cryptology and loosely for IO. This is further confused because the Department of Defense’s “Center of Excellence for IO” is at the US Naval Postgraduate School. The term, Information Warfare is not official and is not defined – but is widely used and abused by reporters, writers, and anyone writing about the war of words being waged by Russia and others. I constantly abuse the term.  

Proposal

I propose, therefore, a common sense approach to these terms.

First, the basics.

Information Operations.  An operation using information.

Information Warfare. Warfare using information.

Now I add an objective. Borrowing from JP 3-13’s definition of IO we have: “to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own”.

Now we add the means by which we do influence operations.  “the integrated employment of IRCs in concert with other lines of operation”.  Of course, for the Department of Defense, we add in “during military operations”.

Putting it all together we have:

Information Operations (IO)

IO are the integrated employment of IRCs in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own.

Information Warfare (IW)

IW is the integrated employment, during military operations, of IRCs in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own.

Quite simply, the Department of Defense does Information Warfare and everybody else does Information Operations.

I’ve just thrown a wrench into the comfortable state of affairs in the Information Environment at the Operational and Strategic levels of politics and war.  I am convinced we should have used these terms from the beginning. This just makes sense.

There are two additional terms we should throw into the mix.  Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy.

Public Diplomacy (PD)

PD is under the purview or the operational control of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. The acting head is currently Heather Nauert.

Strategic Communications (SC)

SC is a contentious term. Each year the Vice President is supposed to write a “White House National Framework for Strategic Communication” report for the White House, which contains a ‘definition’, but that is not the way to ‘officially’ define any term. This document also somewhat defines and places responsibility for Public Diplomacy.

According to the Framework, “strategic communication(s} are: (a) the synchronization of words and deeds and how they will be perceived by selected audiences, as well as (b) programs and activities deliberately aimed at communicating and engaging with intended audiences, including those implemented by public affairs, public diplomacy, and information operations professionals.”

Wikipedia contains three “official definitions” for SC. All three are different, therefore none are official. Either that or at least two were uncoordinated.

Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications (DNSA/SC)

Monica Crowley departed this position in early 2017 and the post has not been filled since.

  • This is the key position in the US government that must coordinate, synchronize, and prioritize SC, IO, IW, and PD operations.
  • This is the person who should initiate the creation of a national information strategy, guiding our SC, IO, IW, and PD.
  • This is the person who should interact with foreign counterparts as well as our own Intelligence Community.
  • This person should establish a methodology for establishing and maintaining official US definitions for information operations (notice lower case).

This position must be filled.

Influence Operations

Overall, IW, IO, PD, and SC are all types of influence operations. IW, IO, PD, and SC are “the integrated employment of IRCs in concert with other lines of operation” in order “to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own“.

Bottom Line

We lack practical definitions for IO, IW, SC, and PD. We lack adequate degrees of separation between the terms, the use and abuse of these terms is bleeding into articles and reference material more frequently. Even practitioners of IO, IW, SC, and PD are confused.

  1. IW is what the Department of Defense does, and IO, PD, and SC are what the rest of the US government does.
  2. We should establish a methodology for establishing and maintaining official definitions for the US government.
  3. The position of Deputy Director for National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications (DDNSA/SC) must be filled immediately.

I do not have an immediate answer for the difference between IO and SC, if this was to happen. Perhaps the term IO is no longer necessary.

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Russian Information Warfare.

In the case of Russia, I feel quite comfortable calling what they do Information Warfare, basically synonymous with the phrase political warfare, because every part of the Russian Government is a tool to be used to wage war against the West. There are no degrees of separation between any part of the Russian government when it comes to information warfare.

The key discriminator between Russian Information Warfare and what is done in the West, in both Information Operations and Information Warfare, is that the IO and IW of the West is legal, ethical, and moral. What Russia does is immoral, unethical, and often illegal.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Definitions for IO and IW, a common sense approach

  1. Joel – agree with your proposals re IO and IW in general and the suggested revised definitions. However, would you not consider Hybrid Warfare as the process practiced by the Russians instead of limiting to IW?

    1. Alan, you are correct. Russian Hybrid Warfare, Russian Information Warfare, and Political Warfare are all a part of what Russia is waging against the West.

      The problem is, once again, a lack of definitions as well as a lack of commitment by the US’ administration. What is being done should be viewed as a threat to national security and prioritized near the top.

      Much more left unsaid…

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