A new guide from the U.S. Army tells soldiers thinking about information warfare missions to consider a simple task: build a street map.
Such a map should include details about if a United Nations representative is nearby, whether a natural disaster took place and what kind of graffiti covers the walls. Layered with different attributes, events and details about communications, the map could provide a clear picture of which messages may work in specific locations.
That 118-page guide, named “The Conduct of Information Operations,” was released in October and is a fusion of cyber and information warfare that describes how the Army wants to conduct future missions.
“It provides Army leaders and [information operations] professionals with the essential information necessary to integrate IO effectively into their unit’s operation,” Lt. Col Joey Sullinger, a public affairs officer at the Army Combined Arms Center, whom Fifth Domain was referred to by other Army officials, in an email. “All members of the Army Profession ensure they conduct IO in accordance with the moral principles of the Army Ethic.”
The manual takes operators through a multi-stage process of information warfare. In each of the Army’s six battle phases ― which range from the initial “shape” stage to the final “enable civil authority” step ― the guide suggests a tactic for spreading information. Those steps may range from monitoring persons of interest, disrupting communications or cyberattacks.
The Army guide for information warfare comes as the service has focused on combining cyber and information operations with physical attacks. Part of the strategy was informed from when the Pentagon monitored how the Russian military was able to combine cyber, information and physical operations in the Ukraine starting in 2014, according to Pentagon officials.
The new manual also includes a focus on social media, which is described as “a dominant aspect of the information environment.” However, the Army cautions that outlets such as Twitter and Facebook can be used for more than spreading propaganda. Social media should be viewed as a form of intelligence gathering as well, the manual reads.
Yet while the new guides provides a technical step-by-step process of when to use information warfare, it stresses that a coherent narrative is critical. “The why of operations comes down to credibility and legitimacy,” it reads.
Christopher Paul, a senior social scientist at the Rand Corporation, a California-based think tank, said that the Pentagon was previously hesitant about conducting information operations through the internet because Defense Department leaders did not want to risk the possibility of their influence messages inadvertently reaching Americans.
The guide also comes as experts say the U.S. Army lags behind other nations when it comes to information operations.
“The U.S. Army does not have the same level of over-match in the [information environment] that it maintains in the land domain,” said a 2018 study by the Rand Corporation. A tripartite deficiency in capacity, planning, and authorities are the causes of the information warfare gaps, according to the Rand report.
However, the Rand study concluded that if the Army wanted to become more effective in information operations and catch up with other countries, it might have to change some its values.
“Some other actors operate in a virtually unconstrained fashion, while the Army operates in accordance with its authority and guided by statutes, policies, and ethics.”
Justin Lynch is the Associate Editor at Fifth Domain. He has written for the New Yorker, the Associated Press, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, and others. Follow him on Twitter @just1nlynch.