WASHINGTON — The military is working to have information operations specialists work alongside cyber operators as a way to have greater impact in what defense officials call the information environment.
While much of the influence and information operations perpetrated in recently years – including during the 2016 presidential election – seem revolutionary, officials argue they are part of an old playbook, which now has a larger reach with the speed and reach of the internet. As a result, cyberspace becomes the vehicle to deliver these operations, though academics have been careful not to characterize them as cyber operations but rather cyber-enabled influence operations.
But now, as the military looks to thwart such activity from adversaries in the cyber realm – and conduct its own information operations – it needs specialists in information, for which cyber operators don’t typically conduct.
“We’ve actually opened up the aperture over the last couple of years with really working hard to figure out how we integrate the information operations component,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, commander of Army Cyber Command said during an NDIA hosted virtual event Oct. 28. “As we have conducted offensive operations in support of the combatant commanders that we support and U.S. Cyber Command, we really initially were conducting very exquisite cyber operations and it would create sometimes great effect, but we really observed that there was something missing.”
Army Cyber Command has been in the midst of a transformation for the last 18 months to evolve beyond cyber operations and have added electronic warfare and information operations to its purview. Instead, leaders are moving toward what they now call information advantage.
“We’re using cyberspace to reach out through the electromagnetic spectrum to either deliver content or deliver effects," Fogarty said. “What we’re seeing is we’re able to greatly amplify the effects of what had been before just a cyberspace operation.”
Fogarty described integrating the various “tribes” of cyber operators, information operations and psychological operations.
“We’re not trying to turn every cyber operator into an information operator, psychological operations operator. What we’ve found, the real benefit is bringing all three together,” he said.
This has manifested itself with work his force does for the Information Warfare Task Force in Afghanistan supporting Operation Resolute Support.
Additionally, officials have described a variety of cross functional teams Army Cyber Command has created within its new Information Warfare Operations Center. The goal of these cross functional teams is to sprinkle information related capabilities across the combatant commands they support.
The creation of these teams and the integration of information operators and electronic warfare personnel is part of Army Cyber Command’s overall transformation. These personnel will be spread across and aid the cyber operators working beneath cyber teams Army provides and commands beneath U.S. Cyber Command.
“The challenges comes when people define their jobs as only cyber and not like ‘this is the mission’,” Ed Cardon, the former commander of Army Cyber Command and the first commander of Joint Task Force Ares – the cyber offensive against ISIS – said during a virtual event hosted by AFCEA’s Alamo chapter and Information Professionals Association Oct. 29. “Sometime it may be cyber heavy, sometimes it may be IO heavy, sometimes it may be EW heavy, but they all have a role. The problem comes when one tries to dominate over the other and it creates, I call, the human factors problem, which actually affects mission accomplishment.”
He said during the ISIS operations, military leaders were able to build a team focused on the sole mission of bringing down ISIS. They weren’t worried about branches or specialties. Joint Task Force Ares is held up as one of the key examples in DoD for integrating cyber and information effects to confuse and frustrate the terrorist entity.
The other service cyber components have also articulated a similar integrated approach.
“The team construct is critical and it’s also vital in the synergistic approach of integrating all domains … it’s not just an individual, it’s not an individual operator,” Vice Adm. Ross Myers, commander of Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet said during the same event.
Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, commander of 16th Air Force/Air Forces Cyber, the Air Force’s information warfare command, said leaders want to create an information warfare culture in which everyone understands how everything comes together to produce an outcome.
“You need experts across every discipline, we don’t want everybody to try to make one of each or try and make one standard. It really has to be deep expertise in some of these areas and how we bring it together also becomes part of the professional development,” he said at the same event.
Haugh has said that his force seeks to expose disinformation as a means of combating it on a daily basis while also injecting truth through a variety of means.
But, he said, the foundation is data in determining the best way to expose or combat that misinformation.
“The foundation of all of this still comes back to what data and information are you able to leverage, how quickly can you bring coherence to that, either machine to machine or human to machine and then be able to determine what is the right outlet to be able to impose a cost for someone that’s trying to inject into a critical process for the United States,” he said during a virtual panel as part of CyberCon hosted by C4ISRNET Oct. 28.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.