Events such as interference in the 2016 election are demonstrating how the internet has amplified the reach and impact of age-old military tactics such as information or influence operations.
These new cyber-enabled information operations have many in the U.S. government and thought leadership community concerned both about the United States' ability to counter and coordinate similar activities, especially given the the Department of Defense divested a lot of its information-related capability at the conclusion of the Cold War.
Many in Congress and in the academic community, as such, have called upon U.S. Cyber Command as the likely organization to orchestrate these types of activities.
Adm. Mike Rogers, then CYBERCOM’s commander, told Congress in 2017 that it had not been asked to conduct cognitive operations, information warfare or the changing of public opinion, noting at the time that was not in its defined set of responsibilities, per se. He did note, however, that there are things CYBERCOM had done in the information space for combatant commanders, citing the fight against the Islamic State group.
Despite the divestiture of information capabilities after the Cold War, top officials have argued that the trajectory of operations and the dynamic environment of cyberspace and information could lead to an integration of the two.
“In the future, and I’ve said this actually to several audiences recently, maybe three or five years from now it’s not going to be U.S. Cyber Command, maybe it’s going to be U.S. Information Warfare Operations Command,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, commander of Army Cyber Command, said at a July 18 event hosted by the Association of Old Crows on Capitol Hill. “Maybe instead of Army Cyber Command it will be Army Information Warfare Operations Command.”
A few months prior to his confirmation to succeed Rogers as leader of CYBERCOM, then Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, who commanded Army Cyber and the counter-ISIS cyber offensive known as Joint Task Force-Ares, told Congress that as part of those operations the information component was the piece of JTF-Ares he learned the most about.
In a paper published in 2017 outlining what the “cyber domain” should include and where DoD should operate within that sphere, National Defense University professor Alex Crowther identifies “information” as one of four areas where DoD should focus mission sets for military cyber.
Some in the academic community are concerned that the DoD enterprise isn’t seeing the big picture of the fusion of cyberspace and the information environment, as exemplified by Russia’s use of cyber-enabled influence operations.
Similarly, Fogarty, who until May was chief of staff at CYBERCOM, warned that if DoD isn’t careful, it could become very narrowly focused within the cyber domain and not the entirety of the information environment, which now includes using cyberspace to access and disseminate information for influence purposes.
Doctrine and organization hasn’t caught up yet, Fogarty added, but they’re doing work to see what that would look like and how all that is going to come together.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.