Tag: information

How to Win the War of Words

CPT Kimbrell argues that the United States isn’t fighting effectively in the information environment and current bureaucratic fixes are not enough, but there is hope if the Global Engagement Center can deliver on its stated implementation plan.

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On Protecting Information

By Captain John Goodwin

The value of information lies in its power to guide human action and, like anything of value, merits protection.  Since the beginning of civilization, nation states sought to control information in the interest of security. Information as power manifests most clearly in the domain of military competition wherein knowledge of an adversary enables adventitious decision-making. Succinctly aphorized by Sun Zu (孫子) “know self know other, hundred battles, no peril” (知己知彼百戰不殆), the ancient military theorist recognized information as fundamental to military success.  However, information security policy in the United States progressed haphazardly. Historical information security practices developed from various sources, and often lagged behind other nations. Prior to its era of global engagement, the United States faced a much lower risk from information compromise than it does today.  This paper presents a brief history of American information security development to revel tendencies of belated implementation. As an ever evolving discipline, this reflection also highlights the adaptive character information security policy must maintain to remain effective.

On June 12, 1776, the Continental Congress formed “A Board of War and Ordnance” and with it an oath of secrecy. New government employees took the following oath:  

I do solemnly swear, that I will not directly or indirectly divulge any manner or thing which shall come to my knowledge as (clerk, secretary) of the board of War and Ordnance for the United Colonies. . . So help me God.”[i]

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ISIS’s Achilles Heel

Image courtesy of the Washington Post. By Major Matt Cavanaugh ISIS is getting high marks – both for the territory that it’s seized (roughly the size of Indiana) – and for it’s use of the media.  Consider...

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Learning from the Summer Wars of 2014

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

*Note: This essay is based on remarks to be delivered on Tuesday, 19 August 2014, at the Defense & Strategic Studies War Council event, “Summer Wars: ISIS, Ukraine, and Gaza.”

The Oxford historian Margaret McMillan recently related a story taken from the opening scenes of World War I: 

“The leading newspaper editor in Berlin took his family to Belgium on July 27, 1914. Before he went, he checked with the German Foreign Secretary.  He asked, ‘There’s a bit of a crisis developing – do you think it’s safe to take my family to Belgium?’  The German Foreign Secretary responded: ‘oh yes, don’t worry, it’ll all be over by next week.'”

Unfortunately, we can see the same complacency today. The New York Times recently described an analysis of campaign advertisements from July 2014. Of the 1,155 ads, only 49, or about 4%, were about any subject even remotely resembling foreign policy.  Despite all that is happening in Iraq and Syria, Ukraine, and in Gaza – on some broad level – what happens beyond the water’s edge is for someone else to care about. 

Thankfully, anyone reading this essay is cut from a slightly different bolt of cloth.  There’s interest in what goes on overseas, or, in seeing the world as it is.  Any reader on War Council is naturally inclined to study the use of force, particularly warm and hot battlefields.  Like storm chasers, often, the closer you get the better you’ll understand the wind patterns and trends.   However, if you can’t get to the precise center (or vortex), what follows are some things I think you might deem important to consider in your observations of Iraq (and Syria/ISIS), Ukraine, and Gaza from afar – so you can better understand the environment we live (and may fight) in.


With respect to Iraq, did the U.S. “win” or “lose” there?  Does that even matter?  Consider the complexity, the many sides, which I’ve referred to previously as a Rubik’s cube war.  ISIS defies definition.  I’ve heard former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell refer to the group as a “terrorist army,” typically a contradiction in terms.   

Some suggest that airpower is the solution to stopping ISIS.  But we should start by asking what airpower can do.  Simply put, airpower is great at engagement, but provides no sustained commitment – as Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins has put it, airpower is kind of a one-night stand in that respect.  Moreover, one should ask: when is airpower effective?  Since November 1911, when an Italian pilot dropped three hand grenades out of his monoplane at some Turks in Libya, there have been two general conditions for success in airpower:

            1. If the enemy moves in open terrain; no cover or concealment (i.e. desert).

            2. If the enemy has no air force or useful anti-aircraft weapons to speak of.

Reasonable military judgment would conclude from this basic analysis that we cannot compel ISIS to victory through airpower as they will (for now) be able to take shelter in cities like Mosul.  They can still find sanctuary through the cover that cities and populations provide.  However, airpower can deny them open traffickability and supply routes in between the cities they hold – and that’s very valuable. That forces adaptation in their behavior.  In car racing, there’s an old adage that “you win in the turns.”  Similarly we might be able to break something loose if ISIS handles this strategic adjustment poorly.

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Essay Campaign #13: A Tool, Not a Limitation – Decentralizing Execution to Proactively Shape Public Opinion

Summer Essay Campaign #13: “A Tool, Not a Limitation – Decentralizing Execution to Proactively Shape Public Opinion”

To Answer Question #8: “How does public opinion shape military operations – and vice versa?”

By First Lieutenant James Schmitt, USAF

The members of the Profession of Arms are by now well-versed on the importance of public opinion. Public opinion, at home or abroad, has been the defining characteristic of the US military’s last two wars. With sensitivity towards popular opinion already well-instilled in current and future warfighters, leaders must turn to the practical ramifications of the focus on public opinion at the strategic and tactical levels. The present command and control structure for managing public opinion inhibits both the development of strategic aims and the optimization of tactics to achieve national objectives. To ameliorate both problems, theater commanders should shift their focus from optimizing rules of engagement (ROE) to translating strategic goals into operational aims, while junior commanders take on the burden of shaping their tactics to meet the theater commander’s intent.

Recent initiatives to shape public opinion have focused on resolving crises caused by civilian casualties. Theater commanders are faced with pressure from national leadership to reduce these casualties due to their strategic damage; in the War in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has been known to limit operational authority in response to civilian casualties. Faced with the need to act, theater commanders take the most immediate step: amending the rules of operation for forces under their authority. In response to a 2011 helicopter attack that killed several children for example, General David Petraeus, then commander of US forces in Afghanistan, ordered a review of the tactical directives given to combat troops. This approach allows senior leadership to present tangible evidence of action taken to domestic and foreign leadership. However, redefining theater-level ROE is not an effective means of resolving tactical problems, even if the crises generated strategic ramifications.

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Essay Campaign #8: Integrating the Message and the Fist

Summer Essay Campaign #8: “Integrating the Message and the Fist”

To Answer Question #6: “How does an officer integrate information operations and kinetic tactical actions?”

By Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Bazin

Since even before the Greeks used deception to sack Troy, information, disinformation, secrets, and lies have played a central role in military operations.  Arguably, an officer’s primary weapons system is information. To bring to bear the warfighting functions and accomplish any mission, an officer must think critically and continually communicate information up and down the chain.  Equally, any military action conveys a message to adversaries and other key stakeholders.  So, if information holds a fundamental place in officer business, just how should an officer integrate information operations and tactical kinetic actions?

The world of information operations is complex and getting even more so every day.  As such, there are many different opinions on what exactly comprises information operations and many officers conflate and confuse with information operations with cyber.  To diverge from a known point, joint doctrine currently defines information operations as:

The integrated employment of electronic warfare (EW), computer network operations (CNO), psychological operations (PSYOP), military deception (MILDEC), and operations security (OPSEC), in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own.

            The first portion of this definition describes the tools in the toolbox (EW, CNO, PSYOP, MILDEC, and OPSEC).  The second portion describes the desired outcomes (to influence, disrupt, corrupt, usurp, or protect).  This definition provides the means at an officer’s disposal and describes desired ends.  Next, to get after the real question, this post will discuss some of the nuanced ways to handle information operations in the contemporary context.

Understand Authorities and Redlines

            Many of the tools of information operations are extremely powerful. As such, very high levels of command tightly control their employment.   First and foremost, officer’s must know what the limits what they are allowed to do and what they cannot do.  Just like any centrally controlled support capability, (e.g., artillery, CAS, etc.) it is incumbent on the tactical commander to request what capability they need.  In the future, tactical commanders may have more authority to synchronize local information operations independently, but today that is the exception not the rule.

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