The Defense Department has issued a new publication outlining joint doctrine on the use of "information operations," according to Secrecy News. Which might make you think the Pentagon has some new rules for keeping computers safe. But Information operations is used for a wide range of military operations designed "to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own," according to the document, officially known as Joint Publication 3-13. The doctrine document follows the 2003 publication of a DOD "Information Operations Roadmap", which outlined plans for developing capabilities needed to achieve information dominance. Microwave blasts, propaganda campaigns, radio jams, and hack attacks are all part of the plan. In fact, the range of tactics that are part of "information operations" is so wide that the term risks confusing the uninitiated. So heres a primer.
First of all, the term "information warfare," which in the past has been widely used as a synonym for information operations and some of its various component disciplines, is now defunct. The new doctrine removes it as a term "from joint IO doctrine." So purge it from your vocabulary if you want to be doctrinally correct.
What kind of operations can be classified as information operations? Joint Publication 3-13 lists "electronic warfare (EW), computer network operations (CNO), psychological operations (PSYOP), military deception (MILDEC), and operations security (OPSEC)" as part of IO. In other words, jamming enemy radios (EW), hacking into adversary computer networks (CNO), broadcasting radio messages into enemy territory to encourage surrender (PSYOP), deceiving foes about where and when an attack is coming (MILDEC) and protecting friendly communications from spying (OPSEC) are all information operations.
At first, all this seems almost to make sense. The disciplines in question all seem to bear some tenuous relation to the use or communication of information. But the more one examines IOs subsidiary disciplines, the more it becomes clear that information operations is a bewilderingly big umbrella.
For example, the document defines electronic warfare as "any military action involving the use of electromagnetic (EM) and directed energy to control the EM spectrum or to attack the adversary." Directed energy includes, among other things, lasers. So zapping a target with a laser (sure to be more common in years to come) is information operations. At the same time, a PSYOPs campaign to place ghost-written op-eds in newspapers la DOD contractor the Lincoln Group is also information operations. Installing virus protection software on a DOD computer? You guessed it: information operations. Heck, even putting those weird OPSEC posters on the walls of the Pentagon is information operations.
Confused yet? No need to be. Just remember this: information operations is a catch-all term for a variety of military operations, most of which are somehow related to information, computers or the electromagnetic spectrum, and which don?t easily fit into any doctrinal box. Meanwhile, stay tuned for a future update to Joint Publication 3-13, in which the term information operations is sure to be summarily banished from joint doctrine.--Hampton Stephens