Precursors to today's Influence Operations

In this post we are going to create a new Influence Operations definition that will be more applicable to both military and commercial audiences.

Throughout history, there have been a myriad of what could be seen as Influence operations where perpetrators used deception and guile to achieve their aims.

  • In Greek mythology, the trojan horse used to get into the city of Troy.
  • Chinese Strategist and General, Sun Tzu wrote about deception as part of his “Art of War.”
  • The Battle of Hastings, 1066 – The Norman Army unable to break the English line feigns a retreat to draw out the English forces and then turns on them and has a decisive victory.

It was not until World War 2 that “Deception Operations” were an integrated part of war planning with dedicated resources awarded to it. (Wheatley, 1976). The Invasion os Sicily in  1943 saw the allies go to great lengths to mask their intentions. A body with fake documents purporting to indicate the invasion was going to happen in Greece encourages the Axis powers to redistribute their forces to Greece thereby making the Invasion of Sicily a more palatable operation(Hinsley, 1994). Undoubtedly this deception saved lives.

Fast forward to the information age and the era of Cyberspace, and we now enter a new era of deception. The terms bandied about for this are wrapped up in Information Warfare, Information Operations and Influence Operations or if you are discussing Russian operations it would be Information Warfare, Hybrid war and “Active Measures.”

What is influence operations?

Influence Operations are a subset of Information Operations, which are in themselves a subset of Military Information Warfare doctrine. Traditionally these areas were under the tight control of the Military/Governments of that country. There were checks and balances in place that meant individuals could not go “rogue” and wage a campaign of their own. (Angstrom and Widen, 2018). Today it seems that more and more we hear about Russian Information operations or Influence operations from China trying to sway public opinion or push their narrative. (Recorded Futures, 2019).

You would have had to have been hiding under a rock for the past few years if you have not seen or witnessed Influence Operations at work in the media. In a declassified version of a highly classified intelligence report, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence states with authority that the Interference in 2016 was directly attributable to apparatus of the Russian state. President Putin, with the backing of the Russian Government, authorised the Russian Information operation (ODNI, 2017)

Likewise, the UK Leave.EU campaign for the UK to leave the European Union used the now-defunct Company Cambridge Analytica and the other leave campaigners Vote Leave whose tag line was “Take Back Control” used AggregateIQ to micro-target specific groups and individuals to motivate them to vote in the upcoming referendum about EU Membership. This manipulation of amplify their message via information operations on social media. (Collins et al., 2019)

As we can see Influence Operations seem to be carried out by multiple sections of society from the Independent companies,  up and through to the higher echelons of power in sovereign governments and all points in-between.  If we are to discuss Influence Operations in any detail, we need to remove the “noise” of the lower layers while not dispensing with the actors.  After all, as we will see, it is sometimes these actors at the lower levels whose influence the strategists wish to modify

Influence Operations

Definitions of Influence Operations

In this section, we will look at the current definitions of Influence Operation in a handful of military, political handbooks, and academic papers.

US Influence Operations is defined in multiple documents by multiple arms of the US Military.

The US Military doctrine defines Information operations as;

“The integrated employment, during military operations, of information-related capabilities in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own.” (Fecteau, 2019)

The above definition suggests that Information/Influence operations are carried out as part of a concerted Military operation. The Information Operations goal is to affect the targets decision-making process and thereby provide an advantage to the US Military forces conducting an operation.

Influence Operations fits into the wider US Information Operations definition

“The integrated employment of the core capabilities of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception, and operations security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own.” (Porche et al., 2013)

US Information Warfare doctrine as laid out in the above definition shows that it brings a plethora of discipline under the Information Warfare banner. We have already touched on Military deception in our precursor to Information Operations, where we talked about how Military deception has been used over the ages to deceive and confuse their adversaries. Computer network Operations (CNO) is a relatively new field. It defines three interrelated fields: Computer Network Attach, Computer Network Defense and Computer Network Exploitation. CNO has now all been rolled up into CyberSpace Operations and falls under the jurisdiction of US Cyber Command (United States Cyber Command, 2018). From both of the above definitions, you can see that the Military are the driving force with the training and skills to carry out the roll.

Looking at the United Kingdom Miltary, its definition of Influence Operations is much wider than the US;

“Co-ordinated actions undertaken to influence an adversary or potential adversary in support of political and military objectives by undermining his will, cohesion and decision- making ability, through affecting his information, information based processes and systems while protecting one’s own decision-makers and decision-making processes.” (Great Britain. Ministry of Defence, 2002)

Delving into the UK definition, we can surmise that the UK not only looks at Military but also politically motivated objectives as a way to sway opinion. The Influence Operations are designed to sway the opponents’ decision-making process and thereby bring about attitude change.

The American RAND corporation, in a study to enhance the US Militaries Influence Operations capability, defines Influence Operations as;

“Influence operations are the coordinated, integrated, and synchronized application of national diplomatic, informational, military, economic, and other capabilities in peacetime, crisis, conflict, and postconflict to foster attitudes, behaviours, or decisions by foreign target audiences that further U.S. interests and objectives.” ( Larson, Darilek, et al., 2009)

The RAND definition is very well rounded and covers all types of Influence Operations in any given situation from peacetime through to wartime. It covers the integration of several other facets in an information campaign all neatly wrapped up to facilitate the end goal of an opponent succumbing to the Influence Operations goal.

Chivvis, (2017) states that the Russian Federation uses a term called “Hybrid Warfare” to encompass its use of Influence Operations. The Russians bring the full spectrum of Political and Military power to bear on an operation if required though they would rather realise their outcome without having to fire a shot. The Russian “Active Measures” maintains a constant adversarial footing during peacetime which does not quite reach the definition of an Act of War. Therefore the Russians feel they can act with impunity as the chances of a response with kinetic measures is very low.

(Bergh, 2019) report on Social network-centric warfare brings another very interesting definition of what Influence Operations are in that sphere of influence;

“An influence operation in social media is the attempt by an initiating actor to interfere in the process of meaning making among a target audience outside their legal control by generating and/or distributing information through openly available social media platforms. A defending actor may attempt to stop or reduce the impact of such operations, whereas individuals or groups that generate and/or distribute the original or related information, but are not directly controlled by either side, are third party actors. It should be noted that by designating a concerted effort as an influence operation, influence is not guaranteed and any influence that takes place may not be what was intended. It is the attempt at influence that is covered by this term.”

Berghs’ definition clearly shows that Influence operations are not purely military and that any “initiating actor” can get involved in an influence operation. This is one of Berghs’ crucial point’s. You don’t have to be a Government or Military to conduct Influence operations. All that is required is for the “Initiating actor” to have a point they want to get across, and a means to deliver that point. Social Media provides this means.

The RAND definition is very well rounded and covers all types of Influence Operations in any given situation from peacetime through to wartime. It covers the integration of several other facets in an information campaign all neatly wrapped up to facilitate the end goal of an opponent succumbing to the Influence Operations goal.

Chivvis, (2017) states that the Russian Federation uses a term called “Hybrid Warfare” to encompass its use of Influence Operations. The Russians bring the full spectrum of Political and Military power to bear on an operation if required though they would rather realise their outcome without having to fire a shot. The Russian “Active Measures” maintains a constant adversarial footing during peacetime which does not quite reach the definition of an Act of War. Therefore the Russians feel they can act with impunity as the chances of a response with kinetic measures is very low.

Bergh, (2019) report on Social network-centric warfare brings another very interesting definition of what Influence Operations are in that sphere of influence;

A New Definition Of Influence Operations

Having reflected on the above definitions, I believe an appropriate definition for our use would be based on the following.

“Influence Operations are the coordinated, integrated, and synchronised application of disruptive capabilities to influence, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of a group or individual, to foster attitudes, behaviours, or decisions of the targeted audience that further the goals, interests and objectives of the instigating party.”

This new definition of Influence Operations, removes the heavy bonding illustrated in other definitions between Military and Nation-State influence. As we will see as we move through future posts Influence operations is no longer just conducted by these entities

We can use our new definition to guide our research on the effect of Influence Operations on the general populace.

Afterthoughts

The following quote by the Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower Christopher Wylie is particularly poignant. It shows to what lengths some sections of humanity will go to, to shift the views of the populace to achieve their end goal.

“If you want to fundamentally change society you first have to break it. It’s only when you break it is when you can remould the pieces to your vision of a new society. This was the weapon that Steve Bannon wanted to use to fight his culture wars.”

While conducting my research for this post, I came across this quote by Major-General Graham Binns

“We conduct all operations in order to influence people and events, to bring about change, whether by 155mm artillery shells or hosting visits: these are all influence operations. We sought to make use of every lever we had to influence events.” (Angstrom and Widen, 2018)

I believe the quote by the General perfectly sums up Influence operations. You use the whole gamut of options you have at your disposal to affect change/influence over your targeted audience whether it be Kenetic weapons or jolly good hand-shakes.

Reference

Angstrom, J. and Widen, J.J., 2018. Land operations. Contemporary Military Theory, pp.110–128.

Bergh, A., 2019. FFI-RAPPORT Social network centric warfare. [online] Available at: <https://ffi-publikasjoner.archive.knowledgearc.net/bitstream/handle/20.500.12242/2623/01194.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y>.

Chivvis, C.., 2017. Understanding Russian “Hybrid Warfare” and What Can be Done About It. [online] Available at: <https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/testimonies/CT400/CT468/RAND_CT468.pdf>.

Collins, D., Efford, C., Elliott, J., Farrelly, P., Hart, S., Knight, J., Lucas, I.C., O’Hara, B., Pow, R., Stevens, J. and Watling, G., 2019. Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report: Eighth Report of Session 2017–19. [online] (February), pp.1–109. Available at: <https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/digital-culture-media-and-sport-committee/>.

Eric V. Larson, Richard E. Darilek, Daniel Gibran, Brian Nichiporuk, Amy Richardson, Lowell H. Schwartz, C., 2009. Foundations of Effective Influence Operations. [online] Available at: <https://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG654.html>.

Fecteau, M.., 2019. Understanding Influence Operations and Information Warfare. [online] Global Security Review. Available at: <https://globalsecurityreview.com/understanding-information-operations-information-warfare/> [Accessed 29 Sep. 2019].

Great Britain. Ministry of Defence, 2002. Joint Warfare Publication 3-80: Information Operations. Joint Warfare Publication – 3-80 – Influence Operations, p.55.

Hinsley, F.H., 1994. British Intelligence in the Second World War: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations. 2nd ed. HMSO.

ODNI, 2017. Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections (Intelligence Community Assessment). [online] (6 January), pp.1–25. Available at: <https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf>.

Porche, I.R., Paul, C., York, M., Serena, C.C., Sollinger, J.M., Axelband, E., Min, E.Y. and Held, B.J., 2013. Redefining Information Warfare Boundaries for an Army in a Wireless World. [online] RAND Corporation. Available at: <https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/j.ctt3fh1qp.19>.

Recorded Futures, 2019. Beyond Hybrid War : How China Exploits Social Media to Sway American Opinion. [online] Available at: <https://www.recordedfuture.com/china-social-media-operations/>.

United States Cyber Command, 2018. JP 3-12 Cyberspace operations. Joint Publication 3-12, [online] (June 2018). Available at: <http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/jp3_12.pdf?ver=2018-07-16-134954-150%0Awww.e-publishing.af.mil>.

Wheatley, D., 1976. Deception in World War II. The RUSI Journal, [online] 121(3), pp.87–88. Available at: <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03071847609421263>.