November 1, 2009  

Misinformed on IO

I’m concerned by the overuse of the term “information operations” (IO) in Armed Forces Journal and a number of other recent publications, particularly when attributed to our adversaries.

In the U.S., our IO doctrine is spelled out in JP 3-13: Information operations are “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.”

Unfortunately, few people outside the IO community understand the definition — and even fewer (including many in the IO community) understand how these diverse disciplines are theoretically combined into an effective IO plan. At the service level, each branch understands the term differently — with more or less emphasis based on the individual service competency or viewpoint. For example, most soldiers think of IO as influence operations, and PSYOP is predominant. For the Air Force, it’s mostly about CNO. In the final analysis, IO is a horrible term — it is at once everything and nothing. It can mean almost anything you want it to and is often used to mean very different things. So, I’m concerned when I see it used in articles such as Frank Hoffman’s “Hybrid vs. compound war: The Janus choice” [October] or in David Kilkullen’s book “The Accidental Guerrilla” to describe what the enemy does. Primarily, when people use the term “information operations” to describe the adversaries’ actions in the battlespace, they mean propaganda. They are talking about influence operations — not the integrated employment of EW, CNO, PSYOP, MILDEC and OPSEC. Even if we were to attribute their activities to what we in the U.S. call PSYOP, I think the definition would fall short. The U.S. definition of PSYOP, for example, does not include such activities as armed propaganda.

I’d like to see the term “information operations” removed from our lexicon. Instead of using such an imprecise term, it would be better to say what we mean. Maybe if our adversaries start to employ EW, CNO, PSYOP, MILDEC and OPSEC in an integrated way, we could call it information operations. Otherwise, if we really mean that the enemy is using propaganda and intimidation, we should say they are using propaganda and intimidation. I think most of us could at least agree on what those terms mean.

Lt. Col. Ken Beebe, Air Force

San Antonio