Information operations

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In United States and NATO doctrine, information operations (IO) are "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. Also called IO."[1]

Primary Activities in Information Operations

Electronic warfare

For more information, see: Electronic warfare.

Broadly speaking, electronic warfare involves:[1]

Computer network operations

Much like electronic warfare, this discipline, primarily involving software, has three parts:[1]

  • computer network exploitation enabling operations
  • computer network attack
  • computer network defense


For more information, see: deception.

While the first warfare may have involved hitting one's opponent over the head with a rock, having a fellow warrior distract the enemy such that he appears the threat, while you get even closer, happened very early in prehistory.

In circa 400 BC, Sun Tzu said "All warfare is deception." [2]

Over the centuries, deception has become much more extensive. During the First World War, the activity was less formally managed than in later years, but there were notable activities, such as by the controversial British colonel, Richard Meinertzhagen.[3]

In the Second World War, strategic deception was managed at the highest command levels by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. The London Controlling Staff (LCS) was the chief British organization, which guided its U.S. counterpart, Joint Security Control (JSC). [4] Deception, by the broader Russian term maskirovka, is probably more embedded in Russian military thought than in any other nation. [5]

Advanced technologies, such as measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT), have been valued when they bring special capabilities for detecting deception.

Operations security

This is more of a measure to support covert action, rather than an action in and of itself. It prevents the opponent from identifying what the covert actor intends to do, or has done.

Psychological operations

The core of psychological operations is propaganda, which was once a neutral term referring to any information issued by governments.

United States

Historically, many of the military and civilian covert action organizations of the United States came from psychological warfare, rather than existing intelligence operations.

Definitions below come from the Operations Coordinating Board (OCB), which, in 1954, was the White House organization that approved or disapproved covert and clandestine activities.[6] Policy-level control has always been under the Department of State.

In U.S. doctrine, the term "propaganda", without further qualification, is intended to be descriptive and emotionally neutral:

Any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to

influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the

sponsor, either directly or indirectly.[1]

In the Second World War, the Office of Strategic Services was spawned from the interim Coordinator of Information, William J. Donovan. OSS held the responsibility for "gray" and "black" propaganda, while the Office of War Information produced "white propaganda". United States Army Special Forces were created by the Psychological Operations Division of the Army Staff.

Of the three general types of propaganda, white, gray and black, white is overt while gray and black are covert.[7]

White propaganda

White is acknowledged as a statement of U.S. Government policy, or emanates from a source associated closely enough with the U.S. Government to reflect an official viewpoint. The information is true and factual. It also includes all output identified as coming from U.S. official sources.

Gray propaganda

The source of gray propaganda is deliberately ambiguous.

The true source (U.S. Government) is not revealed to the target audience. The activity engaged in plausibly appears to emanate from a non-official American source, or an indigenous, non-hostile source, or there may be no attribution.

Gray is that information whose content is such that the effect will be increased if the hand of the U.S. Government and in some cases any American participation are not revealed. It is simply a means for the U.S. to present viewpoints which are in the interest of U.S. foreign policy, but which will be acceptable or more acceptable to the intended target audience than will an official government statement.[6]

Responsibility for gray is assigned to the [designee of the controlling organization (CO)], USIA and State. The following criteria will assist in determining the responsibility for the execution of a proposed gray activity. If the answer to any of the three questions below is affirmative, the activity is the sole responsibility of the [(CO)] designee. If government interest is not to be revealed but the answer to all three questions listed below is negative, the activity may fall within the charter of State, USIA or the OCB designee:

a. Would the disclosure of the source occasion serious embarrassment to the U.S. Government or to the agencies responsible for the

information activity?

b. Would the activity or the materials disseminated be seriously discredited if it were to become known that the U.S. Government were


c. Would the outlet be seriously damaged if it were to become known that the activity is subsidized or otherwise assisted by the

U.S. Government?

Black propaganda

The activity engaged in appears to emanate from a source (government, party, group, organization, person) usually hostile in nature. The interest of the U.S. Government is concealed and the U.S. Government would deny responsibility. The content may be partially or completely fabricated, but that which is fabricated is made to appear credible to the target audience. Black activity is also usually designed to cause embarrassment to the ostensible source or to force the ostensible source to take action against its will.[6]

Black propaganda can be considered clandestine, as the source is unknown.

Responsibility for engaging in black propaganda and other related activities is assigned solely to the designee of the [(CO)]. Likewise it should be kept in mind that activities, either gray or black, conducted into denied areas from their peripheries, other than radio, are the sole responsibility of the [(CO)] designee.

In US doctrine, black propaganda rarely is employed below the strategic level, due to the stringent coordination and security requirements needed to protect its actual source. Further, black propaganda, to be credible, may need to disclose sensitive material, with the damage caused by information disclosure considered to be outweighed by the impact of successful deception. [7] It is primarily the responsibility of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Activities supporting information operations

Civil-military operations

See civil affairs.

Defense support to public diplomacy

Public affairs

A form of "white propaganda", this is an officially recognized activities to keep all local and international stakeholders informed of the situation.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Joint Chiefs of Staff (12 April 2001(As Amended Through 12 July 2007)), Joint Publication 1-02: Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms
  2. Sun Tzu, Chapter 1: Laying Plans, The Art of War
  3. Meiners, Mary (Jul 09, 2008), "Lawrence of Arabia and Richard of Israel, Conflict and Deception in the Middle East", ISPP 31st Annual Scientific Meeting, Sciences Po, Paris, France,
  4. Brown, Anthony Cave (1976), Bodyguard of Lies, Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-01311-4
  5. Smith, Charles L. (Spring 1988). "Soviet Maskirovko". Airpower Journal.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Paper Prepared by the Operations Coordinating Board: Principles to Assure Coordination of Gray Activities, vol. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950-1955: The Intelligence Community, May 14, 1954, FRUS document 181
  7. 7.0 7.1 FM 3-05.30/MCRP 3-40.6 Psychological Operations, April 2005