12 April 2017

Beyond the Operational Environment: Reflections on Information Warfare

Evan Salbego

We belong to the most over-consumptive generation in history, seldom drawing the line at commercial goods. Feelings, ideas, beliefs, and perceptions are all fair game in the Information Age and, although we tend to gloss over the potential costs of these invisible acquisitions, others do not.

Information Warfare aims to socially engineer an audience, rendering a group or community utterly incapable of recognizing the truth, even when it should be evident. The effects can cause the dissolution of social constructs such as law, order, leadership, and civility if intended. Due to the advent of the internet and its many permutations, our culture continually consumes so much information that it’s become deconditioned to the fidelity of the digested content, a symptom indicative of susceptibility to the full effects of Information Warfare.

As participants in a world that seldom unplugs from an otherwise overly saturated Information Environment, we must assume that our adversaries remain fully aware of the power of information, its ability to affect perception, change human behavior, and dissolve cultural identity over time. In short, information affects perception which affects behavior which affects culture, a downward spiral of synergetic effects perpetuated by virtue of repetitive information designed to manipulate its audience.

In the Information Age, the principles of warfare remain basically the same. Our engagement area still resides within the minds of our opponents. Victory still hinges on persuading them that we are right and they are wrong. Survival still requires relentless deterrence from those intending to impose unwanted change.

We must recognize that technology and warfare have always evolved together. Once comfortable with obliterating whole civilizations for the sake of achieving victory, superpowers are now successfully employing emergent techniques capable of influencing, disrupting, corrupting, and usurping entire populations with minimal casualties. This “take it whole” approach, echoes of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good.”*

Perhaps just the realization that we simply don’t know if we’ve been affected by adversarial narratives accomplishes the goal of Information Warfare after all. Fixating on this dilemma can render us prone over-scrutinizing long held beliefs and perceptions. By living unsure of whether or not our own thoughts and feelings have been compromised by information designed to unwittingly manipulate us over time, we render ourselves incapable of recognizing the truth, even when it should be obvious. It is a double-edged sword sharpened by extreme skepticism along one edge and absolute obliviousness on the other, a conundrum of incredible potential and magnitude.

Information Warfare provides an advanced platform from which to achieve cultural domination, arguably warfare’s premier intention, if so desired. Even upon developing effective strategies to combat enemy information operations on the battlefield, there is no guarantee that similar remedies will protect the U.S. population from full-scale Information Warfare waged upon our Homefront. Ultimately, it is unlikely that our enemies will waste time differentiating between these two (currently) separate environments in the future.

*Sun-tzu, and Samuel B. Griffith. The Art of War. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964.

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