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Information Operations

By November 19, 2019June 30th, 2020Cyberwarfare, Deception, fake news, Iran, IRGC, Media, technology, The Weekly

“Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.” Albert Einstein

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” George Bernard Shaw

“A fool with a heart and no sense is just as unhappy as a fool with sense and no heart.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Last week I wrote an article entitled, “C’mon…now you’re just making stuff up.” I addressed the consistent use of deception and misinformation by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Iranian Islamic leadership as they continue to drive themselves towards being recognized as global powers. They long for nothing less than to sit at the same table as the USA, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany in the realm of global power status. They will stop at nothing to attain that goal. They believe it is their Divine right to share in, if not dominate, the world’s leadership. 

For thousands of years, militaries and governments have used deception and misinformation to win wars and to attain their goals. Weaker nations and armies are much more adept at this than stronger countries because it is a matter of survival for them. More powerful countries can just drop bigger bombs or deploy more troops to accomplish their goals. Smaller nations do not have that luxury. 

Today, it is becoming clear that misinformation can be a weapon as powerful as nuclear bombs. It is reshaping the entire face of warfare globally. It is important to note as well that in modern times it is not only “the bad guys” who use deception and misinformation. 

These powerful diplomatic and military weapons of misinformation are being used by a handful of smaller nations today with great effectiveness. We must never forget that military force is just an extension of diplomacy. When broken down, war is simply the extension of diplomacy. Deception and misinformation are diplomatic tools as much as military tools. Iran and North Korea in particular use misinformation and deception with great facility. 

In this edition of More than Meets the Eye we will discover the meaning of Information Operations (IO), and how they are planned and carried out. We will look more specifically at how these operations are implemented by Iran, as well as how they in many ways are winning over the hearts and minds of people through the effective use of deception and misinformation.

Review.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) spends more than $250 million per year on Information Operations (IO) and information-related capabilities (IRCs) for influence efforts at the strategic and operational levels. It is important to point out at this juncture that deception and misinformation are a significant element in IO. Any stated definition of IO is relative to the context. IO remains a complex subject, and the field is evolving. Regardless of context, IO maintains some nearly-universally-agreed-upon characteristics. An IO is a campaign that is dedicated to obtaining a decisive advantage in the information environment.

We can see a good example of IO in the Russian government as they seek both to influence the U.S. presidential election and to undermine the democratic system. State-sponsored Russian actors hacked into Democratic National Committee servers gaining access to the emails of a key democratic advisor. The Oxford Internet Institute found that at least 28 countries worldwide are exploiting social media to influence the public opinion of their own or foreign populations. The growth of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram has lowered the “barrier to entry” of state and non-state actors, into the information environment of any country. It makes digital IO a low-cost, low-risk, high-impact means of attack.

According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report from 2018, a government entity, IO is sometimes conflated with Information Warfare (IW). The report says that “Information warfare takes place at the strategic level, while Information Operations (IO) uses various information-related capabilities to implement the strategy.” Basically, IO involves trying to convince others whatever you want them to believe, usually, in support of your strategic objectives.

So with this new understanding of IO let’s look again at the actions of the Iranians. They have become really experienced practitioners of IO. What do they want? What do they hope to accomplish?

The first step in any IO campaign is to know clearly what you want. It may be this question that makes Iran a bad example of how to really understand IO as a strategic tool. Iran is unsure of their desires. They just know that it is a Persian speaking, Shi’a dominated religion in a region of Arab speaking, Sunni dominated, secularly guided nations. In essence, Iran is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Middle East. They have a rich history as the Persian Empire which has lasted hundreds of years, but as of the last hundred years, they have not faired so well and are considered the heretic children in the neighborhood.

In 1979 during the Iranian Islamic Revolution, when the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power there was a heady gust of nationalistic wind-blown under the wings of the Iranian people.  That did not last long, however, as they have been accosted on all sides over the past forty years. The Iranian leaders want respect and security amidst its neighbors. As a relatively new nation of fewer than forty years, they continue to mature. Still, their actions are considered as “toddler” in nature. They are getting into everything with nary a rational thought as to why. They respond with stormy tears and violent out-lashing and they have become odorous to most other countries in the region. Their IO strategy is to respond now and think about the consequences later.

Just so you don’t think I am beating up on Iran, you should know that I see the United States as a relative adolescent in terms of nation years. In my mind, the USA is a big teenage kid with a huge club, a fancy car and an appetite for everything. National maturity comes with centuries of growth, making lots of mistakes and receiving help from more mature nations. The USA will mature. It is on a good trajectory, but many blunders continue to slow it down, ones that will leave the scars needed to make better decisions in the future.

Back to Iran… After the devastating war with Saddam Hussein, Iran has become driven by trying to secure themselves. Iran is one of the largest by population in the Middle East at 79 million, only a bit smaller than Turkey and Egypt. The Iranians have not proven themselves to be the potent enemy. Iran has worked doggedly to endear itself to its neighbors, starting with any neighbor with a Shi’ite community. It has reached out to Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Afghanistan and even the Shi’ites of Saudi Arabia. They provide regular support to these Shi’ite communities through religious, medical and educational support.

Secondly, they have invested enormous resources into endearing themselves to the peoples of the Arabic speaking, Sunni nations in the Middle East through their amazing disdain of Israel. Geopolitically, it does not make great sense why Iran has such venom against Israel. There is a distance of almost 1,000 miles between Tel Aviv and Tehran. By normal standards, they would not be natural enemies.

The Iranians have used the Israeli situation and by de facto the USA/Iranian struggle, as a fulcrum to gain favor with the Arab speaking peoples. Through the use of aggressive IO campaigns, the Iranians have gained great support, though low-level support, from the average Arab speaking person on the street. Many have been asking the question, “Why are these heretic Muslims more concerned about our Palestinian brothers and sisters than our own national leadership?” Iranian IO operatives are attempting daily to answer that question through the Internet, Arab Radio and Television. They answer their erstwhile neighbors with slogans and diatribes against the secular governments through accusations of indifference and corruption.

The “elephant in the room” concerning Iranian intentions and desires is its surreptitious pursuit of a nuclear weapon. This is the “golden calf” for Iranian religious and secular leadership. The possession of such a weapon would put Iran at a whole new level of respectability and position, not only in the Middle East but in the world. Much like Kim Jong-Un, the Iranian Oligarchy longs to stand shoulder to shoulder with global leaders on a stage represented by a Muslim leader. That Muslim leader must be a Shi’ite if they are ever to receive the respect and honor after which they have sought for so long.  Here is an insightful article on the magnitude of Iranian IO: “Eight Takeaways From Iranian Information Operations”  in the CyberEdge.  

Why.

Why does all this matter? It is important that we are able to put into perspective and context all that we hear on the news and the Internet. It will be impossible to discern active IO campaigns being conducted against us unless we have a general understanding of what the IO operatives are trying to achieve. We can be certain that there will be many more IO campaigns by North Koreans, Russians, Chinese, and other non-state actors. Be not deceived; friends run IO campaigns on their friends all the time. At a basic level, when we are watching TV and an ad appears telling us that we will be more loved, better respected or happier if we will use product X; take note, we have just been assaulted by an Information Operations campaign.

Information Operations are an active part of modern life in the world today. We can either educate ourselves and not be duped by every campaign that is run against us, or you can learn to spot an IO campaign by knowing the source’s intention and goals.

Action.

Take time to ask yourself a couple of simple questions every time you are confronted by any news or information outlet. 

#1 -What does the communicator of this information want? Determine the answer to this question before you jump in with both feet. 

#2 -What is my response going to be to the information? Make a conscious decision. Move past being a passive consumer of information. Become an informed decision-maker. Make sure your information is backed by facts, not merely by pretty words and seemingly sound logic.

The follow-up.

Outrage In Iran Over Hike In Gas Prices As Economic Woes Worsen… https://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iran/2019/iran-191115-rferl01.htm?_m=3n%252e002a%252e2730%252ejv0ao0az9m%252e2iqa 

As Assad Gains Ground, New Syria Talks Offer Little Hope of Peace… https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/11/12/as-assad-gains-ground-new-syria-talks-offer-little-hope-of-peace/?utm_source=PostUp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=18110&utm_term=Editor

The feedback.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at:  david@morethanmeets.co

Resources.

https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2018/10/army-info-ops/

https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/atp3-13-1.pdf

https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR800/RR809z2/RAND_RR809z2.pdf

https://globalsecurityreview.com/understanding-information-operations-information-warfare/

https://nationalinterest.org/feature/what-iran-really-wants-25410?page=0%2C3

https://www.afcea.org/content/eight-takeaways-iranian-information-operations

https://www.defenseone.com/threats/2017/09/isis-loses-territory-military-leaders-worry-about-irans-media-operations/141044/

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cyber-iran-specialreport/special-report-how-iran-spreads-disinformation-around-the-world-idUSKCN1NZ1FT

https://www.wired.com/story/iran-global-propaganda-fireeye/

https://www.justsecurity.org/66628/reassessing-u-s-cyber-operations-against-iran-and-the-use-of-force/

https://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htiw/articles/20180823.aspx

https://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/iranian-information-operations

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/iran-would-use-very-special-strategy-attack-america-71816

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