In 1996 I heard the siren song of the developing field of Information Warfare (IW). The concept intrigued me, but I found it was little more than a conglomeration of well established aspects of warfare. IW was visualized as an image of a Greek temple with five columns. The “five pillars” of IW at that time were OPSEC, PSYOPS, military deception, electronic warfare and physical destruction. See. Nothing new. In retrospect, these early attempts were rather crude and simplistic.
Shortly after that, I had the pleasure and good fortune of meeting Tim Thomas. He was a Russian FAO and an analyst at the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth. He was an expert in Soviet/Russian military doctrine and in the Russian equivalent of IW, commonly referred to as information confrontation or information-based warfare. We shared an interest in all things Russian and, between us, had a fair amount of experience dealing with Russians. I told him of my experiences with Russian trained cyberneticists and he introduced me to the concept of reflexive control. This theory has been a subject of study in the Soviet Union for over fifty years. It became the guiding principle in the development of the Soviet Union’s/Russia’s growing capability in information confrontation.
Tim Thomas describes reflexive control in his July 1996 article “Russian Views on Information-based Warfare.” He’s written a lot on this subject since then.
"Information manipulation/perception management"
"Disinformation is a Russian technique that manipulates information and misinforms people or groups. Some disinformation procedures are obvious, some unconvincing, and some work through delayed perceptions, rumors, repetition, or arguments. Specific persons or particular social groups can serve as disinformation targets. The purpose of a disinformation campaign is to influence the consciousness and mind of man. In Russia today, where there is an unstable public-political and socio-economic situation, the entire population could serve as the target of influence for an enemy campaign."
"The authorities in Moscow recognize this and are trying to gain control over a most dangerous situation in their view. Clearly, the management of information is essential to their maintenance of stability. Historically, the Soviet Union was very good at developing theories of information management. Their propaganda machine stood at the apex of this effort. One of their most interesting Cold-war methods for managing information and getting people (or an opponent) to do what an action's initiator wanted was described by the theory of reflexive control. Reflexive control is a "branch of the theory of control related to influencing the decisions of others. In a military context, it can be viewed as a means for providing one military commander with the ability to indirectly maintain control over his opponent commander's decision process." Reflexive control involves creating a pattern or providing partial information that causes an enemy to react in a predetermined fashion without the enemy realizing that he is being manipulated. Its aim is to force an enemy commander to make a decision that, through the manipulation of information, was predetermined by the opposing side.“
Our doctrine of IW, now information operations, has come a long way from those early days of the five pillared temple. Perception management, now a core concept of our doctrine, is a first cousin of reflexive control. And we are equally good at it.
I share all this with you, my fellow correspondents, so that you may read two articles from “War on the Rocks” with open, yet critical minds. “WHODUNNIT? RUSSIA AND COERCION THROUGH CYBERSPACE” by Robert Morgus and “TROLLING FOR TRUMP: HOW RUSSIA IS TRYING TO DESTROY OUR DEMOCRACY” by Andrew Weisburd, Clint Watts and J.M. Berger describe this year’s series of hacks, leaks and false news as a deliberate Russian information operation targeting the U.S. If you have the time and/or inclination, I suggest you drill down through all the embedded links in the articles. There’s a lot of good stuff there.
As many of you know, I am convinced that all this was the result of a well planned and executed information operation undertaken by the Russian government. I’ve spent a decade working in and around this type of thing and can recognize an elegant information operation when I see one. And elegant it was. No drone assassinations. No extrajudicial kidnappings and imprisonments. No arming of terrorists. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, you magnificent bastard, I salute you.
What I don’t know is the true objective of this operation. Was it to defeat Clinton and elect Trump? Was it to destroy confidence and increase doubt in our political system and/or media? Perhaps it was it something else altogether. One’s answers to these questions seems totally dependent on one’s political inclinations. Since there are so many other factors that brought about our present situation, I doubt we’ll ever know the true motives behind this information operation. Nor will we know its true effectiveness or ineffectiveness. But one thing I can assure all of you, it's happening, baby.