Small Wars Journal

Information Operations doesn't do IO

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 7:30am
Information Operations doesn't do IO

by MisoMan

Mr. Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone Magazine, coupled with information provided by LTC Michael Holmes (an Information Operations Officer assigned to the 71st Theater Information Operations Group) created a maelstrom of confusion and misinformed discussion regarding two related -- and yet distinct functions within the United States Army.

Information Operations and Psychological Operations are not the same. They are often incorrectly labeled as synonymous, but this due to a fatal flaw in the Army Staff Structure - not because of doctrinal misrepresentation. This article will serve to demonstrate the misunderstanding and attempt to clarify some roles and responsibilities.

It is necessary to highlight that currently the within the "Information Realm", the United States Department of Defense is undergoing a period of transformation, restructuring, and redefining its doctrine. As such, much is open to interpretation until doctrine is updated and disseminated throughout the Army and the Joint Force.

While this article is not an attempt to attack LTC Holmes, or diminish the credibility of Mr. Hastings, it will address the arguments and evidence presented by two misinformed individuals and shed some light on the necessity of Military Information Support Operations (formerly known as Psychological Operations).

Joint Publication 3-13, Information Operations provides the following description: "Information operations (IO) are described as 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". (US Department of Defense, 2006)

Information Operations (IO) is, at the core, a synchronizing staff function that does not actually create deliverables -- aside from analysis and assessment. As a synchronizing staff section, IO Cells are supposed to assess the capabilities and employment of the core functions, ensure that information fratricide is not occurring, and synchronize efforts throughout the entire battlespace.

While the definition of each core capability could be addressed, this article will provide explanation of Psychological Operations, now referred to as Military Information Support Operations (MISO) as defined, and offer an explanation as to why this may be misconstrued as Information Operations.

Psychological Operations are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of psychological operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to the originator's objectives.

PSYOP is the most visible producer of products, actions, and themes for the Information Operations Cell. Due to the word "influence", there is always a concern associated with PSYOP that something sinister is afoot. PSYOP programs, themes, products, and actions must all undergo a specific development process in order to anticipate the outcome, achieve the desired behavior change, and reach the objectives listed by the Commander.

In order to conduct PSYOP, you have to have a PSYOP Planner present on a staff, period. Information Operations Officers gain an understanding of the capabilities of PSYOP units through courses such as the Psychological Operations Integration Course, but this does not qualify them to plan PSYOP. Additionally, attendance at this course should not be used as a shroud of protection that prohibits an IO Officer

The unfortunate association between PSYOP and IO lies on the fact that Headquarters Staff Sections for Information Operations (G7) has a permanent staff Officer, who is an Information Operations Officer (Functional Area 30). By training and by specialty, he is not an expert in the core capabilities -- he is a generalist. This allows him to effectively understand and employ the experts of the capabilities in order to achieve effects.

Information Operations have related tasks as well, including Civil Military Operations (CMO), Defense Support to Public Diplomacy (DSPD), and Public Affairs (PA). As a related task, Information Operations can lend support when needed and should be closely de-conflicted. By doing so, an Information Operations Officer ensures consistency in message efforts and prevents information fratricide.

Civil Military Operations efforts are essential to Information Operations related capabilities. CMO sets the stage for interaction with a host nation population, are often exploited by Public Affairs, and require operational support. IO assists in coordination and synchronization by ensuring the correct level of asset is appropriated to support CMO.

Public Affairs is related to IO by sharing a common linkage to the information environment. While PA activities are not exclusively designed to influence an identified target set; rather their intent is to inform and allow an audience to draw their own conclusion. However, Public Affairs cannot be discounted as a viable influence in the battlespace and is a dominant force in the electromagnetic spectrum. IO and PA coordinate to ensure consistency of message efforts, reduce redundancy, and capitalize on resources.

Defense Support to Public Diplomacy are those activities and measures taken by the Department of Defense components to support and facilitate public diplomacy efforts of the United States Government. JP 3-13 states much of the operational level IO activity conducted in any theater will be directly linked to Public Diplomacy objectives. DSPD requires coordination with both the interagency and among DOD components. Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 3600.1, Information Operations outlines responsibilities of combatant commanders to plan Information Operations, ensuring that the larger communications objectives are met.

The headquarters of NATO Training Mission -- Afghanistan (NTM-A) would be definitively interested in guaranteeing that their objectives were nested with Public Diplomacy goals. Charged with the responsibility of building capacity within the Afghanistan Security Forces, they would receive interest and questions from Congressional Delegations.

LTC Holmes has posited that, he received an order that in effect "targeted" visiting American dignitaries. While the content of the order is unknown, and wildly disputed, suggestions that his actions and participation were non-doctrinal and illegal are without merit. Based on Annex B of Joint Publication 3-13 - what he was asked to do, and further told to do, can be discerned as a capability of Information Operations. Figure B-3. Support Roles of Information Operations highlights the linkage between the capabilities and functions.

Michael Hastings, accompanied by the information provided by LTC Holmes, suggests that there was a deliberately planned effort to change the behavior of visiting dignitaries. I beg to differ, that without a certified Psychological Operations Planner available, LTC Holmes was straying into a lane that he does not fully understand and overestimated his capabilities and training.

In order to accomplish what LTC Holmes suggests, it would require more than his "IO Skillset"; it would require assets, time, and an objective specified in the Operations Order. Aside from coordinating training, LTC Holmes did not have the assets available to conduct what Mr. Hastings alleges occurred. To suggest that this activity occurred is a stretch and completely irrelevant to the true nature of LTC Holmes desired outcome by providing information to a sensational reporter.

Information Operations are all about consistency of messages, clarity of truth, and management of expectations inside and outside of a headquarters. Unfortunately, this includes the political landscape -- which requires monitoring and the development of assessments are a required output.

Had this Information Operations Field Support Team had a greater clarity of their roles, requirements, and responsibilities (and true masters of doctrine); they would have been able to make recommendations that would have enabled the entry of IO capabilities to the training mission. Instead, it appears that they were naysayers and cynics, which amplified tensions and caused undue stress in already charged and intense environment.

In conclusion -- Information Operations elements do not "do" information operations. Information Operation does not do Military Information Support Operations, either. They coordinate and synchronize efforts to meet a Commander's intent and meet his information effects requirements. This implies that they conduct analysis, make recommendations, and provide the commander with the best information available based on their expertise and clear understanding of the core capabilities.

MisoMan is a trained Soldier in the Art of Influence, known as Military Information Support Operation (MISO). He has experience at the Tactical, Operational, and Strategic levels of influence, including support to Joint and Interagency elements. MisoMan is not a representative of the Department of Defense or the United States Army; rather -- he is voice of clarity, interpretation, and truth. The opinions located within this paper are solely his.


Chris Paparone (not verified)

Mon, 03/14/2011 - 3:34pm

MisoMan's aproach is tautological. It presumes the definitions planted in doctrine create boundaries when in real life, the flow of "influence" doesn't follow these doctrinaire invented boundaries.

I like this chart to "see" the blurry continua between "information" and "propoganda:"

enlightens <--------------->benights & enslaves
education <--------------->brainwashing
learning <--------------->compliance

When I see everything from "press releases" to MISO planning, I am immediately suspicious as to whether these data are trying to look like the left side, when those who produce them seem to be trying to hide the right side.

You can call the various categories whatever you want (or stick to what the doctrinaires and lawyers have written about IO, StratComms, MISO, PAO, and so forth), and at the end of the day, if they are interpreted as "right side" you are seen as manipulative and untrustworthy.

This is why actions should be the mainstay of military data in lieu of words. Let others (such as the press) put words on the least we will not be accused of biasing the data even if the press are. If they are "distorted," then it is up to our political leaders to convince people it is information and not propoganda (they are the ones who placed us in operations to begin with). Once we get "in the middle," we are vulnerable to being seen as purveyors of the right side, even if our intentions are purist and on the left (which I doubt!).

The latter may well lead to a fraying of institutional trust by the US public... something the US military has enjoyed "first place" for decades (unintended consequences of strat comms is to make that trust into untrustworthiness).

PSYOP Officer (not verified)

Fri, 03/11/2011 - 3:25pm

Oh....and it is exactly when a capability is confusing or requires a specialty knowledge of doctrine or practice that Commanders should lean on the SME's in that field rather than direct specific actions, particularly to unqualified personnel....the exact opposite is the case in the "inform and influence" arena much of the time.

PSYOP Officer (not verified)

Fri, 03/11/2011 - 3:19pm

Although much of the recent mention of PSYOP/MISO in the press has been negative publicity - I am glad for it when I see that it forces clarification and solicits discussion. I am a PSYOP/MISO trained Officer and the doctrine and practical application portions of MISOMAN's article are "spot on". However, I disagree with some of the conclusions in the final third of the article. The fact that Commanders direct untrained (and sometimes uncapable) people to conduct Influence Activities is exactly the disconcerting point! An no - they rarely follow doctrine and state an "objective in the operations order." But yes, the expect IO Officers to "do IO." I and my peers experience this on a regular basis. Instead of having a specified objective, allowing a specialist to develop an Influence Campaign, properly get it approved and vetted, and oversee execution, a CDR directs a product or a specific action and gets irritated if he is told that there are approval criteria, laws, or he doesn't own that asset (radio, print, EWO, etc.). The problem is twofold...the doctrine is confusing and Most Senior Personnel don't want it explained or don't want to follow it....I just want what I want and I want it now (and nobody tells the CDR NO) is the mantra! While I don't find much credibility in LTC Holmes....the statment quoted in the RS article of "It isn't illegal if I say it isn't illegal" sounds a lot like a directive I got from a BDE Commander just months ago...."stop asking Division For approval and just play my @#$%^%$# messaging on the radio!" Apart from lack of synchronization or legal approval...he didn't know he didn't own radio assets! I keep asking myself why Commanders don't direct their JAG Officer to oversee route clearance....and don't tell me you can't!!

MISO (not verified)

Wed, 03/02/2011 - 3:50pm

Most are getting it but to layout what took place:

An Information Engagement Cell(IE) is stood up to focus on visiting VIPs. This is common place and usually ties in with protocal. The cell builds packets on individuals to inform the General what the purpose of the visit will be, what information they are expecting to leave with, and what spheres of influence the visitors have, along with a basic bio talking in general about the person. This is not a intelligence packet like a dossier but a packet that is commmon for PAO types or Protocal types put together for the Commander in order for him to have some background information before he sees the VIP in person. Along with that are talking points developed by the PAO. Usually they are right out of the PAO guidance from higher but are guidelines for the General to follow and not dictated for him to use. This is where LTC Holmes is under the impression that IO/PSYOP was working it magic against our own. The cell's function was to coordinate and not to manipulate. As far as Rolling Stone goes maybe they should sponsor someone join the Army as an Officer and go through the gut wrenching experience of working towards becoming a General, all the different commands he had to excel in, all the schooling to be a effective military stratagist, earn respect from those in the government and be trusted with the highest responsabilities(soldiers lives) and have someone with little to no experience in a job outside of the military esurp you authority right out from undernieth you because they can.

The General is not Brittany Spears. Rolling Stone focus on music.

MisoMan (not verified)

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 8:56pm


MisoMan cannot disagree with you, that this is in fact partly a MISO fault with regards to the blurring of the lines and defining/delineating responsibilities.

The argument of being coordinated by someone else does not really cause MISO professionals much angst; the straying into lanes on a specialty does.

Squeekybooty makes some very valid points - including directives from Commanders to achieve effects. Without a mission statement(from which all endstates and objectives are derived)nothing will be accomplished.

However, the careful and deliberate play on words is to highlight that there is a misnomer on "doing IO". IO coordinates activities and synchronizes effects within the Information Environment.

MISO professionals are indeed in short supply. While the effort to redefine doctrine is paramount, addressing the shortfall in manning is also required to ensure that the correct capability is available at the right level.

JNCC - Touche!

Jimbo (not verified)

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 7:44pm

Unfortunately for PSYOP/MISO some of the confusion is a self-inflicted wound. Though it has gotten much better, for a long time the community drug its collective feet about the requirement to fully man the conventional unit PSYOP positions. The resulting hole in the TO&E meant commanders turned to the IO bubba for guidance on PSYOP/MISO and the mission creep began. The manning situation is much better now, but the idea is still there.

jncc (not verified)

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 7:14pm

"While this article is not an attempt to attack LTC Holmes, or diminish the credibility of Mr. Hastings, it will address the arguments and evidence presented by two misinformed individuals"

And, by gosh and by golly if the reader just happens to think this evidence attacks them or diminishes their credibility, that is pure co-inky-dink.

Squeekybooty (not verified)

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 2:12pm

"That staff officers didn't believe that they could help to synchronize efforts to beat the insurgent's propaganda is beyond me."

It's actually beyond everyone. The real problem with IO as a concept is that it depends on how willing any one commander is to foreground IO as a capability. If it's not entrenched systematically and at all levels throughout training, it never becomes the "mindset" I so often heard it alluded to while in Afghanistan actually trying to "do" IO at the Divisional HQ level.

No staff officer is ever going to independently accomplish IO squat without a commander dictating it to be so: no liaising will be effective, no coordinating will be meaningful, and lacking any concrete "deliverables," it becomes all too easy to call the whole function into question. PSYOPS folks have the advantage of tangible products and deliverables, which in turn probably makes commanders themselves wonder what they're supposed to "do" with IO: "those guys make posters . . . what the hell do you guys do?"

Fundamental to this may be that as militaries, we do. Doing is what we do, to be trite. So having a function that doesn't seem to do may strike many as irrelevant. So it was that I actually found myself, as an IO guy, doing: crafting products (the PSYOPS domain), implementing programs to train the ANSF to positively communicate with their own people (a Combat Arms mentoring function? PA?), or dreaming up detainee release approaches so those released would go back to their villages with a good word or two to say about how we respected their religion and culture and treated them well (an MP or HUMINT function?) . . . without that element of actually getting something done, I would have been a pointless minion trying to ambiguously "synchronize" chess pieces (Public Diplomacy, PA, Whole of Government partners, NGOs, Higher HQ, and so on) far beyond my actual Staff Officer spectrum of influence. And I would have gone crazy with boredom.

Now, to be fair in all this, I honestly feel that we're all pretty new to the whole influence game in the modern counterinsurgent world. Looking at Afghanistan alone, and considering the variables--organized and unorganized crime, warlords, legit and illegit powerbrokers, a flailing govt, drugs, several different insurgent groups, tribal and cultural politics, illiteracy, the dire humanitarian state of the country, and nosy neighbors--it's not like any of us should expect miracles: particularly the miracles dictated by mandates that want to see impossible progress in unrealistic timelines. "Fixing" Afghanistan, and using IO to help it along, will take a couple of generations, not decades; we're talking about a large number of people, after all, who still have no idea why we're even there or what the basic contract between a government and its people ought to be.

Like my predecessors, I'll foreground the disclaimer that these opinions are my own and not those of my govt proper. I'll also stress the paramount nature of capturing all this so that doctrine gets revised and so that tenuous "IO" function is either clarified or eliminated.

After all, soldiers who don't officially "do" usually end up just doing something someone else probably ought to be doing.

JackC (not verified)

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 1:09pm

According to Joint Doctrine, Information Operations includes Psychological Operations.


Tue, 03/01/2011 - 12:00pm

<em>No, we have tacitly admitted that these antics have been going on far, far, longer than we have had a resplendent official taxonomy of terms in which to categorize them</em>

I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at here. You're not suggesting that we were sanguine about the blending of informing and influencing before we had doctrine and JCAs and law that said the latter was inappropriate for domestic audiences, I hope.

G Martin

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 11:58am

I think there are two important issues here:

1- are the artificial separations we've constructed around information useful (IO, psyop, STRATCOM, PA, MISO, etc.)?

and, 2- ignoring dog and pony shows (which are the SOP for the Army in general- not just something we do for politicians), how far should individual commanders and units go in attempting to influence the public in general- including politicians, think-tanks, the media, and indirectly the domestic constituency?

As many have observed, the 1st issue is growing more problematic today: a psyop broadcast in a small town in Upper Helmand can be recorded on a cell phone and uploaded to Youtube in seconds- thus possibly influencing Americans at home.

I'll never forget a psyop officer telling me he could not sit in on a meeting to coordinate a press release on civilian casualties in order to get ahead of the insurgent "narrative"- because there was a "wall" between psyop and public affairs.

That staff officers didn't believe that they could help to synchronize efforts to beat the insurgent's propaganda is beyond me. I don't excuse LTC Holmes' apparent actions (refusing an order, going to the press, exaggerating his position), but his (apparent) confusion about his own role doesn't surprise me- that confusion seems to be the rule.

It is a fact that the IO folks (or whatever that team was) at NTM-A disagreed with the command on the means with which to handle information. I was a part of multiple discussions with them on the commander's guidance and they constantly brought up doctrinal reasons they could not support it. I personally thought they were being dogmatic, but the command seemed to find work-arounds and everyone avoided addressing the underlying issues (from my perspective).

I also sensed an underlying doubt across the board with respect to how effective IO really was (from the "non-IO crowd")- especially the attempts to manage it from "the top". My perception was that the IO folks were more tactically-focused and that operational planning capabilities were severely lacking. This may have had something to do with the friction this recent event exposed (they might not have really understood HOW to do what the command required due to a lack of training).

The second issue is more complicated. I have two thoughts on the issue: 1) assuming individuals and units nest their efforts with higher, there still is a hazy and broad line between defending the Constitution and being an advocate (and thus having an agenda). Even if you feel your ends are justified and your ways untainted by malice, the means employed could have negative long-term second and third order effects. The one thing I am specifically worried about losing is the trust our population (for the most part) has in our institution. Because ends are usually political in nature, we may have to be hyper-sensitive to our means being taken in the wrong way.

The second thought I have on the second issue is that we really can't assume what I did in the first thought- that units will nest their influence efforts with higher. Because there is rarely agreement within DoD on what to do in operations, commanders advocating certain ways to do things can very easily undermine the broad efforts of "higher". NTM-A wants more money and troops (trainers). IJC wants more combat fighters. The State Department wants more money.

It makes sense that LTG Caldwell and his command would and should articulate their issues to decision makers- no-one understands what they need than they do. But it must drive CENTCOM, the Pentagon, the White House, the NSC, and even ISAF at times crazy as politicians come back from trips advocating micro decisions that possibly throw off the macro plan. Even more interesting- think-tanks are influenced by commands and in turn influence constituencies to back micro decisions based on either a command's logic or, more troubling, the think-tank's logic on how to conduct- in this case- COIN. That very few subordinate commands' logic is the same as the Pentagon's should not be surprising- but I can't imagine the madness of trying to synch a COIN campaign plan from the top when few agree with the underlying logic of how to do that COIN.

Grant Martin
MAJ, US Army

The above comments are the author's own and do not represent the position of the US Army or DoD.


Tue, 03/01/2011 - 10:15am

<b>" all of this: that we've tacitly accepted the appropriateness of GOs waging influence campaigns against the political leadership of the country."</b>

No, we have tacitly admitted that these antics have been going on far, far, longer than we have had a resplendent official taxonomy of terms in which to categorize them

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 10:05am

"....that we've tacitly accepted the appropriateness of GOs waging influence campaigns against the political leadership of the country."

I agree with much of what you say, Gulliver, but hasn't that always been the case, or am I just excessively cynical? I'm not saying it's a good idea but when, exactly, has politicking been divorced from war? I mean in the sense of dog-and-pony shows. Aren't the legislators responsible for their own behavior? If you are silly enough to think that you are not going to get a dog-and-pony show then maybe you shouldn't be a Senator. I'm serious about this point: it takes two to tango, or whatever cliche you want to use instead.

Think about the hearings politicians run and who is asked to speak and how they are chosen. That seems a lot worse to me than this incident in terms of the potential for harm toward Americans.

Gulliver, I don't understand the exculpatory comment? Illegal and a bad idea are not the same thing. The RS article seemed to hint - okay, more than hint - at illegality? Am I wrong about that? I confess, RS turns me off so I am probably horribly biased. Honestly, I thought that magazine was old and staid in the 80s when I <em>had</em> a subscription. Maybe this is the revamp.

The think-tank article by Singer posted here at SWJ some time ago got very <em>few</em> comments, although it basically discussed the same general phenomenon of influence peddling among the various DC players, civilian and military-alike.

Anyway, I confess, I'm still don't understand all the different acronyms and doctrinal discussions and whatnot. I mean no disrespect to doctrine writers and the MISO community but maybe people are confused because it <em>is</em> confusing?

So, basically, don't lie to Americans and don't do "jedi mind tricks" on them either, whatever the heck those are? Why do I think that skill is being hyped? No one gives any examples!

:) Sorry. I'm perpetually confused around here.

If those skills are so dangerous, why are private consulting companies with such people even legal? I'm being serious. If using PSYOP is such a dangerous skill-set, why is it allowed stateside via consulting companies?


Tue, 03/01/2011 - 8:51am

I think this is a worthwhile piece if only because it gets the lexicon straight and lays out how the various IO/STRATCOMM/PA pieces fit together in a doctrinal/definitional sense. That said, I don't think it offers a terribly satisfying exculpatory argument for LTG Caldwell. We can talk about blurry lines between IO and PA and the great clarifying power of the hammer of doctrinal truth, but we all seem eager to overlook the foundational issue in all of this: that we've tacitly accepted the appropriateness of GOs waging influence campaigns against the political leadership of the country. This isn't about whether the IO FST or LTC Holmes had any Jedi mind tricks in his doctrinally-designated toolkit so much as it's about the real, substantive difference between the employment of "inform" and "influence" capabilities.