Fighting Terrorism and Insurgency: Shaping
the Information Environment
And let there be no doubt, in the years ahead
it is likely that we will be surprised again by new adversaries
who may also strike in unexpected ways.-Donald H. Rumsfeld1
In Iskandariyah, Iraq, approximately 30 miles
south of Baghdad, a bomb exploded at a
police station, killing 50 Iraqis applying for the new police force.
U.S. forces conducted operations to seek out and defeat those responsible.
Often, U.S. forces are successful in finding, engaging, capturing,
or killing insurgents who instigate terrorist attacks. However,
this traditional attrition-based approach to counterinsurgency does
not adequately address its strategy and secondary effects.
By attacking the police station, Iraqi insurgents
hoped to achieve their strategic objectives of influencing Iraqi
perceptions about security and safety; contributing to the delay
or cancellation of free elections; de-legitimizing an interim Iraqi
government; and degrading domestic support for U.S. policy in Iraq.
This scenario demonstrates the limitation of U.S. joint information
operations (IO) doctrine in addressing a new approach to warfare.
Nonstate actors such as terrorists and insurgents will likely be
the major threat to U.S. national security and its interests for
years to come. Because these actors cannot directly confront the
U.S. militarily, they must rely on an information advantage to marginalize
Over the past decade, various high profile
terrorist groups have demonstrated a sound knowledge and coordinated
use of information operations. Their ability to successfully achieve
objectives by shaping their battlespace in the information environment,
coupled with willingness to conduct nontraditional warfare, make
them a significant threat to the United States.
Although the initial Joint Publication (JP)
3-13, Joint Doctrine for Information Operations, addresses a traditional
IO approach against conventional forces such as China or North Korea,
it does not sufficiently consider nonstate threats such as terrorists
and insurgents.2 The joint staff is
currently updating JP 3-13 by incorporating the October 2003 revised
Department of Defense (DOD) IO policy, informally known as the secretary
of defense's (SECDEF's) "IO Roadmap."3
To succeed in the new security environment, JP 3-13 must provide
an IO approach that better defines and shapes operations in the
information environment (IE) to enable victories over nonstate actors
in the physical environment (PE).
Current and Future Security Environments
The United States is facing a drastically different
security environment than it faced before 11 September 2001. In
the past, adversaries confronted the United States with conventional
armed forces backed by the industrial capabilities of a nation-state.
Today, a single nonstate actor or terrorist group can attack the
Nation and create untold destruction.
The U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) defines
a new security environment that includes these terrorist organizations
and the nation-states and organizations that harbor them: "[T]he
United States and countries cooperating with us must not allow the
terrorists to develop new home bases. Together, we will seek to
deny them sanctuary at every turn."4
Terrorism took many forms after 11 September
2001, but the United States is primarily concerned with terrorists
who possess a global strike capability and whose global reach makes
them extremely elusive and difficult to define or engage. In response
to this new security environment, SECDEF Donald H. Rumsfeld changed
the military strategy in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)
from a threat-based approach to a capabilities approach to better
respond to the numerous threats the United States faces.5
By adopting this approach, defense planners can concentrate on how
a potential enemy might engage the United States rather than concerning
themselves with who that enemy is or where he will attack.
Joint IO Doctrine
Numerous documents provide direction of overall
joint IO strategy, including JP 3-13, Joint Vision (JV) 2010, JV
2020, and the recently published "IO Roadmap."6
Joint Publication 3-13 provides doctrinal guidance for joint forces
information operations. The 1996 JV 2010 defines information operations
as "[a]ctions taken to affect adversary information and information
systems while defending one's own information and information systems."
Joint Vision 2010 sets forth "a vision for how the United States
military will operate in the uncertain future" and achieves
the ultimate goal of full-spectrum dominance.7
Information superiority is a key element of
full-spectrum dominance. Joint Vision 2010, which states that information
superiority will mitigate the effect of the friction and fog of
war, advocates ensuring an uninterrupted flow of information and
nontraditional actions. Joint Vision 2020 adds: "The combined
development of proliferation of information technologies will substantially
change the conduct of military operations. These changes in the
information environment make information superiority a key enabler
of the transformation of the operational capabilities of the joint
force and the evolution of joint command and control."8
The "IO Roadmap" provides strategic-level
IO guidance for the current security environment defined in the
latest QDR and NSS. The draft update of JP 3-13 incorporates the
"IO Roadmap" and a new DOD IO definition: "The integrated
employment of the specified core capabilities of Electronic Warfare
[EW], Computer Network Operations (CNO), PSYOP [psychological operations],
Military Deception, and Operations Security [OPSEC], in concert
with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence,
disrupt, corrupt, or usurp adversarial human and automated decisionmaking,
while protecting our own."9 The
"IO Roadmap" groups IO elements in the following categories:
-Core capabilities (EW, CNO, OPSEC, military
-Support capabilities (information assurance,
physical security, counterintelligence, physical attack).
-Related capabilities (public affairs, civil-military
Although current and draft IO doctrine encompasses
many aspects of warfare, the ability to deal with the new security
environment still needs scrutiny. The new definition focuses offensive
information operations against the adversarial decisionmaker, ignoring
that there are many valuable targets in the information environment
that are not critical decisionmakers. The 1998 definition of information
operations was so broad that it was everything and yet nothing.11
The new draft definition limits itself in applying information operations
to the listed core capabilities.
Joint Publication 3-13 poorly defines and applies
the concept of information superiority as it would apply to a nonstate
actor. Information superiority is an imbalance in one's favor in
the information domain with respect to an adversary. The power of
superiority in the information domain mandates the United States
achieve it as a first priority, even before hostilities begin. However,
superior technology and equipment fuels hubris to have information
superiority over inferior adversaries.
A nonstate actor can decisively possess information
superiority and an information advantage because he can remain unseen
in his own environment, yet see U.S. forces, and choose when to
attack. U.S. information superiority can be finite and fleeting;
its forces must recognize this and take direct and indirect action
to reduce the adversary's information advantage and operational
efficiency. Information superiority in the new security environment
must include denying information helpful to a nonstate actor by
reducing OPSEC violations and information the population can provide.
Physical Environment v. Information Environment
Nothing is more important when conceptualizing
joint IO doctrine in the new security environment than understanding
the relationship between the physical environment and the information
environment and how the United States should approach information
operations in these areas against a nonstate actor. Joint Publication
3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations, defines the physical environment
by the dimensions of land, sea, air, and space.12
Humans live, breathe, and walk in the physical environment, and
they see, hear, and touch objects that are real.13
Leaders generally conceive and measure gains and losses in the physical
environment by the metrics of terrain, equipment, forces, and engagements.
According to the draft JP 3-13, the information
environment consists of information that resides in the mind, physical
world, and electromagnetic spectrum. 14
Boundaries are "not limited to the linear battlespace that
military commanders conceptualize, [and] activities in the information
environment often shape a commander's understanding of the battle
and can profoundly affect his decisions in the physical environment."15
For example, forces providing security to a population is an act
in the physical environment, but the population's perception of
security is in the information environment. Military leaders and
planners must understand that the PE and IE domains exist in simultaneous
yet separate battlespaces. Nonstate actors operate mainly in the
information environment to leverage their advantage, and states
tend to operate in the physical environment to achieve their goals.
The United States must adapt its approach to conflict to maximize
its results while diminishing the adversary's.
Another key IE and PE characteristic is that
"wherever human activity occurs physically, such activity [also]
takes place simultaneously in the information dimension."16
This is important in recognizing those residual effects from actions
taken in the physical environment that will shape the information
environment. Draft JP 3-13 fails to address factors that shape the
information environment in which military operations are planned
and executed or recognize that success depends on U.S. forces gaining
and maintaining information superiority.17
However, previous IO doctrine and U.S. operations have traditionally
sought to achieve finite victory in the PE battlespace and ignore
the concurrent residual effects in the IE battlespace.
Current and draft joint IO doctrine fails to
adequately explain and emphasize the information environment and
the art of its application against U.S. adversaries. The key to
preparedness against current and potential security threats, such
as nonstate actors, lies in the art of information operations, not
just the science. The science of information operations can be the
application of systems and capabilities to support the goal of affecting
adversary decisionmaking at a specific moment in time and space,
while the "art focuses on the fundamental methods and issues
associated with synchronization of military effort" in the
Draft JP 3-13 says: "Operational art is
the use of military forces to achieve a strategic goal through the
design, organization, integration, and conduct of strategies, campaigns,
major operations, and battles."19
To fight a nonstate actor whose operational actions are planned
to achieve strategic goals, the United States must operate similarly.
U.S. planners must apply all facets of operational art in the information
environment and the physical environment. There is more to information
operations than just affecting adversary decisionmaking as proposed
in the draft definition; coordinated military actions must affect
the information environment as a whole.
Although draft JP 3-13 establishes the IE's
conceptual context and military operations related to it, it does
not address the need to shape that environment because of friendly
or adversary actions in the physical environment. The United States
enjoys a force advantage over most of its adversaries and, therefore,
seeks objectives and victories in the physical environment using
actions in the information environment as an enabler.
In contrast, terrorists and insurgents, who
lack military parity, seek to achieve their ultimate objectives
by being successful in the information environment. They cannot
successfully engage a superior force in the physical environment,
so they conduct selected acts in the physical environment (bombings
and small-scale attacks, for example) to shape the information environment
(that is, perceptions). These acts can help achieve objectives in
the information environment and, ultimately, in the physical environment.
Therefore, a nonstate actor might choose to avoid a decisive fight
with U.S. forces, selecting instead a more advantageous time and
location for engagements. Nonstate actors will avoid direct confrontation
in a state's PE battlespace, but a state actor can defeat them by
reshaping their information environment.
How to Pursue Victory
Current doctrine directs U.S. forces to achieve
a decisive victory in the physical environment while using the information
environment to support "objectives and reduce costs of war."20
Although U.S. information operations might often affect the adversary's
perception or will to fight, the United States normally relies on
victory in the physical environment to win the battle, which is
a typical strategy of a military with a force advantage over the
majority of its adversaries.21
Joint doctrine supports this by orienting on
affecting adversary decisionmaking to influence decisions in the
United States's favor and to prevent the adversary from influencing
U.S. forces. While this approach is adequate for a conventional
adversary such as North Korea, it is inadequate for nonstate threats
such as insurgents and terrorists. The United States might understand
how to strategically shape the information environment, but at the
operational level it often relies on its superior military might
or its force advantage to achieve victory in the physical environment,
neglecting the efficient, effective use of the information environment.
How Terrorists errorists and Insurgents
Terrorists and insurgents adopt a much different
approach to achieving victory through the use of a complex IO strategy.
They develop the IE battlespace because of the benefits gained from
its residual effects. In The Terrorist Approach to Information Operations,
Norman Emery and Rob Earl say: "Terrorists act in the physical
environment not to make tactical gains in the physical environment,
but to wage strategic battle in the information environment; therefore
the physical environment enables many of the activities in the information
environment to occur."22
Figure 1 shows the model nearly all terrorists
follow to achieve objectives by indirectly influencing a decisionmaker.23
The process applies to select insurgencies. The model's four steps
and three orders of effects begin with a bombing or attack in the
physical environment that the media or members of a population report.
The interpretations can shape perceptions of a populace or government
in the information environment. Terrorists then determine follow-
on actions in the physical environment depending on the measure
of success in the information environment. Perceptions once developed
can endure for days, months, or decades and are difficult to change.
The model demonstrates that a specific act
in the physical environment produces residual effects and offers
an approach for U.S. forces to interdict the adversary's information
environment to reduce or reverse the effectiveness of PE actions.
Therefore, any operation to eliminate nonstate actors and their
influence must also employ forces operationally to counter the potential
strategic effect and results of previous nonstate operations. Having
effective counteroperations to current and previous acts in the
information environment, not just attrition warfare in the physical
environment, is important. Shaping the information environment is
not merely denying information to adversary decisionmakers; it is
denying them results from their actions.
The big difference between what current U.S.
doctrine is and should be is in its approach to conflict. As long
as U.S. forces are denying a state foe his ability to make a decision,
they are shaping his information environment. The United States
might not be able to affect a nonstate foe's ability to make a decision
if he maintains an information advantage, but it can affect his
results in the information environment, his chosen battlespace.
As long as the United States conceptualizes all victories in the
physical environment through decisive engagement rather than more
lengthy action in the information environment, it might not succeed
as quickly. If the United States adjusts its approach to nonstate
conflict, it can beat insurgents and terrorists at their own game
in their own battlespace, which requires a new approach to modern
The Art of Information Operations
Figures 2 and 3 illustrate the U.S. military's
current approach to state and nonstate conflict, which works when
engaging a similarly structured adversary such as North Korea or
Iraq in linear conventional warfare. Figure 2 shows conventional-force
actions in the information environment, such as PSYOP campaigns,
EW, deception, and OPSEC measures supported by media messages and
civilmilitary operations to achieve victory in the physical environment.
The problem with the approach in figure 2 is
it does not work against such nonstate actors as insurgents or terrorists,
who operate by design in a different battlespace. Figure 3 concerns
the Iraqi police station bombing vignette and shows how state and
nonstate forces can operate in different battlespaces with the nonstate
force gaining the long-term advantage.
U.S. forces conduct operations in the physical
environment to defeat or deter Iraqi insurgents responsible for
a series of bombings; however, that is only a portion of the insurgent's
battlespace because they shaped the information environment with
residual effects from previous attacks. The attacks on Iraqi supporters
of U.S. programs perpetuate insecurity in the fearful population,
a perception which does not dissipate with a few U.S. force victories
against insurgents. The perception reaches audiences in the information
environment, which ultimately supports insurgents' strategic objective
in the physical environment, such as forcing the UN to cancel elections
or the United States to withdraw prematurely.
To win, the United States must realize and
employ the art as well as the science of information operations.
The United States must also understand that when its forces react
negatively and kick down doors in night raids, they are helping
the enemy improve his own information environment. Their actions
will annoy and alienate citizens who might no longer cooperate or
who might begin actively supporting the insurgents. A silent population
is de facto support to insurgents, who maintain or increase their
information advantage in the information environment.
The effect insurgents have on the information
environment is comparable to the ripples that dropping a large stone
into a lake causes. Long after the stone has hit the bottom, the
residual effects expand in all directions, are difficult to stop,
and ultimately crash into the banks of the lake. Current U.S. counterinsurgency
strategy focuses on the splash of the stone (the PE), and not enough
on stopping the ripples (the IE) before they reach the bank-the
enemy's strategic PE objective.
Revisers of the next draft of JP 3-13 should
consider the recommendations in the following paragraphs to improve
the U.S. military's ability to counter nonstate threats.
The doctrinal definition of IO needs to be
modified to better reflect operations in the information environment.
The proposed IO definition in the draft JP 3-13 limits what we can
accomplish by limiting what capabilities we can use. Information
operations are the effects sought, not just tools to get these effects.
The new definition should emphasize using all available capabilities
in full-spectrum operations to affect the information environment
instead of focusing solely on the adversary's decisionmaking capability
in the physical environment. The IO definition we recommend is:
"The timely employment of specified capabilities to influence,
disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the adversarial information environment
and decisionmaking while protecting our own."
The next recommendation is to emphasize information
operations to influence and obtain information superiority. The
United States must break the mindset that information superiority
is an inherent part of combat superiority. The most powerful force
might not always have information superiority or the ability to
directly influence adversarial decisionmakers to shape the information
environment. To achieve information superiority, IO doctrine should
address actions in the information environment to enhance U.S. objectives
against nonstate actors who rely on the information environment
as their primary battlespace.
We also recommend emphasizing the art of information
operations as one of the core concepts of offensive information
operations. The joint community has a prime opportunity to shape
a new approach to warfare by addressing actions and effects in the
information environment, not just in the physical environment, to
enhance effects against nonstate actors who rely on the information
environment as their primary battlespace.
Last, we recommend IO doctrine change its approach
to nonstate threats by conducting find, fix, and finish actions
in the physical environment while shaping residual effects from
previous actions in the information environment. An adversary's
residual effects might persist from previous actions in the information
environment following some act in the physical environment. To counter
this, U.S. IO doctrine should adopt a simultaneous two-pronged approach
against nonstate threats through physical attacks as well as through
disrupting and minimizing their current and previous influence in
the information environment (figure 4).
Draft JP 3-13 briefly addresses principles
that would support the two-pronged approach but insufficiently emphasize
it as a core concept and says the focus of offensive information
operations is to directly affect information to indirectly affect
decisionmakers "by taking specific psychological, electronic,
or physical actions to add, modify, or remove information itself
from the environment of various individuals or groups of decisionmakers."24
The simultaneous approach reduces nonstate actors' operational effectiveness
and support, causing them to either decrease operations or take
greater risks in their activity, thereby increasing their exposure
to defeat in the physical environment.
Succeeding in the Security Environment
Current published or draft joint IO doctrine
insufficiently addresses nonstate conflicts the United States now
faces. To succeed in the new security environment, the new JP 3-13
must better define IOand IE-shaping operations to enable ultimate
victories in the physical environment. Military leaders and planners
must understand that while PE and IE domains coexist, they are separate
battlespaces. Nonstate actors operate mainly in the information
environment to leverage their advantages, while the United States
often chooses to leverage its force advantage in the physical environment.
Fighting nonstate actors such as terrorists
and insurgents requires an understanding of the residual effects
of gains and losses in the information environment based on actions
in the physical environment. The benefit of the residual effects
in the information environment from actions in the physical environment
are far greater than the physical result from the act (that is,
deaths from a bombing). To combat these residual effects, the United
States should seek to shape the information environment in its favor
by conducting simultaneous operations to find, fix, and finish in
the physical environment while shaping residual effects in the information
environment from current and past adversary and friendly actions
in the physical environment.
Shaping the information environment requires
a new way of thinking and a new staff approach to warfare, with
planners and leaders conceptualizing nonstate conflict differently
than traditional conflict. The military should not continue to inadequately
address an important dynamic in current and future warfare. Planners
must not get caught up in seeking immediate effects while ignoring
the value of gaining effects in the information environment, because
the results there are slow in coming and difficult to quantify.
Military operations do not always produce tangible, visible, or
immediate effects. By shaping the information environment, military
forces can affect the enemy decisionmaker by influencing his environment
without changing his perception or decision.
This battle of ideas requires more bytes than
bullets. The military can achieve this by using the science of information
operations to focus on decisionmaking in the physical environment
and using the art of information operations to shape the information
environment; this synchronization achieves the victory in the physical
environment and counters results in the information environment
from current and previous actions in the physical environment. As
long as U.S. information operations orient solely on the PE victory,
the U.S. cannot successfully engage and defeat the wide range of
threats in the everchanging security environment.
1. U.S. Secretary of Defense
Donald H. Rumsfeld, Joint Operations Concepts (Washington, DC: U.S.
Government Printing Office [GPO], November 2003).
2. Joint Chiefs of Staff
(JCS), Joint Publication (JP) 3-13, Joint Doctrine for Information
Operations (Washington, DC: GPO, 1998).
3. U.S. Department of
Defense (DOD) IO policy ("IO Roadmap"), Washington, D.C.,
4. The White House,
National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington, DC:
5. DOD, Quadrennial
Defense Review (Washington, DC: GPO, 30 September 2001).
6. JP 3-13; JCS, Joint
Vision 2010 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1996); Joint Vision 2020 (Washington,
DC: GPO, 2000), 28; "IO Roadmap."
7. JV 2010.
8. JV 2020, 3.
9. JP 3-13 (draft),
10. "IO Roadmap."
11. Edwin Armistead,
ed., Information Operations: The Hard Reality of Soft Power (Washington,
DC: National Defense University, 2002).
12. JP 3-0, Doctrine
for Joint Operations (Washington, DC: GPO, 2001).
13. Rob Earl and Norman
Emery, Terrorist Approach to Information Operations (Monterey, CA:
Naval Postgraduate School, 2003).
14. JP 3-13 (draft),
15. Earl and Emery,
16. JP 3-13 (draft),
17. Ibid., I-4, I-5.
18. Ibid., I-10.
20. Earl and Emery,
21. Janos Radvanyi,
ed., Psychological Operations and Political Warfare in Long-Term
Planning (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1990), 121.
22. Earl and Emery,
23. Ibid., 11-12.
24. JP 3-13 (draft),
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