678c14_961aee5a01a44946817c218c651c59ab_mv2

Rethinking Camouflage…

Inspired by Churchill’s Wizards The British Genius for Deception 1914-1945 by Nicholas Rankin

“All Warfare is based on deception” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

“War is deception” – Haditha ‘al-harb khuda’, the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH]

Introduction

Those readers who follow me on Twitter will be aware of my fetish for camouflage and many often comment or challenge me with the hashtag #CamoGeek. What many will not realise is that as a child I was painfully introvert and struggled at school. To overcome this I was encouraged to take up public speaking, join the debating club and, most importantly, to act in school plays. This British love of acting, dressing up and adopting a new persona is the basis from which Nicholas Rankin launches his amazingly well researched and fascinating book, Churchill’s Wizards. I finally bought the book, which has been on my reading list for far too many years, while visiting the Churchill War Rooms in London.  
But the book goes far beyond recording the development of camouflage, as the proliferation of more and more accurate small arms meant the bright red tunics of the British Army were reversed for ceremonial duties. Boer Kommandos, who would inspire Churchill’s creation of the modern commando forces and the Special Operations Executive, were adept at tactical cunning and hit and run attacks using camouflage and misdirection to harass the far larger British force. Rankin takes the reader on a journey, starting at the tea-staining of white belts, the adoption of khaki in India through to the evolution of modern sniping, false trees in No Mans Land and to perhaps the most famous deception of all; Operation Mincemeat. However, throughout my reading of the book I was stuck with the parallels in today’s contested and confusing Information Environment. As a practitioner of Information Warfare, I began to consider; “What does modern camouflage look like?” A couple of years ago, while attending a conference, I enjoyed a coffee and morning pastry with US Marine Corps General Joseph L Osterman, who was then the Commander of the USMC Special Operations Command (MARSOC). One of his “big ideas” at the time was getting small teams of Raiders in and out of hot spots and the grey zone, without compromising the individuals or the mission. Similarities can be seen with the GRU chemical weapons attack in Salisbury and the subsequent investigation by the Open Source Intelligence website Bellingcat. While enjoying Churchill’s Wizards, with its interlocking stories, recurring themes and multitude of lessons for Info Ops planners and practitioners, I could not help but think:
  • We (Britain and her Allies) have lost the operational edge when we consider camouflage in its broadest sense and with it an entire capability (a subset of Information Operations which includes Deception, Counter-Command Warfare, OPSEC and EW).
  • Much like sniping, camouflage is ignored during peacetime and rushed into service in times of crisis. Those who advocate camouflage, deception or ‘unconventional methods’ are often treated with suspicion, mockery and contempt by those officers in the ‘top third’.
  • Finally, and most importantly, we consider camouflage in a far too narrow a spectrum. Namely, the clothes worn by soldiers, cam-cream on faces and scrim on helmets, and at best reduction of our Infra-Red and Radio Frequency (IR and RF) signatures.
To address the current lack in camouflage thinking, I propose that we are now in the age of 3rd Generation Camouflage. Allow me to explain: 1st Generation Camouflage was adopted in response to an enemy’s ability to see and shoot a soldier in the field. Uniforms were changed from scarlet red to rifles green or khaki in the hotter regions of the empire. During World War 1, the French recruited the artistic community as les camoufleurs, to create dummy head (complete with smoking cigarette), false trees to be used as OPs and a catalogue of other tricks. The Royal Engineers followed suit and established work shops close to the front line and as the war progressed into bloody stalemate, camouflage mutated from simply hiding to actively deceiving the other side.
A supply mule of the Somaliland Scouts ‘camouflaged’ as a zebra. (IWM)
This was made more urgent with the arrival of aircraft over the battlefield and the early use of aerial photography – tactical and operational thinking suddenly became 3-dimensional. [Should we have been so surprised when ISIS and other groups began using commercially available drones as delivery platforms?] In short, 1st Generation Camouflage was used to defeat the Human Mark 1 eye-ball. 2nd Generation Camouflage arrived during WW2 and advanced rapidly through the Cold War as the opposing blocs became increasingly industrialised and technically advanced. Now not only were forces required to defeat the man with his simple optics, but camouflage was needed to defeat technology. Stealth technology hides aircraft and ships from radar, encrypted burst transmission radio reduces the risk of SIGINT intercept and direct-finding or jamming, the first pixelated camouflage was developed to defeat early night vision devices and clothes were issued with IR absorbent coating. But throughout this technological advancement, the principles of camouflage remained unchanged and often 2nd Generation Camouflage often became a state’s most heavily guarded secret. We where are we now? I believe that we must now recognise that we are operating in an environment that requires us to adopt a 3rd Generation Camouflage approach. 1st and 2nd Gen Camo remain important and we must continue to develop these as fundamental elements of Force Protection and to maintain technological advantage. But we must also look at how the GRU officers in the Salisbury case were identified, traced and exposed. Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) may be dismissed by many, just as camouflage, aircraft and even special forces were in the past. But it offers insights into how our adversaries operate, their attempts to mislead, confuse and threaten our political systems and societal norms. More importantly, it offers lessons to those of us who work in Info Ops, our intelligence services, special forces and our deployed units and formation, as to how information can be used against us and what measures we must have in place to “camouflage” our operations, in order to protect our service men and women and safe-guard our national interests. So what does 3rd Generation Camouflage (3rdGenCam) look like? Well, firstly it must be recognised that 3rdGenCam functions primarily in the Information Environment, as such the planning, coordination and assessment of it sits within Information Operations (InfoOps) – itself an often misrepresented, misunderstand and under-appreciated capability (just saying!). Within InfoOps, 3rdGenCam draws together capabilities, functions and specialist knowledge from across the Information Activities, including; Media Ops, OPSEC, PERSEC, Deception, Electronic Warfare (EW), Open Source Intelligence linked to wider All Source Intelligence ‘fusion’ and a healthy portion of creativity, imagination and unconventional thinking – often absent in our headquarters, where conformity, group think and “because I said so” are the norm. Example: During the NATO intervention against the Libyan regime in 2011, a small team of ‘experts’ were seconded to the MOD to consider deception operations against Colonel Ghadaffi and his inner circle (including his playboy son Saif al’Islam). This team delved deep into operations of WW2 and counter-revolutionary doctrine to produce a “Chinese take away menu” of options with a view to psychologically isolate the dictator and undermine his control. While it can never be proven that these activities ever took place or contributed to his capture, Ghadaffi’s decision to move and attempt to escape the country proved to be his undoing – maybe images of “ninjas with stealth helicopters” (noting at the time that the killing of Osama Bin Laden by US Navy SEALs was widely reported) filled his nightmares and irrational suspicions about his senior commanders preoccupied his waking hours. This example demonstrates that 3rdGenCam must take the methods and creative thinking of the past and apply it, like a fresh coat of paint over our current 1st and 2nd Gen thinking. It must be recognised in our policies and it is encouraging to see leading MPs dedicating time to these issues. Our doctrine must free up thought processes to allow greater creativity, while drawing heavily on past endeavours (camouflage workshops, technological solutions) and an adaptable approach to very modern problems. Practitioners in this field must be drawn from a diverse pool, including deep specialist, empowered with authority to set the conditions to effectively implement “camouflage” when called upon to support military operations, political manoeuvres and react to the activities of our adversaries – not waiting for a crisis to occur before rushing half-baked capabilities into service. Open Source Intelligence – the UK Military needs a capability similar to that of the Bellingcat group. Many believe this exists in 77th Brigade, but in truth Information Manoeuvre is a corralling of existing capabilities such as PSYOPS, Civil Affairs and Info Ops. Legal and ethical constraints are too often cited as reasons why OSINT is not used by the military, but this can not be allowed to effectively hand the advantage to our adversaries to run a mock and turn audiences against us unchallenged. Electronic Warfare – The (re)formation of the Royal Marines 30 Commando (so name after Ian Fleming’s wartime unit of commando scallywags) included the Corps’ EW specialists, Y Troop. They recognised that this new form of warfare needed to incorporate much of the 2nd Generation capabilities of DF’ing and jamming, but increasingly weaknesses in a Forces use of the electromagnetic spectrum are exposed by Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs). Mobile phones, iPads, game consoles and wrist-worn fitness devices have all been used to collect or compromise data relating to the user or the operation. Example: Released data from the fitness app Strava highlighted significant and immediately recognisable ‘hot spots’ in obscure locations in Syria, Somalia and other locations, because military personnel were wearing the devices while running around the perimeter fences of their compounds. OPSEC/PERSEC – The old adage of “loose lips sinks ships” still holds true, but now loose lips are most often found on social media platforms and in the open source. Examples from Bellingcat show how Russian soldiers were photographed inside Eastern Ukraine, despite the claims from the Kremlin. The GRU officers in Salisbury were not only caught on CCTV (a lack of 2nd Gen Cam) but images from their previous military service, awards they have been presented and copies of their real passport were all discovered by investigators. However, it must be remembered that Osama Bin Laden was not found because of his ‘signature’ but by the fact that he had no signature in the Information Environment. A family compound in Abbottabad in modern Pakistan, with no phone, no internet and no access to the outside world stood out in the busy Information Environment. “Absence of the normal, presence of the abnormal!” So what? By instructing soldiers, analysts and others to have no digital footprint is not only almost impossible, but will in fact draw more attention than a well managed and ‘normal’ online persona. It should be argued that a believable, appropriate and human online persona should be the gold standard, rather than no presence at all. To quote from Rankin’s book, ‘On the surface they are so open,’ writes novelist Geoffrey Household of his countrymen, ‘and yet so naturally and unconsciously secretive about anything which is of real importance to them.’ Of course, these days what is “of real importance” is personal data and information relating to family and which could be used against us. PERSEC training must go far beyond “don’t post on Facebook or Twitter” and consider social media as a weapon to be used safely by all, not just by practitioners. Recent initiatives in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia have focused on media literacy, safe and responsibility use of social media and an “alert not alarmed” approach to counter misinformation, fake news and the impact of other active measures. Media Operations (or Public Affairs, if you prefer) – Traditionally, Media Ops and PA has focused on simply informing audiences through the media. This has been short-circuited by social media and the disciplines have struggled to maintain the old assumption that they must stay separate from PSYOPS and the other Information Activities. While 3rdGenCam thinking does not advocate using the media and journalists as a channel for deception, the amplification of stories, provision of good news and as a medium through which Presence-Posture-Profile (PPP, the Force’s body language) can be demonstrated must be utilised. The media, no matter where on the political spectrum they sit, have a responsibility to help protect a population from the “truth decay” seen in recent years, where conspiracy theories, fake news and emotional triggers have become the norm, replacing well researched journalism, the opinions of real experts and facts. Media Ops must be the military’s shop front, not only to attract recruits and propagate good news, but to rebut false fact, half truths and lies, before they gain traction and are accepted as fact. Above all, these activities can not be controlled centrally. They must be delegated down to the point of discomfort and far beyond. Credible voices must be found, established and amplified at unit, formation, thematic and operational levels – force multiplied by a network of mutually supporting accounts, voices, advocates and outlets, in a decentralised but coordinated manner. “But how?” you may cry… …through the application of Mission Command and a clear intent. Deception and Counter-Command Warfare (CCW) – Key to 3rd Generation Camouflage thinking is that all information (as we often see) can be misinterpreted, misrepresented, taken out of context and twisted. Therefore, we must be able to do the same as and when we require to. Occasionally, conspiracy theories and folklore will play to our advantage. Example: British tabloid media are happy to run stories of SAS snipers making impossible shots and killing multiple targets with a single shot or of Military Working Dogs tearing the throats out of Jihadis. While those in the know can dismiss these as exaggerated ‘dits’, they enter the public domain and are often reposted, shared and liked. The official outlets and channels should never “confirm or deny” such fantasies, but defence commentators should (where necessary) at least share them. Why? Because if even one young British Muslim is deterred from making the journey to join his brothers and commit acts of terror then that article, retweet or like was worth the second it took to tap! Summary Nicholas Rankin’s excellent book, Churchill’s Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914–1945, offers everyone with an interest in military history, Info Ops or the British ability to embrace eccentricity and muddle through, a thoughtful, thorough and detailed account. Full of colourful characters, political infighting and some truly unbelievable adventures. It sits alongside Rogue Warriors and The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare as a must-read for those entrenched in the ‘middle third’ and anyone who secretly wants to be free to experiment and innovate as British scallywags have done from the Indian subcontinent, the African pains to the jungles of the Far East. In the spirit of Fleming’s 30 Commando, Stirling’s SAS and Lawrence’s Arabs, the SOE and the Political Warfare Executive the ability to embrace uncertainty, apply unconventional thinking, take risks and ignore the ridicule and sniping – to achieve the assumed impossible and establish new norms. What next?
  • What measures could be taken NOW to establish these evolving capabilities within an organisation preoccupied with managing budgets, STRIKE, new carriers and F35?
  • How can existing capabilities and activities be aligned to achieve 3rd Generation Camouflage?
  • Is OSINT the new J2? How does the Military resolve the ethical and legal considerations around OSINT and the use of such data in the targeting process?
  • What counter-measures are needed to provide OPSEC/PERSEC to personnel, especially those deployed on operations? Particularly those deploying in small teams and ‘at reach’?
Please post your comments below or continue the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #CamoGeek. #Military#InfoOps#InformationOperations#Defence#Camouflage#Review
678c14_29bcdc09ff7d4f8f8ab5182750bef505_mv2

Twitter Chat – Social Media in the Military and Defence

It’s a little over two months until SMi’s Social Media in the Defence and Military conference on 28th – 29th November in London.

There is an impressive line up of speakers covering a wide agenda from looking at Social Media use for Recruitment, Retention and Engagement with Home Audiences as well as how Strategic Communications supports Exercises and Operations that looks at the rise of disinformation, Hybrid Warfare and Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE).

Ric Cole (@Ric_Cole) of i3 Gen has been invited to chair this year’s event, and as part of the run-up to the conference, i3 Gen are hosting an open #MilSocialMedia Twitter Chat on 10th October at 18:00-19:00 UK Time (BST). We will run this as a Special chat in the usual #SMChat slot.

Ric recently published a review of RAND Corporation’s 2016 US InfoOps research report ‘Dominating Duffer’s Domain’ in which we considered the first 13 lessons through the perspective of Digital and Social Media. Building on that article and in preparation for the conference, we thought it would be interesting to discuss some core questions around Social Media use in and by defence sector organisations, both military and civilian.

We are seeing an increasing maturity and acceptance of the role of Social Media in Defence. The British Army recently published updated Guidance on Social Media use for all ranks. This guide was well written and widely welcomed throughout the British Army and wider. Whilst this is encouraging, it also brings to the forefront additional considerations around training, support, and of course security.

During the Twitter chat we would like to gather viewpoints and discuss the following questions:

  • Q1. How do you think social media should be used in the Military and Defence Sector today?
  • Q2. The use of ‘Story-telling’ structures and techniques are key to audience engagement. What are the best ways to tell stories with Social Media, considering the limited space for content?
  • Q3. Social Media is a fast moving, dynamic and often reactive environment. How can we balance the need to be timely with the permissions and approval authority requirements of our organisations, Military or Corporate?
  • Q4. Social Media has been used to develop false narratives and influence through the use of Impostor Accounts, Misinformation / Disinformation and deliberate trolling. How can we detect and handle fake Social Media?

— If time allows we will cover these ‘bonus’ questions.

  • Q6. What key questions would you like to see covered at the #MilSocialMedia conference?

To participate in the live Twitter Chat, just click on this link or search for #MilSocialMedia on 10th October and we will kick-off at 18:00 UK Time.

To join in during the chat, please use A1. , A2. , A3. Etc at the start of your tweet and use the hashtags #MilSocialMedia#SMChat – we will then be able to create a transcript and share after the event.

If you have more questions you want answering or insights that will take more than 280 characters, or perhaps fear you won’t be able to make the chat but want your voice heard? Then please leave a comment below!

678c14_e40ff9d71c2247cea943d4687ea9f42c_mv2

Considering ‘Dominating Duffer’s Domain’ through the lens of Digital and Social Media.

Dominating Duffer’s Domain:
Lessons for the US Army Information Operations Practitioner
By Christopher Paul and William Marcellino (RAND Corporation)

A Review by Ric Cole, Director (Military), i3 Gen

Summary

Written in the style of The Defence of Duffer’s Drift by Maj Gen Ernest Dunlop Swinton in 1904, this short (about 50 pages) piece sees a young Capt Hindsight deploying in an Info Ops appointment and having a series of vivid dreams. The scenario, set in Atropia, develops with every dream and the young officer carries forward the lessons from each into subsequent dreams. These are ultimately compiled into 26 lessons, which (we hope) will see Capt Hindsight through her tour as an Info Ops practitioner.

Well-written, humorous in parts and tragic in others, this unusual report from RAND Corporation, departs for the conventional and applies an appealing and relevant twist to a Victorian military classic. While many in the InfoOps community have sought to apply these lessons within their headquarters or units, the wider audience has yet to be reached.

We (Yes – YOU too!) must advocate the lessons from Capt Hindsight’s restless dreams and champion their application before we unwittingly hand the advantage to those who wish harm upon us, undermine our alliances and attack our shared values.

To give you a flavour of this excellent ‘report’, this article is an interpretation of the first 13 lessons through the lens of Digital and Social Media in the Military and Defence sector. We hope it will encourage you to download the full report, consider its lessons fully and in turn share as widely as possible.

Introduction

The report, (as its authors acknowledge) maintains four key elements of the original; simplicity of style, satirical in nature, demonstrates the tactical principles and illustrates the tragic results of ignoring these principles. It was recommended to me by a close colleague, who used it to mount his own “InfoOps campaign” within an operational UK headquarters, by printing off multiple copies and covertly distributing them around the department heads and principal staff officers, or anyone who failed to recognise the importance of integrating InfoOps into the operational plan.

However, what of the military’s use of social media? After all, it is acknowledged that we are now, more engaged in information warfare and the information environment is seen by many as the operational (and even strategic) vital ground.

Lessons

So, what #MilSocialMedia lessons can be drawn from those in Dominating Duffer’s Domain?

Lesson 1 – Effective InfoOps cannot be an afterthought. This could not be truer than in military social media. Accounts must be well-established, with engaging content and a receptive following. Without a credible online presence and a track record of healthy two-way communication, any attempt to use social media during an operation, whether in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) or combat, will be ineffective. All too often commanders see social media as an unnecessary risk, not as an opportunity to engage with the audience and actors long before boots are on the ground.

Lesson 2 – If effects in and through the information environment are important to the commander, they should feature prominently in the commander’s intent. As with Lesson 1, any InfoOps practitioner from the last decade will tell you stories of commanders demanding the liberal application of “InfoOps Pixie Dust”, without incorporating informational effects into the effect-based planning cycle, or properly resourcing the InfoOps cell and its related activities. Even getting internet access in the cell is all too often a show-stopper.

Commanders must be encouraged to understand better the effects that can be achieved by InfoOps, including the use of social media, both in support of ‘home games’ (community engagement and recruiting) and ‘away games’ (overseas exercises and operations). While they may not wish to engage through a personal account (although increasingly many do), they must TRUST their InfoOps practitioners and apply an uncomfortable amount of mission command, if the use of social media is to be agile, timely and effective.

Lesson 3 – Manoeuvre and fires generate effects in the information environment too. It is hard to imagine a military operation anywhere that will not be reported on and seen on social media, especially when it ‘goes loud’. Therefore, it is essential that our messages be ready and effective, prior to H-Hour. Failure to do so will immediately hand the operational information advantage to the adversary and anyone else wishing to exploit the vacuum; from fringe groups and conspiracy theorists to pro-Russian trolls and their useful idiots. Contingency plans must be drawn up and approved for both worst case and most likely case scenarios and enacted without delay.

Lesson 4 – Plan for friendly force mistakes and adversary propaganda. Mistakes will be made, accept the fact and include it in your planning assumptions. Every holding line (hopefully released within 15-20 minutes of any event) should include, “not believed to be the result of enemy action”. Even if later investigations show that the event was the result of sabotage or an attack, you have denied the first-mover advantage to the enemy. Better to be nearly right and on time, than completely right days or even weeks later.

Have a counter-propaganda plan. Essential to this will be third-party advocates, voices of expert commentators, who will speak in your defence. Enable, empower and amplify them before you need them. Counter-propaganda via ‘official’ accounts rarely works, a Twitter war only amplify your opponent’s voice. Your advocates will have been identified during your Target Audience Analysis; they will already have the facts to undermine the adversaries’ version of events through well-informed comment to established audiences.

Lesson 5 – All communications are potentially global. A PSYOPs leaflet fluttering down from the skies will soon be picked up by a teenager, who photographs it with his phone and posted it on his social media. The effect of the message is now global, and audiences will all have a different interpretation. The InfoOps planner will always consider the 2nd order effects and 3rd order consequences of a message, as all should be aligned to the Communications and Effects Framework, which sets out the narrative (hate the term if you must!) and the supporting themes.

Likewise, be prepared for actions elsewhere having a direct (unforeseen) effect on your operations. In the summer of 2009, I was deployed in Helmand province, and at the height of Operation Panther’s Claw in support of the Afghan elections, our messages were not making the international media outlets as we had expected. The reason? The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, had died of an overdose in LA and this was ‘Breaking News’ for nearly a week. Somethings simply can not be planned for – Black Swans[1].

Lessons 6, 7 and 8 speak to the importance of InfoOps coordination and that individual information-related capabilities (IRCs or Information Activities in UK doctrine) achieve minimal effects individually and will have readers from all the disciplines nodding in well-coordinated agreement.

Lesson 9 – Information-related capabilities can have lengthy timelines, for both execution and results. It is said that the British Army was not in Helmand for ten years, but there for 6 months twenty times. Each Task Force was attempting to win the campaign within their short time, with Red Amber Green (RAG) analysis to support their ‘success’. In recent years, Information Warfare has become front page news, yet this is not reflected in our capabilities, and even the establishment of Specialist Units have yet to really prove to be an effective counter to Russia, Chinese, ISIS or even al-Shabab activities amongst many. However, we are getting better…

To date, InfoOps practitioners are not considered ‘experts’ alongside their counterparts in fires or logistics, in part because the results of their effects may not present themselves for months or years, and these effects are difficult to measure or visualise in PowerPoint – often to the dismay and occasionally the wrath of senior commanders.

Lesson 10 – Events do not unfold according to plan. Alternatively, as the Brits would say, “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. Or if you prefer, as Mike Tyson so eloquently proposed, “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face!” One tool available to the InfoOps practitioner to minimise the effects of a ‘punch in the face’ is social media; it allows for a rapid and agile message to react immediately to unforeseen and unfolding events. Yet, this can only be achieved if the team is Trained, Empowered, Amplified and Mentored (TEAM).

Lesson 11 – Warfare, including Information Warfare, involves trade-offs. Choose your battles, block trolls and bots, do not engage in spats with anonymous accounts with only a handful of followers (no matter how ‘wrong’ they are!). Sometimes OPSEC may have to be relaxed to enable engagement. For example; To hold an effective Med Cap and Vet Cap task, you will have to tell the patients or farmers where and when the event is taking place and subsequently mitigate the increased risk of attack or intimidation by increasing your Presence-Posture-Profile. The same holds true for a live social media Q&A!

Lesson 12 – The efforts planned and coordinated by InfoOps need to be monitored and assessed, otherwise you’re shooting in the dark. Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) must be resourced and must start (and benchmarked) before you engage on social media or deploy on operations. Social media platforms offer a whole raft of analytical tools, mostly for free, and must be incorporated into the plan. Top Tip: The InfoOps team, just like Public Affairs/Media Ops and the J2 ‘All Source’ cell, need access to unrestricted internet – better let J6 know!

Lesson 13 – InfoOps is not well understood in the force…Yep!

I could go on, but then you’ll have no reason to read it for yourself!

Dominating Duffer’s Domain offers InfoOps practitioners, commanders and staff officers at all levels valuable lessons in the integration, resourcing, coordination and prioritisation of Info Ops and all of the Information Activities and their related disciplines. It should be a mandated read for operational planners (no matter which desk they sit at) and it provides handy reminders for those who have been in this game for too long for it to be “career enhancing”.

Post-Script

I hope that this short review has whetted your appetite to download onto your mobile communications device a copy of Dominating Duffer’s Domain from RAND Corporation and that you will draw out some of your own lessons.

Download:

https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1166z1.html

Applying Dominating Duffer’s Domain to #MilSocialMedia will be the subject of a Live Twitter Q&A, hosted by i3 Gen, on Wednesday 10th October at 1900-2000. This will be a scene setter for some of the lively discussions we anticipate at the SMi Group Military Social Media conference on 28-29 November 2018.

678c14_ff08cf7d6dd147c7861040153c9bd2df_mv2

Building Information Operations into the DNA of our Armed Forces

This article was first published on Medium and LinkedIn on March 1st 2018.

For some time now there have been many individuals, both inside the military and in the private sector, that have been calling for a greater emphasis placed on building Information Operations capabilities into our Defence, Security and Stabilisation organisations.

Furthermore; In recent months there has been a notable growth in the number and volume of those voices calling for a greater focus on the domain of Information Operations.

These voices include some of the most senior officers in the British Armed Forces; most notably General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the General Staff in a widely covered speech at the Royal United Services Institute; and General Sir Gordon Messenger, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff in an interview with Deborah Haynes of The Times, states:

Winning the “information war” will be crucial in the next big fight. Commanders must realise that exploiting data to make decisions on the battlefield is as important as having the most powerful tanks, or more so.

It is also clear that our adversaries at all levels are increasingly adept and bold in their use of Information Operations; this is self-evident!

There will be some that respond that we already are investing in specialist Information Operations capabilities; such as the creation of the 77th Brigade which is also part of the new Information Manoeuvre Formation which brings together 77th Brigade with the ISTAR Brigade and the 2 Signals Brigades — mentioned by CGS at RUSI. There are also equivalent or at least similar specialist units within some of our NATO partners and other aligned forces, for example, Israel and Australia.

While these investments in specialised units are essential, in my opinion, the specialisation in itself is an indication of ‘laggardly’ thinking with regard to ‘Information Operations’.

I was particularly pleased to read, in the Full Times Interview Transcript, General Messenger’s answer to the question that Information Operations is not just about 77 Brigade:

“It is everyone. 77 Brigade are — I was there on Friday — they are a good organisation, they are absolutely a joint organisation. What they do is pan-environment and there is some very, very clever sometimes quirky people who are adding real value. I think what we have to do is elevate some of the principles of that into the broader DNA of defence.”

That is a key point — we need to bring the skills, competence, understanding and confidence of Information Operations into every part of the Armed Forces DNA / Doctrine from the enlisted soldier all the way through to our General Staff. Only then can we seriously contemplate gaining ‘Information Advantage’?

So how might we go about achieving this?

To begin with, we need to look to the adoption and leverage of ‘Information Operations’ in wider society and the private sector. Of course we don’t call it ‘Information Operations’ here! We call it Social Media, Digital Marketing, Influencer Marketing, Market Intelligence, Relationship Marketing, Networking, Blogging / VLogging, Photo-Sharing, Community Management, Data Intelligence, Cyber Security etc.

Quite simply; it is the tools and techniques that successful businesses have widely adopted, and the pervasive use of technology and social media throughout our daily lives. It is clear that Information Advantage is now part of our Society DNA, it is no longer just the specialist geeks or nerds.

Of course, deep expertise will always lie with specialists, and when we need to call upon these expert practitioners for specific scenarios or training and guidance, then we need to have them on hand. This approach is also true in the private sector, and we all know someone whom we go to to ask for ‘techie’ help when needed in our personal lives.

Fundamentally, we need to improve the ‘marketing’ capabilities throughout our Armed Forces, and not have it located in specialist units alone. This needs to cover the foundations of good marketing and will extend through Digital and Social Media Marketing into the domain-specific Influence and Intelligence aspects of Military Information Operations.

For those that would argue that this is not part of core military doctrine; then you should look back. Throughout military history, the influence of words, perceptions and morale was always far more effective than kinetic effects ever were.

So what does this mean for our Armed Forces and related organisations?

Well, let’s start off with an issue that was discussed at the last Social Media in the Military Conference and was also put to General Messenger.

“We allow our soldiers to use lethal weapons but generally speaking we do not allow them to use Social Media.”

The conference raised the questions of Risks and Control, and this was echoed by General Messenger also.

Yet, there are very real and easily identified risks with Weapon Systems and general behaviours within our Armed Forces. How we deal with these risks is training! We start with basic training, and we build upon that progressively, the extent of which will depend upon the particular career path. We also review these skills on a frequent basis and ensure they are current. We have sanctions in place for transgression and re-training available too.

Q.E.D.: We should have Basic and Intermediate Social Media training as part of Basic Training for all soldiers.

This training should cover awareness of all the major social media platforms and other relevant digital tools (i.e. fitness trackers); secure configuration and use covering Personal Security and potential impact on Operational Security.


We should also train on best practices such as; having an engaging and authentic profile; what content works for what purposes; how to link across social networks; what tools exist to help you use Social Media effectively and safely.

Finally we should demonstrate what intelligence can be gained through Social Media platforms and the wider Internet — if for no other reason then to demonstrate why good Digital Hygiene is important.

There must also to be a change in the attitude and awareness of our officers and leaders.

There are, as ever, trailblazers who are already championing the cause.

In the private sector, we recognise that some of the most influential effects happen through Word-of-Mouth — it is the oldest form of marketing, and the explosion of Social Media has essentially digitised Word-of-Mouth.

Word-of-Mouth manifests in many guises; formal marketing programmes seek to leverage Influencer Marketing and Content Marketing campaigns. For these to be effective, they need to be both authentic and add some value to the target audience. Otherwise, it’s just another form of advertising and will be largely ineffective — much like most of the output from Public Affairs Offices and Strategic Comms units!

Another form of Word-of-Mouth is that of Employee Advocacy — this can be extremely effective and influential. This is where our Armed Forces Personnel need to be encouraged to write and share about their work and experiences. Employee Advocacy speaks not only to our own communities of interest; family, friends, potential recruits and the wider public but it also demonstrates to the world at large, our passion, competence and commitment.

Reputation is built through repeated actions, spoken about in tales! q.v. The British Special Forces are recognised to be the best in the world — both by our adversaries and allies! Social Media can amplify and accelerate reputational influence — it can also destroy it through incompetent use.

However, our military leaders need to encourage and support those personnel that want to write about their experiences in either short form or longer articles or blogs or better still videos; we should also not try to ‘control’ these voices as that jeopardises their authenticity and subsequent influence. If we provide the right support, framework and expectations then our people will be our greatest influencers!

As an observation; in my experience, those who join our military are proud, passionate individuals, and if they voice criticisms, it is only because they wish to see improvements in the organisation they care deeply about.

Finally, we need to accelerate this process and build Information Operations into the DNA of our Armed Forces and related organisations?

When 77 Brigade was formed, it was recognised that it would take way too long to try and build the desired capabilities organically; from the outset, the plan was to bring in, via the Reserves, experienced individuals with expertise, insight and passion from the private sector.

Yet, even with this stated intent, the wider army recruitment processes have got in the way,  there needs to be a recognition and exception handling methodology that supports the innovation and change needed to build Information Operations into the DNA of our Armed Forces.

In addition to the Basic Training recommendation above, there is a huge opportunity open to our General Staff and Commanders to bring in Private Sector specialists to develop Information Operations capabilities throughout our Armed Forces. This opportunity was also recognised by General Carter in the Q&A’s that followed his lecture at RUSI.

Private Sector organisations and individuals with Information Operations skills and experience and an interest and understanding of the Defence, Security and Stabilisation arena could be hired to train, oversee and, for an interim period, manage Information Operations at Regimental or equivalent appropriate command level.

To build Information Advantage into the DNA of our Armed Forces we need to break free from the constraints of processes created for the ‘whole of the Armed Forces’ that handle the traditional, out-moded approach.

We must build in organisational agility and exception handling that recognises the needs of innovative, oftentimes quirky, and sometimes uncomfortable thinking and approaches.