Small Wars Journal

information operations

Controlling Cognitive Domains

What is now categorized as the “cognitive domain” includes areas of influence in all sectors of society. Cognitive domain(s) should not be restricted to influence and information operations, social engineering and ‘winning hearts and minds’ approaches, but expanded to include all areas where ideological attacks are possible.

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Terrorism and Technology: The Front End

Despite the fact that there is a robust conversation regarding “terrorism and technology,” that discussion is – as near as we can tell – uniformly about the back end, that is to say exclusively addressing the dissemination of what terrorists have already produced. We have found virtually nothing in the popular press and nothing at all in the academic literature about the technology involved in the production of the materials that are being distributed.

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The Marawi Crisis - Urban Conflict and Information Operations

The Marawi Crisis - Urban Conflict and Information Operations by Charles Knight and Katja Theodorakis - Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Executive Summary: The seizure of Marawi in the southern Philippines by militants linked to Islamic State (IS) and the response to it by Philippine authorities provides useful insights to Australian and other policymakers, with relevance for force structure, concepts of operations and the breadth of activity required to deal effectively with the consequences of an urban seizure. One overall insight is that the increasing urbanisation of global populations, combined with proliferating information technologies, means there’s a need to be prepared both for military operations in urban environments and for a widening of what policy/decision-makers consider to be ‘the battlefield’ to include the narrative space.

The siege showed the unpreparedness of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for an urban fight: the AFP took five months to recover the city, leaving it in ruins and sustaining a notable number of casualties. This will obviously provide a set of lessons and insights to the Philippine military and authorities, but it also can allow other governments and militaries to assess their own readiness to deal with urban operations, either as assisting partners or in their own territories. This seems especially relevant to considering capability options for supporting allies facing comparable challenges, which could reduce military and civilian casualties in future operations.

The insurgents’ seizure of Marawi was accompanied by a systematic IS propaganda campaign (online and offline) aimed at projecting an image of triumph and strength. The AFP engaged in active counter-messaging to undermine militants’ narratives, encompassing the online space as well as more traditional methods of messaging, such as leaflet drops, banners, and radio and loudspeaker broadcasts. In the tactical sphere, this was aimed at avoiding civilian casualties as well as stemming further recruitment by and popular support for the insurgents. In the longer term, the overarching goal was to morally denounce the militants and undercut their support bases.

Considering the centrality of ideology and information operations (IOs) in the future operating environment, the Marawi crisis offers an instructive case when preparing for the challenges of an evolving threat landscape. This report therefore examines both the capability aspects of kinetic hard power and the lessons from soft-power IOs, and how they intertwine in the urban environment.

There are lessons here for the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

This report makes the following observations and recommendations...

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Cyber-Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and a Fragmented International System

Cyber-realpolitik or cyber-realism is an anarchic international system that is fragmented beyond the multiplicity of a multipolar distribution of state power. Nation-states are increasingly finding governance difficult as technology is propagated into the internet of things (IoT), and innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology. The power to disrupt and appeal to public impulses are redistributed to tech companies and their executives, developers, coders, technicians, and computer engineers.

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Iran’s Focus: Cyberwarfare and Retaliation on the West

With Iran’s insatiable appetite for nuclear independence and cyber warfare retaliatory strikes against the West, the imposed sanctions have resulted in increased socio-economic unrest at a time where greater individual access to technology and communication devices by individuals may result in further regional destabilization.

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Withering Influence in National Security

This essay is meant to demonstrate that a unified influence activity achieves the greatest efficiency necessary to challenge the persistent efforts of our traditional adversaries, to seize initiate in the information domain, to exploit opportunities with emerging methods and technologies. Political Warfare by our adversaries are present in common rhetoric: “Russian Election Meddling, Islamiphobic, Chinese Hacking”. This language can be found in any newspaper and blog on a daily basis across the US, across political boundaries.

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Unintended Consequences of the Message Surrounding US Withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria

This study determines what trends, if any, may be associated with the announcements of US troop withdrawals in both Syria and Afghanistan on December 19 and 20, respectively. It examines the extent to which linkages exist between the unintended consequences and the announcement of the US military’s withdrawal by examining activities and commentary associated with the Taliban, the SDF, and the Daesh.

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Weaponization of Metaphors in Russian Propaganda: Sexual Violence, as State Sovereignty Violation

The deployment of these “cognitive munitions” in the current “hot” stage of political warfare confrontation between Russia and the West should serve as a stark reminder that multiple “defusing” initiatives should be actively developed and implemented, aiming at raising the cognitive protection levels at military and civilian institutions alike.

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Control the Information Environment Narrative…or the Threat Will

Strategic competitors like Russia and China are using old technologies in new ways while also employing new advanced technology to fight their enemies in all domains (space, cyber, air, sea, and land). This required the U.S. Army to evolve and adapt the way it wants to fight by publishing “Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) 2028” as the cornerstone for the Joint force to militarily compete, penetrate, dis-integrate, and exploit future adversaries. While air, land, and sea domains have been prevalent since World War II, the relative new-comers of Cyber and Space are still establishing their doctrinal foundation in modern warfare.

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