Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Strategic Citizen and Information Operations

I was originally going to say that it is mindboggling that nearly 6 years after 9/11 we are still talking about how we need to get an information operations campaign going, but it was "mindboggling" four years ago. Former Spook is right on with an assessment of what needs to be done, but I don't have any confidence that a highly centralized government entity can successfully compete in today's media environment. My solution to this problem is what I call the "strategic citizen." The advances in communication technology that we are all familiar with have made it possible for ordinary citizens to have a strategic impact in the realm of information war (or media war or meme war or whatever we want to call it). We private citizens have the power to wage the kind of information operations that Former Spook advocates. Radical Muslims have already figured this out and are way ahead of us.

What we really need is a full-scale Information Operations (IO) campaign against the jihadists, encompassing all the tools of the trade: intelligence, psyops, deception, public information, and yes, cyber-warfare. For whatever reason, our response to terrorism on the web has been piecemeal at best, allowing jihadist websites to multiply and flourish.

The failure of our "traditional" approach was underscored in an anecdote recently relayed to me by a military IO officer. During a recent deployment, he participated in a briefing that (among other things) highlighted insurgent activity on the web. When the senior officer present --a two-star general--asked what was being done to take down terrorist web sites, the briefer simply shrugged.

As highlighted in the USA Today article, insurgents have become adept at developing content or entire web sites, then placing it on U.S.-based servers. That makes the job of neutralizing that material more difficult, but not impossible. And, the first step in that process is realizing that the "global village" described by Mr. Cilluffo is really a battlefield, to be contested and won like any other in the war on terrorism. We can't win the information war with net nannies, cyber police and outreach programs for Muslim groups. If we're serious about challenging our enemies on the web--and we'd better be--we need a strategy that unleashes the full spectrum of IO techniques against our enemies, and employment of that strategy on a relentless, global scale.

Terrorists use the web for a variety of reasons; it's universally available, cost-effective, relatively anonymous, and allows them to reach millions of potential converts and operatives with a few keystrokes. But there's another, compelling reason that insurgents have migrated to the web--the lack of an effective counter-strategy among their enemies. We can fix that latter problem, but only if our leaders--national and local, civilian and military--have the courage to use all the tools at their disposal. The revised strategy won't always be transparent, and it may sometimes spill into "neutral" domains. But this more aggressive approach would make it even more difficult for terrorists to operate on the web--and that's the real bottom line.

RELATED POSTS:
The Strategic Citizen and the Long War
Citizen Self-Mobilization

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