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Concepts and Doctrine Cyber / Information Short Read

Magic and Information Manoeuvre (Part 2): Command and Proxy

Part one outlined how the UK can use the theory of magic to build a strategy called dual-role manoeuvre.  Dual role manoeuvre gives the UK a strategy to change the behaviour and opinions of target adversary audiences and aide operational impact.  Part two argues that the UK should establishment a permanent Information Operations Command to command and control the dual role manoeuvre strategy. It also examines how the information effect can be deepened by recruiting and utilising local and proxy sources. 

Speed is key

In magic, if a trick takes too long the audience lose interest.  The same applies to media. The cycle of capturing, editing, and disseminating media product needs to be fast and have limited bureaucratic red tape for release authority.  As discussed in part one, across the UK Government, and wider society, there is a myriad of creative and intellectual talent perfecting methods of influence.  Yet this is nullified if there is a lengthy and time-consuming release authority chain.  Anecdotally, it’s often said that it is easier for commanders to get authority to drop lethal weapons over releasing non-lethal messages.

If there is an information vacuum, in any context, then our adversary will fill it and establish information dominance.  Once this is achieved it becomes very difficult to regain the advantage.  In order to ensure the acceleration of the dual-role manoeuvre strategy part two proposes that the UK must tap into the networks that are already in the target area.

The public campaign

As the UK’s dual-reality networks grow, so will public engagement.  In order to obtain real-time content, and to disseminate this content within the target area, using a public submission campaign is vital.  Much like crime deterrence campaigns on public transport, a hotline telephone number, a centralised email, what-ever means is judged most effective during the analysis, should be advertised.  Using these methods, members of the public can easily contact our campaign.  Better, they can submit imagery and videos helping to build a coherent intelligence picture.

The ‘public campaign’ method seeks to ensure a fast process to capture and turn submitted media into polished media product.  To be effective, this should happen within a within a matter of minutes of the ‘event’ taking place.  Uploaded material must be collated and vetted by UK personnel.  It can be analysed for any signs of doctoring and its suitability to be included within our campaign narratives can be assessed; be it for the official or the dual campaign.  To best enable this a centralised Information Operations Command centre is vital to coordinating and authorising the depth of worth required. 

When deploying on operations, the target audience are not likely to respond to random ‘pop-up’ news agencies.  They will engage over time.  In the interest of saving time, however, it is essential to connect with existing local media sources, influencers, and local journalists, to boost our messaging.  This will ensure our narrative is echoed throughout localised proxy parties.  These proxy parties will already have a significant social following and by cultivating them we expand our capacity to hit a wider audience.

The picture above shows a range of a channels that can be used for the dual role manoeuvre strategy. It’s important, however, to remember that the strategy is not about the means, its about the desired behaviour change. It’s too easy to become fixated on apps forgetting that the key point is the message.

Journalists and Social Influencers

Campaign material can be interwoven with influencer or journalists’ content by providing them UK produced media packages.  These could consist of product created by our operatives, example headlines that emotionally resonate, example bodies of text that could accompany online articles, and social media hashtags/branding to unify the campaign effort.  It allows established sources to easily take UK messages and sell them as their own. 

A relationship-list of reporters, broadcasters and/or social media influencers, that the UK wishes to recruit in-theatre should be established before any operation.  A UK embassy within the host country is likely have media and cultural attachés that can feed directly into this list but it will require a national approach.  Once they been selected by the profiling team the recruitment process can begin.

Bringing a local influencer from first contact to fully fledged recruit is an art rather than a science and it won’t always be successful.  Establishing a friendship with the recruitment target is where specialist information operatives can prove useful.  There are already units within the MOD that actively recruit agents and they can aide this process.  However, some of this effort can happen remotely and on social media and a whole Government approach is needed in line with national fusion doctrine:  ‘Building a culture of common purpose across departments requires improved accountability to shift incentives and behaviours towards a more genuinely whole- of-government approach’. Reinforcing Fusion Doctrine, the FCO, UN Embassies and organisations of this nature can be employed to build relationships.

Campaign competitions also provide the UK a tool to allow influencers to compete with each other.  For example, by sharing campaign hashtag, or a logo on, as many mediums as possible.  These mediums could be a post, a video, graffiti, stickers, t-shirts and further paraphernalia, spreading the message.   The channels will have been identified during the target audience analysis (discussed in part one).  The winner will receive a worthwhile prize.  These are common advertising techniques which the UK should use to its advantage.  If Coco-Cola can use these techniques for corporate profit, then the UK should not shy away from similar methods for operational success.   Whilst developing the dual role manoeuvre strategy, existing business models can provide a guide. Nothing being proposed is new or original.

Case Study: ISIS online recruitment

There are six key factors and attributes that motivate ordinary civilians to join terrorist organisations.  The two main drivers are social identity and delusional fantasies.  Many of the targeted civilians feel isolated from others and are victims of bullying, discrimination, and racism.  Terrorists use this by appealing to a sense of belonging whilst exploiting existing divisions against their ‘Western’ antagonists.  A popular recruiting tool to use in Western culture is real combat footage presented in a familiar first-person shooter style of footage (warning: violent content).  

The content has striking similarities with the familiar ‘Call of Duty’ games and Hollywood action movies like ‘John Wick’ glorifying and normalising the terrorist cause in the minds of the target.  By speaking to a target audience in their own cultural language, the message is turned into a competitive, real-world game.

ISIS also employs marketing initiatives like ‘Jihadist Follow Friday’ which incentivises users to follow ISIS-related accounts. Specific hashtags mirror popular movements such as ‘#ThrowbackThursday’. Videos of mass public suicide requests are disseminated amongst these campaigns gaining traction with each user that shares, rewarding a ‘select few’ with prizes like a first-class ticket to Turkey.

A day without a bridge…

In a more pleasing example, and motivated by entirely positive reasons, the Twitter user @ThinkDefence uses simple hashtags such as #bugger and  routinely publishes comments about bridges.  Outwardly boring, this is actually a highly effective message that resonating with the target audience. @ThinkDefence is part of a ‘#MilSocialMedia’ community (a target audience). The audience then routinely tag @ThinkDefence into discussions allowing the user to exploit their reach. These social media users are successful at meeting their objectives and pressing their own analysis.

The UK can apply some of this psychological approach to social influencers by connecting with our target audience in line with their ‘cultural language’ and creating online friendly competitions and promoting a sense of unity.

Information Operations Command (IOC)

The Wavell Room already has proposals for new ways of exploiting and commanding information operations. The UK should be bolder and seek a whole-Government approach to command and control; especially to achieve operational level impacts and above. To co-ordinate this operation successfully the UK would need a centralised, rather than dispersed, command and control centre. This should take the form of an Information Operations Command, not under military control, manned for the duration of the dual role campaign, an Information Operations Command.

The IOC would provide real-time distribution of intelligence, cyber warfare capability, current information operations analytics, and reach-back.  It would also manage the long-term relationship building required for success.  Its focus should be entirely on the information domain with liaison officers attached to ensure coherency during an active military campaign.  Splintered into individual departments, the Information Operations Command should also house a department responsible for ‘IO-HUMINT’, a reach-back point for handlers, embassies, defence engagement staff, the whole of Government, whom recruit local influencers.

The IOC should also house a ‘Disinformation Working Group’.  This should be dedicated group of open source analysts whose aim would be to uncover the truth of emerging disinformation campaigns and actively undermine our opponents messaging.  There is already a proven model for this in Eliot Higgins’ Bellingcat.  Bellingcat has fast become an internationally trusted source of facts and their open source analysis is routinely used to counter fake news and false narratives.  The IOC can then co-ordinate the UK’s attacks against disinformation protecting the chosen narrative.

Trusting and using local sources

The dual-role manoeuvre strategy will require a significant investment of time to maintain any relationships built with local sources.  As relationships develop, the UK will need to establish trust before sources can be fully utilised.  After which, the known as ‘systematic exploitation’, takes root whereby the source is routinely tasked and rewarded.  This process is hugely beneficial and conditions the subject whilst nurturing trust.

This can start by entrusting sources with smaller tasks, say, posting a campaign hashtag.  As trust with the source is tested both the tasks and the content the UK provides can become larger.  The end result being a USB of UK produced media, complete with our planned narrative, being handed to the source to further their own channels.

Inside this, it is acceptable for the influencer to occasionally post ‘off-brand’ material but not for a sustained length of time as this could have a negative affect on their followers.  If they don’t, then they are likely to lose the trust of their followers.  Dual-role manoeuvre is an art, not a science!

Ensuring the validity of local sources may prove challenging.  As a standard operating procedure, only those ‘blue-ticked’ verified accounts on most social media platforms should be considered.  The blue-tick verification process is only applicable to accounts whom have more than 10,000 followers.  Targeting these accounts ensures a minimum audience reach of 10,000 followers, but likely many more.

The UK cannot appear to have an immediate association to these accounts otherwise the overall effect is diluted.  Using the whole-of-Government approach, the UK media (the BBC for example) could broadcast an interview with the source and an in-depth discussion on life within the target area.  This would not need to be openly linked to the ongoing operation.  It would serve as proof of identity allowing the UK to validate the source and avoid embarrassment.  It also helps boost their local standing.

The model for this has already been proven.  Farah Baker, a young girl who tweeted her experience amidst the Israel-Palestine conflict in 2015, was routinely critiqued for being a fake. Despite broadcasting first-hand experiences, many were sceptical of her authenticity until she conducted interviews with media broadcasters.  This ensured that the target audience believed her content AND boosted her reach.  Despite efforts to validate these sources, the information environment will ultimately dictate perceptions. The UK must select its sources wisely. 

Activists & grassroots projects; covert resistance advisers

History has proven that ‘revolutions throughout history are never the result of a major movement but of a small, dedicated and highly organised group whom seize power’.  During initial target audience analysis, resistance groups, civil uprisings and activists – small organised groups – should be identified.  These groups, if their aims are aligned with UK objectives, are advantageous and can also be used to amplify a campaign narrative as part of the dual narrative.

By recruiting covert resistance advisers, the UK can exploit their credibility and reach.  The aim is to utilise activity (including; non-violent protests, unifying symbolism, messaging, negotiations, speeches) to covertly communicate a message.  This allows the UK to benefit from third party proxy messaging further enhancing the information effect.

The benefits of recruiting activists far exceed that of just messaging.  These groups can be harnessed as part of a wider non-violent, and possibly violent, action against a dictatorship or regime.  Key dynamics will need to be maintained within the activist movement to ensure success: enthusiasm, humour, unity, non-violence, and resilience.

By engaging with the covert resistance actors early, the UK could have gained leverage and some element of control.  This principle could be used to recruit and assist the wider dual-role manoeuvre narrative.

Using the resources at our disposal, the UK Government can facilitate an array of similar ‘activist activities’ including mass demonstrations, peaceful protests and a myriad of non-violent activities through to negotiations between the people and government.  Speeches, symbolism, colour schemes and even ‘negotiation’ scripts supplied to the activists are all potential products of our dual-reality information manoeuvre.

Let us not be deceived – we are today in the midst of a Cold War. Our unrest is the heart of their success’

Bernard Maruch, 1947

Conclusions

The UK needs to be bolder in its messaging.  Information strategies need to be prepared to take more risk to achieve the effects. Effects which, after all, are routinely discussed and assumed during UK planning sessions.

Part two of this series has developed the strategy by exploring how it can use existing media sources in the target area. Using established human networks already in place will enhance our ability to message and ensure greater audience reach.  Critically, it will enable audience engagement.  This is beneficial to both the target population and the wider operational effect.  The cultivation of human media assets is an art rather than a science and there are resources that have this perfected, it’s just a matter of tapping into existing networks.

Cover photo by Farhan Siddicq on Unsplash

About the author

Connor O

Connor is an Infantry soldier who is currently studying foreign cultures.  He has experience in planning and delivering information operations

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