By Greg Grant
April 8, 2008
With wars increasingly fought among the people, information is now an element of combat power as important as lethal action in determining a conflict's eventual outcome, said an Army officer who heads the services computer warfare efforts.
The battle for a population's state of mind demands a sophisticated information operations campaign that responds more rapidly than terrorists and insurgent groups to exploit the virtual battlefield. "There was a day when we were operating at foot speed," said Army Col. Wayne Parks, who directs the service's Computer Network Operations and Electronic Warfare at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. "Now we're moving at cyber speed."
Digitization has dramatically increased the pace at which information moves about the battlefield, he said. Unlike the air and space domains, the Army operates on the ground, which means among the people, Parks said in a conference call with reporters. America's enemies influence a populations' mind-set by using Web sites and chat rooms to spread propaganda that casts the U.S. military in a bad light.
"We have to pick up the pace, … respond, react, be proactive enough to stay out ahead of the speed of megabytes," he said.
The Army has turned to academia for expertise in the humanities and social sciences to better understand foreign cultures and how to influence societies with information operations.
The service now must find a way to "maneuver around" a potential enemy's information campaign, Parks said. Being proactive, rather than simply reacting to an enemy's misinformation, is of utmost importance, he said, because members of the public often believe the first thing they hear, even if it's not true. In addition, the military also hacks into jihadi Web sites to try to stop the spread of enemy propaganda.
Recent surveys conducted by the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan found that the service's training and officers' past combat experience left them "ill-prepared" for the "interactive complexity" of information operations. Operating with the speed and agility that the 21st century information age demands is "not part of their DNA," and the Army "continues to grope for a staff process" to best leverage the power of information, according to a discussion paper e-mailed to reporters.
Rather than the ad hoc approach to information operations the Army has pursued, the paper designated specific staff responsibilities for everything from informing and educating the public (delegated to the public affairs and psychological operations staff) to hacking into enemy computer networks (a task for intelligence officers). The service is recruiting a younger generation of hackers, Parks said, for, as the Army puts it, "computer network attack and computer network defend."
The United States finds itself more often fighting small, distributed terrorist and insurgent cells that are able to communicate and coordinate attacks using cell phones and that can share on Web sites lessons on the best way to attack U.S. forces. The challenge is finding weaknesses in the enemy's computer network that can be exploited, Parks said.
By Greg Grant
April 8, 2008