WASHINGTON — When the United States began its final withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in August, European news outlets and some social media accounts reported that allies worked together to evacuate personnel. But Chinese media spun the same news to target Taiwan, calling the exit an example of America abandoning its partners.
That difference is a confounding problem for U.S. defense offices focusing on information warfare.
The Defense Department awarded Peraton a nearly $1 billion contract this summer to support four combatant commands with influence planning, content development, dissemination of messages and the assessment of those messages. The work will be done for Africa Command, Central Command and Special Operations Command, with the primary focus on Iran, Russia and China.
Tools like the contract for operational planning, implementation and assessment services have an opportunity to prove out the feasibility of how messages are received, Jennifer Napper, vice president of Army cyber business at Peraton, told C4ISRNET during the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
And understanding sentiment is critical to information operations, she added.
“It’s one thing to say is: ‘The article picked up and translated into 20 different countries,’ ” Napper explained. “But more interesting is how do they spin it. You can look at an article and see how it’s also connected and see what kind of sentiment it projects.”
New tools aim to provide such capability.
“You need someone that can go look at that globally and get a feel for how the countries are changing things, and then what does the social media say about that after it’s in the media,” she said. “You can see which ones picked up in the social media, the comments that are in there and that sentiment behind it so you can get a feel for what’s resonating, what’s not, and how to then project your strategies and your plans.”
As the military shifts to both counter information operations and use more assertive ones itself against advanced enemies, key to successful campaigns will be understanding and assessing the success of affecting the calculus of adversaries.
For the Army and its emerging information advantage paradigm, one of the critical aspects is effective messaging to specific populations and using the truth to its advantage.
“Another concept, another component of information advantage, [is] telling the truth, ensuring that our audience understands what we as an Army are doing. I also have to inform and influence international audiences,” Brig. Gen. Paul Stanton, commander of the Army Cyber Center of Excellence, said during an Aug. 17 presentation at TechNet. “If I want to message what’s happening in the INDOPACOM [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command] theater, how do people in the INDOPACOM theater receive their information?”
Operators must know what media the target audience follows, what social media they use, whether the can Army deliver a pinpoint message using cyber capabilities or whether the service should use a broader message deployed via public affairs. And the service needs to understand if the message actually influenced the audience? Can that be measured? If it was successful, can it be reinforced? If it wasn’t successful, can that be changed?
After those questions are answered, Stanton said, the Army must determine if it’s collecting the right data associated with those social media outlets, then analyze the information, and identify patterns and trends over time to determine if a message changed behavior.
Understanding the effectiveness of messaging will allow commanders to tweak and adjust their information operations campaigns and strategies to be more effective.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.