WASHINGTON — The U.S. Marine Corps is seeking to better position itself to combat threats posed by propaganda, inaccurate information and digital influence campaigns waged by world powers such as China and Russia.
To do so, leadership is increasingly emphasizing media literacy among the ranks and underlining the value of verifiable information in day-to-day operations and planning.
“We’ve been complacent in just assuming information is like the air we breathe” and there is no consequence to using it incorrectly, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Matthew Glavy, the deputy commandant for information, said June 28. “History is telling us, current events are telling us, that approach will not work, either mid-term or long-term.”
The corps on June 29 made public its latest philosophies and frameworks for information and its warfare applications, known as Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 8, or MCDP 8. It’s one of several MCDPs that outline tactics, techniques and procedures of the corps, the first of which was published more than two decades ago.
The document, with more than 100 pages and speckled with vignettes, from Crimea in 2014 to Midway in 1942, highlights how torrents of information can be deciphered, filtered and effectively used. It also is meant to spark a conversation among Marines and instigate broader change.
“MCDP 1 being the cornerstone of what the Marine Corps talks about when we talk warfighting, MCDP 8 builds on that discussion, certainly focused on information,” Glavy said.
The update arrives at a time when international players are relying on digital subterfuge, disinformation and skirmishes below the threshold of armed conflict to effect change.
And the MCDP 8 recognizes the stage onto which it is thrust, describing competitors and adversaries as predators pouncing on the prey of “worldwide technological and social vulnerabilities” to destabilize “our systems, networks, and partnerships, thereby eroding our trust in each other and our institutions.”
Russia meddled directly in the the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and concerns of a repeat performance return each election season. More recently, the country pumped out reams of disinformation about its February invasion of Ukraine, and China amplified it. The U.S. State Department in May said Beijing routinely boosts Kremlin propaganda in an attempt to rationalize Russian President Vladimir Putin’s belligerence and sway public sentiment.
Chinese authorities also leverage disinformation to spin the country’s takeover of Hong Kong and to exert influence over Taiwan.
In the Middle East, where the U.S. spent decades leaning into counterinsurgency, attempting to root out terrorism, extremists use social media to distribute malicious information, like weaponized coronavirus conspiracies, and share updates about attacks. Groups craft fake news outlets and repeatedly sidestep censors.
The Marine Corps considers the information environment an interconnected, contested space, where military advantages can be won or lost; in a fight, information can be used to spoof or fool, distract or deny. The U.S. expects to face opponents with substantial computer, cyber and surveillance skills, and the proliferation of sensors the world over makes keeping a low profile incredibly difficult.
“We now know that through hyper connectivity and global reach, adversaries can reach into a commander’s area of operations and affect those operations, not only through things like propaganda or disinformation through social media, but more technically and deliberately, aiming to disrupt our ability to command and control forces or project combat power within that area of operations,” said Eric Schaner, a senior information strategy and policy analyst and key contributor to MCDP 8.
“Battlespace awareness in the information environment is crucial, as well as if we think about how we would apply 21st century combined arms, integrated fires, maneuver and information,” he added. “Command and control becomes absolutely vital.”
A new Marine Corps Information Command, or MCIC, was included in a May update to Force Design 2030, Gen. David Berger’s plan to optimize the corps and counter contemporary threats. The command could streamline collaboration and reduce burdens at the headquarters level, accelerating reactions as first moves are made in the information and cyber spaces.
“Information is key to gaining advantage in all domains, whether during kinetic actions on the battlefield or during day-to-day operations in competition,” Berger, the Marine Corps commandant, said in a statement June 29. “It’s especially critical when our Marines need to sense and make sense of the operating environment in support of the joint force or to exploit opportunities and take action against our adversaries.”
The plan directed officials to develop options for the creation of the MCIC, but provided no specific timeline.
Additional publications and guidance about information and how the Marine Corps will use it, Schaner said, are expected in the near future.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.