Book Review: Information Operations: Doctrine and Practice


The United States is unquestioningly involved in a global struggle for the minds and wills of men and women.  The fundamental weapon in this struggle is information.  Informing the people, fueling ideology, suggesting tactics, fostering perceptions, and deception is information in action.  Giving information context is critical, without context, it is as useful as a bullet on the ground.  If you don’t pick it up and use it, someone else will to your detriment.  It is also useful to hide or deny the existence of the bullet. 

As New Media changes the notion of power, influence, and access, success and failure in modern conflict increasingly relies on adaptability to and in the global information environment.  Over the last several years, we’ve seen the U.S. military make tremendous strides and become, as necessity has required, a learning organization.  The can be seen in significant changes in doctrine, from Counterinsurgency Manual (FM 3-24) to the Operations Manual (FM 3-0).  Both address the effects of information with an entire chapter (unfortunately) named “Information Superiority”.

Whether modern military operations are kinetic (things going boom) or not (humanitarian assistance), there is a need to manage and disseminate information to inform and influence.  This is done either through the Public Affairs or somebody else.  Collectively, that “somebody” else is Information Operations, or IO.  Understanding what IO is, and perhaps more importantly what it is not, has been challenging for those not practicing it (but even then, there’s some confusion). 

Over the last several years, only a few military monographs of note have explored the role and purpose of IO.  As far as text or reference books, only Leigh Armistead’s edited work is the only substantial post-9/11 resource.  There’s a new book that incorporates the lessons and evolutions of the last several years

Dr. Christopher Paul’s Information Operations–Doctrine and Practice: A Reference Handbook is a necessary update to IO literature.  It is setup and reads like, just as the title states, a reference handbook focused on military IO.  Chris, a social scientist, methodologically pulls together relevant doctrine, pertinent works, historical examples, and provides analysis, challenges, and tensions of and between the elements of IO.  

In analyzing the elements of IO, Chris is guided by three major themes.  The first is integrating IO with higher (and broader) spanning the whole of the U.S. government.  Second, recasting IO’s five core capabilities — psychological operations (PSYOP), military deception (MILDEC), operational security (OPSEC), electronic warfare (EW), and computer network operations (CNO) — into two pillars, one based on systems and the other on content.  And third is the tension between “black” and “white” information. 

There is nothing inherently controversial in the book.  Although some may take exception with (absolutely correct) statements like “Counterpropaganda features prominently in PSYOP doctrine, but it is also part of the public affairs portfolio.”  And, he continues,”It isn’t clear who has the lead.” 

To most practitioners, there may be nothing new, but Chris has done a tremendous service in bringing together and discussing all the elements of IO.  If you have Armistead’s fine book on your shelf, this book replaces it with new discussions and analysis on the transformations that have occurred over the last several years, including Defense Support for Public Diplomacy, Blogs and OPSEC, civil-military operations, the tension with Public Affairs, among others.

If you are studying, or simply interested in, military information operations, then this is a required resource that puts it all in one place with details not found in any other book or paper.   

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Information Operations: Doctrine and Practice

  1. Matt –I haven’t read Chris Paul’s book yet, and thanks for pointing it out. My thoughts are that IO as a branch needs to dissolve and the Army needs to take a new direction.
    The IO elements of OPSEC, MILDEC, EW and CNO should be grouped under the G-3 (Operations). PA and PSYOP should then combine to become the Army Communications Branch and work together in coordination with other interagency public communicators to maximize a command’s public communication plan harmoniously, recognizing that in today’s world, there are no boundaries between foreign and domestic audiences.
    Transformation isn’t easy, and the Army started it before war erupted, so it’s time to regroup and make the necessary changes rather than trying to hang on to what was started before we knew better.

  2. JG,You point out a deficiency in my review but not of Chris’s book. I agree entirely that the current architecture of our information systems must be changed and Chris does discuss this as one of his recurring themes: reconsidering the five IO core components. He also raises the cultural (my term) challenges when integrated PA with PSYOP and CMO.
    That said, he looks at two different proposals to divide IO. First is based on a taxonomy of “systems” and “content”. This puts EW and CNO into “Systems” and PSYOP, MILDEC, PA, and CMO into “Content”.
    The second proposal, “Black from White”, also does not correspond to your realignment of “Operations” and “Communications”. It includes cleaving off the black of PSYOP, grouping it with MILDEC, to create a broader black capability.
    Even if the structure and culture of information operations (in lower case) were to change tomorrow, this book would still be useful for its analysis of each of the military components involved.
    Thanks for commenting.

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