Revising Information Operations Policy at the Department of Defense

SCIO_25Jan11.PNGBy Michael Clauser

On January 25, 2011, Secretary Gates signed a memorandum (hereafter 1/25/11 memo) entitled “Strategic Communication and Information Operations in the DoD.”  The memo signals that the Pentagon’s “E Ring” is finally emphasizing the need for reform of interagency strategic communication (SC) and military information operations (IO). It’s frustrating that after eight years of irregular warfare in southwest Asia, it took an Act of Congress (literally) to sharpen the minds and pencils of the Pentagon to take the problems.  And now, Secretary Gates’ memo claims credit when it shouldn’t, takes for granted one of its most controversial statements, plays-up one minor bureaucratic re-organization while glossing over the disestablishment of a vital SC and IO problem-solving office, and most concerning may be too late to affect meaningful change in Afghanistan.

To understand the memo one must understand its genesis.  The memo is the follow-on to the DoD’s 2009 Strategic Communication Report mandated in Section 1055(b) of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization (NDAA) for fiscal year 2009 (P.L 110-417).  The section was inserted into the NDAA as the culminating legislative work of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism and Unconventional Threats from 2007 and 2008.  The Subcommittee’s leadership was alerted to the issue because of the two Defense Science Board reports published in 2004 and 2008.

That same section 1055 of the FY09 NDAA also required a report from the President, written by his National Security Council (NSC), for “a comprehensive interagency strategy for public diplomacy and strategic communication of the Federal Government.” Congress received a very late and past due DoD Report and “National Framework for Strategic Communication” (an earlier leaked copy was entitled “National Strategy for Strategic Communication.”) For a review of the President’s “Framework” see Matt Armstrong’s synopsis.

In many ways, the 1/25/11 memo contains what the DoD’s “1055 Report” should have contained–concrete decisions and a way forward. The 1/25/11 memo has ten substantive paragraphs with ten corresponding main points.  The memo:

  1. Recognizes a new dynamic strategic environment and need to adapt “anachronistic programs and policies” to it.
  2. References Congressional “scrutiny and reporting requirements” but takes credit for initiating a policy review rather than more candidly admitting the Department’s utter inaction absent the Congressionally-mandated review.
  3. Transfers the “Principal Staff Advisor” (PSA) function for IO to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy [USD(P)] from Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence [USD(I)].
  4. Reorganizes responsibilities between the Combatant Commands (COCOMs) and Joint Staff.
  5. Eliminates the Joint Information Operation Warfare Center and realigns its functions.
  6. Redefines IO resulting in new emphases.
  7. Heralds a forthcoming DoD Directive and an Instruction in an effort led by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs [ASD(PA)] and USD(P).
  8. Reaffirms that the term “Psychological Operations” is to be replaced by the term “Military Information Support Operations.”
  9. Assigns USD(P), the Under Secretary of Defense for Comptroller [USD(C)], and the Director for Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) to develop standardize budget methodologies for SC & IO related capabilities.
  10. Evaluates and possibly re-do SC/IO training and education.

Paragraph One: The Strategic Environment

The memo’s introductory sentence, that the U.S. is in a dynamic and fluid strategic environment, is a tautology.   On its face, the sentence following is equally as obvious:

“The erosion of traditional boundaries between foreign and domestic, civilian and combatant, state and non-state actors, and war and peace is but one indication of this change.”

While true, that sentence is not that simple–certainly not for how the U.S. government is organized for armed conflict and Congressional oversight.  The sentence poses serious questions about the military’s role globally absent a declaration of war or an authorization for the use of force, about the division of labor between the DoD and the Department of State, and Congress’s oversight role.  The most concise and thorough discussion can be found in Daniel Silverberg and Joseph Heimann’s “An Ever Expanding War:  Legal Aspects of Online Communication.” Some lawyers have not made prosecution of the Global War on Terror easier over the last decade, but Silverberg and Heimann make a good point about mission creep and authorities creep.

Paragraph Two: “Why I Decided to Write This Memo”

The 1/25/11 memo’s second paragraph sounds the call to modernize “anachronistic programs and policies.”  Better late than never, right?  While the Secretary tips his hat to “external and internal demand signals,” he takes credit for initiating a “Front-End Assessment” in 2010 of SC and military IO.  With all due respect to Secretary Gates, that would not have happened without Section 1055 of the FY09 NDAA.  The Department should be given credit for capitalizing on the opportunity to do a fundamental scrub of SC and IO rather than blow-off the reporting requirement (though they failed to meet its deadline by months).  But he should not take credit for its initiation.

Paragraph Three: From Intelligence to Policy (…to Special Operations?)

The third paragraph announces that the DoD’s oversight of SC and IO has shifted from the USD(I) to the USD(P)–[which really means the ASD for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities (SOLIC&IC)].

Moving SC and IO into the Pentagon’s main policy shop puts these functions back into the “mainstream.” There will be more ability for interagency collaboration and transparency in this process: discussions will be held in only one, not multiple, SCIFs.  But perhaps most importantly, the day-to-day care and feeding of these functions will be farmed down the policy chain to the ASD(SOLIC&IC), who is overseeing the day-to-day of the global war on terror and is the Pentagon’s resident expert on insurgency, counterinsurgency, radical Islamic extremism, and terrorism.  SOLIC is also directly tied in to Special Operations Command, one of the “functional” unified Combatant Commands (COCOMs) that have global (as opposed to regional) missions, capabilities, reach, and authorities.  Farming SC/IO oversight to SOLIC taps into those global authorities.

The third paragraph also announces that the USD(P) will rewrite DoD Directives 3600.01 and 5111.1DoD Directive 3600.01 is entitled “Information Operations,” while DoD Directive 5111.1 simply outlines the authorities and responsibilities of the USD(P).  Rewriting DoD Directive 3600.01 is overdue.  What’s not mentioned is DoD Directive 3321.1, entitled “Overt Psychological Operations Conducted by the Military Services in Peacetime and in Contingencies Short of Declared War.”  DoDD 3321.1 is in desperate need of an overhaul–but not by the USD(P), by Congress.  Congress must step-up and do a better job of defining the lines in the road between foreign and domestic, influence and inform, peacetime and wartime, for the Defense Department.  Frankly, I’m beginning to believe that DoD needs its own Smith-Mundt.  But more on that in a separate post.

Paragraph Four: Joint Staff and COCOM Reorganization

Paragraph four severs and reassigns the traditional “pillars” of IO between the Joint Staff in the Pentagon and various COCOMs.  The pillars are traditionally understood to be (1) electronic warfare (EW), (2) computer network operations (CNO), (3) psychological operations, (4) military deception (MILDEC), and (5) operations security (OPSEC).  Prior to this 1/25/11 memo, U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), specifically the Joint Information Operations Warfare Center (JIOWC), was the touch point and budget proponent for IO.  The memo obliterates that arrangement.  It names the Joint Staff to be the IO flak at Pentagon budget meetings.  Joint Staff also now “owns” the MILDEC and OPSEC pillars.  PSYOPs (now called MISO) goes to SOCOM [where it already is per 10 USC 167(j)(6) …but more on that later].  CNO (more of a function of cyber warfare anyway) stays with U.S. Cyber Command under STRATCOM.

Paragraph Five: Joint Information Operations Warfare Center (JIOWC)

I had the opportunity to travel to JIOWC in June 2009 as part of a joint Congressional Staff Delegation.  A Democrat counterpart and I represented the bipartisan Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus and two other staff represented the Electronic Warfare Working Group.  We attended a daylong brief led by Director Mark H. Johnson.  We all walked away thinking JIOWC was a great operation–nimble, providing value for taxpayer money.  JIOWC acts as an internal IO troubleshooting service “for COCOMs; by COCOMs.”  The Center is able to deploy staff to assist geographic or functional COCOMs write their IO planning appendices.  They assist and advise on the other pillars of IO as well.

While a valuable resource for the warfighters, the IO, SC, and MILDEC pieces were an awkward fit at the command center of America’s nuclear arsenal.  The CNO and EW pieces fit, but the rest didn’t.  Before the announcement of its disestablishment, most thought U.S. Joint Forces Command may have made a better home.  The 1/25/11 memo effectively disestablishes JIOWC.  While the more technical IO pillars rightfully belong co-aligned to places like Cyber Command, I feel strongly that JIOWC should be maintained with a narrowed focus on IO and SC.  Regretfully, according to this memo, that’s not in the cards.

Paragraph Six: A New IO Definition

The sixth paragraph promises a policy and doctrine revision co-chaired by the USD(P) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Secretary Gates frames their efforts by decreeing a new DoD definition of IO:

“The integrated employment, during military operations, of information-related capabilities in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own.”

The old definition was clearly written with Pentagon bureaucratic boundaries in mind (or what the 1/25/11 memo calls “core capabilities”):

“the integrated employment of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception, and operations security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own.”

Andrew Exum (aka @AbuMuqawama) with the Center for a New American Security has a pretty good critique of that former definition here.  The new definition of IO is better.  The 1/25/11 memo is right to complain that

“the current definition lacks reference to the information environment and places too much emphasis on core capabilities.  This has led to excessive focus on the capabilities and confuses the distinction between them and IO as an integrating staff function.”

It wastes taxpayer dollars, official time, and does not make America safer for Pentagon officials sit around arguing whether computer network attack (CNO) is less IO and more cybersecurity, who should get the budget and who should write the policies.  The sixth paragraph ends, “Capability integration does not necessitate ownership.”  Agreed.

Paragraph Seven: Strategic Communication

“Whither Strategic Communication?” once asked RAND’s Chris Paul.  One could ask the same thing of SC throughout the 1/25/11 memo.  Because SC is largely ignored until the memo’s seventh paragraph, it leaves the reader wondering whether DoD really (really really) sees a functional difference between SC and IO.  Heaven knows enough mid-level officials casually use the two interchangeable.  How often has one seen an email signature block from a Public Affairs Officer from any given service branch casually listing:


Lt. Joe Dokes

Director of Strategic CommunicationS

U.S. Military Service Branch

But the military’s official dictionary, Joint Publication 1-02, defines SC:

“focused USG (United States Government) processes and efforts to understand and engage key audiences in order to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable to advance national interests and objectives through the use of coordinated information, themes, plans, programs and actions synchronized with other elements of national power.”

The DoD’s 1055 Report stuck with the joint publication definition but admitted it had little connection to how it was implemented or understood in the military.  The President’s response to the 1055 reporting requirement went a different direction defining SC as:

“(a) the synchronization of words and deeds and how they will be perceived by selected audiences, as well as (b) programs and activities deliberately aimed at communicating and engaging with intended audiences, including those implemented by public affairs, public diplomacy, and information operations professionals.

Most heartening, the seventh paragraph promises a fresh scrub of SC resulting in a new DoD Directive and Instruction which will provide a new definition of SC and clarifying roles and execution.  The new DoD Directive and Instruction will be drafted jointly by the USD(P) and the ASD(PA) to better integrate the DoD’s policy and communication.  The new directive will formalize the “Global Engagement Strategy Coordination Committee,” which post ipso facto will write the directive that establishes it.

Paragraph Eight:  Goodbye “Psychological Operations.”  Hello “Military Information Support Operations.”

The memo’s eighth paragraph reaffirms the Secretary’s December 2010 decision to no longer use the term “Psychological Operations” and instead use “Military Information Support Operations.”  Frankly, I do not believe he has the power to do that–at least not the way he did.  “Psychological Operations” is a mission assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command in 10 USC 167(j)(6). If he wants to change the term he must submit an authorization request to Congress to amend Title 10 to have the name changed.  The best articulation of this argument is Alfred Paddock’s Small Wars Journal article on the topic.  Secretary Gates, if you want to change the law, just ask Congress.  That’s what they’re there for.

Paragraph Nine: Auditing IO

Secretary Gates calls on the Pentagon’s budget and program guru’s to “develop standardized budgeting methodologies for SC and IO-related capabilities and activities.”  There is a consistent and reasonable need to account to Congress and other audiences how money is spent across the DoD on particular inter-service capabilities or inter-command missions.   To date, I think the noblest attempt was by the Air Force to create a virtual Major Force Program (vMFP) to account for funding across service branches relating to Outer Space.   Does the 1/25/11 memo mean Secretary Gates calling for a vMFP for IO?

Paragraph Ten: Training, Education and IO

The memo’s final paragraph (sans conclusion and imperator) calls on the CJCS to evaluate SC and IO training and education to meet COCOM requirements through the joint education and training system.  The concern here is broader than IO: lumping “training and education” in together confuses the two (just like the memo’s lumping together IO and SC confuses the two).  Why? The military service branches at the highest levels can’t bring themselves to separate out the two.  As one friend and retired Marine O-6 told me (to paraphrase)–“education expands your mind to think new ways and ask ‘what can be?’ while training is rote repetition to perform a function faster and more efficiently.”


The memo concludes and so do I.  Gates’ 1/25/11 memo is important and “good” in many respects–but not perfect.  And much of their decisions are late–by at least a year–if not a decade, depending how you count.  The bottom line is that DoD has a lot of work ahead of them.  Most importantly, they should stop churning on questions frankly above their pay grade and ask Congress for specific Title 10 authorization to clarify ambiguities in law, mission, organization, and budget.

Michael A. Clauser served in the George W. Bush Administration in the Pentagon and later as national security staff in the U.S. House of Representatives where he co-managed the bipartisan Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus. Michael blogs at

Guests posts are the opinions of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of They are published here to further the discourse on America’s global engagement.

One thought on “Revising Information Operations Policy at the Department of Defense

  1. Some legitimate critiques in here regarding our slow-moving Defense Dept, but some incorrect assumptions as well. The JIOWC will not be dis-established but rather is to be reorganized and subordinated to the Joint Staff (from whence it came not too many years ago). It will continue to do great(er) things for the COCOMs and will remove some of the limitations placed upon it by its subordination to STRATCOM. Regarding PSYOP (now MISO) policy: those requirements to update policy and organizations are well underway. You’re right that changes are needed; just because they aren’t in the memo doesn’t imply that those things aren’t occuring without a written directive. Watch closely over the next several months.Regarding roles and missions, Congress has not shown any intention to take this on. I believe that Defense and State can work this out (even if the NSS continues to ignore it) without a change in law.
    Regarding Smith-Mundt: knock yourself out Congress; it’s long overdue for an overhaul.

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