Friday, March 19, 2010

CyberWar is CyberPSYOP

Acts by governments against another government’s computers or private sector networks and systems within the critical infrastructure can be considered acts of war. Non-state actor attacks against these same targets can be viewed as terrorist or criminal acts. While the law may be unsettled, the psychological effect of any successful attack will be profound. For example see the Washington Post article of March 19, 2010 concerning attacking a Saudi Site (

Law makers and pundits alike are calling for a clear legal foundation that would facilitate apprehension and prosecution of anyone responsible for such acts. The recent calls for treaties or laws clarifying legal metes and bounds of the interaction of government (military and civilian government) organizations and commercial ones have mushroomed in March 2010.

But what of PSYOP? Clearly offensive Computer Network Attack (CNA) can have a significant psychological impact. However, due to the bifurcation of PSYOP and CNO responsibilities (SOCOM/STRATCOM) commonalities are hard to come by. Strangely enough, PSYOP and CNO share several things in common: 1. They are not mainstream warfighting tools , 2. They are ultimately commanded by 4* General Officers, 3. Doctrine is not widely circulated and 4. Many ‘ops’ are below the radar.

No future force is going to be single service and the overwhelming majority of future operations will involve more than one ally, both PSYOP and CNO will be have an increasing footprint in future conflicts. Given we like to ‘train as we fight’ the time has come to integrate both of these war fighter multipliers into exercises and training at all levels.

Just as FBI agents all need to be aware of the computer aspects of crimes, military forces must be adept at offensive and defensive PSYOP and CNO. Contingency planning must include counter propaganda and the full spectrum of CNO to include CNA and Computer Network Exploitation (CNE). I say this with tongue in cheek because many organizations have trouble keeping their systems and networks up without having to deal with hostile intentions. I can remember in the ‘olden days’ when before we could help units learn how to deal with enemy jamming – we first had to help them understand how to operate their FM radios!

The implication is that every level of training from initial specialty granting to senior officer training must include components dealing with PSYOP and CNO. Furthermore, a good portion of this training must be open ended – free flow so that creativity can be engaged to optimize the training and the effectiveness of the operations being planned within it.

Today’s world mandates we do this with great haste or risk being taken down by a more savvy and agile enemy – one that places results ahead of rules.

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