Information Warfare: Can the US Military Stay Out of Domestic Politics?

In a previous post, Cyber Warfare Is Different Than We Expected, I described how the West was essentially caught flatfooted by Russia’s multi-domain operations, leveraging both traditional cyber hacking and, more importantly, psychological operations very effectively against both Britain and the United States.

Both the United States Air Force and Army are now responding to these ongoing attacks by officially adding information warfare as a core component in their missions. Two recent articles by CyberScoop’s Shannon Vavra summarize the changes.

Air Force unveils information warfare outfit amid U.S. effort to go on offense in cyberspace

U.S. adversaries, like Russia, classify information warfare in a different way than the Pentagon typically does. By combining cyberattacks with other kinds of offensive capabilities, such as psychological operations and information operations, the thinking goes, foreign intelligence agencies and military operatives may have an advantage over their American counterparts.

Army Cyber Command is trying to become an information warfare force

The rechristening would better represent a new military mission, he said, and come at a time when Army cyber personnel increasingly deal with troll farms on social media, disrupt ISIS operations, and work to confuse international adversaries’ understanding of U.S. military units’ location.

“The intent is to provide a proposal that will change us from Army Cyber Command to Army Information Warfare Command because we believe that is a more accurate descriptor of what I am being asked to do on a daily basis,” Fogarty said at the AFCEA TechNet conference in Augusta, Georgia this week.

However, I fear that their missions cannot help but become entangled in domestic US politics. The problem is that politicians, so far predominantly the GOP, have fully engaged with these foreign information warfare operations against the United States. The Trump campaign, as extensively documented in the Mueller report, eagerly amplified messages started by Russia’s Internet Research Agency.

Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election: Volume I of II

First, on multiple occasions, members and surrogates of the Trump Campaign promoted — typically by linking, retweeting, or similar methods of reposting — pro-Trump or anti-Clinton content published by the IRA through IRA-controlled social media accounts.

In total, Trump Campaign affiliates promoted dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.

And the Trump campaign encouraged Russia to hack his political rivals and then used the fruits of that hacking in their campaign.

[Trump:] “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”


Within approximately five hours of Trump’s statement, GRU officers targeted for the first time Clinton’s personal office.

by the late summer of 2016, the Trump Campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks

And there is no sign that the momentum has slowed down. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg met with Trump

Shortly after Zuckerberg’s meeting with Trump Facebook changed its policy with regards to politicians advertising on Facebook.


Last week the social networking site altered and thinned out its rules on misinformation so that politicians and political parties are exempt from fact-checking requirements.

And almost immediately Trump began a disinformation campaign

Facebook says Trump can lie in his Facebook ads

On Tuesday, the Trump campaign launched a new ad on Facebook, which includes a claim that was ruled false by Facebook-approved third-party fact-checkers.

In the last week of September Trump paid Facebook to run over 1,800 unique ads targeted at millions of Facebook users. As I wrote in the Section “A/B Testing: weaponizing the message” in the post “The Rise of the Manipulation Platforms”,

The message most people in the targeted group will see has been scientifically honed through randomized trials to be incredibly effective. The message has, in effect, been weaponized.

The US Military is just now standing up Information Warfare units, years after Russia has been effectively using mixed cyber and information warfare against the United States.

The Trump administration and other GOP operatives have worked with Russian cyber and disinformation units to collect data, construct messaging, and to disseminate and amplify those messages. This year the Trump administration has been caught pressuring foreign governments to dig up dirt on political rivals and their families. The Trump administration, with extensive experience and knowledge, in part from working side-by-side with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, are experts in weaponizing messages, and Facebook has now removed any fact-checking restrictions on politicians.

The new US military information warfare units will be minnows swimming in shark-infested waters. There are no clear lines between foreign government information operations against the US and domestic US politics because foreign governments and US politicians are working together in their information warfare campaigns.

I wish the new US military IW units luck in negotiating this new domain of conflict.