Declassified Defense Department document reveals US military's strategy for using information as a weapon

Ground operations, air operations, maritime operations -- and now, information operations?

That's right -- the U.S. military wants to add information operations as a new military core competency, according to a newly declassified Defense Department document called the "Information Operations Roadmap." The 78-page document, written in October 2003 and signed by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (complete with blacked-out blocks of classified text), was obtained via the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive at George Washington University and reported by BBC News.

It provides a sneak-peek into the military's ambitious goals for information operations: using/fighting the Internet, improving psychological operations (psyops), and dominating the electromagnetic spectrum. Bottom line: Information is crucial to the military's success.

"Fight the Net" is a major recurring theme of the document. Given the rise in hacker and cybercrime risks to U.S. businesses, the military should fight the Internet as if it were an "enemy weapons system," the document says. It also points out that networks are becoming more vulnerable and calls for a defense-in-depth strategy for "providing Combatant Commanders with the tools necessary to preserve warfighting capability."

The document hints about the use of "offensive cyber tools" and computer network attacks as well as integrated weapons systems, but much of that section is classified, and therefore sketchy.

Sean Kelly, business technology consultant with Consilium1, says the "fight the net" campaign is the wrong approach.

"I agree that our Defense Department needs to have strong security strategies for defending our information systems -- especially intelligence databases, as well as key communications channels," Kelly says. "I would hope that our Defense Department would employ some of the best and brightest network security professionals to develop a strategy that identifies and protects -- through monitoring and taking action where necessary, [a] good old fashioned incident response program -- high-risk areas of its own networks as well as on the Internet."

The military's IO Roadmap also includes improving psyops, which today are more "reactive" and "not well organized," according to the document, including better using technology -- radio, television, print, and Web -- to spread the word.

But one of the most compelling issues in the roadmap was the military's interest in getting control of the electromagnetic spectrum. "To prevail in an information-centric fight, it is increasingly important that our forces dominate the electromagnetic spectrum with attack capabilities," according to the document.

Kelly says controlling the electromagnetic spectrum is extreme. "Instead of taking an 'us against the world' approach, we should be collaborating with other nations to identify threats and develop a plan address known vulnerabilities," he says. "We can decide how we want to defend our internal interests and network infrastructure, but we should not be seeking the ability to have full control over the electromagnetic spectrum."

Defense Department officials were not available for comment in time for this posting.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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