View Full Version : Tips to Information Operations

Michael C
07-22-2009, 06:53 PM
On my blog at www.onviolence.com, we are exploring Information Operations both how to conduct them and my experience with them. I am cross posting my advice on here and www.platoonleader.com to see what other advice soldiers who have done IO have. These tips are for the tactical, platoon and company, level.

5 tips for better Information Operations

If I can convince the reader of one thing it is this: every operation is an Information Operation. Every patrol, every battle, every discussion is a chance to persuade the population to support the government.

1. Honesty really is the best policy. The only times that you will lose the Information Operations campaign is when you are being dishonest. Honesty might not seem like a big deal, but little white lies will slowly eat away at your message. In my example from yesterday, I embellished the role of the Afghanistan National Army. Over time, the people see through that embellishment and you do more harm than good.

So, for example, if you want to write a Good News Story about how the Afghanistan National Police took the lead and arrested a known Taliban operative, ask yourself, did they really take the lead? If people in the local society know that the ANP only do joint operations with the US and don’t patrol regularly, then a story in the local version of the newspaper won’t change that.

I had this experience as I wrote stories that verged on ridiculous concerning the ANA and ANP. I slowly learned that the more effective stories were true stories. So, I began an IO campaign in both print stories for our Battalion--and more importantly via Key Leader Engagement to village elders--about the ANP checkpoint commander who truly fought the Taliban and supported the government. The locals knew he did as well, so I just amplified what they already knew. Over time, the elders supported him and the Coalition Force more because we told the truth.

2. When thinking Information Operations, think advertising campaign. The best advertising needs two things: a great product and a clear message. You should be conducting population-centric COIN, so you have a great product. That means you just need to have a clear message.

If your goal is to recruit more police, then that is your message. If your goal is to have a large turnout for the local election, that is your Information Operations theme. If your goal is to build support for the Afghanistan National Army, find out what they do well and advertise that.

If your platoon or company does not patrol regularly and fails to help the population, then you don’t have a good product. Your Information Operations will not persuade the population. If, like the best advertisers, you hype a great product--you help secure the population on a daily basis and improve the local’s quality of life--then all you need to do is have a clear and succinct message.

3. Get allies in the local community. When I tried to conduct IO operations, I acted like the typical brand new PL, I tried to do it all and all by myself. Eventually, the District Governor and I started communicating. He began coordinating our efforts with the local community and working with me. He then introduced me to locals I had no idea existed. Once we started communicating, and learning from each other, we could begin jointly distributing our IO themes.

I had the same result with the local police chiefs. I distributed a thousand pamphlets to the checkpoints saying, “Don’t be corrupt and fight back,” but the best technique was having one powerful and honest checkpoint commander influence to the rest. He helped me persuade them to conduct better Traffic Control Points and to participate on joint operations with ANA. They weren’t perfect, but they got better.

4. Information Operations is not a one man job when at your FOB either. I made this mistake early, planning information operations by myself. The jobs are too large to do by yourself, especially when controlling your own area of operations. Thus, I eventually realized that my interpreter could give me very good advice on how to phrase our messages during Key Leader Engagements. By talking them over before we left on patrol, our messages were stronger during the shuras.

Likewise, on patrol your men will interact constantly with locals. Brief your maneuver unit (be it platoon, section or company) on the vital tasks of Information Operations before you leave and on a regular basis. Whenever your patrol stops, have your men prepared to communicate with locals and do whatever they can, no matter how small, to influence the locals.

5. Include your interpreter. We pay them plenty, so use them as much as possible. You aren’t an Afghanistan, they are, so use them to make a better IO campaign. I even wrote on my letters of recommendations that my interpreters were joint IO campaign planners with me.

I believe in this so much, I recommend asking them for themes. Have them brief you on what they think you should say. Discuss the nuances of the words. Before a Key Leader Engagement, practice your talking points with them and make sure they understand your points because they ultimately will be distributing them for you.

07-22-2009, 08:36 PM
Not my field, but Philip Taylor at Leeds University has an amazing website on the subject: http://ics.leeds.ac.uk/papers/index.cfm?outfit=pmt He is highly regarded by the UK Army. I am assuming you've not seen it before.


Michael C
07-23-2009, 03:28 PM
David- Thanks for the link, it looks like really good material and exactly on what I have been looking at the past week.

07-26-2009, 01:21 PM
Just putting two points together that seem to me to illustrate a disparity:

If I can convince the reader of one thing it is this: every operation is an Information Operation. Every patrol, every battle, every discussion is a chance to persuade the population to support the government...

The best advertising needs two things: a great product and a clear message. You should be conducting population-centric COIN, so you have a great product. That means you just need to have a clear message.

Question: is the government in question "a great product"? Do you really believe that it is? Do the people you're communicating have reason to believe that it is?

I'm coming at this from a Philippine perspective rather than an Afghanistan perspective, very different places, but I expect some of the observations make sense in either environment. I've seen here that American "information campaigns" often seem to overlook the reality that the populace already has a good deal of experience with "the product", and that experience hasn't always been good.

It's important to realize in any such situation that you are the outsider, and the people you are trying to inform probably know a lot more about what you're talking about than you do. They may not have access to the media that you are familiar with, but that doesn't mean they don't get information. They may seem unsophisticated, but that doesn't mean they are incapable of processing and evaluating information. If people are reacting or behaving in ways that seems irrational or incomprehensible to you, there's a good chance that it's you who needs better information, not them: there's probably something going on in the picture that you don't see.

07-26-2009, 02:30 PM
Michael - You might check around here to see if someone has already assembled an IO "resource list" or "reading list." If there is interest, I could try to assemble a folder of material and "picks" on Intelink-U.

07-27-2009, 12:41 PM
5 tips for better Information Operations...

2. When thinking Information Operations, think advertising campaign...

IO is about conducting operations in the information environment in order to bring about change in the cognitive environment that will impact people’s decision-making in a way that contributes to the accomplishment of our mission. This is best accomplished, most of the time, by focusing efforts upon the most influential personalities in the AO.

While good IO may sometimes resemble an advertising campaign, I am concerned that many people think that all IO should resemble that. Often times, it should not. An advertising campaign is effective when people are open to the information that you are offering. If we are conducting military operations someplace, then people are probably not open to receiving that information from us. There is probably a lot of unrest among the populace, which generally leads to hardened opinions, mistrust, and suspicion. Information is viewed skeptically, unless it is obtained from trusted sources. Those trusted sources are almost certainly going to be personalities from within the populace. They are your conduit to push information to the populace. Those individuals must deliver information to the populace to bring about a change in their decision-making. How do you convince those influential personalities to deliver that information? That, often times, is the most effective method of IO.

For example, suppose most of your direct fire engagements are 15-year-old kids who are paid $20 to fire a magazine of 7.62 at you. You could simply adopt a policy of returning fire. But then you’re going to have a lot of dead 15-year-old kids and a whole lot of angry families who are more concerned with the fact that their kid is dead than with the circumstances that led to you returning fire. Your best course of action, rather than adopting the policy of shooting back, is probably going to be to convince families to stop their children from engaging in this behavior. But how do you do that? An advertising campaign directed at the populace that says, “tell your kids not to shoot us – we shoot back” is probably not going to go over well. The general sentiment is going to be, “how about you foreigners get the F out of our country?” A better approach would likely be to find some influential personalities – perhaps the local imam(s) – and explain your quandary to them. Sway the imam. Then on Friday, let him tell the people why accepting payments to dump a magazine of 7.62 at the Americans will only lead to chaos and that going without the $20 payment is a better choice to make.

How do you sway the imam? Think about how you make decisions on contentious issues. Consider a contentious issue that we face. Suppose that a House Subcommittee that deals with budgetary issues for the DoD is asking you to testify before them. You are someone whose opinion they regard very highly and your input will significantly influence their decision. You are trying to decide what you will tell them. Suddenly a defense contractor with a significant stake in the F-22 shows up at your doorstep and explains to you why should tell Congress that the F-22 is the way to go. Are you going to buy what this guy says? Even if what he says makes all the sense in the world, you’re going to be keenly aware that he has a dog in this fight. And you’re probably suspicious of him due to the dubious reputation of his industry. But what if he tells you that the F-22 is uniquely capable of meeting threat X? And then, over the next week, you see articles in 5 different publications that say, “America has no capability to meet threat X.” He also tells you that it would be simpler for pilots of existing aircraft to transfer their skills to the F-22 with relatively little training. And then two days later you hear a roundtable discussion of Air Force and Naval Officers who say the exact same thing. Hmmm. Suddenly this guy’s argument is becoming more convincing.

In regard to the five pointers in the original post…

1. Honesty is the best policy. Agreed. Consider the defense contractor example. If anything that he tells you is untrue, then it is going to be much more difficult to match up his argument with other corroborating sources. Untrue statements also have a policy of eventually being found out and this will destroy the credibility of your argument and ensure that the targeted individual/audience rejects your message.

2. Think advertising campaign. Disagree. If there is anything to your IO that resembles an advertising campaign, it should be the supporting effort. Advertising campaigns do not alter decision-making. They only reinforce the specific tasks that you are trying to accomplish. Consider the imam example, above. An advertising campaign is probably not going to influence decision-making of the populace. However, it can help them to clarify how to implement their decision. Suppose that, while you are trying to convince the imam, you also begin advertising a phone number to the JCC, telling people, “Ali Baba knows that he will die if he shoots at Coalition patrols. That is why he offers your son money to do it – so that your son will die instead. If Ali Baba offers your son money to fire upon Coalition patrols, call this number and identify him. A $50 reward will be given if he is captured and convicted.” This alone will not influence the populace. It only informs them of how they should act if they believe you. But if the imam convinces them of your argument against conspiring with Ali Baba then they now know what to do. The imam is the main effort. The advertising is the supporting effort.

3. Get allies in the local community. Agreed – for the reasons you state and for the reasons stated above with the imam example.

4. IO is not a one-man job. Agreed. In the advertising example above, in bullet 2, the people must believe that calling the JCC will result in the promise made. If this belief is contradicted by their everyday experiences, then they’re not going to buy it. If they have a long experience in giving information to patrols and then nothing comes of that, then they will be reluctant to continue risking their safety to divulge intelligence. Patrols must realize that one of the essential perceptions the populace must have is that sharing intelligence with the Coalition leads to good things – reward money, safer streets, and more stability. If a patrol receives tips from locals, they must be able to immediately manage expectations. Rather than just writing down whatever is shared, the patrol must be prepared to tell the informant that, “this is not enough information for us to act upon – we need to also know x, y, and z,” or “this is good information, but it may take us a week or so to act upon it,” or “we will try to act upon this, but recognize that we are subject to your laws; if your courts do not convict this man, then he will not go to prison.” IO is difficult because it requires that everyone be on the same sheet of music, but most Soldiers don’t even know what IO is – commanders and staff included.

5. Include your interpreter. Agreed. It’s their culture, not ours. They know what is convincing, what isn’t, and how to convey what you’re trying to get across. The old rules of talking through an interpreter don’t really work in Iraq or Afghanistan. The interpreter is not just a parrot who speaks another language. You don’t speak through him in sentence fragments. You give him a complete thought and then have him convey it because ideas are expressed differently and much is lost in translation otherwise.

08-03-2009, 09:49 PM
Re: Schmedlap's examples, just spotted this piece (http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5iu9dT4GhbLFF_fspB9vmh6M0awrQ) by the Canadian Press wire service that touches on a related situation (and who's dealing with it):

.... the heaviest toll may be on Afghan civilians. For every coalition soldier killed in a blast, dozens of Afghan civilians have been victims.

Bright flyers handed out by Canadian soldiers warn people in Pashto to stay away from suspect items, and a phone line has been set up for civilians to report possible IEDs. Afghan police then dismantle the potential bombs.

Cpl. Alexandre Fontaine, an analyst for the Psychological Operations team for Task Force Kandahar, said "the overwhelming majority (of victims) are civilians."

He said children are often the victims because they will pick up and play with objects they find.

Tens of thousands of similar flyers are printed every year to be handed out by Canadian soldiers, and they are having an effect, said Lieut. Carl-Antoine Chaktoura, commander of Information Operations.

"They're not used to calling anyone for help," Chaktoura said. "That's another thing we want to sensitize them to."

08-04-2009, 05:30 AM
I read a good comment at Michael J. Totten's blog yesterday - interesting from an IO perspective. Totten wrote a brief entry (http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2009/08/good-grief.php) about the July 15 crash of an Iranian airliner that killed 168. A few press outlets started reporting that the crash was due to explosions caused by explosives being smuggled to Hezbollah by the IRGC.

In response to that post, a commenter had the following to add...

The question is, is the report accurate or not? ... it sound exactly like something the Revolutionary government would do to bolster Hezbollah - but, this is already a third hand report from a newspaper based in a different country... I can believe the parties involved would do that, but the reason I'm raising this point is because it's damaging to be wrong about such a charge. If this current report is wrong, but a similar issue of weapons smuggling is ever raised in the future, all Iran and Hezbollah would do to raise a partially credible defense - or to deflect part of the issue by turning back onto the accuser - would be to raise the previous "false" allegation as proof that the world is "out to get them"... Erroneous reporting can lead to a "boy who cried wolf" situation.

- commenter using the screen name of "ElMondo"That concern applies both to accusations against the enemy and to good news reports that later turn out to be false.

Michael C
08-11-2009, 06:51 PM
I've looked around a bit but haven't found any strong resources for IO specifically. This website has a quite good amount of excellent resources-

Thanks for the feedback. I am hoping to use some of the comments to publish in Infantry magazine if I can pull together the rest of the article that is not on here. The one point I had the most trouble explaining myself was on the point about advertising campaign. I am either going to heavily revise it for the article or drop it completely. You bring up really good examples of IO as well.

Also good luck on the launch of your blog.

@Dayuhan- I totally agree that the key issue in Afghanistan is: is the government effective? For the most part, no it is not and until we fix that we can't wage good IO. Fortunately, every situation has its bright spots and focusing on those is what a good IO campaign, and counter-insurgent does.

08-12-2009, 04:39 AM

Excellent article. I would consider publishing it here rather than at Infantry, more eyes will see it. (Although it is certainly a great thing to be published there).

Your experience reflects mine. I would consider expanding on the following, this is what I wrote briefly (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/99-smith.pdf) on the subject last year if you think it fits:

8. Understand perceptions matter far more than truth. Counterinsurgency is political conflict for power, and control of the population is the primary means to gain that power. History is replete with examples of counterinsurgents winning the tactical battles while losing the strategic campaign for the support of the host and home nations . We have learned that operations will be assessed through the lens of information effects. Information engagement is not a staff section’s responsibility or an operations order annex, but a commander’s program through which all efforts, lethal and non-lethal, must be viewed. Counterinsurgents must constantly ask, “What are the various audiences, and how will this action be perceived by each one? Then, ask what can we do to shape that perception to our advantage?” A successful counterinsurgent is proactive in shaping the information message of his actions. When reacting to events in the current media environment, speed and accuracy are key. To increase tempo, media engagement authority must be decentralized as much as possible out of theater and corps headquarters down to battalions and companies. Creating credible perceptions of increasing success and momentum are critical to re-establishing legitimacy and restoring the population’s confidence and trust in the host government.

9. Communicate effectively. We transmit, but how well is our message received, understood, and accepted? Too often we communicate using methods the populace doesn’t understand or use in ways that undermine our message. Early on, we distributed Arabic language flyers into Turkoman-speaking populations, and wondered why our messages didn’t resonate. Once we learned and understood how the host nation communicates, we used those streams, and our efforts improved markedly. In some areas messaging may best be carried out in tea shops, use newspapers in another area and local leaders in a third. Once we learned to communicate though appropriate mediums in the host nation our successful results multiplied. We learned to place local figures at the forefront. A local citizen is always more credible than a foreign one in any setting. Many Iraqis believed “Baghdad Bob’s” fantastic tales of victory because he was an Iraqi.

And finally, credibility matters most. The narrative and tactical actions have to agree. If I say I'm here to protect the people, yet my actions are focused on chasing the bad guys, I am not credible. What do we call a person who says one thing and does another? You guessed it. Too often our narrative spouts platitudes our actions don't reinforce.

Congrats on writing your experiences for publication. More need to do it.


Michael C
08-16-2009, 08:06 PM

Both your points are excellent. I have thought about publishing this article in the SWJ, but I have another piece on training new platoon leaders that I think would fit better here. I am going to package my thoughts on IO with some thoughts on KLEs and using interpreters and try and publish that with Infantry magazine. For tactical advice I think it is the best forum.

I can't stress how I agree with most of your points. Platitudes are always seen through. Tailoring a message to the local population is vital. Pushing IO down to the lowest level is always the best policy (not to mention pushing operations, intelligence, support and everything as far down as it can go is usually the best policy.)

Thank you for the advice and the support.

08-16-2009, 08:25 PM
Michael C,

I appreciate your thread, and I will take some time to check out your blog. Additionally, congrats on writing and good luck with where ever you decide to publish. To reiterate Niel (Cavguy), more need to do it. As for Information Operations, I tend to side with Niel and Schmedlap. I will attempt to offer one other point to be considered for the tactical level operations.

Deeds not Words.

As Schmedlap noted, trying to advertise support for the government can oftentimes become very Orwellian particularly if the host government is not playing nice to the people in your AO. It's like waving your hand over the populace and proclaiming everything is okay when in fact it is not. In this modern version of COIN, where we often interdict to play referee against the host nation and those that would seek to rebel against it or localized tribes fighting against each other, some of the best impacts are derived from our actions not our voice.

Just throwing that out there to see if it has merit.

Best of luck.


Michael C
08-18-2009, 08:11 PM
Mike F,

Totally agreed. I was in a brief today on IO and the briefer said, use this as your point: Afghanistan Police help provide law and order to the population.

I directly asked, well what if they don't? In my district we had to beg the ANP to arrest people, and all they ever arrested were two in all the months I was there! So yes, if the deeds aren't there than all the words in the world won't matter.

Michael C
12-14-2010, 02:11 AM
I published an article in Infantry Magazine called "Influencing the Population" and I used the advice from some of the commenters on this debate.

Thanks all for the help, and you can find the article on my blog here (http://www.onviolence.com/?e=337).