Strategic Information Warfare: A Concept

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do
not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense
University, the Department of Defense, or United States Government.

Although the belligerents had all professed their hope that the
conflict would not come, all had prepared for it. While all had seen
the value of the new information technologies that were changing
the face of global affairs and been exploiting them for strategic
benefit, the leadership of Oceana had correctly seen one area in
which they possessed a crucial advantage over their potential adversary,
Teutonia, and planned accordingly. Based on their analysis
of a conflict a decade earlier, in which this key information technology,
although even more rudimentary at the time, had provided a
critical advantage to one of the belligerents, Oceana’s strategic
leadership correctly foresaw that if they could act swiftly they could
gain a strategic advantage and exploit the global information
environment to mount a strategic perception management campaign
and shift global opinion decisively in their favor. This was particularly
important concerning the stance of Neutralia, for if their
populace and leadership could be convinced to join in Oceana’s
cause, victory over Teutonia was certain.
And their vision was correct: hours after the formal outbreak of
the conflict, Oceana struck. Swiftly seizing control of a critical
pathway into the information environment, Oceana not only disabled
Tuetonia’s ability to operate in this medium but also began exploiting
it for their own purposes, especially in Neutralia. Although the
perception management campaign did not cause instant success, it
was effective, and over the course of time as the conflict raged, the
political and popular mindset and attitudes in Neutralia shifted
perceptibly, from strict neutrality to outright hostility towards
Teutonia. Once they finally entered the fray on the side of Oceana,
Teutonia’s doom was sealed.
This scenario sounds like something out of William Gipson
(author of Neuromancer) or “Wired” magazine, but it’s’s
history. Perhaps it will be to point out that the three protagonists are
really Great Britain (Oceana), Germany (Teutonia), and the United
States (Neutralia), and that Oceana’s swift strike to seize control of
the information medium took place on...August 5, 1914! That was
the day that the royal cableship Telconia sortied into the North Sea
and severed all five of Germany’s undersea telegraph links with the
outside world. After that date, the view that the rest of the world had
of The Great War increasingly passed through a lens located in
London. This enabled British information warriors to mount a very
effective strategic perception management campaign that eventually
helped bring the United States into the war on the side of the Allies,
thus moving from strict neutrality to waging war to ‘make the world
safe for democracy.” Thus Oceana—or rather, Great Britain-was
waging strategic information warfare.1

What is Information Warfare?
Any effort to define or discuss strategic IW must tread a careful path
to avoid falling into the subtle trap in which strategic airpower has
been mired for the past several decades, that of defining the concept
in terms of a technology or physical entity. For too many years
strategic airpower has been viewed in terms of either a technology—
nuclear weapons, or long-range bombers—or a physical target—
cities or key industries. Even among the practitioners of airpower
this erroneous paradigm had a tight grip that on ly in the wake of the
Persian Gulf War of 1991 is finally being banished to the dustbin of
history. Airpower doctrine is beginning to acknowledge that what
defines a use of airpower as strategic is the intended effect.2 The
same is true for strategic IW, but this discussion is immediately
faced with a clamor of questions which must be addressed before
moving forward, chief of which is... what is Information Warfare?
A useful starting place is to briefly trace the evolution of the
term Information Warfare. The earliest use of the term seems to
have originated in the US Department of Defense, in the Office of
Net Assessment, where Dr Tom Rona was exploring the
relationships among control systems, a field known as cybernetics.
Dr Rona described the competition between adversarial control
' systems as “information warfare”, in the sense that control systems
can be described as the means for gathering, processing, and
disseminating information, processes which can be diagrammed and
described with flow and feedback charts of mind-numbing dryness
and complexity.3 Not until the publication of a highly-classified
DOD Directive, 3600.1, in 1993, however, was there an “official
definition” for the term. To add confusion, there were actually
several definitions, at differing levels of classification.4 Perhaps not
surprisingly, this definition underwent frequent revision as the
operational and organizational implications of the concept evolved.
The current definition has been the longest-lived, and has been in
effect since the promulgation of the current guidance on Information
Warfare—DOD Directive 3600.1—on 9 December 1996. With the
pending publication of “Joint Publication 3-13: Joint Doctrine for
Information Operations” it seems likely that the official DOD
definitions of IW and 10 will remain in effect for some time longer.5
Which is not necessarily a good thing, if one is hoping to find a
definition that helps to clarify and explain what might constitute the
conduct and intent of IW. However, since one must understand what
10 is in order to move to its less comprehensive building block, IW,
they provide a useful starting point:

Information Operations: Actions taken to affect
adversary information and information systems while
defending one’s own information and information

Information Warfare: Information operations conducted
during time of crisis or conflict to achieve or
promote specific objectives over a specific adversary or

If these two definitions throw a less-than-blinding light on IW, let’s
try a different approach. Most US Service concepts of IW rest in
part on the concept of the “information environment”, and whether it
is described as an environment, realm, domain, or whatever, there is
a clear sense that information has become some kind of “place” in
which crucial operations are conducted. The Army’s pathfinding
doctrinal publication, Field Manual 100-6 “Information Operations”,
even speaks of a “global information environment [and] battlespace”
in which conflict is waged. The latest version of the USAF’s basic
doctrinal publication explicitly addresses the need to dominate the
information realm, and discusses information superiority as “...the
ability to collect, control, exploit, and defend information while
denying an adversary the ability to do the same...includes gaining
control over the information realm...”6 Using this approach, then,
IW can be described as the struggle to control and exploit the
information environment. Needless to say, this struggle extends
across the conflict spectrum from “peace” to “war” and involves all
of the government’s agencies and instruments of power. One appeal
of this approach is that if one replaces “information” with
“aerospace” or “maritime”, you have defined air and naval warfare,
or more appropriate to our purposes, airpower and seapower. Thus
information warfare can be described as those activities that
governments undertake to control and exploit the information
environment via the use of the information component of national
This immediately raises another question: what is the
information component of national power? While it might seem to
be just another bit of computer-age terminological fluff, its origins
actually predate this decade, resting in the strategies developed by
the Reagan Administration in its very real struggle with the former
USSR. In 1984 the Reagan Administration issued National Security
Decision Directive 130, “US International Information Policy”,
which outlined a strategy for employing the use of information and
information technology as strategic instruments for shaping
fundamental political, economic, military and cultural forces on a
long-term basis to affect the global behavior of governments, supragovemmental
organizations, and societies to support national
security.7 If one refers back to the 1914 example with which this
paper opened, one can see that this is hardly a new concept, and
clearly governments and leaders have been exploiting the
information environment for centuries. Indeed, one could argue that
the stone carvings that Assyrian rulers made of conquered peoples
and cities being enslaved and pillaged were intended as much to cow
and terrify current and potential subjects as to inform archeologists
thousands of years later about what hard and cruel folks they were.
Regardless of the fact that the information technology being
employed was stone and chisel, this was exploitation of the
information environment for strategic political objectives.

A New Geostrategic Context
By featuring the example of the Assyrians, of course, we
immediately raise the question of what is so new and different about
the current state of the “information environment” to warrant all the
fuss. The answer is fourfold: cyberspace, digital convergence, global
digital omnilinking, and computer control of infrastructures.
It is a simple matter to determine one’s receptivity to the
changes of the information revolution by observing the reaction to
the word “cyberspace.” At the very mention of the word, doubters
and skeptics literally grimace and display intellectual and sometimes
even physical discomfort, while those at ease with the technologies
of the information age nod their heads in acceptance as if someone
had said “traffic” or “radio” or any other commonplace term.
Almost everyone is familiar with the use of information as a tool, a
process, even a weapon, yet while all of these remain applicable,
none in isolation goes far enough. This paper argues that the
synergistic effects of electronic digital technology with an
information-dependent society have made information into a virtual
environment, with cyberspace as its physical manifestation.
Cyberspace, defined here as that place where electronic systems
such as computer networks, telecommunications systems, and
devices that exert their influence through or in the electromagnetic
spectrum connect and interact, has always existed, but not until
mankind invented technologies that operated via the electromagnetic
spectrum did it become “visible” and noticed.8 A useful analogy is
outer space-it’s always been there, but not until mankind developed
technologies that enabled us to extend our affairs into it and use it to
affect terrestrial affairs did we fully comprehend that it forms
another physical and operational environment beyond the land, sea,
and air. Outer space does not have the same physical presence or
properties of land or water—you cannot “weigh” it or “measure” it in
a useful sense~but it nonetheless exists because we can see the
physical results of things that happen there.9
The physical laws and principles that govern and delineate how
systems function in these environments are the borders that fix their
boundaries.10 Submarines function very well in an environment
governed by the laws of hydrodynamics, but they cannot fly; the
Space Shuttle works in an environment governed by the laws of
orbital mechanics, but it cannot function submerged under the water.
All of these environments interact with each other and have
synergistic effects, but they are distinct and unique. The same holds
true for cyberspace. Those devices and systems that operate in
cyberspace function because they were designed to conform to and
exploit the laws governing radiated and electronic energy. We can
date our use of this environment to the mid-19th Century and the
invention of the telegraph, which was the first telecommunication
system11 to operate in accordance with the laws of this medium. The
next hundred years saw regular and ever-more technologically
sophisticated advances in the ability to exploit and develop this
medium-undersea telegraph cables, radio, television, microwave
relay, even communications satellites-that extended the reach of
communications to continental and eventually intercontinental
distances, as with the example with which we opened this paper. We
have enormously increased the volume of information that we can
store, manipulate, and transfer. But it has only been in the past two
decades, the closing quarter of the 20th Century, that the fortuitous
marriage of these technologies with the microchip has led to
attainment of “critical mass” and the emergence of cyberspace as a
full fledged environment in which military forces and society in
general are just beginning to learn how to operate.
The emergence of cyberspace as an operational environment
generates certain requirements that military forces will have to meet
to be fully effective, requirements that mirror those of the other
environments in which we, people, organizations,
and doctrine. It should be obvious that as the use of
cyberspace depends totally on its technologies, we need to
continuously advance and refine those technologies and seek for
newer, faster and more comprehensive systems, both hardware and
software, for öperating in this medium. We also need to continue to
explore the interfaces between this environment and human beings,
because unless one assumes that the ultimate cybernetic operator is a
machine or “cyborg,” we will need intelligent and highly-trained
people to develop the technology, operate the systems, and analyze
the environment. Those people and technologies will need to be
grouped into organizations that can exploit this new environment in
order to exploit the opportunities and protect ourselves from the
vulnerabilities that arise.12 As counterintuitive as it may seem, we
need doctrine by which to operate and with which our operations in
cyberspace can be integrated and synchronized with our plans and
activities in the other environments in which we operate.
Two additional advances of the information revolution which
have transformed the strategic landscape are the increasing
capability to transform almost any kind of information into ones and
zeroes, in a development known as digital convergence, and the
growing internetting of the world’s different telecommunications
media in a condition referred to here as global omnilinking. While
these developments are distinctly different they are at the same time
synergistic and interdependent. Thomas Kuhn suggested in his
landmark study of scientific revolutions that the history of
technological advancement has not been one of steady discoveries or
developments but rather one marked by spikes or sharp advances
that flow from extraordinary finds or revelations that yield
discontinuous and revolutionary changes.13 Such has been the case
with information technology in this century. The changes in
communication technologies prior to the middle of this century were
relatively linear-telegraph to telephone to radio and so forth. The
break point came with the invention of the microchip, because the
synergistic advances in information storage, manipulation, and
transmission capabilities made possible by digital convergence are
being generated at an explosive and nonlinear rate, with no end in
sight. These developments have occurred in two areas, the speed of
information manipulation/transmission, and the volume of
information that can be manipulated/transmitted. The marriage of
these attributes with computer-enhanced and controlled telecommunications
systems have led to the “omnilinking” of the electronic
digital world. These two developments are the fuel for the explosion
that has resulted from the application of the microchip to
communications technologies to form the new science of telematics-
-the marriage of computers and telecommunications.
Telematics has created a new environment in which we must
learn to operate. In some ways the “information age” is misleading
and imprecise, because one can legitimately ask “hasn’t information
always been around?” Of course it has, but the technology of the
telematic age that enables us to use and exploit cyberspace is new,
perhaps less than two decades old. This condition, referred to here as
“omnilinking”, is inseparably tied to the emergence of cyberspace as
an operational environment. Our machines that function in this
environment are like early biplanes compared to the 747 or B-2, and
our mastery of this environment is akin to our mastery of the air in
the Lindbergh or Mitchell, we’re just learning our way.
Even so, the omnilinking of the world is increasing every day, as
more and more computer networks and telecommunications systems
tie together and pass the lifeblood of today’s economic and political
world...information. The degree to which our societal dependence on
this environment is growing is startling. Our military forces already
depend on it. The Gulf War simply could not have been fought in
the way we fought it without precision information for precision
weapons, command and control systems that enabled us to operate
like a matador around a woozy and half-conscious bull, or satellite
communications links that enabled organizations half a world away
(NORAD) to monitor Iraqi missile launches and pass targeting
information to Patriot batteries to engage the missiles.14 Our
microchip-driven information collection and manipulation
capabilities are sufficiently advanced, and the links that move the
information around so intemetted, that we worry about TV news
commentators skewing election results on the west coast by
announcing that “analysis of east coast voting trends indicate
candidate ‘Z’ has won the election.” The global economy cannot
function without the constant supply of digital electronic has become a form of energy or capital, and global
business is utterly dependent on telematic systems and capabilities
to keep the world’s economy going twenty-four hours a day.
Business practices such as “just in time inventory” cannot function
without the digital information that fuels it. The “internet” is less a
finite place or thing than it is a description of the increasing
omnilinking of the world, and thinking of the internet in terms of its
useVs, such as “America OnLine” or “CompuServe”, is as
shortsighted as describing the aerospace in terms of an airline. While
some dismiss this environment and the Internet as merely
entertainment or worse, this view ignores the fact that a very large
percentage of the information available on TV or in print would fall
into the same category. Few, however, would deny the impact of
visual media on the American populace’s support of the Vietnam
War or the impact of the printed word on democracy and freedom
via the “Declaration of Independence” or “Emancipation
Proclamation.” What’s different is that the internet and omnilinking
make it increasingly possible for that televised image to be seen
instantly by an ever increasing percentage of the world’s population,
or for that opinion-shaping paper to be sent to tens or even hundreds
of millions of people simultaneously and in their own language.
Digital convergence, combined with connectivity, adds up to the
second major part of the fundamental difference between the
information age and the period “BMC”~”Before the Micro Chip”.
The final major development, which is shaping the new
geostrategic context, is the increasing reliance on computerized
systems for the control and operation of key infrastructures in
advanced societies. The growing reliance on SCADA systems
(Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) for the control and
functioning of an increasingly large segment of the infrastructures
on which societies depend for their economic, social, political, and
even military strength is both a boon and a vulnerability for these
systems and societies. Whether it be the supply of energy
(electricity, oil, gas), the management of transportation (railroads,
air traffic control, motor vehicle movement), the transference of
digital wealth (electronic funds transfer, digital banking, control of
stock exchanges), or the operation of the very telematic media that
supports the entire structure, look below the surface of almost any
segment of daily life in modem societies and one will find a
The degree to which this is invisible to the general
populace can be illustrated by an incident from real life. In February
1996, Washington DC suffered a relatively typical industrial-age
accident—a train wreck. During a snowstorm a commuter train
carrying people into the capital collided with a freight train, and in
the tragic fire that followed eleven people were killed. The
investigations by the news media examined almost every aspect of
the accident, including the signaling system that provided
instructions to the train operator (who was killed, heroically trying
to warn passengers instead of saving himself) via the ubiquitous red
and green lights that line railroad tracks all over the world. The news
media asked whether the operator saw the signals, whether they
were properly placed, and whether they functioned properly. None
of the news reports asked whether the signals had been
electronically tempered with (they had not been) nor even raised the
issue of how the signals were controlled or where those controls
were located. Those types of signals are controlled, of course, by
SCADA systems, and the computers which control the rail signals
for that segment of track on which the accident occurred are located
at the operations center for CSX Railways, in Jacksonville, Florida,
several hundred miles distant. This is an illustration of how deeply
imbedded within modem societies such control systems have
become, and how unaware most of us are of their functioning.16
It is the responsibility of governments, however, to not only
be aware of such developments but to take actions to mitigate
potential disruptions to the effective functioning of systems upon
which the society depends. In July 1996 the Clinton Administration
issued Executive Order 13010, which directed the formation of a
unique commission, the President’s Commission on Critical
Infrastructure Protection, or PCCIP, that would bring together senior
governmental officials and representatives from those private sector
industries and businesses that comprised these key infrastructures
into a commission tasked with studying the vulnerability of these
infrastructures to disruption. The PCCIP examined a range of
infrastructures, grouped into several broad categories. While the
commission examined both the physical and cyber threats, they
freely acknowledged that their emphasis was on the cyber threat, in
part because it is less well understood than physical threats. Their
conclusion that the threat is real and growing might seem
unsurprising, but reflects nonetheless the growing awareness that
our very dependency on computerized control of infrastructures
creates an inherent vulnerability. It is this vulnerability that is at the
heart of hypothetical scenarios for strategic information warfare in
which computer network attacks on critical infrastructures “take
down” key segments of those infrastructures and thus generate
cascading effects on such systems as transportation, banking, or
emergency services. It was the need to respond to this vulnerability
that the Clinton Administration issued Presidential Decision
Directive (PDD) 63 on the 22nd of May this year, establishing a
national coordinator for infrastructure protection and creating an
organizational structure by which such threats and vulnerabilities
could be mitigated. Called for a public sector-private sector
partnership that would develop cooperative procedures and
organizations to assess the threats and vulnerabilities and create
countermeasures, PDD 63 thus stands as a latndmark step in what
could be termed strategic defensive information warfare against the
threat of what has in some quarters been termed “infrastructural
warfare.” However, it will at best provide defensive capabilities in
only two of the three possible target sets for information warfare.17

The “3 ‘Wares”
Information warfare can be waged against an extremely diverse
group of target sets, and almost the entire DOD has seemingly been
engaged in the effort to categorize these targets and their grouping
into sets and categories. This effort is both valuable and thought
provoking in that it has armed and supplied the intellectual
firepower being directed against the problem of exploring what IW
is, and although those who are unsettled by the lack of definite
answers have sometimes become naysayers regarding IW, this
intellectual effort is critical and will continue. One way of looking at
the potential set of IW targets is to examine the different elements or
components of an information or control system, as described by Dr
Tom Rona in the 1970s and outlined in official Department of
Defense analyses. These incorporate three distinct elements in any
information system: the hardware, the software, and the
The hardware is easily the most visible element as it represents
the physical components of the system. Telecommunication
structures such as phone lines, fiber optic cables, satellite uplink
stations, the satellites themselves, mainframe computers, desk and
laptop models, the chips themselves-all these are part of the
hardware of an information system. They are the physical means by
which we store, manipulate, and transmit information, and are quite
obviously an important target in IW, regardless of the means used to
affect them. When an F-117 bomber destroyed the Iraqi "AT&T"
building19 on the first night of Operation Desert Storm to cut Iraqi
communications connections with the outside world, the intent was
to gain control of the strategic information environment. The
"AT&T Building" is a prime example of a hardware target.
The software is the invisible and seemingly non-physical
element of an information system; it represents the coded
instructions that control the functioning of the hardware. A computer
and the myriad microprocessors ("chips") contained within the
computer are essentially useless until a program tells it what to do,
after which other programs are layered onto the base program. In a
simple desktop machine these programs, which we call software,
establish the basic functioning of the system, control its word
processing and graphics programs-i.e. MS Word and PowerPoint-
how it handles emails, how it interfaces with the Internet and other
computer systems, etc. In more complex systems, such as the
SCADA systems that control railroad and other transportation
infrastructures, the software is the key element that makes the
difference between efficient and cost effective operations and
possible disaster. When President Clinton directed the formation of
the Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection in July 1996-
better known as the PCCIP-it was the potential threat from intrusion
and tampering with the coded software that provided the driving
force behind the Commission's work.
The least well understood target for IW has, conversely, been
around the longest-the wetware, or human element. This aspect is
almost certainly the most difficult to confidently model or simulate,
yet at the strategic level may be the most critical part of the
information environment. When one reads ancient history from a
military perspective, for example, one is struck by the numerous
examples of what modem soldiers would call "psychological
operations", or Psyops.20 The teachings of the Chinese military
philosopher Sun Tzu—the “patron saint” of Information Warriorswere
infused with the sense that the enemy's mind was the target
that possessed the greatest potential payoff.21 Western armies,
however, have perhaps for cultural reasons focused on the physical
clash of arms as the ultimate arbiter. American training manuals
during World War II, for example, proclaimed "battle is the
payoff!", and the Western military’s adoption of Clausewitz in the
centrality of most war college curricula is additional evidence of our
focus on the physical and kinetic means of combat. It is not
surprising that in this climate the military perspective on
psychological operations was—and perhaps remains—focused on the
battlefront and the potential impact on the morale and fighting spirit
of the enemy's troops. While this is a vital and valid target for
psychological operations, the potential target base is much larger
and more diffused throughout society, thus the term "wetware
centered" operations. The very word “wetware” itself is new,
approximately a decade old, and it is used here to intentionally
parallel the hard-and-software terminology to emphasize that in
modem information systems the human cortex is as important as
cables and code.

Strategic Information Warfare
We have now established some of the key technological and societal
developments that are shaping the information age and which
provide the key contextual milieu for strategic information warfare
(SIW), and we have outlined the three key “target sets”, in a sense,
against which SIW can be conducted. The last critical task is to
explore what we mean by “strategic” information warfare, an issue
that many publications or articles on IW treat only tangentially.
Martin Libicki, one of the leading IW analysts, has not written about
SIW directly, and has focused instead on attempts to analyze the
component activities or actions that make up his conception of IW.22
A team at RAND, summarizing and drawing lessons from their
“Day After” IW exercise, conceptualized SIW in terms of the
potential risk to high-value national assets made possible by the
information revolution. They characterized this activity, in which
“nations utilize cyberspace to affect strategic military operations and
inflict damage on national information infrastructures”, as strategic
information warfare.23 This was perhaps the first serious attempt to
explore and conceptualize SIW, and it contains some excellent
work. The chapter on “Defining Features”, in particular, is an
excellent analysis of the technological and societal changes resulting
from the information age. A relatively little-known 1995 study of
the internet by a DOD analyst, Charles Swett, provided useful
examples of how the new information and communications medium
of the internet is being exploited for political purposes.24 Finally, a
series of US government studies, such as the previously-cited report
of the PCCIP, have focused on the threat of an “electronic pearl
harbor” and the potential damage that could be inflicted on national
What all of these studies have done is to focus primarily on the
means used or the physical assets affected, to the neglect of the
intent or objective. In other words, they have made the samemistake
that strategic airpower fell victim to, that of trying to develop a
concept by describing the instruments instead of the goal. Strategic
information warfare is simply the exploitation of the information
environment for strategic purposes. The RAND study, for example,
discussed at length information actions against “electronic power,
money flow, air traffic, oil and gas, and other information dependent
items”, and stated that damaging these assets using IW would
“inevitably take on a strategic aspect.”25 While this is almost
certainly true, it does not get into the critical “why” question, and
that is the factor which makes something strategic. To illustrate, let’s
use another analogy from airpower. Cargo planes have been
delivering things like food and fuel for decades, and they’ve done
this at a wide variety of locations, from isolated firebases to entire
cities. So what differentiates “tactical” airlift from “strategic” airlift?
Answer: the political level of the objective.26 Thus airlifting food to
a group of soldiers on an exercise is tactical, but supplying the
population of Berlin to achieve the political objective of resisting
Soviet domination of Europe was strategic. The same distinction can
be made regarding strategic information warfare. The example with
which this paper opened was strategic because the ultimate objective
of the operation was at the national political level.
It becomes immediately apparent that “national political
objectives” can have a broader meaning in the information age than
the term might have been understood to have a few decades ago,
perhaps because our understanding of what groups can be seen to
have political objectives has expanded. This is due in part to some of
the factors discussed above, particularly digital convergence and
global omnilinking. Three years ago (1995), when Ecuador and Peru
engaged in a brief skirmish over a disputed segment of their shared
border (not strategic to us, perhaps, but certainly so to them) the
Ecuadorians made rapid and adroit use of the internet and a series of
websites to vociferously make their case to a global audience. This
author spoke personally with representatives from both the Peruvian
and Ecuadorian embassies in Washington, and was told by both that
Ecuadorians gained a significant diplomatic advantage during the
dispute. In previous decades the plight of the East Timorese might
not have made even the back pages of the global news. Now you
type “Timor” into your search field, which yields 11,000+ “hits” that
electronically link you to an unbelievable number of resources that
examine and propagandize the situation in East Timor from almost
any direction imaginable. In all of the above-mentioned example the
ultimate objective for the information activities underway has been
at the national strategic level, and thus constitutes SIW. The “target
category” for these operations has been somebody’s “wetware”: the
mindsets, attitudes, and beliefs that shape how human beings make
decisions and act on them. The information age has created many
new tools and media for influencing and shaping perceptions. The
crude propaganda of World War I depicting German troops joyfully
murdering Belgian babies has been replaced with extremely
sophisticated technical means for shaping perceptions, and by
equally sophisticated human tools for understanding what
perceptions can be most effectively manipulated. You don’t believe
it? Try watching the commercial advertisements during the
American “Super Bowl” football championship or its Australian
Rules equivalent! The use of radio in the recent (1994) genocide in
Rwanda, in which radio broadcasts were a key means to incite entire
population groups to ethnic violence and megamurder, was an
example of strategic information warfare because it featured the
exploitation of the information environment—in this case the radio
realm—for national political objectives.27
The critical arena rests in the junctions of the different “target
categories”, or where the “three wares” come together. How could
an adversary use the hardware of global telecommunications
systems to alter content or software, thus leading to an alteration of
the target group’s wetware and a strategic result? The intersections
of these three elements of the information environment are perhaps
the critical nodes or “centers of information gravity” via which one
adversary could act against another. These would change depending
on the situation or scenario, and would require detailed and difficult
analysis in order to prepare a plan for a strategic information
operation. It might well require an analysis of first the hardware
comprising the telecommunications network to be used, then the
coded software, and finally the human analysis to determine how to
shape the perceptions (“wetware”) in order to generate the desired
political impact. Virtually all of the hypothetical (and rather farfetched)
discussions in the “IW press” create scenarios in which
national infrastructure elements such as banking or electricity are
“taken down”, with serious national impact. While this threat should
not be minimized, the question often left unasked is...why were
these infrastructures attacked? Has a segment of the national electric
grid been attacked in order to degrade the effectiveness of an airbase
and thus delay operations from that base? That could be a strategic
event, but it might also be of merely tactical impact.

Information warfare is not a fad or a trendy buzz word that defense
planners and contractors use to make their presentations and view
graphs appear up to date, but rather reflects the growing recognition
that the global information environment is atn arena of strategic
importance to the safety and security of modem nation states and
political groups. The information environment and the evolving
form of warfare that seeks to control and exploit that environment—
IW—does not relegate the other environments and forms of warfare
to the dustbin of history, but they are changed, and those that do not
or cannot adapt to these changes—intellectually, organizationally,
doctrinally—may have to learn via the harsh mechanism of defeat.
Strategic information warfare is one of those changes. As this paper
pointed out at its opening, SIW has been going on for at least this
entire century, and while it is not solely dependent on technology,
the adversary that can best exploit the synergy of technology and
human factors has an advantage. As the technologies of the
information revolution have expanded, and as the global populace
has become more dependent on those technologies ands more adroit
in their use, the opportunities for its use—and the vulnerabilities to
its use—have expanded apace. Strategic information warfare is here,
now, and how we respond is up to us—as a tool with which to meet
our national strategic objectives and safeguard our national security,
or as a victim to its use by someone more mentally, organizationally
and doctrinally agile than we. The choice is ours.


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1 Daniel R. Headrick, The Invisible Weapon: Telecommunications
and International Politics, 1851-1945, (New York, NY: Oxford,
1991), pp. 140-141. Although the US Department of Defense draws
a clear distinction between information “warfare” and “operations”,
this distinction is lost on most of the world, and this paper will use
the terms interchangeably.
2 In Richard T. Reynolds’ eye-opening account of the initial
planning for the Gulf War air campaign, Heart of the Storm: The
Genesis of the Air Campaign Against Iraq (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air
University Press, 1995), pp, he provides an insightful example of
this in recounting the initial reaction that many Air Force members
had when they first learned of the proposed “strategic” air campaign.
For a more scholarly and analytical account of the tactical-strategic
dilemma see Edward C. Mann III, Thunder and Lightning: Desert
Storm and the Airpower Debates (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air
University Press, 1995), p. 15.
3 This author first met Dr Rona and heard his concepts in 1994,
during a presentation on 13 June 1994 at the Information Resources
Management College, National Defense University, in Washington
DC. He defined IW as “...the sequence of actions undertaken by all
sides in a conflict to destroy, degrade, and exploit the information
systems of their adversaries. Conversely, information warfare also
comprises all the actions aimed at protecting information systems
against hostile attempts at destruction, degradation and
exploitation. Information warfare actions take place in all phases of
conflict evolution: peace, crisis, escalation, war, de-escalation and
post conflict periods.” Dr. Rona, a gentle man and brilliant analyst,
unfortunately passed away in December 1997.
4 This author has vivid memories of the initial classroom meeting
of the School of Information Warfare & Strategy’s first class in
August 1994, during which the sixteen students reacted with dismay
to the plethora of official and unofficial definitions of information
warfare. While some argue, with sound logic, that any attempt to
formally define IW is premature and counterproductive* others argue
with equally sound logic that some degree of consensus is essential,
and that unless the different organizations that are involved in the
issue have some common language and currency, any attempt to
develop and execute DOD and governmental plans and operations
are doomed to frustration and failure. While this author agrees that
trying to put a “stone tablet on the wall” degree of finality on the
terminology of IW is futile because the discipline is still evolving,
some kind of terminological commonality is vital, even if it only
provides a target at which all the parties can shoot together.
5 One of the reasons for the creation of the term 10 is the visceral
dislike and mistrust of the word “war” by many of the agencies and
people who are beginning to find that the information age envelops
their activities and mission. Thus the creation of a term—10—that
points at the larger arena in which information “stuff’ is conducted,
but does not tie those operations so visibly to the military.
6 See Field Manual 100-6, “Information Operations”, (US Army
Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC), dated August
1996; also see Air Force Doctrine Document-1, “Air Force Basic
Doctrine”, (USAF Doctrine Center) dated September 1997, pp. 31-
7 See “National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 130, “US
International Information Policy” 6 March 1984. The concept
described above is based on NSDD 130 but paraphrases it and
expands on some of its key components.
8 While it’s impossible to say when the term “cyberspace” was
first used, several authors stand out as being among the leaders.
William Gibson’s classic work of science fiction, Neuromancer,
(NY: Ace, 1984) first raised the concept of humans seamlessly
operating within a cybernetic, virtual reality environment, while
Nicholas Negroponte’s book Being Digital (NY: Knopf, 1995) is an
exploration of the impact of cyberspace on our daily lives. The term
itself has only recently come into widespread use. A search of
several automated databases, for example, covering the years 1986-
89 and 1986-91 contained only 17 “hits” on the term; the same
databases for 1996 contained 754!
9 Of course outer space can be measured in a scientific sense, but
not in terms which are useful in a lay sense.
10 The question of where the borders of cyberspace lay is an
intriguing one. Michael Benedikt has written perceptively on it in
his book Cyberspace: First Steps (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1991),
while Anne Wells Branscomb in a recent monograph
“Cybercommunities and Cybercommerce: Can We Learn to Cope?”
(Harvard University, Program on Information Resources Policy)
suggests that the borders of cyberspace are discernible at the
interconnection points between segments of the inter let, with
network managers and systems administrators acting as the border
guards, in a sense.
11 This construct omits communication methods such as signal
flags, smoke signals, drums or even heliograph because they did not
require manipulation of the electronic environment.
12 This does not mean, however, that those need to be “physical”
organizations. The technology makes “virtual” organizations ever
more plausible and perhaps in some scenarios even desirable. Four
people physically located on the Greenland Icecap, in the Australian
Outback, in the Amazon Rainforest, and halfway up Mount Everest
will be able to meet in cyberspace, discuss a problem, develop a
solution, and monitor the corrective actions via information
technologies. Already, totally global voice communication is
possible via the satellite-based telephone system Iridium (see their
website at, and within a few years it is planned
to have the same capability for heavy bandwidth data transmission;
see, for example, the Teledesic plan at
13 Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
(Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1970).
14 This warning system used Air Force Space Command’s spacebased
platforms to note Iraqi Scud missile launches, US Space
Command assessed the indications, and Paitriot missile systems
operated by US Central and European Commands to engage the
Scuds. This system thus crossed several physical boundaries (outer
space, several oceans, and cyberspace), national boundaries (the US,
Israel and Saudi Arabia, at a minimum), and organizational
boundaries (one Service major command and at least three joint
Unified Commands) all at the speed of light. This example
illustrates the capabilities, opportunities, and difficulties of warfare
in the information age.
15 Richard S. Berardino, “SCADA and Related Systems: Critical
and Vulnerable Elements of Domestic Components of National and
Economic Security”; unpublished research paper, in author’s files at
16 See the Washington Post, 24 February 1996, page 4, for a
detailed analysis of the accident.
17 For the PCCIP see the Commission’s report, “Critical
Foundations: Protecting America’s Infrastructures”, which at the
time of this writing is electronically available via the Commission’s
website at For the text of the White Paper
announcing PDD 63 see the White House’s website, The concept of “infrastructural warfare” has
even generated an electronic journal, The Journal of Infrastructural
Warfare, at
18 This construct sets aside the content of any information
transmission, although that content is quite obviously critical. It is
the content, for example, that impacts the wetware.
19 At least that was what those of us involved in air campaign
planning called it; in actuality it was an Iraqi telecommunications
center that had nothing whatever to do with the AT&T corporation.
20 One could certainly argue that when Joshua paraded around the
city of Jericho with trumpets blaring he was depending more on the
psychological impact of his music rather than its wall-shattering
power; see the Old Testament, “Joshua 6: 1-17”.
21 Sun Tzu has enjoyed a renaissance within the American military
community in recent years, with the realization that there might be
merit in his wise aphorism that "the acme of skill is to subdue the
enemy without fighting." The very phrase "military philosopher"
would until recent years have seemed to be a complete non sequitur
in American military parlance.
22 See especially his monograph, What is Information Warfare?
(Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1995), in
which he uses a reductionist approach to delineate seven activities
that comprise IW: command and control warfare; intelligence-based
warfare; electronic warfare; psychological warfare; hacker warfare;
economic information warfare; and cyberwar. The danger of this
approach, in this author’s opinion, is that it misses the gestalt of IW,
and the possibility that the whole may be—because of the synergies
amongst the parts—much greater than the mere sum of those parts.
23 Roger C. Molander, Andrew S. Riddile, and Peter A. Wilson^
Strategic Information Warfare: a New Face of War (Santa Monica,
CA: RAND, 1996), pi. See especially Chapter 4, “Defining
Characteristics of Strategic Information Warfare”, pp. 15-34. See the
RAND website,
24 Charles Swett, “Strategic Assessment: the Internet” (Office of
the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low
Intensity Conflict, 1995). This paper provided many example of how
the Internet is being used politically, and this tr end has intensified in
the three+ years since the preparation of the paper.
25 Molander, et al, “Strategic Information Warfare”, p. xiii.
26 There is an excellent discussion of political objectives in a
recent and seminal (but still unpublished) dissertation on
information warfare; see Gregory J. Rattray, “Strategic Information
Warfare: Challenges for the United States” (Fletcher School of Law
and Diplomacy, 1998).
27 For the importance of radio as a medium for SIW see Kevin J.
McNamara, “Reaching Captive Minds with Radio”, Orbis (Vol 36,
#1, Winter 1992), pp. 23-40. For details of the use of radio to incite
Hutus to massacre tens or hundreds of thousands of Tutsis see
“Sounds of Violence”, The New Republic (Vol 211, #8-9, 22 August
1994), p 18; and “Rwanda’s Mass of Murderers”, The Economist
(Vol 333, #7887, 29 October 1994), p. 43.