France presented their military doctrine for information operations. They will be seriously active in this space.
Let me recall that previously I looked at the:
- Highlights of the French cybersecurity strategy, developments in cyber - France - combattants cyber et l’arme cybernetique
- French application of international rules to cyberwarfare
- The French doctrine of offensive cyber operations
It's interesting to watch such a transparency with respect to cyberwarfare doctrine. This time the document is on a higher level of abstraction. Today’s doctrine is complimenting a broad strategy.
Increasing change of “social norms” concerning the use of social networks and other platforms, impacts users’ information consumption. This, it is argued in the doctrine, has an “influence on military operations”. This is about an attempted “enforcement” of actor/adversary “will”. For example via disinformation operations (i.e. propaganda). Here I must stress that the use of propaganda during conflicts is legal under international law. This does not mean that the owners of certain digital platforms must accept a military use of their platforms.
Indeed, at least once, Facebook took down French military information operations. Make no mistake, this was quite shocking to the French military and politicians. Yet it happened. Will it happen again? Perhaps the mere release is a potential challenge to big digital platforms. After all, it is a Western State is saying that information operations will be conducted, and that they are legal. This does not happen every day.
The elements of the French doctrine of information operations highlight that a lot of countries (and “terrorists”) integrate information operations in their activities. Especially over the Web or social networks. This is true. Many actors use these mediums to conduct disinformation or information operations. The French mention that information operations are included in “typical” hybrid operations.
The French doctrine considers the activities of the following: 1) State actors 2) Organised armed groups. The doctrine contains a sober thought: “extension of the information fight to cyberspace is a generator of instability in the environment of military operations”. They are especially concerned with activities aimed to “recruit” people for the purposes of terrorist activities.
Finally, the doctrine defines L2I (“lutte informatique d’influence“). It may (or may not) be understood as “computer influence operations/warfare”. L2I are “military operations conducted in the informational layer of cyberspace to detect, characterize and counter-attacks, support strategic command, provide information (intelligence) or deceive, either stand-alone or in combination with other operations”. The theatre of operation is “information space”. The activities may be linked to defensive or offensive cyber operations, i.e. sometimes called cyber-enabled information operations. Among the defensive tasks we may find the detection of adversary operations, and taking actions against them, for example: discrediting them, ‘pointing out the lies”, “denouncing inconsistencies”, etc.
Assuming that the target (i.e. military or the society) would pay attention to such “debunking”, of course. Sometimes, “debunking” is merely aiding in the spreading and amplification of the original message. So this must be done with care.
Not much is said about the actual offensive action. Formally, information operations will be conducted by the cyber army unit. There will be a recruitment spree. L2I will involve people with expertise in the information and cognitive environment, linguists, computer graphics designers, but also psychologists, and sociologists. That sounds fair, but there is a risk of “isolation” of expertise. I reckon that there must be people that hold expertise in several aspects at the same time.
The French doctrine vows compliance with domestic and international law (in peacetime, respect for “non-interference”). As I said, at least in the context of armed conflict, disinformation and propaganda are legal. The actual doctrine text (in french) is here.
Countries continue building their cyber forces. Information operations may be an arm of such activities. They recycle the good-old propaganda or psychological warfare for the information age, under a more fashionable term.