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Understanding and Assessing Information Influence and Foreign Interference



The information inuence framework was developed to identify and to assess hostile, strategy-driven, state-sponsored information activities. This research proposes and tests an an-alytical approach and assessment tool called information inuence and interference to measure changes in the level of strategy-driven, state-sponsored information activities by the timeliness, specicity, and targeted nature of communications as well as the dissemination tactics of publicly available information. The framework also oers the opportunity to identify possible or unlikely strategic intents and to assess the level of information inuence and interference achieved by adversaries.
Journal of
Volume 18, Issue 1
Winter 2019
From the Editor
L. Armistead
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
M Hammond Errey
Testing the Importance of Information Control: How Does Russia React When Pressured
in the Information Environment?
S Fisher
No Silver Lining: Information Leakage in Cloud Infrastructures
WR Mahoney
Bitcoin’s Blockchain Technology for Hybrid Warfare: Laws to the Rescue?
J Matisek and W VornDick
Towards Improving APT Mitigation: A Case for Counter-APT Red Teaming
JG Oakley
Israeli Defense Forces’ Information Operations 2006 - 2014, Part 1
Israel Defense Forces’ Information Operations 2006-2014, Part 2
Israel Defense Forces’ Information Operations 2006-2014, Part 3
T Saressalo
Journal of Information Warfare
© Copyright 2019
Published by
Peregrine Technical Solutions, LLC
Yorktown, Virginia, USA
Print Version
ISSN 1445-3312
Online Version
ISSN 1445-3347
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
M Hammond-Errey
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Education
Deakin University
Geelong, Australia
Abstract: The information inuence framework was developed to identify and to assess hostile,
strategy-driven, state-sponsored information activities. This research proposes and tests an an-
alytical approach and assessment tool called information inuence and interference to measure
changes in the level of strategy-driven, state-sponsored information activities by the timeliness,
specicity, and targeted nature of communications as well as the dissemination tactics of publicly
available information. The framework also oers the opportunity to identify possible or unlikely
strategic intents and to assess the level of information inuence and interference achieved by ad-
Keywords: Information Inuence, Interference, National Security, Information Warfare, Disinfor-
mation, Intelligence Assessment, Information Activities, Inuence, Information Eects
There are many existing theories, grand strategies, and conceptual frameworks for waging war
and conceptualising the role of information in warfare from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz. Whilst there
are many military theories on information and warfare (Tulak 2015; Libicki 1995; Shapiro 1991;
Thomas 1997), there is no comprehensive approach that situates, contextualises, and assess-
es information inuence and interference—or the information advantage gained as a result of
state-sponsored, strategy-driven information campaigns. Absent from the academic scholarship to
date has been rigorous testing and validation of analytical frameworks to understand and to explore
the strategies and tactics of information inuence and interference and dominance driven by state-
based, power-projection goals. Without a comprehensive theory of how information—particularly
in the public domain—is used to inuence and to aect grand strategy and to obtain strategic ad-
vantage, it is dicult to discern and to establish the practices of adversaries. The information war-
fare threat itself has moved from being primarily a military to also a societal concern. This means
that a foundational theory of information inuence and interference is necessary to gather baseline
information, to discern information inuence and interference activity, to identify changes, to as-
sess threats, and to respond eectively.
This paper presents a theoretical framework of information inuence and interference that has
been developed to identify and to understand strategy-driven, state-sponsored information activ-
Journal of Information Warfare (2019) 18.1: 1-22 1
ISSN 1445-3312 Print/ISSN 1445-3347 Online
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
ities, and an assessment tool to help assess them. The central tenet of information inuence and
interference is to understand and assess the activities and techniques used to gain an information
advantage to exploit the weaknesses of an adversary. This paper focuses on the inuence of in-
formation predominantly, but not exclusively, occurring in the public domain, embeds these ideas
and practices within military theory, and proposes an assessment tool. Further, it tests the theory’s
ability to establish and to explain the phenomena of information inuence and interference by ap-
plication to Russian information activities in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine (including relating them to
the downing of MH17). While the concept is designed to assess information inuence and interfer-
ence from an adversarial strategic threat and advantage perspective, it is possible that the concept
could also be applied in reverse, as a basic tool to better understand delivering information eects.
Need for a Theory on Information Warfare
The value of information to military operations has long been acknowledged as crucial to success
(Shapiro 1991; Libicki 1995). Historically, there are a wide range of approaches to information
warfare, deeply rooted in specic time periods (WW1, WW2, the Cold War and its related con-
icts) as well as in historical approaches (such as Russia, US, UK, and China). These concepts are
predominantly contained within dierent and often niche military doctrine. Further, none of the
existing approaches fully explains information inuence and interference as it can be applied and
discerned in contemporary international relations and military strategy (Hammond-Errey 2016).
The use of information in warfare is known by a range of terms relating to a myriad of concepts,
approaches, and actions used in the East and West. These terms largely describe the tactics, strate-
gies, and roles associated with the use of information. They include Western notions of the ‘Infor-
mation Environment’ (Tulak 2015), ‘Information Operations’ (NATO Military Committee 2014;
Dick & Muñoz 2015; Kuehl 2004; Patrick 2006; Tatham 2013),‘Information Warfare’ (Bishop
& Goldman 2003; Nimmo and Lucas 2015; Shapiro 1991; Thomas 2000; Thomas 2004a; Wil-
liams 2010; Libicki 1995), ‘Information Activities’ (Chief of Joint Operations 2013), ‘Hybrid War’
(Bjerregaard 2012; Homan 2009; Tulak 2015), ‘Gray Zone Warfare’ (Chambers 2016; Echevar-
ria 2016; Homan 2016; Mazarr 2015), and ‘strategic communications’ (Lange-Ionatamishvili &
Svetoka 2015; NATO 2015; Schoen 2012; Tatham 2015). Russian information warfare theory has
a long history and is derived from special propaganda (spetspropaganda) theory, disinformation
(dezinformatsia), and reexive control. Spetspropaganda is psychological and propaganda war-
fare that was used under Stalin but disappeared briey in the 1990s when it was removed from
the Russian military curriculum to be reintroduced in 2000 (Darczewska 2014). Disinformation,
according to Russian geopolitical expert Igor Panarin, is the; ‘“spreading [of] manipulated or fab-
ricated information (or a combination thereof)’” (Darczewska 2014). The Russian word dezinfor-
matsiya is somewhat more inclusive: ‘it includes all deception except camouage’ (maskirovka)
(Greenberg 1982). Holland (2006) described disinformation as operations aiming at pollution of
the opinion-making process in the West. However, there are also other conceptualisations, such as
China’s ‘Three Warfares’ (Thomas 2001; Thomas 2015a; Pomerantsev 2015) as well as non-na-
tional approaches, particularly by terrorist groups (Nissen 2015b; Ingram 2015).
Despite the many existing theories, understanding information warfare remains an analytical mine-
eld (Hammond-Errey 2016). The variety in these terms in many ways reects the complexity of
a eld that encompasses projections of national power as well as covert and overt activities, and
denes nation-state responses to state, intrastate, and non-state violence. It is an example of how
Journal of Information Warfare 2
nations comprehend and express their national security, as well as the utility and application of
armed force in international aairs, not to mention the broader achievement of foreign policy out-
comes. None of the existing approaches fully considers both the cognitive impact and relationship
to kinetic eects of state-sponsored, strategy-driven information campaigns, nor do they provide a
mechanism by which to consider information inuence and interference as a whole. In short, these
approaches do not encompass the full scope, depth, and breadth of information activities on the
contemporary geopolitical stage.
Thus, there is a need for theory on information warfare activities that occurs solely outside of the
military realm and encompasses two environmental shifts: the trend towards the blurring of the
line between war and peace (Homan 2009; Homan 2016; Mazarr 2015; Giles 2016e) and the
shift of conict into the public domain (Hammond-Errey 2016). The expeditious development of
technology has dramatically changed the information environment and the role of information in
society (Reynolds 2016). Rapid digitisation, increased connectivity, and reliance on the Internet
as well as shifts in the way people communicate, build relationships, and trust (Boyd and Craw-
ford 2012; Kitchin 2014b; Kitchin 2014a; Metzger and Flanagin 2013; Rubin et al. 2014) have
increased the impact and eectiveness of hybrid and information warfare techniques and thus their
relative value to academic study. It is highly likely that many of these factors are encouraging the
shift towards ‘grey zone’ and hybrid warfare. This shift drives a key component in the concept of
information inuence and interference: information activities are strategically aligned with mili-
tary activity occurring covertly at any point on the spectrum of conict.
Introducing Information Inuence and Interference
The information inuence and interference concept was ultimately developed because the existing
theories on information warfare were unable to adequately explain Russian information warfare
operations, especially large-scale disinformation campaigns. The public nature of this activity re-
quires acknowledgement and consideration outside of a military context alone. Information inu-
ence and interference is a theoretical framework that identies, conceptualises, and assesses the
impact of state-sponsored, strategy-driven information activities and campaigns designed to inu-
ence or interfere in another nation state. This foundational theory is necessary to baseline informa-
tion, discern information inuence and interference activity, identify changes, assess threats, and
respond eectively in the contemporary information environment. Additionally, there is a need for
more specic theory on the role of information warfare activities that occur in the public domain,
outside of the solely military realm.
The central objective of information inuence and interference is to gain an information advan-
tage to exploit the weaknesses of an adversary. Information inuence and interference is informed
by intelligence collection and analysis—as well as by planning, command, and policy consider-
ations—and can occur anywhere on the spectrum of war and peace. It acts as a projection of power
(along with military, diplomatic, and economic pressure) and is integrated, coordinated, and in-
tended to operate as an arm of coercion-deterrence. Schelling (2008) oers a formative and signif-
icant overview of compellance (forcing someone to do something) and deterrence (keeping them
from doing something). Coercion-deterrence within the cyber context can be seen in Hawkins and
Nevill (2016) and Lupovici (2011). Focusing on Russia, Thomas (1997) denes deterrence against
information assault, while Echevarria (2016) considers coercion-deterrence within the grey zone
context. Information inuence and interference is not conned to an instance or to an individual
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
3 Journal of Information Warfare
activity of information operations but is a part of a multi-faceted strategy to overcome an adver-
sary’s superiority in another (military) domain and/or is a part of a coordinated approach to achieve
a certain nation state’s power-projection goal. Contemporary warfare is generally considered to
occur within ve domains: outer space, cyber-space, land, sea, and air with information vital to
each (Dupont 2015). Increasingly, however, the ‘human domain’ is being included (Selhorst 2014;
Tatham 2015). Because information inuence and interference is about gaining an advantage to
exploit adversary weakness, the concept incorporates cyber warfare (attacks, theft, and intrusions)
as a technical representation of information inuence and interference, while noting that it is the
information itself which is important. This activity sits on a spectrum of information inuence and
interference, towards the end of foreign interference. The advantage from cyber operations in this
context comes from the release of such information to support the strategy. An example of this can
be found in the release of U.S. diplomatic phone conversations regarding Ukraine (Gearan 2014).
This distinction is crucial, as the future of exploiting information inuence and interference over
an adversary is not likely to rest solely in public information campaigns that aect cognition or
kinetic operations, but rather will be illuminated through the intersections between intelligence
and public information.
Information Inuence and Interference Assessment Tool
The information inuence and interference assessment tool draws on the concept outlined above to
conceptualise and to assess the impact of state-sponsored, strategy-driven information campaigns.
These can be private and public campaigns, and include activity directed at decision makers (for
instance, reexive control) or, much more broadly, at whole populations. Information inuence
and interference campaigns do not necessarily have to be state-sponsored; however, that is the
focus of this assessment tool. The assessment tool helps analysts measure changes in activities by
the timeliness, specicity, and targeted nature of communication as well as by the dissemination
tactics used for manipulating masses of people through publicly available information. It provides
an objective means to discern, understand and explain the advantage gained through tactics of
mass communication and the strategic use of information in the public domain in pursuit of for-
eign policy goals. Information inuence and interference encapsulates communications driven by
government (primarily military) strategy including information eects and public communication,
disinformation, and (strategic) silence. These communication activities target a specic audience,
with a specic message at a particular time to achieve a specic goal (or series of goals)—inu-
encing that audience’s behaviour—and, as a result, achieve a level of information inuence and
interference or, when combined with covert methods, achieve a level of foreign interference. This
can be seen in Figure 1, below. The intent is to achieve a strategic advantage over an adversary,
although success is dependent on the ability of the entity being attacked to mitigate the threat of
information inuence and interference.
The information inuence and interference assessment tool discerns the level of inuence on a
spectrum, from low inuence to extreme inuence—or foreign interference. It provides robust
measures of timeliness, specicity, and targeting, combined with the level of integration with
strategy along with dissemination tactics applied to publicly available information. This establish-
es a baseline and can then be used to identify changes in the level or intensity of strategy-driven,
state-sponsored information activities. The rst stage in assessing information inuence and in-
terference is to identify the information tactics—that is, how the information is disseminated to
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
Journal of Information Warfare 4
audiences. The second stage is to assess the changes in the timeliness, specicity, and targeted
nature of communications. The third stage—covered only briey in this paper—is to identify pos-
sible strategic intents and to dispel them. These factors combine to assess an overall information
inuence and interference level. Timeliness includes the time and date of a communication and
is often strategically relative to other events. The specicity of the message includes the type and
method of communication and how it is transmitted (the mode of communication). Specicity
also includes the level of detail in the message, including source, language, and content, as well
as message substance. The target component refers to the likely audiences for which it is intended
and includes their possible span of control–or potential audience behaviour, actions, and decisions.
Span of control is a term developed by this author to refer to potential actions of the intended audi-
ence. Included here is the span of control—or potential behaviour, actions, and decisions or ability
to inuence these of the target audience. Span of control is a term that is useful to understand in
terms of reexive control; strategic intent; and the relationship between information, inuence,
and action. This includes how the message is targeted as well as how targeted the message is. A
practical guide to assessing information inuence and interference is discussed in this paper.
The information inuence and interference assessment tool is intended to drive analysts towards
improved (and earlier) identication of adversary information warfare, cyber-attack, and covert
inuence activities across a range of platforms. The aims of this are to increase the speed and
richness of threat and intelligence assessments, to drive policy and operational decision-making,
and ultimately to reduce the strategic advantage it aords an adversary. The information inuence
and interference assessment tool is not intended to assess the truthfulness of communication or to
prove truthfulness of information—or disinformation. Considerable eorts continue to be devoted
to identifying, assessing, and disproving disinformation, which will provide sucient resources
Figure 1: Information inuence and interference
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
5 Journal of Information Warfare
for academics and analysts (see Pomerantsev 2016; Shawcross 2016; and the Legatum Institute’s
Beyond Propaganda series). Further, the truth is not necessarily a crucial component of infor-
mation inuence and interference because the goal is not to inform, but to inuence and change
behaviour. Unlike other analytical approaches, the information inuence and interference concept
is used to assess the total information advantage obtained through all aspects of state-sponsored,
strategy-driven, public communications. It is intended to improve understanding and assessment
of adversary strategic intent—or objectives—and level of integration and coordination to provide
an overall level of information inuence and interference. The level of strategic advantage gained
is not easily assessable without understanding the threat posed and the ability of the nation state
attacked to mitigate that threat.
Information inuence and Interference Assessment Tool and Strategic Intent
To date, one of the major challenges for scholars and practitioners has been the ability to link
strategic intent to information eect. Strategic intent refers to the objectives (or series of multiple
objectives) to which the techniques and tactics are deployed to achieve an impact or eect. Table
1, below, is a preliminary attempt to describe some of the possible strategic intents.
Table 1: Strategic intent (mechanisms of reexive control using information)
Consistent with a broader military strategy, there are likely to be smaller components—or multiple
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
Journal of Information Warfare 6
strategic intents—to an end-state and its supporting objectives. Sometimes these are called lines of
eort. Some aspects of strategic intent will be highly planned, and others will be opportunistic and
reliant upon the operators in the eld. Some will work quickly and others slowly—and some not
at all. Strategic intent is a term the author developed to encapsulate military and communication
objectives that are strategy-driven and incorporate aspects of reexive control and perception man-
agement. It is drawn from military strategy as well as business management and communications
theory. Reexive control as dened by Thomas (2004a; 2015a) is a means of conveying informa-
tion to an opponent that is specially prepared to incline them to voluntarily make a predetermined
decision desired by the initiator. It is raised here as a key component of strategy and integration.
Reexive control is a crucial component of the Russian approach to disinformation and broader
information operations; hence, it is so important to understand this in relation to tactics as well as
timeliness, specicity, and targeting. The author has adapted existing work on reexive control,
hybrid warfare, and cyber warfare into Table 1, above, to help readers understand and conceptu-
alise strategic intent by categorising overall strategic intent and the potential impact or eect. It is
heavily reliant on the notion of reexive control (from Selhorst 2016, p. 152; Thomas 2011, pp.
129-130) and perception management, but it also draws on cyber warfare and information warfare
material (Bishop and Goldman 2003, p. 124) to identify key strategic goals that public information
campaigns (and disinformation) are intended to support and that ultimately assist in the identica-
tion of a broad strategy or goal (Paul 2011). Assessment of these goals occurs at the nal stage of
the information inuence and interference assessment tool process; however, it is very valuable to
understand them throughout the process.
Application of the Information Inuence and Interference Assessment Tool
The information inuence and interference assessment tool measures changes in the level of strate-
gy-driven, state-sponsored information activities by the timeliness, specicity, and targeted nature
of communication as well as by the dissemination tactics of publicly available information. The
rst stage in assessing information inuence and interference is to identify the information tac-
tics—that is, how the information is disseminated to its audience. For the purposes of this assess-
ment, it is not necessary to distinguish truth within the information streams—although identifying
clear disinformation and falsehoods is advantageous. The second stage is to assess the changes in
the timeliness, specicity, and targeted nature of communications. The third stage is to identify
possible and to dispel unlikely strategic intents. The nal stage is to assess the level of information
inuence and interference.
The assessment tool
Provides a baseline for public information campaigns,
Highlights key military and social eects,
Aggregates eects and overall eectiveness in achieving stated objectives,
Helps collate quantitative and qualitative data,
Shows shifts in public information campaigns,
Highlights where to focus advanced analytics and analyst resources, and
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
7 Journal of Information Warfare
Provides a cost-benet analysis of the potential advantages gained through the strategy and
tactics of mass communication in pursuit of foreign policy goals.
Again, timeliness includes the time and date of a communication and is often strategically relative
to other events. The specicity of the message includes the type and method of communication
and transmission (that is, its mode of communication). Specicity also includes the level of detail
in the message, including source, language, and content, as well as message substance. The target
component refers to the likely audiences for which the message is intended and includes their pos-
sible span of control—or potential audience behaviour, actions and decisions. This includes how
the message is targeted as well as how targeted the message is.
Assessment Tool—Information Tactics
To achieve a desired impact and overall information inuence and interference, it is necessary
to engage in public information campaigns using specic tactics to disseminate information and
disinformation. This section identies the techniques and categorises them into key information
inuence and interference tactics used to achieve strategic goals, which operate like a toolbox of
available collection, analysis, decision-making, and communication tools needed to achieve dis-
semination of public information in line with strategic intent. This can be seen in Table 2, below.
The tactics represent the key methods of dissemination of public information and disinformation
intended to inform and to inuence. To identify whether the release of disinformation is strategy
driven, it is necessary to analyse the tactics of dissemination using specically selected informa-
tion sources, methods of communications, release on multiple platforms, and integration with
kinetic operations. The most distinctive features of contemporary disinformation are high-volume
and multichannel as well, as rapid, continuous, and repetitive.
The unassailable core of strategic communications is to inform, inuence, and persuade domestic,
foreign, and adversary audiences in pursuit of policy objectives. In the case of disinformation,
there is an additional requirement—an intent to deceive or dis-inform—which distinguishes it
from misinformation (or even accidental communication of false information). The selection of
tactics is driven by the strategic intent and desired goals and often includes consideration of the in-
formation source (both how the information was obtained and the public attribution of information
source), the method of communication, the platforms through which information is disseminated,
and the overall interface between information warfare and cyber warfare.
In a nutshell, this paper argues that changes in the level of strategy-driven, state-sponsored infor-
mation activities can be measured by the timeliness, specicity, and targeted nature of communi-
cation as well as by dissemination tactics. The information inuence and interference concept in-
cludes measures of timeliness, specicity, targeting, as well as the level of integration and strategy
which can be understood by analysing tactics of disinformation.
Targeting refers to the likely audiences for whom information is intended and includes an under-
standing of their potential audience behaviour, actions, and decisions—span of control. Span of
control is useful to understand in terms of reexive control, strategic intent, and understanding the
relationship between information, inuence, and action. The targeting of a communication can be
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
Journal of Information Warfare 8
connected to the timeliness as it can highlight whom is being targeted and what the intended or de-
sired outcome is—especially on more specic communications that inuence actors (the audience)
to think, act, or decide something in a certain way.
The targeting metric includes the analytics of message targeting as well as how targeted the actual
communication is. There is currently a gap in the scholarship with respect to how nation states tar-
get disinformation audiences; and while this research contributes to the scholarship, it is a subject
worthy of further study. Factors that further research should address include
[LANGUAGE] Which language(s) is this communication (or group of communications)
[AUDIENCE] Who is the intended audience(s) for this communication (or group of com-
[AUDIENCE SPAN OF CONTROL] What is the span of audience control/behaviour of
the intended audience(s) for this communication (or group of communications)?
[TARGETING] How focused or well targeted is this communication (or group of commu-
Table 2: Information inuence and interference tactics
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
9 Journal of Information Warfare
[TARGET ANALYSIS] How is the communication (or group of communications) targeted
to the audience (the analytics of targeting)?
Specicity is a crucial metric of information inuence and interference measurement because it
includes the tactics of communication and how they are transmitted. Specicity also includes the
level of detail in the message, including content and message substance as well as alignment with
known disinformation narratives. This detail can range on a spectrum from broad ‘distrustful Inter-
net’ to narrow—such as very specic counter claims and fake reports and/or sources. ‘Distrustful
Internet’ refers to oft-stated, Russian strategic intents to create an Internet that global citizens do
not trust (Pomerantsev and Weiss 2014) and to sow discord. Specicity is an important diagnostic
measure in information inuence and interference due in part to recent improvements as well as
increased access to technology. These improvements in the specicity of messaging include eorts
across single communications and across entire campaigns. Further, they include enhancements in
the nuancing of key messages, increased use of narratives, and increased number of multi-channel
dissemination platforms. Additionally, specicity is deeply connected to other metrics, including
tactics used, timeliness, an understanding of the audience (targeting), as well as strategy and inte-
gration. The factors needed to assess specicity include
[DISSEMINATION MEANS AND TACTICS] How is this communication (or group of
communications) transmitted (means) and why (tactics)?
[SUBSTANCE] Where does this communication (or group of communications) sit on the
spectrum of message content and substance (broad—‘distrustful Internet’—to narrow)?
[LEVERAGE] Does this communication (or group of communications) engage with or
leverage o other events?
[DETAIL] What level of detail is included in this communication (or group of communi-
[SOURCES] What information sources are included in this communication (or group of
[NARRATIVE] Does the narrative of this message align with known disinformation nar-
The timeliness of a message includes when a communication is disseminated and can be relative to
other events. Timeliness is crucial in communications’ being understood by the receiver especially
when the intention of a communication is to inuence actors (referred to here as the audience) to
think, act, or decide in a certain way. Timeliness, when considered in conjunction with the specic-
ity and targeted nature of the communication, can be a diagnostic indicator of the level (and type)
of intelligence collection as well as the overall strategy. While its value should not be overstated in
isolation, timeliness (along with specicity and targeting) can oer insight into and can potentially
narrow the scope of possible adversary strategic intent by excluding possibilities based on the tim-
ing of communications. Timeliness also provides insight into the extent of intelligence collection
(covert, overt, cyber activity) as well as the resourcing occurring to inform strategic decision-mak-
ing. Factors to assess timeliness include
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
Journal of Information Warfare 10
[INFLUENCE] Does the time and date of a piece or group of communications enable inu-
encing actors (the audience) to think, act, or decide something in a certain way?
[RESPONSIVENESS] Are the time and date of this communication relative to or respon-
sive to events?
[TIMING] Does the timeliness of this communication indicate intelligence collection or
kinetic activity?
[SCOPE OF INTENT] Does the timeliness of this communication broaden or narrow the
scope of the strategic intent?
Timeliness is not an isolated measure; in fact, much can be gained from the consideration of
‘groups’ of messages—that is, those that share a common narrative or those which are intended to
engage the audience or specic actors and inform their behaviour. Timeliness of disinformation
can provide insight into the extent and type of intelligence collection undertaken and can act as an
enabler of action, supporting military objectives and kinetic operations.
Using the matrix set out in Table 2, above, the rst stage in assessing information inuence and
interference is to identify the information tactics—or how the information is disseminated to its
audience. The second stage is to assess the changes in the timeliness, specicity, and targeted na-
ture of communications using the factors proposed above. The third stage is to identify possible
and dispel unlikely strategic intents and form the list. The nal stage in the current assessment tool
process is to assess the level of information inuence and interference as low, medium, high, very
high, and extreme.
Applying Information Inuence and Interference to Contemporary Russian
Russia is a particularly interesting and informative case study to understand the application of
information inuence and interference because it has a long and public history in the use of de-
nial, deception, and information operations. The information inuence and interference concept
was developed because existing analytical approaches were not comprehensive enough to explain
Russian operations in 2014 and 2015. This researcher initially proposed and tested the information
inuence and interference assessment tool on Russian operations in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and
the downing of MH17. The results demonstrated that the approach is a robust and sound method
of assessing public information campaigns. Additionally, the test illuminated the increasing inter-
sections between intelligence activities and publicly available information, or what can be referred
to as an evolving nexus between covert and overt.
Information—and disinformation—activities form a central pillar of Moscow’s approach to state-
craft, inuence, and conict (Blank 2011; Giles 2016d; Giles 2009; Thomas 2001; Kofman 2015)
and have been considered a staple of Russian operations since at least the Cold War (Darczewska
2015; Giles & Monaghan 2014; Kris 2015; Mazarr 2015; Thomas 2014; Franke 2015). Russia
has been at the forefront of the eld since then (Giles et al. 2015; Giles 2015b; Renz & Smith 2016;
Thomas 2004b; Thomas 2015b; Thomas 2011; Thomas 2000; Thomas 2004a) and is arguably the
most advanced nation in relation to information warfare, particularly in its use of disinformation
(Bartles 2016; Galeotti 2016; Giles 2016b; Giles 2016a; Thomas 2015c). Drawing on its long
historical practice, Russia has adapted to using new technologies, both conceptually and tactically
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
11 Journal of Information Warfare
(Bartles 2016; Darczewska 2015; Galeotti 2016; Nissen 2015b; Mazarr 2015; Selhorst 2016).
Blank (2011), Nissen (2015b), and Thomas (2000, 2011) concur that Russian military experts have
conceived of a single global information space emerging since the late 90s and that dominance
of that space would allow a country to exploit this space to alter the global balance of power.
Consistent with these assessments, Russian Chief of General Sta, Valeriy Gerasimov, noted the
increasingly signicant role of ‘non-military measures’ in warfare generally. He indicated that they
occur in Russian Federation operations at a rate of 4:1 over military measures (Thomas 2015c).
Since 2014, Russian information inuence and interference capability has progressed in sophis-
tication (Giles 2016d; Giles 2016e; Giles 2016a; Nimmo and Lucas 2015; Fedchenko 2016) and
has escalated in deployment so rapidly that the Russian Federation is now engaging in information
provocation towards opponents, predominantly NATO members and especially the U.S. (Calha
2015; Meister 2016; tefnescu 2015; Giles 2016e).
Russian disinformation campaigns employed in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and in the downing
of MH17—as set out in Figure 2, below—reveal an increase in the volume and sophistication
of information operations in the public domain. This research assessed a variety of dissemina-
tion strategies used by Russia to achieve an information advantage, highlighting in all three case
studies that communications on social media, ocial statements, and cyber-warfare were key,
as was the coordination of narratives. Ultimately, this research highlights changes in the level of
strategy-driven, state-sponsored information inuence and interference which can be measured by
the timeliness, specicity and targeted nature of communications as well as dissemination tactics.
The full analysis cannot be covered in this paper, so a short synopsis is outlined below. The same
analysis has subsequently been applied to other incidents, such as U.S. presidential elections and
the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the UK.
In February and March 2014, following the removal of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow President Viktor
Yanukovych, the Russian Federation militarily supported and encouraged Crimea’s largely ethnic
Russian population to ‘declare independence’ from Ukraine. Russia’s occupation of Crimea began
with a mix of hybrid warfare tactics: use of covert forces, an extensive disinformation campaign,
as well as electronic warfare. Russia’s airborne, naval, infantry, and motor rie brigades were
also employed (Kofman & Rojansky 2015). The annexation of Crimea could be seen as a turn-
ing point in modern successful Russian military operations which exploited information inuence
and interference, considered the rst contemporary Russian use of cyber warfare and information
operations alongside conventional military activity (Snegovaya 2015; Giles 2014; Giles 2016b).
The annexation of Crimea also indicated that Russian military developed a ‘feedback’ loop to
improve tactics and coordination eorts from operations in South Ossetia (NATO 2015; Giles
& Monaghan 2014; Thornton and Karagiannis 2016). Timeliness in this instance acted as an en-
abler of action—supporting military objectives and kinetic operations to enable ‘elections’ to take
place. The specicity of the narratives varied, and Russia actively engaged with key audiences on
dierent mediums, often concurrently, with messages designed to inuence behaviour. Western
audiences were targeted with English messages at a very high level (including directly from the
President) (Darczewska 2014; Giles 2016c) incrementally acknowledging involvement of ‘Little
Green Men’—later admitted to be Russian State forces occupying airports and military bases in
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
Journal of Information Warfare 12
Crimea. In contrast, Russian forces eectively controlled the targeting of local messages through
control of telecommunications capabilities (Giles 2016e; Nissen 2015b) as well as media, TV, and
radio in particular (Nissen 2015b; Nissen 2015a; Giles 2016d; Giles 2016c; Snegovaya 2015).
Additionally, they used local social media campaigns referring to the soldiers as polite people and
encouraging support for their presence (Nimmo and Lucas 2015; Darczewska 2014; Snegovaya
2015; Szwed 2016).
Figure 2: Overview of information influence and interference assessment (conducted in 2016)
This chart was derived using a large body of primary sources of proven disinformation. Each source was analysed
from the perspective of tactics of dissemination, and a part of the whole campaign with respect to timeliness, spec-
ificity, and targeting. That each tactic was evidenced is represented here with black shaded boxes however, the full
data is available.
Eastern Ukraine
The conict in Eastern Ukraine r elates t o t he e volution in Ukraine-Russia-EU relations a nd is
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
13 Journal of Information Warfare
connected to historical separatism in Post-Soviet Ukraine. In 2014, events escalated with demon-
strations and protests occurring in the Donbas region, including the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts
of Ukraine, along the border of Ukraine and Russia. These events involved pro-Russian separat-
ists, Russian military, and anti-government activists and led to armed conict with the Ukrainian
military. Russia’s ongoing agitation along the border and sustained campaign in Eastern Ukraine
were revealed to the West. The resultant sanctions, as well as global focus and attention, led to
an increase in Russian disinformation in English (Giles 2016d; Giles 2016e; Giles 2016b; Paul
2011; Popescu 2014) but also in other languages, including French, Arabic, German, and Spanish
(Wilson 2015; Jonsson and Seely 2015; Giles 2015b), all occurring concurrently with Russian
disinformation targeting Ukrainian and Russian audiences. Assessing the information activities in
relation to Eastern Ukraine using the tactics, timeliness, specicity, and targeting outlined in the
information inuence and interference approach highlights multiple Russian strategies. Timeli-
ness in this instance enabled military objectives and kinetic activity. The specicity and targeted
nature attempted to deny Western access to information (including through cyber-intrusion, tele-
communications control, and framing sources as well as through the kidnapping of journalists). In
contrast, Russia exploited a distinct telecommunications, language, and cultural advantage (Geers
2016, Giles 2015a) to pursue targeted social media and localised campaigns to escalate violence
and to create a “wartime siege mentality” (Hyde 2014) amongst the local population.
Downing of MH17
Malaysia Airlines ight MH17 disappeared from radar on 17 July 2014, and debris was subse-
quently found over multiple sites in the Donetsk Oblast region of Ukraine. Subsequently, wide-
spread and global speculation about how and why it was downed emerged with criminal (Jozwiak
2016; Joint Investigation Team 2016), civil (Board 2015), and citizen (Luhn 2014; Bellingcat
2016) investigations indicating it was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile system. The
downing of MH17 is, in many ways, responsible for fully exposing the extent of Russia’s infor-
mation operations and hybrid warfare capabilities to the West. Timeliness in this instance is an
indicator of the extent of (usually covert) intelligence collection and resourcing which can be
seen by Russian government disinformation releases relating to the downing of MH17. As more
information about the downing of MH17 emerged, Russia has actively engaged with multiple au-
dience types in dierent languages, on dierent mediums, and with dierent messages (McIntosh
2015; Pomerantsev 2014; Pyung-Kyun 2015; Szostek 2014). They have been timely and targeted
towards certain audiences and actors in the investigation with messages specic to each audience
(Giles 2015a; Giles 2016a; Pomerantsev 2014). The messages occurred in conjunction with cy-
ber-intrusion and physical intimidation as well as bots and trolls (Reynolds 2016). Specicity,
in this case, indicates very broad tactics of dissemination—including fake sources and corporate
information release—as well as a range of details and narratives. Public information emanating
from Russia can be attributed to a wide range of sources, including directly from the Russian gov-
ernment and from agencies likely under state control, as well as originally unknown or un-attrib-
utable sympathisers that are slowly and retrospectively being connected to Russian government
(Snegovaya 2015; Giles 2016d; Paul and Matthews 2016). Assessing the Russian disinformation
in relation to the downing of MH17 using the tactics, timeliness, specicity, and targeting outlined
in the information inuence and interference approach makes it dicult to come to any other
conclusion than that the disinformation campaign was deployed to obfuscate conclusive evidence
of Russian government, systems, or person involvement in the downing of MH17. It appears as
Understanding and Assessing Information Inuence and Foreign Interference
Journal of Information Warfare 14
though this approach was intended to distract from the ndings of the ocial investigation (contin-
uous disinformation campaign, ocial and company statements) and prevent assigning legitimacy
to investigation processes (vetoing UN SC vote and attacks on process itself, potential evidence,
and information content) as well as reducing culpability within the domestic Russian audience.
The information—and disinformation—campaigns surrounding the downing of MH17 highlight
the signicance of understanding audiences. In particular, the communications to domestic audi-
ences are centralised on ensuring support for ongoing military activity, and the current regime is
crucial (Giles 2016a; Giles 2016e). A Levada Centre poll indicated that 97% of Russians do not
believe the separatists were responsible for shooting down MH17 (Luhn 2014). Given the control
of domestic broadcasting, Russian access to contradictory views and information is limited.
This theory of information inuence and interference is only the rst step in conceptualising adver-
sary information activities. Testing this research through application of the information inuence
and interference assessment tool on contemporary Russian operations revealed that it is possible
to derive some information about the extent to which activities are informed by and integrated
into military and strategic planning, and reveal insight into broader national security and geopo-
litical strategies. However, further applying this concept to more instances and to other regions
is necessary. This is important because the enabling infrastructure and dissemination methods
of information activities and especially disinformation are evolving rapidly in volume, velocity,
variety, and breadth amid heightened conict and global insecurity. For a more comprehensive
and sophisticated view of information inuence and interference, the next steps may be to build a
formal framework and test it across a broader number of case studies—historical and current—to
develop an improved understanding of the links between information eect and strategic intent
and to begin to explore automated advanced analytics to reduce the manual load on analysts.
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... The interest in hybrid influence generated a wide spectrum of studies, ranging from utilising information warfare concept and theories of the 1990s [7], through the use of religion to advance geopolitical interests [8], to the role of corruption in hybrid warfare [9]. The reports of some of these studies provide detail on the methods used and implementation processes, and may be examined as emerging analysis frameworks. ...
Over centuries countries and alliances in conflict have used all available means at their disposal, in addition to military forces, to gain a competitive edge. ‘Hybrid threat’ or ‘hybrid war’ is a new term designating the coordinated use of military and non-military means, that got traction in the analysis of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War and became widely used beyond the professional communities after the 2014 annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. One specific aspect of such conflicts is the lack of a clear distinction between ‘war’ and ‘peace,’ when a skilful player would apply available means to subjugate the opponent’s will, and thus achieve his political objectives, without fighting. Economic leverage, energy dependencies, ideology, propaganda and disinformation, cyberattacks and corruption are just a few types of means for such diverse—or ‘hybrid’—influence. While using different channels, it is their combined impact that can bring desired effects. Finding an appropriate response to such hybrid influence requires a good understanding of own vulnerabilities, the exposure to and the actual or potential impact over the public institutions, the economy and the society. This pa-per looks into emerging frameworks allowing to estimate the impact of hybrid influence and the extent to which they may be used to reflect the actual inter-dependencies and complexity of modern societies. While combining in various ways empirical data and expert assessments, all these frameworks facilitate the application of risk-aware allocation of limited resources to counter hybrid influence.
Full-text available
This article argues a discrepancy between the low degree of interest afforded to military disciplines in strategic communication research and the high degree of significance of strategic communication to modern military practice. A relatively low number of scholarly articles have been published in the field of strategic communication which focus on military disciplines, with most of them being empirical studies addressing research objects on the frontiers of military science. Meanwhile, strategic communication has become increasingly central to military practice in the post-1990 period, as seen in armed conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine.
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Cyber Defense Review Fall 2022 Vol.7 Issue 4
This article examines the Russian government’s use of the cyber and information domains as arenas to challenge liberal democracies. Previous studies have examined the technical or military-strategic aspects of Russian cyber activity or (dis)information. This article builds on these efforts and extends the scope of analysis to examine the socio-political challenges of Russian ‘hybrid interference’ for liberal Western democracies such as France, Germany and the UK. Our case studies highlight Russia’s growing use of cyber operations combined with (dis)information to foment or exacerbate tensions between government and society and/or among different societal groups. Our findings suggest that while Russia utilises hybrid interference to create or augment inter-societal turbulence in the short-term, the longer-term effect might serve to erode horizontal and vertical trust in such societies.
As liberal democracies intensify their efforts to digitise democracy, more governance services and processes are shifting online. Malign foreign entities (MFEs) are exploiting this phenomenon of digital era governance (DEG) to weaken democracies through information warfare operations. Australia is not immune to this, yet there is limited research exploring the relationship between digital democracy and foreign interference in the Australian context. Addressing this lacuna, this paper identifies the ways in which DEG might inadvertently produce opportunities for MFEs to target the Nation’s core democratic infrastructure. Through the implicit application of a tri-theoretical framework of DEG, democratic theory, and institutional theory, I argue that DEG has induced a series of new vulnerabilities in Australia’s political processes and institutions that challenge the legitimacy of decision-making inputs and outputs. MFEs may exploit these potential vulnerabilities by tapping into key digitally-amplified problems such as inauthenticity, data insecurity, and disinformation, thereby threatening Australia’s democratic sovereignty.
This article examines how Russian geostrategic communication is entangled in global gender politics. The aim is to understand the resonance of disinformation in relation to culturalized, ethnicized and racialized narratives of gender, or “gendered boundarymaking.” The analysis is based on focus group discussions with Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian individuals, asked to share their impressions of news articles from the Russian media agency Sputnik, which all depicted Sweden as a warning example of multiculturalism and feminism gone “too far.” In the discussions, participants opposed a gender equal “self” to a patriarchal immigrant “other,” narrated Sweden as a country exceptionally concerned with gender, and tapped into competing temporalities of progress and decline. The article contributes to research on geostrategic communication by showing how disinformation efforts draw upon gendered national identities and debates about gender and immigration. More importantly, the article demonstrates that such gendered boundarymaking shapes audiences’ interpretations in crucial ways. Rather than viewing disinformation only from a state-centered lens of national security, in isolation from racism, Islamophobia, anti-feminism, and queerphobia within Western societies, research should acknowledge the interconnections between geostrategic communication and everyday boundarymaking. This will be pivotal to developing counterstrategies to disinformation, whether Russian or homegrown.
In today’s virtually interconnected world, it is now cheaper, faster and less risky for malign foreign entities to conduct non-kinetic subversion of adversaries. This commentary aims to promote debate about whether digitisation has reshaped foreign interference or whether changes to the conduct of covert subversion operations simply mask what at its core is an unchanged and perennial fixture of geopolitics. It calls into question the concept of foreign interference in a world wherein the boundaries of foreign and domestic are beginning to dissolve in the digital theatre of battle. In this piece, I identify several core ways in which digitisation has revolutionised tactics of interference and argue that this differentiates today’s foreign interference from analogue-era espionage. I also explore how digitisation has expanded the range of potential threats and targets which has exacerbated the notorious cyber attribution problem and poses a unique threat to liberal democracies.
Discussions about recent state-run influence operations in social media often focus only on quantitative elements—the number of people interacting with fake news or how many tweets were sent by bots. This article suggests that understanding how influence operations in social media may affect individuals and groups requires a socio-technical approach to examine what is unique about the social media information environment and people’s interactions in and through these media. A socio-technical understanding emerges through the development of a model based on the Cyber Kill Chain that conceptualises the influence operation process as interlinked stages seeking alternate actions from a target audience.
Deficiency of correctly implemented and robust defence leaves Internet of Things devices vulnerable to cyber threats, such as adversarial attacks. A perpetrator can utilize adversarial examples when attacking Machine Learning models used in a cloud data platform service. Adversarial examples are malicious inputs to ML-models that provide erroneous model outputs while appearing to be unmodified. This kind of attack can fool the classifier and can prevent ML-models from generalizing well and from learning high-level representation; instead, the ML-model learns superficial dataset regularity. This study focuses on investigating, detecting, and preventing adversarial attacks towards a cloud data platform in the cyber-physical context
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The potential for big data to contribute to the US intelligence mission goes beyond bulk collection, social media and counterterrorism. Applications will speak to a range of issues of major concern to intelligence agencies, from military operations to climate change to cyber security. There are challenges too: procurement lags, data stovepiping, separating signal from noise, sources and methods, a range of normative issues, and central to managing these challenges, human capital. These potential applications and challenges are discussed and a closer look at what data scientists do in the Intelligence Community (IC) is offered. Effectively filling the ranks of the IC's data science workforce will depend on the provision of well-trained data scientists from the higher education system. Program offerings at America's top fifty universities will thus be surveyed (just a few years ago there were reportedly no degrees in data science). One Master's program that has melded data science with intelligence is examined as well as a university big data research center focused on security and intelligence. This discussion goes a long way to clarify the prospective uses of data science in intelligence while probing perhaps the key challenge to optimal application of big data in the IC.
Enhanced opportunities to use new techniques to derive insights from large volumes of data have potential to change the role of the law enforcement analyst. Alongside this growing potential is a push toward professionalisation for crime and intelligence analysis as an occupation. In this paper, we explore the extent to which existing descriptions of core competencies reflect skills identified as important by analysts and their managers. We draw on interviews with sixty-one analysts and supervisors from law enforcement agencies in Canada, the United States, and Australia. We confirm that existing descriptions of core competencies align with those identified by analysts and managers. We identify three considerations for present-day police organisations: the importance of data literacy and technical skills, the importance of self-motivation as a trait for analysts, and the core competencies of analyst supervisors. We complicate discussions about the importance of technological comprehension in light of software that automates components of analysis, illustrating how limits in data literacy translate to challenges for making effective use of new technologies. Next, we demonstrate how an ability to navigate interpersonal dynamics in police organisations is essential for analysts and analytic managers to be effective in their roles. We illustrate a reliance on individual-level motivation for competency-building over organisationally driven or standardised professionalisation. Finally, we contribute to limited scholarship addressing competencies for analyst supervisors and managers and discuss the implications of supervision for analyst skill development.
An increasingly globalised world brings with it unprecedented complexities in international intelligence sharing. The continual integration of international markets and services, amid the ongoing disruption of digital technologies, is driving the need for greater collaboration and cooperation between countries. The flows of people, goods, ideas and information are increasing each year in tandem with the global reach of terrorism. Global reliance on the internet for commerce and communication also exposes countries and organizations to cyber-attack. Significant increases in borderless crime, the rising incidence of global political fragility, and shifts in multi-jurisdictional crime all compel law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies to continually re-evaluate existing approaches and policies. The ability of police to attack transnational organized crime at its source, or at a transit point that offers opportunities for effective disruption, is now more important than ever. This essay describes a study conducted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute that identified a number of crucial issues with Australia’s criminal intelligence efforts offshore. It explains why it is important to foster a culture of offshore criminal intelligence, looks at challenges associated with the current system, and suggests ways to overcome those challenges. The research confirms that Australia’s efforts to collect and disseminate criminal intelligence, as distinct from routine international liaison, is ripe for improvement.
Pity the intelligence policymakers or officials attempting to design the ideal organisation to meet the changed strategic and operational environment that now faces them. The world has changed so much since the end of the Cold War that it is in many respects almost unrecognisable. Many see a clear divide between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ threat environments. Treverton (2009), for example, sees the ‘old’, characteristic of the Cold War era, as concentrated on large, slow-moving targets and a shared frame of reference between agencies that facilitated communication with policymakers and made it easy to slot in new information. By way of contrast, ‘new’ issues are the transnational threats, such as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and transnational organised crime, which are small and constantly changing targets with no permanent addresses. They are constantly and rapidly evolving, they exploit our societal vulnerabilities, and they are intelligence mysteries — questions whose answers are inherently unknowable in detail.The implications of this change of targets are substantial. The threats are increasingly diffuse, transnational in nature and cannot be dealt with by single states. The information required to produce intelligence analyses comes from many different sources, which needs to be shared with a growing number of partners, many of whom are outside of government. It is likely, then, that the nature of intelligence systems and practice requires both fundamental change and a capacity for continuous adaptation if these are to keep pace with the changing environment. This chapter attempts to assess the extent to which the intelligence community has been up to this challenge. It outlines some of the debates about what change is necessary, describes some changes that have taken place and asks how significant (and fit for purpose) the changes that have occurred have been.