“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity,” Orwell warned, and “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectful.”2 The language being used to justify keeping naval intelligence in the Navy’s information warfare community is masking a deeper motive—to force naval intelligence to atone for its perceived reluctance to embrace technology’s promise. Many Navy information warfare leaders view naval intelligence as out of touch with our highly technical information age. In responding to this criticism while trying to justify the community’s continued relevance, naval intelligence leadership has not been forceful enough in warning against the murder of its independence in the operational realm—and that independence is critical to protecting the integrity of intelligence assessments.
Three glaring pretensions of information warfare make it clear that naval intelligence should be independent.
Pretension #1: Information Warfare Stands with the Other Four Navy Warfare Communities (Air, Surface, Undersea, Special) in Equal Measure and Importance
The Navy is correct to establish and cultivate information warfare as both a warfighting discipline and a personnel community. Information warfare is of increasing importance in the highly networked information age. It is inaccurate, however, to assert that it has ascended to the stature of the traditional “kinetic” warfare communities. Such an assertion seems to ignore what we have learned about the immutable nature of war as a violent contest of human will. (“War therefore is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.”3)
Will information warfare alone ever compel complete capitulation by the enemy? It is hard to imagine that a political entity (state or non-state) engaged in war over some vital interest would accept defeat solely because of the effects of an enemy’s information warfare campaign.4 Each of today’s traditional Navy warfare communities probably could compel an enemy’s capitulation either alone or with minimal support from the other warfare communities, given a specific conflict’s contextual setting. Undersea warfare cannot compel the Islamic State’s capitulation, for example, but it could compel China’s in a dispute over an island claim. The same cannot be said for information warfare. Even imagining the far-reaching effects of a potent information warfare campaign against China (massive power outages, damage to its financial sector, highly degraded military command and control, etc.), it is hard to envision the Chinese agreeing to the loss of a vital interest because of this alone.
Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea is a case in point. If information warfare were half as effective as its loyal disciples claim, Moscow’s information warfare campaign alone should have compelled Kiev’s capitulation over Crimea and even eastern Ukraine in short order. Russia is exponentially more militarily powerful than Ukraine; ethnic Russians dominate the demography of Crimea and much of eastern Ukraine; many Ukrainian electrical and information networks were built by Russian companies; and Russian state-owned media almost completely dominates the Russian population’s “information space.” If an environment existed where information warfare alone could compel capitulation, this was it. Moscow has, for more than two years, been waging a relentless information warfare campaign against Kiev, including cyber attacks against communications and electrical power infrastructures. Yet, in many ways, this only has hardened Ukraine’s resolve and broadened and deepened in the Ukrainian populace both a disdain for Russia and a determination to embrace European cultural and political values—hardly the effect Moscow seeks.5
In annexing Crimea, if Moscow could have employed one form of warfare, information or special, which one by itself would have worked? The answer is clear: Russia needed actual force on the ground and the threat of far greater force to compel Kiev’s capitulation on Crimea. In actual conflict, information warfare is an enabler to traditional warfare domains; its contribution is hard to measure and likely will vary substantially among conflicts and even within a single conflict.
Why then is the Navy's insistence that information warfare be considered just as important as traditional warfare disciplines dangerous? First, anticipating resistance from the Navy’s traditional warfighting communities, information warfare community leaders initially reached for as much of the Navy’s portfolio as possible. Relinquishing part of it today could be seen as a lack of confidence in the concept, thus the original construct carries forth regardless of the deleterious impact to naval intelligence. Second, over-hyping information warfare could lure an entire generation of naval professionals into a false sense of security, believing that a sophisticated set of information “weapons” will cripple an enemy’s arsenal of destruction “left of the kill chain,” and force capitulation before any actual shooting starts.
Pretension #2: Intelligence Is Warfare
Intelligence is not warfare. Still, intelligence is critical to warfare, arguably more so today than at any time in history. Warfare today requires rapid and precise targeting for information-driven weapons, more in-depth knowledge of an enemy’s command-and-control structure to enable non-kinetic effects, a highly sophisticated understanding of the technical capabilities and limits of supersonic (and soon hypersonic) lethality to inform the development of countermeasures, and a greater awareness of the battle space to accommodate a heightened sensitivity to non- combatant casualties. All that and more depends on the essential discipline of intelligence—the collection and analysis of information in support of warfare.
A clear doctrine and a settled definition of information warfare have eluded proponents for years now. However, the academic literature on the subject, while not voluminous, is not scant. Richard Szafranski’s “A Theory of Information Warfare: Preparing for 2020,” published in the spring 1995 Airpower Journal (yes, over two decades ago), proposes the expansive definition that it is essentially a form of warfare that targets everything an adversary knows or believes. “Information warfare is hostile activity directed against any part of the knowledge and belief systems of an adversary,” he explains.6 This opens for attack any information technology system an adversary uses as a tool to “know,” along with any hostile (unfavorable to us) perceptions held by the adversary’s adherents (read: its wider population). To wage this version of information warfare effectively requires good intelligence, but Szafranski does not include intelligence as part of information warfare (as opposed to being critical to supporting information warfare).
While a complete review of the literature on information warfare (or information operations) is not possible here, rarely does one find a convincing argument for including intelligence as a component of it rather than a supporting discipline. Most of the literature centers on cyber operations, maneuvering in the electromagnetic spectrum, and information security or assurance (all important parts of the Navy’s information warfare community). Among the other services and the joint warfighting commands, the Navy stands alone in including intelligence in information warfare.7
Viewing intelligence as just one of many information disciplines seems the chief cause of the Navy’s stubborn adherence to the pretension that intelligence is warfare. The common misapplication of the acronym C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) is a glaring symptom of this erroneous view. Surveillance and reconnaissance are employed primarily in the service of intelligence, rather than alongside it, and are indispensable to intelligence’s larger purpose—the independent all-source assessment of the adversary. Intelligence more accurately is defined as an intellectual or cognitive discipline, rather than an information discipline. Most disciplines traffic heavily in information. It is what their professionals do with information that distinguishes one discipline from another and that should inform organizational structure.
Insisting intelligence is warfare has unleashed an identity crisis inside naval intelligence that threatens to damage the profession for decades. The principal danger is, of course, that naval intelligence officers and enlisted specialists no longer will feel compelled to burnish their credentials as intelligence professionals focused on understanding the adversary and employing techniques to feed that understanding, but rather will focus on becoming “information warriors,”—whatever that term may mean. Nowhere has the problem of how information warfare (formerly information dominance) is weakening the specialty of intelligence been better articulated than in Captain Henry Stephenson’s essay “Masters and Jacks” in the October 2014 Proceedings. His argument that combining four very different disciplines into one community will, over time, diminish the specialized expertise the Navy sorely needs has not been convincingly countered. Instead, it was met with vague assurances that the specialties inside the information warfare community would be protected.
Pretension #3: The Head of a Warfare Community Also Can Be the Director of Naval Intelligence
The head of any warfare community is responsible for, among other things, acquiring warfighting technology and ensuring personnel are trained to operate that technology. Would anyone think it wise to have the head of naval air warfare and the director of naval intelligence be the same person? Could a senior naval aviator defending a major acquisition decision later deliver an independent intelligence assessment on an adversary’s air defense system that renders imprudent the previous acquisition decision? It would be difficult to defend such a structure. On a national level, it would be like having the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence be the same person—responsible to the President for foreign policy and, at the same time, for independent intelligence assessments of that policy.
Information warfare enthusiasts counter this concern with one of two objections. First, while they concede intelligence does not belong in other warfare areas, they insist information warfare is unique in function (enabling decision advantage) and thus must include intelligence (decision advantage in warfare being nearly impossible without good intelligence). Second, they claim the conflict-of-interest argument is a straw man. That is, information warfare leaders always will be professionals of great integrity and will never keep an inconvenient intelligence assessment from senior Navy decision makers.
The first objection is a non sequitur, because intelligence cannot be understood as merely information. Instead it is an operationally driven enterprise unto its own, necessary to generate all types of knowledge about the enemy, from core beliefs to current movements. Information warfare is either warfare or it is not. To engage in acrobatic lexicology to assert intelligence as warfare only demonstrates Orwell’s point—such an argument must stem from a great deal of insincerity. Navy leaders should reject organizational change that cannot be justified with clear language and clear concepts.
The second objection not only is naïve to the profound complexities of human nature, but also runs counter to a professional Navy culture that values the integrity of system and process over person when it comes to things like safety, promotion, and criminal justice. As just one example, the Navy’s nuclear power community never has been comfortable relying more heavily on the integrity of its leaders than its processes for nuclear safety. Institutional conflicts of interest should be avoided at all costs. Just as teams doing safety examinations must be independent from the entities they examine, the intelligence function at every operational level must be independent from the warfare missions it supports. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, has told us this is the Navy’s “design,” not his, and it is not a plan set in stone. It will change if necessary, as we continually learn and reassess.
Supporting the Navy’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority
Reestablishing the independence of naval intelligence as it functions operationally is essential to preserving a profession that has long been critical to Navy warfighting excellence.
Furthermore, to maintain maritime superiority, the Navy still must integrate well with the joint warfighting structure. None of the geographic combatant commands has collapsed the intelligence function and the communications function into a single warfighting effort. Their commanders still expect the services to nominate seasoned intelligence professionals to be their intelligence directors. To deepen the Navy’s pool of expertise, it would make more sense to remove naval intelligence from the information warfare community and break the Navy’s cryptologic warfare community into two disciplines: one focused on the collection of information (signals and cyber intelligence), and one focused on operating offensively and defensively in the electronic and cyber spectrums. The latter would remain with the information professionals to form a true information warfare community, and the former would help broaden and deepen naval intelligence in all aspects of the intelligence discipline.
It is time for the Navy to insist on clear, straightforward language in defining intelligence and its role. Maritime superiority relies in part on an operationally independent, dedicated naval intelligence profession devoted solely to delivering a rigorous understanding of the adversary. Restoring this independence should be an imperative.
1. George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” in A Collection of Essays (New York: Harcourt, 1981), 167.
2. Orwell, pp. 167, 171.
3. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Colonel J.J. Graham (New York: Barnes and Noble Inc., 2004): 3.
4. By capitulation I do not mean an unconditional surrender of the World War II variety, but rather accepting the loss of any interest strong enough to have driven the state or group to fight in the first place.
4. Maria Snegovaya, “Putin’s Information Warfare in Ukraine,” Institute for the Study of War, http://understandingwar.org/report/putins-information-warfare-ukraine-soviet-origins-russias-hybrid-warfare.
5. Richard Szafranski, “A Theory of Information Warfare: Preparing for 2020,” Airpower Journal, Spring 1995, www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj95/spr95_files/szfran.htm#9.
6. Current Joint Doctrine characterizes intelligence as a discipline that supports information operations, rather than a component of those operations: “Intelligence is a vital military capability that supports IO.” See Joint Publication 3-13, Information Operations, 27 November 2012, Chapter II, Section 5 (9) at http://fas.org/irp/doddir/dod/jp3_13.pdf.
Captain Bray was a career naval intelligence officer who retired in September. His last operational tour was Director for Intelligence at Naval Forces Europe/Naval Forces Africa/Sixth Fleet.