Potential adversaries (such as Russia and China) are using information in the form of propaganda and cyberattacks to achieve their national objectives and undermine the security and principles of the United States. To counter these activities, the Department of Defense (DOD) can use “information operations.” These operations integrate DOD activities, such as by combining electromagnetic warfare and cyberspace operations. But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has testified that DOD made little progress in implementing its information operations strategy and had challenges conducting information operations.
At its core, information operations (IO) are the integration of information-related capabilities during military operations to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own. For example, in seeking to facilitate safe and orderly humanitarian assistance, DOD would conduct IO by influencing host nation and regional cooperation through the integration of public affairs activities and military information support operations.
GAO found, in 2019, that DOD had made limited progress in implementing the 2016 DOD IO strategy and faced a number of challenges in overseeing the IO enterprise and integrating its IO capabilities. In seeking to implement the strategy, DOD had not developed an implementation plan or an investment framework to identify planning priorities to address IO gaps.
DOD has established department-wide IO roles and responsibilities and assigned most oversight responsibilities to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. The Under Secretary had exercised some responsibilities, such as establishing an executive steering group. However, the Under Secretary had not fulfilled other IO oversight responsibilities, such as conducting an assessment of needed tasks, workload, and resources. Instead, the Under Secretary delegated these responsibilities to an official whose primary responsibilities are focused on special operations and combatting terrorism.
DOD had integrated information-related capabilities in some military operations, but had not conducted a posture review to assess IO challenges. Conducting a comprehensive posture review to fully assess challenges would assist DOD in effectively operating while using information-related capabilities.
GAO previously recommended that DOD take five actions to improve leadership and integration for information operations—including that the department should conduct a posture review to assess integration challenges. DOD disagreed with the recommendations. However, Section 1631 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included several provisions related to the GAO recommendations, such as one that required the Secretary of Defense to conduct a posture review.