Information warfare


There is no doubt that information warfare  plays a fundamental role in today’s economy and society. Furthermore, its importance has led to the emergence of a new form of conflict and therefore led to a change in reasoning. Our highly-digitalized economies and society obviously present significant windows of vulnerability linked to the fact that  the modern economic system cannot but be open and fluid. At any rate, the concept of information warfare – as is widely known – emerges primarily from American publications and emerges in the moment in which the legitimacy of information has been placed under discussion in the American context. Required to deal with significant budget cuts, the leading US federal intelligence agencies have attempted to justify the preservation  of  their budget by emphasizing the importance of protecting the nation’s economic security;  and  yet as early as the 90s, it had become clear that the logics of conflict present in the geopolitical sphere have been transferred to  the  context  of the economic sphere in which nations must be capable of implementing strategies of dominance based on the control of both the information infrastructure and the flows of technological and economic knowledge.

A strategy that takes into account modern new needs must give careful attention to the vulnerability of critical information infrastructures (on the other hand, the rapid growth in computerized piracy  has  encouraged  nations to create ad hoc organizations for  the  control  and surveillance of the development of this new crime). Another observation regards the increase in the strong economic rivalry between nations that has lead to the fundamental apprehension that economic intelligence has become an authentic fact of life for the world’s leading industries; deeper knowledge of  information  mechanisms,  in fact, becomes a fundamental element  of success or failure. It is now precisely this crucial importance in economic context of the leading industries and multinationals that has compelled nations to officialize their approaches in the context  of  information  intelligence.  Even  if the use of denigration, discrediting and disinformation campaigns has always been a part of both the political and economic world, in today’s world the acceleration of the data digitalization has created the need for both nations and certain companies  to adopt offensive and defensive systems sufficient to the situation. A large-scale disinformation operation waged against an industry or multinational corporation can create enormous economic damage.

As known to psychological warfare experts, disinformation is certainly an offensive resource with highly particular characteristics because it is a sword that cuts in one direction only, its effects are particularly insidious and can be discovered only in a second moment, but above all, the objectives of disinformation are oriented to the loss of the adversary’s reputation and legitimacy on one hand and the loss of its financial support (in the case of companies, for example), on the other. Yet whereas in traditional conflicts the economy of forces was based on a relationship   of  inertia,  and  logistic  superiority  represented  a fundamental dimension for either victory or defeat,  in  cognitive  warfare,  similar asymmetry cannot be imposed in the knowledge system, and above all, unlike traditional conflicts, information warfare has its own autonomy regardless of who constructs or sends the message. Eliminating the spokesman of the message therefore does not modify the dimension of the cognitive conflict but on the contrary only strengthens the adversary. Furthermore, Anglo-American practices are based primarily on the need to immediately control the electronic sources that underlay the economic, political, and military  decision-making  system. In this strategic view, controlling the public news infrastructure assumes fundamental  importance; in any case, a closer analysis shows that the control of the world’s information infrastructure  is incompatible with its ample and de-structured way of diffusion in today’s world. The exponential growth of the information infrastructure does not permit the possibility for vertical or hierarchical coordination. Furthermore, the concept of strategic dominance is based on the ability of a state to prohibit or dissuade a rival nation from emphasizing its rules of conduct and on perception of reality.

This approach starts from the assumption that the global control of news flows infrastructure would permit the achievement of global economic and political dominion. In any case, this concept is revealed ingenuous because  it  ignores  the  fact that the control of the news differs from the formation of judgments and beliefs. Faced today with the emergence of cognitive warfare and the complexity and fluidity of information, traditional security services do not possess adequate culture because the belief system on which such systems are based is built on the collection of observable facts and the processing of such information: we have agents collecting information on one hand and agents making analysis on the other.  This dual organization is certainly suited to traditional conflicts but is not adequate to cognitive conflict: the logic is completely different because due to the speed with which information moves only a very short time is available to control and analyze it this therefore requires rapid decision-making processes. In other words, the capacity for interpretation and attribution of meaning in real time is the basis for cognitive warfare; furthermore, given that most non-state organizations are in fierce competition and have access to the same news from the same sources, it is highly improbable that a private  or state-owned organization will acquire a decisive competitive advantage unless an improvement is made in the satellite control system over news and human information.

After this clarification has been made, it must be repeated once again how crucial the control of the news flow is to victory and how mistaken it is to believe that merely destroying the adversary’s information infrastructure will suffice. On the contrary, the destruction of the latter can offer the adversary a greater degree of freedom or promote the use of alternative information tools in a context where – as is known – the distribution of information has been liberalized. Security services must realize that the current trend in worldwide information infrastructure is its Balkanization, or in other words, its dispersion and fragmentation. Efficiency in any case depends more and more on the mastery of decentralized cognitive capacity and less and less on the control of the information infrastructure. Their economy of forces in the context of modern political conflict lies on the mastery of very different cognitive systems and the imposition of a unified interpretation schema is not a strategy capable of providing fruit in the long-term.

Gagliano Giuseppe
Gagliano Giuseppe
President of the De Cristoforis Strategic Studies Center (Italy)


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