Influence Foreign Target Audiences

by LtCol James McNeive (Ret)

Information Operations (IO) was intended to be an organized and coordinated effort to shape the decisions and behaviors of the adversary.  As the Marine Corps develops its concept of Operations in the Information Environment (OIE) it is moving away from IO, which more and more is being viewed as a legacy term.  In addition, the staff for the Deputy Commandant for Information have briefed that OIE and IO are not the same, and that Marine Corps OIE involves more than affecting behaviors.  So a question to asked, what becomes of efforts to shape decisions and behaviors? 

In the April edition of the Marine Corps Gazette, Mr. Eric Schaner’s article on “What are OIE?” states that the fifth OIE function, Influence Foreign Target Audiences, is the one “most closely associated with classical “information operations.”” The Marine Corps Information Operations Center (MCIOC) is focusing on this function of OIE and pushing for a for a more refine understanding of what influence foreign target audiences means to the Marine Corps. 

What follows are initial thoughts on what the Marine Corps influence function could consist of.  MCIOC understands additional discussions and staffing is required.  A primary end state of would be “with an understanding of the environment, shape the decisions or change/ preserve behaviors of selected target audiences so that they will act in a way that is advantageous to the commander.”  This is accomplished through both offensive and defensive actions.  For the purpose of the discussion, especially when it comes to planning end states, a decision is a short term/short duration action while a behavior is a long term/long duration action.

A starting point is to leverage existing joint and USMC IO doctrine, which are still in effect.  The current doctrine on IO has some inherent flaws embedded that will need to be overcome.  Those flaws have lead to several fatal perceptions that include IO planners own various information related capabilities, only deals with adversaries and potential adversaries, and only focuses on integration, ignoring the planning required to build and execute an IO concept.

There are three core elements which need to be incorporated.  They are:

(1) Understand the information environment in order to identify key relevant actors to target, and understand how to maneuver in and through the information environment.

(2) Offensive actions that are designed to influence target audiences so they act in a way, at a time, place, duration, that is advantageous to a commander or MAGTF.

(3) Defensive actions that will influence the perceptions of target audiences have of Marine Corps forces.

Actions include planning, execution, and assessing.  Interwoven are the coordination and synchronization actions required.  Critical for success include efforts to be completely embedded into the Marine Corps planning process, the ability to demonstrate that desired effects on the target audience support the mission/scheme of maneuver, and a commander’s buy-in on the need to influence a selected person, persons, or group.  Execution can include lethal actions depending on situation.

Unlike IO, which many believed tended to focus only on integration, the focus will the on influencing a foreign target audience.  A target audience is the cornerstone and includes those enemy, adversaries, neutral, and friendly foreign actors who have the potential to support or hinder actions a Marine commander needs to accomplish in order to achieve an end state.  A target audience will be those relevant actors within the battlespace that the commander has the authorities to engage, has access to, and decides to devote resources towards, in order to influence or deceive the actor(s) to think, then act, in a way advantageous for the Marine force.

As a way ahead, details will need to be developed.  As mentioned, it will build off the foundations already established by IO.  Pulling from proven existing IO tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) and from years of lessons learned a stronger foundation can be built that supports the planning and execution of Marine operations.

The further refinement of the influence function should lead a better understanding of what influence operations consist of.  Influence operations being one of the six capability areas listed in the Marine Corps OIE concept.  The others being EMS operations, cyberspace operations, space operations, deception operations, and inform operations.

  1. Jim – thanks for the post. I’d add one refinement to the first core element: sufficient understanding of the target audience behavior and inclinations. The next step we need intelligence to take so we can make elements 2 and 3 more effective (and perhaps better assess those action). And not entirely an intelligence burden – those in the contact layer with those audiences can inform and a reason civil affairs plays a key role for us. Thanks for the contribution.

    1. Sir, I agree. I have spent a some time addressing target audiences and why the are different than relevant actors. Something I may post on in the future.