Congress wants DOD to study information operations from Russia-Ukraine war

The annual defense policy bill is directing an independent study on the lessons learned from information operations conducted by the U.S., Ukraine, Russia and NATO nations in Moscow's war with Ukraine.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 04, 2012)- Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) personnel use specialized computer programs to conduct a forensic analysis of a hard drive. (U.S. Navy photo by Ed Buice/Released)

Lawmakers are moving forward with legislation that would require the Department of Defense to study the impact of information operations during Russia’s war with Ukraine.

The directive comes from the comprise draft of the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act that was unveiled this week after members of the House and Senate hashed out their respective versions of the bill.

Under the provision, the secretary of defense must enter into an agreement or contract with a capable entity to conduct an independent study on the lessons learned from information ops conducted by the U.S., Ukraine, Russia and NATO nations in the run-up to the Kremlin’s invasion and throughout the war.

The study must include an assessment of information operations capabilities of Russia prior to, and since the invasion of Ukraine; an assessment of notable successes or challenges with information ops conducted by the U.S., NATO member countries and Ukraine prior to, and since the invasion; and recommendations for improvements to U.S. information operations to enhance effectiveness, as well as recommendations on how information ops may be improved to support deterrence.


Information operations — and the information environment more broadly — have significantly increased in importance and prominence in recent years. Adversaries have sought to exploit that environment through disinformation, misinformation, information ops and other activities as a means of undermining U.S. and allied interests without having to confront them in direct military conflict.

“Russia’s influence actors have adapted their efforts to increasingly hide their hand, laundering their preferred messaging through a vast ecosystem of Russian proxy websites, individuals, and organizations that appear to be independent news sources,” the 2023 annual threat assessment of the United States intelligence community, states.

As an example, the Pentagon’s 2023 Strategy for Operations in the Information Environment provides a vignette of Russia’s malign influence efforts that sought to take criticism away from its actions the day it invaded Ukraine and draw attention to alleged oppression by the West. It notes that the day of the invasion, a Kremlin-run media organization disguised as a regular news outlet posted a map on social media that purported to show airstrikes in the last 24 hours, warning: “Don’t let the mainstream media’s Eurocentrism dictate your moral support for victims of war. A human life is a human life. Condemn war everywhere.”

However, that post omitted Russia’s role in bombings in Syria while drawing attention to Israeli attacks there.

Outside advocacy groups have sought to improve DOD’s prowess in this realm. And Congress has been concerned that the Pentagon has fell behind recently, requiring several studies, strategies and changes in past years’ defense bills, to include the creation of the principal information operations adviser a few years ago.


For its part, the DOD has sought to address concerns. Last year, the Pentagon published an update to its doctrine on information and in July it published its Strategy for Operations in the Information Environment, released publicly in November.

The military services have also sought to develop their own strategies and doctrine, with the Marine Corps last year publishing Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication-8, Information, the Air Force developing an information warfare strategy and the Army publishing Army Doctrinal Publication 3-13, Information — it’s first such doctrine for information — in November.

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