We assess that Iran likely will continue to rely primarily on proxy news websites and affiliated social media accounts to attempt sustained influence against US audiences, while we expect intermittent, issue-specific influence attempts via other means (e.g., e-mails). We base this assessment on Iran’s actions since at least 2008 to build and maintain vast malign influence networks anchored by proxy websites, as well as Iran’s attempts to find new avenues to re-launch established malign influence networks after suspension. Tehran employs a network of proxy social media accounts and news websites that typically launder Iranian state media stories (stripped of attribution), plagiarize articles from Western wire services, and occasionally pay US persons to write articles to appear more legitimate to US audiences.
Military Information Support Operations (MISO) is a critical capability in contemporary conflict. Its success depends upon the application of social and behavioral science to analyze target audiences, craft messages, and measure the outcome of their dissemination (Spitaletta, 2013). Recent operational experience has exposed weaknesses in US capability that require redoubled effort to conduct research on the mechanisms and methods of influence and their effective application. In particular, the US needs to better understand the doctrines of adversaries and to develop countermeasures against them. The modern Russian manifestation of information confrontation, often attributed to Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov, adapts historical Russian and Soviet tactics of maskirovka (surprise, camouflage, concealment, mimicry, disinformation, and deceptive maneuver) in the contemporary information environment (Thornton, 2015). These approaches are a combination of not only overt military but also covert intelligence tactics that, when executed by disciplined professionals, can achieve a variety of economic and geopolitical effects (Pacepa & Rynchlak, 2013).
In the pluralized, multipolar world, in which military and economic sources of power are widely distributed and technologies are making nation states increasingly more porous, the US and its partners face significant challenges on how best to adapt and thrive in a period of revolutionary changes. These factors may change the way US analysts, planners, and operators evaluate approaches in order to affect and direct the outcomes of military operations. To date, such courses of actions to a large extend have focused on compelling adversaries through the threat or application of force to achieve victory (i.e., “control”). In this changing geopolitical/technical landscape, it is increasingly clear that the DOD needs complement “control” with an explicit focus upon “influence” factors and forces that produce desired behavioral outcomes across complex and intermeshed human and technical systems.