Five Information Operations Trends to Watch

During his keynote speech at the April 13 Phoenix Challenge Conference, former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Dr. Michael Vickers shared his assessment of the Top 5 Trends in Information Operations and their implications. One need only read news and journals (and not just exclusive to the IO community) to see these trends playing out across the globe.


  1. Information Operations (IO) is central to strategic (“Great Power”) competition, particularly with Russia and in China’s effort to displace the United States.
  2. The information space is dramatically expanded with social media.
  3. Polarization of the information sphere, putting democracies at a disadvantage.
  4. False/fake information proliferation.
  5. Application of technology (cyber, artificial intelligence/machine learning) to increase the power of IO.
Vickers also described the implications of those trends and the need to elevate information operations as a strategic threat and capability across the federal government. The strategic ascendance of IO will impact how we leverage kinetic and non-kinetic tools. Economic and technological competition will be the central determinants of the U.S. ability to retain power. Within the United States, IO needs more visibility at the level of the National Security Council (NSC). The Department of Defense must also respond, elevating the development and planning of IO capabilities and workforce development. And notably, Vickers recommended that IO be viewed as its own unique domain, rather than being combined with electronic warfare and cyber, as the U.S. military has done in recent years.
China has embraced the value of its presence in the information space. In “A Different Kind of Army: The Militarization of China’s Internet Trolls,” by Ryan Fedasiuk, the author details China’s efforts to employ public commentators and volunteers to control online public opinion. This blurring of the lines between civilian/public and military activity is nothing new but should be a consideration in U.S. strategic direction in IO.
On the technology front, a recent piece in Tech Crunch highlights a University of Washington study of how AI-generated synthetic imagery, or deepfakes, can be used to manipulate satellite imagery to produce “real-looking — but totally fake — overhead maps of cities.” The ability of this technology to produce maps of places where no satellite imagery exists could have both positive and negative implications, but we ought to be thinking about how to verify the authenticity of any map.
These topics only scratch the surface when looking at how to address the trends Dr. Vickers identified during Phoenix Challenge. As the Information Professionals Association monitors these trends, we will help facilitate ongoing dialogue within the community, in the hopes of driving new priorities and solutions within the U.S. and in cooperation with partners and allies.


1 Response
  1. Michael Williams

    Dr. Vickers’ experience greatly informs his comments and he’s a great proponent. Based on experiences, I know DepSecDef Hicks will be a proponent and hope she will ensure the Under Sec for Policy keeps this mission are on the ‘front burner’ in development of military capabilities and in DoD strategy documents.