Cognitive Campaign – Strategic and Intelligence Perspectives

Cognitive Campaign Strategic and Intelligence Perspectives

This collection represents a collaborative effort by the Institute for the Research of the Methodology of Intelligence (IRMI) at the Israeli Intelligence Community Commemoration and Heritage Center and the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). It includes articles on the challenges of the cognitive campaign in the era of modern communications from a variety of perspectives. As such, it is a significant contribution to the public discussion of cognition and to the development of a professional knowledge base among the security and intelligence community, both in Israel and abroad.

The importance of the cognitive campaign is recognized more and more in the State of Israel. However, steps taken so far display a lack of consistency and systematic activity, and range from improvisation stemming from necessity to ad hoc planning in individual cases. In a reality where the decisive importance of the issue is proven time and time again, there should be a national public diplomacy and cognition directorate within the Prime Minister’s Office that would operate under the direction of the Prime Minister and coordinate all public diplomacy and cognitive war efforts. In this way, the cognitive campaign, like any other campaign, would be conducted in a coherent manner based on the policy dictated and approved by the political leadership, and include every public servant and soldier. Institutionalizing the governmental effort would also enable individual volunteers or organizations in Israel and abroad to receive reliable information and messages, and in turn contribute to the national cognitive effort.

Lt. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya’alon

  • In the information era, the cognitive campaign has become a central element of national security in struggles between adversaries. This volume, published jointly by the Institute for the Research of the Methodology of Intelligence (IRMI) at the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center (IICC) and the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), aims to expand knowledge and understanding of the cognitive campaign, with an emphasis on intelligence methodology in this campaign.
  • The cognitive campaign is not new, and it is an inseparable aspect of every strategic and military conflict. In recent years, this struggle has played a much more important role than in past conflicts; at times it takes place without a direct military context and is not even led by military bodies. The cognitive campaign is a continuous campaign; thus, its prominence is greater in the period between wars (as a part of the “campaign between wars”).
  • It is important to distinguish between cognition and the cognitive campaign. Cognition is the set of insights that an individual or individuals have regarding the surrounding reality and the way they want to shape it, derived from the set of the values and beliefs through which they examine and interpret their environment and work to confront its inherent challenges, and even to change it. In contrast, the cognitive campaign involves the actions and tools that entities that are part of a certain campaign framework use to influence the cognition of target audiences or to prevent influence on them. The purpose of the cognitive campaign is to cause target audiences to adopt the perception of reality held by the side wielding the effort, so that it can more easily advance the strategic and/or operational objectives that it sees as critical. The cognitive campaign can be negative, that is, prevent the development of undesirable cognitive states, or positive, with an attempt to produce the desired cognition. Along with the use of force, the various tools and methods of operation in the cognitive campaign include designated tools, some of which are familiar and traditional, such as military psychological warfare (deception, leaflets), spokespeople, diplomacy, and influence via mass media tools (written journalism and television), while others are novel and derive from the digital world, including the social media
  • Every use of force in a military context, and likewise every political process, includes a cognitive dimension. Furthermore, the use of force or a political process sometimes takes place in order to achieve an objective in the cognitive campaign, while other times the cognitive component is complementary. Therefore, we must distinguish between actions that aim specifically to influence cognition, and actions that have a different purpose and aim to influence cognition indirectly, and to assess in advance the different kinds of influence in the decision making process. For example, messages relayed through the media aim to influence a certain audience directly. On the other hand, a war that aims to defeat an armed organization that is active in an urban area will also influence the cognition of the population living in that area, even if that is not the war’s specific mission.
  • Many elements take part in the cognitive campaign and operate visa- Vis a variety of target audiences, while they themselves are subject to influence. As a result, the campaign requires deep familiarity with the basic cognition of the target audiences, which derives from their culture, beliefs, and values, as well as with their situational cognition in relation to concrete events, and with the ways, it is possible to help shape the cognition of these target audiences. Establishing this multifaceted familiarity requires a multidisciplinary perspective and professional knowledge from complementary disciplines such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, marketing, and advertising, as well as diverse skills, especially an understanding of the worlds of social media, information, intelligence, and the media.
  • Intelligence plays a central role in the cognitive campaign. Intelligence agencies must understand and present the basic cognition and the situational cognition of the various target audiences and the ways they are shaped, in order to be able to influence the cognitive efforts of those leading the campaign. Cognitive efforts require various kinds of intelligence, including political, military, social, and cultural intelligence. Intelligence agencies also need to produce content and messages that serve the campaign and to identify opportunities that derive from the information they have and the intelligence knowledge and insights that they produce. Sometimes they must conduct cognitive operations themselves, based on the knowledge and operational tools they are responsible for, whose scope has increased in the information era. In addition, intelligence agencies must identify the efforts of other parties operating in the campaign, and must sound the alarm and help thwart them, if it becomes clear that they are hostile and covert. The more intelligence for the purposes of the cognitive campaign is integrated with its operational components and within the existing intelligence system, the more effective it may be.
  • The phenomenon of fake news and the Russian and Iranian intervention in the democratic discourse and in election processes in the West have placed the issue of the cognitive campaign at the top of the global agenda, especially after demonstrating the potential inherent threat to democracy and the difficulty in coping with it while maintaining the commitment to democratic values. This difficulty emerges since preventing external intervention may undermine freedom of expression, especially when it is not clear whether it is hostile intervention, and particularly since in the digital era the division between “internal” and “external” is not as clear as it was in the past. In the case of the internal cognitive campaign, the goal is to counter foreign offensive cognitive efforts without harming the democratic discourse.
  • The increasing importance and complexity of the cognitive campaign has led to the establishment of designated governmental bodies in the West, including in Israel. However, there is still no overall vision of the campaign that would enable reaching agreement on the different efforts needed to achieve its objectives and create synergy between them. Effectively addressing the challenges of the cognitive campaign requires continuing to develop mechanisms and processes that enable ongoing learning and improvement, both in the offensive context, meaning influencing foreign populations, and in the defensive context, to prevent foreign and hostile influence over the domestic population, while utilizing all of the capabilities and tools at the disposal of those conducting the campaign.
  • One of the challenges in making the cognitive campaign a central part of the security concept is the difficulty security organizations have operating in a field in which the use of operational forces is not a central component, and in which the mission is to convey messages, sometimes vague, to broad audiences. This is especially prominent in Israel, where the IDF is very dominant and thus it is difficult to adopt new methods that do not focus on the use of force.
  • Another challenge is the difficulty in measuring and assessing the effectiveness of cognitive efforts. Some suggest measuring user responses or the message’s exposure, but the ability to evaluate effectiveness using only these measures is highly problematic. Another direction for assessing the level of success in changing the discourse is through semantic research. Sometimes there is cognitive influence in the very demonstration of the ability to launch a cognitive effort that penetrates the defenses employed by the defending side. In any case, even when it is possible to analyze influence, it is difficult to separate between the influencing elements that have caused it. The fast changes in the world of information and the ability to disseminate information quickly enable spreading ideas and rumors at such a fast pace and in such a decentralized way that the ability to understand and control what is happening in this world is very limited. Those who purport to influence cognition must understand this zeitgeist and internalize it.
  • A significant portion of the centers of control over the global information flow has moved from states to global media companies such as Facebook and Google, which are motivated by commercial considerations. These companies serve as a platform for the transfer of messages and the creation of connections, while also being a player whose policy affects the content on the internet. Civil society likewise plays a dual role in the digital and internet age: it is a central target for influence, but also plays an essential role in the campaign itself, alongside official institutions. The ability of citizens to organize and take action as part of the campaign raises the question: what is the connection between the state and civil society in this context, and what is the role of civilians in the cognitive campaign, in both the defensive and offensive dimensions?
  • This collection discusses the cognitive campaign from diverse and complementary perspectives, some of them academic and some reflecting the personal experience of the writers, in both state frameworks and in civil society or business frameworks. The articles included in the collection show different approaches to the cognitive campaign, and this diversity illustrates how new, complex, and challenging this field is. The collection aims to stimulate research and discussion on the diverse fields that make up the world of the cognitive campaign. The need to deepen the discussion and research stems from the increasing prominence of this field and from its fast development in recent years. Among the topics that require further study are the external and internal threats and the connection between them; the technological developments of the cyber campaign in the context of cognition (which today already enable the creation of false images and in the future will also enable advanced fake videos); and adaptation of the security doctrine to the unique characteristics of the political culture in each democratic society.
  • This collection includes articles by both researchers and practitioners. We would like to thank the writers – academics, practitioners, and those with the relevant experience who have contributed their time and their knowledge to this collection. Thank you to leading members of the INSS research staff, including Dr. Anat Kurz, Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom, and Dr. Gallia Lindenstrauss, for their important advice and their contributions to the quality of the articles and the collection as a whole.
  • We would also like to thank the directors and staff of the two organizations: Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, Executive Director of INSS; Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel, Managing Director of INSS; Brig. Gen. (ret.) Itai Brun, Deputy Director of INSS; and the leadership of IICC: Brig. Gen. (ret.) Dr. Zvi Shtauber, Chairman of IICC; Brig. Gen. (res.) David Tzur, CEO of IICC; and Hanan Mazor, Deputy CEO of IICC for their contribution to the organizations’ efforts toward integration on this project. Thank you also to Moshe Grundman, the Director of Publications at INSS, to English editors Dr. Ela Greenberg, Lisa Perlman, and Dr. Judith Rosen, to graphic designer Michal Semo Kovetz, and to research assistant Shira Cohen.

Yossi Kuperwasser and David Siman-Tov