The key to national security?

The formation by the British Army of Brigade 77 has been in the headlines. Ella Rhodes reports.

The formation by the British Army of the 2000-strong Brigade 77 has made the headlines recently, its future members being referred to as Facebook Warriors and PsyOps. The new brigade, set to be formed on 1 April, will have a particular focus on information, media and psychological operations.

A spokesperson for the Army said the brigade would be formed to respond to the shifting character of modern conflict and will focus on the ‘integration and delivery of non-lethal and non-military effects on military operations’. He added: ‘It supports the delivery of information operations, including psychological operations and deployed media operations looking at the traditional and unconventional means of shaping behaviours through the use of dynamic narratives… 77 Brigade will play a key part in enabling the UK to fight in the information age.’

However, the plan for restructuring and expanding the Army’s operations is not a new one and was reported last year in British Army 2014, an annual publication. This document stated that the Army’s potential adversaries were increasingly blurring the lines between regular and irregular and between military, political, economic and information activities. It adds: ‘At least three nations who operate large conventional “traditional” armies have now also adopted the Chinese concept of Unrestricted Warfare.’

The publication says that to succeed in such as environment the Army needed to compete on an equal footing. ‘To do this, we must change not only our physical capabilities but our conceptual approach, our planning and our execution. This is not to say that the virtual and cognitive domains now produce a “silver bullet” that will mean the end of combat, but that “superiority in the physical environment was of little value unless it could be translated into an advantage in the information environment”.’

A Security Assistance Group (SAG) was to be formed in September 2014 through the amalgamation of the current 15 Psychological Operations Group, the Military Stabilisation Support Group, the Media Operations Group and the Security Capacity Team. The annual publication concluded: ‘However, these structures are merely the start point for a fully integrated capability that will harness a wide range of powers to achieve the desired effects – from cyber through to engagement, commercial, financial, stabilisation and deception. At the heart of the new structure must be a culture and attitude that is both Defence and civilian orientated.’

Psychologist Dr Vaughan Bell, writing for the blog MindHacks (tinyurl.com/ok4pz2p), said the idea of the brigade was to make information operations a more central part of military doctrine, which includes electronic warfare and computer hacking, physical force targeted on information resources, psychological operations – changing belief and behaviour, and behaviour in the theatre of war – and media operations. He added: ‘The Daily Express reports that “the brigade will bring together specialists in media, signalling and psychological operations, with some Special Forces soldiers and possibly computer hackers” which seems likely to reflect exactly what the Army are aiming for in their new plan. From this point of view, you can see why governments are so keen to hold on to their Snowden-era digital monitoring and intervention capabilities. They typically justify their existence in terms of “breaking terrorist networks” but they are equally as useful for their role in wider information operations – targeting groups rather than individuals – now considered key to national security.’ 

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