Late last year, I came across a Russian manual called Information-Psychological War Operations: A Short Encyclopedia and Reference Guide (The 2011 edition, credited to Veprintsev et al, and published in Moscow by Hotline-Telecom, can be purchased online at the sale price of 348 roubles). The book is designed for “students, political technologists, state security services and civil servants” – a kind of user’s manual for junior information warriors. The deployment of information weapons, it suggests, “acts like an invisible radiation” upon its targets: “The population doesn’t even feel it is being acted upon. So the state doesn’t switch on its self-defence mechanisms.” If regular war is about actual guns and missiles, the encyclopedia continues, “information war is supple, you can never predict the angle or instruments of an attack”.
The 495-page encyclopedia contained an introduction to information-psychological war, a glossary of key terms and detailed flowcharts describing the methods and strategies of defensive and offensive operations, including “operational deception” (maskirovka), “programmatical-mathematical influence”, “disinformation”, “imitation”, and “TV and radio broadcasting”. In “normal war” the encyclopedia explains, “victory is a case of yes or no; in information war it can be partial. Several rivals can fight over certain themes within a person’s consciousness.”
I had always imagined the phrase “information war” to refer to some sort of geopolitical debate, with Russian propagandists on one side and western propagandists on the other, both trying to convince everyone in the middle that their side was right. But the encyclopedia suggested something more expansive: information war was less about methods of persuasion and more about “influencing social relations” and “control over the sources of strategic reserves”. Invisible weapons acting like radiation to override biological responses and seize strategic reserves? The text seemed more like garbled science fiction than a guide for students and civil servants.