The Centre for Epistemic Security aims to explore the quirky, esoteric linkages between information operations and cyber operations. It plans to take a cognitive-first approach towards understanding cyber effects and power projection by foreign adversaries.
An Australian organisation with a cross-border focus on the Quad, NATO and Five Eyes, the think tank would create doctrinal, strategic and operational constructs to tackle hybrid, grey-zone or sub-threshold warfare. Its founders believe that the true potency of cyber operations lies largely in the cognitive or informational domain.
The Centre seeks to decompose the underlying parameters of a state’s relationship to digitised information. It would then reinterpret a nation and its society as an epistemic construct — as a product of information and information alone. It analyses the peculiar informational vulnerabilities of liberal democracies, trying to rearticulate cyber policy from that lens.
A background note
The Centre for Epistemic Security aims to redefine the conventional problems of cyber policy, cyber diplomacy, cyber power, cybersecurity, cyber geopolitics and cyber norms through a wholly different frame of reference.
The rise of modern liberal democracy was the mere by-product of a global upheaval fomented by the previous information revolution, catalysed by the movable type. It brought religious wars to Europe, seeded Enlightenment and eventually heralded the industrial revolution.
The digitisation of almost all societal interfaces has challenged the age-old precepts of Westphalian sovereignty. Sparked by the hyper-pluralism of the social media, the citizens are not only renegotiating their boundaries of freedom, but also the social contract which had stood still since Hobbes wrote Leviathan.
This global churn has made the lasting edifices of liberal democracy all the more vulnerable to sabotage and subversion. More than the insular authoritarian state, it is the liberal democracy that has come under constant stress due to the barrage of disinformation and cognitive manipulation.
Seen from that lens, the conventional problems of cyber policy acquire a whole new meaning. Adversarial cyber operations then appear to have more cognitive parameters than traditional cyber-kinetic ones, thus transforming into information operations. More than critical infrastructure protection, cognitive security becomes paramount for national security.
In the raging pandemic, the impacts of computational propaganda amplifying hare-brained theories on vaccinations are being felt globally. Conspiracy theorists, tribalists and populists are now knocking at the corridors of power in liberal democracies. The playbooks for agitational social movements existing on the margins of society and foreign information operations do closely align.
The current approach of creating a rules-based order in cyberspace has a fundamental weakness: the ever-growing gulf between operational realities of the cyber domain and tools and vocabulary expended for policymaking. In information operations, it captures the classical discontinuity from public affairs and public diplomacy to military doctrine and military operations.
The parameters governing competition, coercion and confrontation in cyberspace are largely cognitive — challenging all known precepts of deterrence, thresholds of war and resilience — thus creating a policy paralysis.
The Centre would define and study “information statecraft” from a doctrinal and comparative lens. It aims to produce supporting literature and deconstruct adversarial tactics, techniques and procedures that would help liberal democracies like Australia to bolster its own offence and defence against malign computational propaganda.
The products of this research would define tactical, strategic and doctrinal frameworks to advance the Western military thought on IO and countering hybrid threats.
It would look at whole-of-government approaches that can directly contribute to ongoing projects like the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group’s Information Warfare STaR Shot and that of the Defence’s Joint Capabilities Group. It would also be a crucial departure from the general doctrinal philosophy that has shaped the Western military thought on IO over the last three decades.
Areas of research
Comparative doctrinal research: A study of the (de)evolution of the information operations doctrines of Western militaries, compared to the likes of Russia and China. A modern reinterpretation of competition and sub-threshold conflict in a whole-of-government way.
Information operations as an integrating function: Delineating the strategic and tactical parameters of cyber-enabled information operations (IO), how they undermine IO’s integrating function — creating friction between cyber operations and IO.
Cyber-psychological effects & counterpropaganda: Frameworks and methodologies for counterpropaganda in a non-permissive environment like cyberspace. Analysing the legal and ethical constraints of liberal democracies from a fresh lens.
Customary laws & cyber norms: An exploration of the tacit or explicit bargaining being undertaken by states in cyberspace and how it is leading to the creation of unfavourable customary laws that are setting the wrong precedents for the international rules-based order.
Threat intelligence ontologies & taxonomies: Understanding if the structural probabilities of the cyberspace architecture, propagation and network effects could be leveraged to create threat intelligence ontologies or taxonomies based on standards like MITRE ATT&CK and STIX/TAXII.
Media relations & the social terrain: An epistemic reinterpretation of the social/discursive space of societies and nations shaped by cyberspace, drawing upon the established military paradigms of information sampling, feedback loops and behavioural shaping.