About the Project

The term influence operation is defined broadly for the scope of this project. Any action taken by a government, including the military, to affect the behavior, motivation, and/or capabilities of a violent extremist organization (VEO) is considered an influence operation. Cooptation, dissuasion, deterrence, and defeat all fall within the spectrum of influence operations[1]. Such influence operations range from soft types of influence (i.e., incorporating VEO leaders into government) to coercive types of influence (i.e., assassinations and military strikes targeting the VEO members). Examples of influence operations include providing educational aid to a village to dissuade adolescents from joining a local VEO and targeting the leaders of a terrorist group to decrease group capabilities. Unlike doctrinal influence operations, the influence operations portrayed in the literature surveyed by the Knowledge Matrix are not related to psychological operations.

The Influencing Violent Extremist Organizations: Planning Influence Activities While Accounting for Unintended Side Effects (I-VEO) project was undertaken as part of a 2011 Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) initiative, coordinated by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. As one of its tasks under the project, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) endeavored to identify, collect, and organize the comprehensive theoretical knowledge applicable to influencing VEOs, while also assessing the degree of empirical support for these theoretical assertions.

In order to assist planners in selecting and tailoring influence operations against VEOs, the project team conducted an extensive literature review, identified key hypotheses about the effectiveness of specific types of influence operations, and then gathered qualitative and quantitative findings describing the efficacy of each type of influence operation.

This expansive analysis of the literature was encapsulated in a functional form by creating a Knowledge Matrix. To organize the Knowledge Matrix for multiple end-users, the various types of influence operations analyzed can be sorted according to five different conceptual schemas described below. In addition, the matrix includes expert commentary to contextualize the research findings. This provides users with ready access to a broad base of theoretical alternatives and existing empirical evidence upon which to build concepts, theory, policy, and doctrine in government, academia, and military realms.

The project team identified over 300 hypotheses from a wide range of social science disciplines. After vetting, these hypotheses were clustered into themes. The final set of 183 hypotheses represents a balance of comprehensiveness and tractability. From each themed set of hypotheses, a researcher assessed the relevant literature in order to produce a “micro literature review.” Each micro literature review was comprised of a general description of the theme, a summary of relevant empirical evidence of each hypothesis within the theme, an empirical support score, an assessment of each hypothesis’s applicability to influencing VEOs, an applicability score, optional general comments, and a bibliography. These micro literature reviews were utilized as the foundation for the I-VEO Knowledge Matrix.

The I-VEO Knowledge Matrix includes each hypothesis, along with its Empirical Support Score (a measure of qualitative and quantitative data that supports the hypothesis) and Applicability Score (a measure of the applicability of the underlying data to the VEO realm). The hypotheses are categorized according to several schemas: 1) a VEO influence typology specially developed for the Matrix by Jeffrey Knopf of the Naval Postgraduate School (the default sorting presented), 2) designations of elements of national power (DIMEFIL), 3) Davis and Jenkins’ Influence Spectrum[2], 4) the level of the VEO system to which the hypothesis is directed and 5) the Levels of Strategic Influence developed by the I-VEO Framework Development Team in a parallel tasking. These categories allow a user to sort the hypotheses according to a specific interest. In addition, the Knowledge Matrix provides analytical implications for each hypothesis. These implications are provided assuming that the hypothesis was proved to be true and, as such, are intended to extend our conceptual understanding of influence operations rather than to provide specific policy guidance.

The initial project was completed over a ten-week period between April and June, 2011. The project team  represented the disciplines of political science, criminology, public policy, psychology, and international relations.

[1]  Davis, Paul K. 2011. “Deterring and Otherwise Influencing Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs).” Bethesda, MD.

[2] Davis, Paul K. and Brian Michael Jenkins. 2002. “Deterrence and Influence in Counterterrorism: A Component in the War on al Qaeda.” RAND. Available at http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1619.html