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Mitigating Risks To America’s Cognitive Infrastructure

This is the second of a series on our nation’s most neglected critical infrastructure, our cognitive infrastructure.

The first post dove into the nature of the challenge and why it is so important for our future that the threats to our cognitive infrastructure are understood and addressed.

This post flows from that one and suggests ways the nation can mitigate many of these risks.

The nation’s cognitive infrastructure includes the mental capacities of our citizens and the decision-making ability of people, organizations and our government. It also includes the information channels used to feed our decision-making capabilities and the education and training systems used to prepare people and organizations for critical thinking.

Our cognitive infrastructure is threatened in ways few of us ever imagined just a few years ago. Old style propaganda has been modernized and is now being aided by advanced technologies and new information dissemination methods.

It is pretty clear that our cognitive infrastructure deserves to be treated with the respect of our other critical infrastructures. Just like the other sectors, the government can have a huge role in protecting it.

Applying lessons from defense of other sectors we can map out a list of considerations for the role of government and the private sector in defense of this infrastructure. We can also inform our defense from lessons learned through years of experience in pushing back against cognitive conflict, including lessons from successes in allied nations (for example, great progress in fighting for fact based defenses has been made in Estonia and the Scandinavian countries focused on countering Russian malign influence operations).

The following is a short list of considerations:

Government Actions:

  • Direct DHS to treat this sector with the seriousness it deserves by officially naming it one of the nation’s critical infrastructures.
  • Develop and support a clearing house for lessons learned and best practices.
  • Support establishment of an ISAC in this sector (a Cognitive Security ISAO has just been stood up, which will be a good foundation for an ISAC).
  • Develop counter-propaganda efforts to rapidly counter adversary content
  • Improve K-12 education to ensure critical thinking is part of school curriculum
  • Find ways to sanction adversaries who seek to manipulate our citizens
  • Invest in R&D to improve technological support to our cognitive infrastructure
  • Change the legal and regulatory framework to ensure media and tech firms play appropriate roles in mitigating threats to our cognitive infrastructure
  • Consider changes to the organizational approaches Congress takes to working issues of our cognitive infrastructure.
  • Create methods for allied nations to cooperate in defense of cognitive infrastructure
  • Task the intelligence community to achieve deep penetration of adversary capabilities to attack our cognitive infrastructure
  • Enhance counterintelligence and other efforts to prevent penetration of businesses by agents of foreign influence

The Role of Industry:

  • Support efforts to collegially share information on threats to the cognitive infrastructure by supporting the Cognitive Infrastructure ISAC
  • Assist in the development of new regulations and legislation as required
  • Propose new approaches and technical solutions to defend our cognitive infrastructure
  • Establish methods to rapidly detect and mitigate attacks against our cognitive infrastructure
  • Establish internal policies for training of the workforce to mitigate threats of manipulation

The Role of Higher Education:

  • Develop methods to assess the role of higher education in defending our cognitive infrastructure
  • Ensure advanced critical thinking skills are part of all accredited curricula
  • Contribute to and support the Cognitive Infrastructure ISAC

The Role of The Citizen

  • In a free society it is the job of the citizen to decide what their role is in the cognitive infrastructure. But there may be areas where laws or regulations should be changed to mitigate risks of malicious activity.
  • Optimally, citizens should be equipped with mental models that will enable them to rapidly learn to spot specious or deceptive information.
  • Citizens should be provided with means to report to businesses and government when they detect malicious attacks against our cognitive infrastructure.


Concluding Questions:

Today there is no more urgent priority than assuring the security, continuity, and availability of how we think.

  • So what do you think?
  • Do you think our cognitive infrastructure should be designated one of DHS’s Critical Infrastructures?

It would be great to get your views on these topics, while we still trust each other as credible sources.

Additional Resources:

A Practitioner’s View of Corporate Intelligence

This post is part of a series providing insights aimed at corporate strategists seeking competitive advantage through better and more accurate decision-making.

Organizations in competitive environments should continually look for ways to gain advantage over their competitors. The ability of a business to learn and translate that learning into action, at speeds faster than others, is one of the most important competitive advantages you can have. This fact of business life is why the model of success in Air to Air combat articulated by former Air Force fighter pilot John Boyd, the Observe – Orient – Decide – Act (OODA) decision loop, is so relevant in business decision-making today.

In this business model, decisions are based on observations of dynamic situations tempered with business context to drive decisions and actions. These actions should change the situation meaning new observations and new decisions and actions will follow. This all underscores the need for a good corporate intelligence program. See: A Practitioner’s View of Corporate Intelligence

Optimizing Corporate Intelligence

This post is part of our Intelligent Enterprise series, which providing insights aimed at corporate strategists seeking competitive advantage through better and more accurate decision-making. The first post provided foundational insights into A Practitioner’s View of Corporate Intelligence. This one dives into actionable recommendation on ways to optimize a corporate intelligence effort. It is based on a career serving large scale analytical efforts in the US Intelligence Community and in applying principles of intelligence in corporate America. See: Optimizing Corporate Intelligence

Mental Models For Leadership In The Modern Age

The study of mental models can improve your ability to make decisions and improve business outcomes. This post reviews the mental models we recommend all business and government decision makers master.

An Executive’s Guide To Cognitive Bias in Decision Making

Cognitive Bias and the errors in judgement they produce are seen in every aspect of human decision-making, including in the business world. Companies that have a better understanding of these cognitive biases can optimize decision making at all levels of the organization, leading to better performance in the market. Companies that ignore the impact these biases have on corporate decision-making put themselves at unnecessary risk. This post by OODA Co-Founder Bob Gourley provides personal insights into key biases as well as mitigation strategies you can put in place right now. See: An Executive’s Guide To Cognitive Bias in Decision Making

OODA On Corporate Intelligence In The New Age

We strongly encourage every company, large or small, to set aside dedicated time to focus on ways to improve your ability to understand the nature of the significantly changed risk environment we are all operating in today, and then assess how your organizational thinking should change.

As an aid to assessing your corporate sensemaking abilities, this post summarizes OODA’s research and analysis into optimizing corporate intelligence for the modern age. See: OODA On Corporate Intelligence In The New Age

Useful Standards For Corporate Intelligence

This is the third post in our special series on the Intelligent Enterprise. The first, titled, A Practitioner’s View of Corporate Intelligence, provided foundational insights to kickstart any corporate intelligence program. The second, titled Optimizing Corporate Intelligence, provided best practices and actionable information you can use to improve and professionalize your corporate intelligence activities. This post discusses standards in intelligence, a topic that can improve the quality of all corporate intelligence efforts and do so while reducing ambiguity in the information used to drive decisions and enhancing the ability of corporations to defend their most critical information. See: Useful Standards For Corporate Intelligence

Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of OODA LLC, the technology research and advisory firm with a focus on artificial intelligence and cybersecurity which publishes Bob is the co-host of the popular podcast The OODAcast. Bob has been an advisor to dozens of successful high tech startups and has conducted enterprise cybersecurity assessments for businesses in multiple sectors of the economy. He was a career Naval Intelligence Officer and is the former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Find Bob on Defcon.Social