PAUL BALLES : Psychological warfare


The ability to contact millions through films, TV, newspapers, magazines and the internet is reason to pause to examine the dangers of a growing psyops culture.

by Paul  J Balles


US Army Specialist (SPC) sets up a loudspeaker system in order to broadcast non-civilian interference messages to the local people in Afghanistan, during Operation Mountain Sweep, part of ongoing operations in Afghanistan conducted in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

One big story of the last few weeks has the US military playing “mind games” with civilian leaders in order to get greater support for the war in Afghanistan.

Sometimes these mind games have been called brainwashing.  Another name for them is psyops or psychological operations.

According to the US Department of Defence Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, “Psychological operations are planned propaganda operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviour of foreign governments, organisations, groups, and individuals.”

Until now, there’s been very little public complaint about the use of psyops to influence foreigners. Not many–outside of intelligence services, those involved and their critics–have even been aware that such operations have been going on.

Psyop activities include electronic warfare, computer network operations, military deception, and operations security.

This is in concert with activities to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversaries’ decision making while protecting America’s.

In short, US psyops amount to psychological warfare, which has a history that goes as far back as World War I.

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What makes the latest use of planned propaganda operations a matter of public concern? According to Rolling Stone Magazine the military has been propagandising civilian leaders.

The ritual relationship between the military and civilians in America has traditionally kept the military under the control of a civilian Secretary of Defence.

Recently, the US Army Times carried a story about how a psyops sergeant broadcast the following message to the Taliban in order to draw them out in the open by insulting them:

“Attention, Taliban, you are all cowardly dogs. You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be.”

The psyop soldiers responsible were trying to harass the enemy, a common practice used by psyop teams in the past and widely-publicized during its employment in the 2004 battle for Fallujah.

The latest incident occurred in February 2011 when Rolling Stone Magazine reported that Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a 3 star General in charge of training troops in Afghanistan, ordered the use of psyops on United States senators.

The significance of this is not what Chris Matthews of MSNBC complained of–that the general exceeded his proper role of military subservience to civilian leaders.

The real significance rests in the fact that the government is consistently using and developing techniques to control people’s minds.

Any tactic, psychological or otherwise, which can be seen as subverting an individual’s sense of control over their own thinking, behaviour, emotions or decision making should be exposed.

In 1956, W. Howard Chase president of the Public Relations Society of America wrote, “The very presumptuousness of moulding or affecting the human mind through the techniques we use has created a deep sense of uneasiness in our minds.”

Chase was referring to techniques used to package and sell products through hidden persuaders in advertising.

Several movies have been made featuring psyop themes. However, as the thinking goes, movies are fictional and therefore not a reflection of reality.

The ability to contact millions through films, TV, newspapers, magazines and the internet is reason to pause to examine the dangers of a growing psyops culture.

The prospects are not encouraging: military information warfare extends to political warfare expanding psychological warfare without defined boundaries.

The best advice offered comes from James Thurber: “Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR : Paul J. Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. He’s a weekly Op-Ed columnist for the GULF DAILY NEWS . Dr. Balles is also Editorial Consultant for Red House Marketing and a regular contributor to Bahrain This Month.


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