The purpose of United States psychological operations (PSYOP) is to induce or reinforce attitudes and behaviors favorable to U.S. objectives. It can be used at the strategic, operational, also known as Psychological warfare, level or at the tactical level. Strategic psychological operations are done by government agencies other than the military, except, if delegated to the military, in major wars and at the level of theaters of operations.
Psychological operations are a subset of information operations, defined as:
Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of psychological operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to the originator’s objectives. Also called PSYOP.PSYOP is a subset of information operations:
The integrated employment of the core capabilities of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception, and operations security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own. Also called IO.
Psychological operations have very diverse applications, ranging from the relatively unprovocative, such as the "mine awareness" campaign in Bosnia and Kosovo, designed to curtail civilian deaths due to land mines, to programs that have incurred criticism from various groups. Information operations includes psychological operations, but also such functions as denying the enemy of the use of their own public communications or offensive psychological operations.
In U.S. doctrine, the term "propaganda", without further qualification, is intended to be descriptive and emotionally neutral:
Any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly.
White is acknowledged as an official statement or act of the U.S. Government, or emanates from a source associated closely enough with the U.S. Government to reflect an official viewpoint. The information is true and factual. It also includes all output identified as coming from U.S. official sources.
Authorized to engage in white activity directed at foreign audiences are: The State Department, USIA, the Foreign Operations Administration (a predecessor of the Agency for International Development), the Defense Department and other U.S. Government departments and agencies as necessary
The true source (U.S. Government) is not revealed to the target audience. The activity engaged in plausibly appears to emanate from a non-official American source, or an indigenous, non-hostile source, or there may be no attribution.
Gray is that information whose content is such that the effect will be increased if the hand of the U.S. Government and in some cases any American participation are not revealed. It is simply a means for the U.S. to present viewpoints which are in the interest of U.S. foreign policy, but which will be acceptable or more acceptable to the intended target audience than will an official government statement.
Responsibility for gray is assigned to the OCB designee, USIA and State. The following criteria will assist in determining the responsibility for the execution of a proposed gray activity. If the answer to any of the three questions below is affirmative, the activity is the sole responsibility of the OCB designee. If government interest is not to be revealed but the answer to all three questions listed below is negative, the activity may fall within the charter of State, USIA or the OCB designee:
a. Would the disclosure of the source occasion serious embarrassment to the U.S. Government or to the agencies responsible for the information activity?
b. Would the activity or the materials disseminated be seriously discredited if it were to become known that the U.S. Government were responsible?
c. Would the outlet be seriously damaged if it were to become known that the activity is subsidized or otherwise assisted by the U.S. Government?
The activity engaged in appears to emanate from a source (government, party, group, organization, person) usually hostile in nature. The interest of the U.S. Government is concealed and the U.S. Government would deny responsibility. The content may be partially or completely fabricated, but that which is fabricated is made to appear credible to the target audience. Black activity is also usually designed to cause embarrassment to the ostensible source or to force the ostensible source to take action against its will.
Black propaganda can be considered clandestine, as the source is unknown.
Responsibility for engaging in black propaganda and other related activities is assigned solely to the designee of the OCB. Likewise it should be kept in mind that activities, either gray or black, conducted into denied areas from their peripheries, other than radio, are the sole responsibility of the OCB designee.
In US doctrine, black propaganda rarely is employed below the strategic level, due to the stringent coordination and security requirements needed to protect its actual source. Further, black propaganda, to be credible, may need to disclose sensitive material, with the damage caused by information disclosure considered to be outweighed by the impact of successful deception.
The message to be delivered can be adapted to tactical situations, but promises made must be consistent with national policy.
Under US law, PSYOP is part of Special Operations forces or activities. The detailed military policy, which implements a declassified Presidential directive, is itself classified, .
These policies forbid U.S. PSYOP forces to target (i.e., attempt to change their opinions) U.S. citizens at any time, in any location globally, or under any circumstances. However, commanders may use PSYOP forces to provide public information to U.S. audiences during times of disaster or crisis. The use of PSYOP forces to deliver necessary public information to a U.S. audience was established in relief activities after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Tactical Psychological Operations teams (TPTs) were employed to disseminate information by loudspeaker on locations of relief shelters and facilities. Information support to a noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO) by PSYOP forces to provide evacuation information to U.S. and third-country nationals would also adhere to the order.
As an example of the use of PSYOP in a humanitarian relief operation Major General Anthony Zinni, Director of Operations for Unified Task Force Somalia, said
Psychological operations were a key Battlefield Operating System used extensively to support Unified Task Force (UNITAF) Somalia operations. In order to maximize the PSYOP impact, we established a Joint PSYOP Task Force under the supervision of the Director of Operations, integrated PSYOP into all plans and operations, and limited the PSYOP focus to the operational and tactical levels. Psychological operations do not accomplish missions alone. They work best when they are combined with and integrated in an overall theater campaign plan. In Operation RESTORE HOPE, we were successful in doing that.
In the United States Department of Defense, Psychological Operations units exist as the Army's 4th Psychological Operations Group and Air Force with COMMANDO SOLO units under the Air Force Special Operations Command's 193rd Special Operations Wing. The United States Navy also plans and executes limited PSYOP missions.
United States PSYOP units and soldiers of all branches of the military are prohibited by law from conducting PSYOP missions on domestic audiences. While PSYOP soldiers may offer non-PSYOP related support to domestic military missions, PSYOP can only target foreign audiences. Though, it is worth noting that this does not rule out PSYOP targeting foreign audiences of allied nations. Additionally, in the Information Operations Roadmap made public January 2006 but originally approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in October 2003, it stated "information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP, increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience and vice-versa."
Until recently, the Army's Psychological Operations elements were administratively organized alongside Civil Affairs to form the US Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC), forming a part of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). However, in May 2006 USCAPOC was reorganized to instead fall under the Army reserve command, and all active duty PSYOP elements were placed directly into USASOC. While reserve PSYOP forces no longer belong to USASOC, that command retains control of PSYOP doctrine. Operationally, PSYOP individuals and organizations support Army and Joint maneuver forces or interagency organizations.
Army Psychological Operations support operations ranging from strategic planning down to tactical employment.
PSYOP Support Elements generally support Corps sized elements. Tactical Psychological Operations Companies typically support Division sized elements, with Tactical Control through G-3. Brigades are typically supported by a Tactical PSYOP Detachment. The PSYOP Commander maintains Operational Control of PSYOP elements, advises the Commander and General Staff on the psychological battlespace.
The smallest organizational PSYOP element is the Tactical PSYOP Team (TPT). A TPT generally consists of a PSYOP team chief (Staff Sergeant or Sergeant), an assistant team chief (Sergeant or Specialist), and an additional soldier to serve as a gunner and to operate the speaker system (Specialist). A team is equipped with a Humvee fitted with a loud speaker, and often works with a local translator indigenous to the host or occupied country.
Generally, each maneuver battalion-sized element in a theater of war or operational area has at least one TPT attached to it. Until recently, women (who are allowed to hold the psychological operations occupational specialty) were not allowed to serve on TPTs in a war zone due to a PSYOP team's high chance of contact with the enemy.
PSYOP soldiers are required to complete nine weeks of Basic Combat Training. After basic training (BCT), the active duty-component PSYOP soldier is then required to attend Airborne training. All enlisted PSYOP soldiers report to Fort Bragg to complete the 13-week Psychological Operation Advanced Individual Training (AIT) course. Sometime after initial training, PSYOP soldiers will spend up to a year (or perhaps more for specific languages) in foreign language qualification training. Certain reserve soldiers serving in units designated as Airborne are also required to attend Airborne training, while language training and Airborne qualification for PSYOP soldiers assigned to non-Airborne units is awarded on a merit and need basis.
There are only three Psychological Operations Groups in the Army:
The 4th Psychological Operations Group, based in Fort Bragg, is the only active duty PSYOP element in the United States Army, constituting 26 percent of all U.S. Army Psychological Operations units. The remaining 74 percent is split between the 2nd and 7th Psychological Operations Groups in the Army Reserve.
The Air National Guard provides support for Psychological Operations using a modified C-130 Hercules aircraft named EC-130 COMMANDO SOLO, operated by the 193d Special Operations Wing. The purpose of COMMANDO SOLO is to provide an aerial platform for broadcast media on both television and radio. The media broadcast is created by various agencies and organizations. As part of the broader function of information operations, COMMANDO SOLO can also jam the enemy's broadcasts to his own people, or his psychological warfare broadcasting.
The Commando Solo aircraft currently is the only stand-off, high-altitude means available to PSYOP forces to disseminate information to large denied areas. Two orbits were established during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, one in the northern area and one in the southern part of the country, both far enough from harm’s way to keep the aircraft out of reach of potential enemy attack. At their operational altitude of and assuming clear channels, these aircraft can transmit radio and TV signals approximately , which does not reach the objective areas near Baghdad. Straightforward physics dictate the range, given the power installed and the antenna configuration and assuming clear channels.
The enhanced altitude capability of the Commando Solo EC–130J (now funded) is increasing transmitter range. While this is an improvement over 130E capability, it is a small step, since the increase in altitude is only 7,000 feet (less than 50 percent) and the range increase is governed by a square root function (that is, a 14 percent increase in range).
A challenge to COMMANDO SOLO is the increasing use of cable television, which will not receive signals from airborne, ground, or any other transmitters that the cable operator does not want to connect to the system. At best, in the presence of cable TV, COMMANDO SOLO may be able to jam enemy broadcasts that are not, themselves, transmitted by cable.
The US Navy possesses the capability to produce audiovisual products in the Fleet Audiovisual Command, Pacific; the Fleet Imagery Command, Atlantic; the Fleet Combat Camera Groups; Naval Imaging Command; various film libraries; and limited capability from ships and aircraft of the fleet. A Naval Reserve PSYOP audiovisual unit supports the Atlantic Fleet. Navy personnel assets have the capability to produce documents, posters, articles, and other material suitable for PSYOP. Administrative capabilities exist ashore and afloat that prepare and produce various quantities of printed materials. Language capabilities exist in naval intelligence and among naval personnel for most European and Asian languages. The Fleet Tactical Readiness Group provides equipment and technical maintenance support to conduct civil radio broadcasts and broadcast jamming in the amplitude modulation frequency band. This unit is not trained to produce PSYOP products and must be augmented with PSYOP personnel or linguists when necessary. The unit is capable of being fully operational within 48 hours of receipt of tasking. The unit's equipment consists of a 10.6 kW AM band broadcast radio transmitter; a broadcast studio van; antenna tuner; two antennas (a pneumatically raised top-loaded antenna mast and a wire helium balloon antenna); and a 30 kW generator that provides power to the system.
The Secretary of State shall be responsible for:
(1)The formulation of policies and plans for a national foreign information program in time of peace. This program shall include all foreign information activities conducted by departments and agencies of the U. S. Government.
(2)The formulation of national psychological warfare policy in time of national emergency and the initial stages of war.
(3) The coordination of policies and plans for the national foreign information program and for overt psychological warfare with the Department of Defense, with other appropriate departments and agencies of the U.S. Government, and with related planning...
(4)Plans prepared by this organization for overt psychological warfare in time of national emergency or the initial stages of war shall provide for:
a. Coordination of overt psychological warfare with:
- #Covert psychological warfare.
- #Domestic information.
b. The employment and expansion, insofar as is feasible, of the activities and facilities which compose the national foreign information program in time of peace, in order to assure rapid transition to operations in time of national emergency or war.
c. Control of the execution of approved plans and policies by: (1) the Department of Defense in theaters of military operations; (2) the Department of State in areas other than theaters of military operations.
d. Transmittal of approved psychological warfare plans and policies to theater commanders through the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
After the OPC was consolidated into the CIA, there has been a psychological operations staff, under various names, in what has variously been named the Deputy Directorate of Plans, the Directorate of Operations, or the National Clandestine Service.
During World War I, the Propaganda Sub-Section was established under the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) Military Intelligence Branch within the Executive Division of the General Staff in early 1918. Although they produced most propaganda, the AEF Propaganda Sub-Section did not produce a few of the leaflets. General Pershing is supposed to have personally composed Leaflet “Y,” Austria Is Out of the War, which was run off on First Army presses, but distributed by the Propaganda Sub-Section. That Sub-Section, perhaps reflecting some professional jealousy, thought the leaflet sound in principle, but too prolix and a little too “brotherly.” Corps and Army presses issued several small leaflet editions containing a “news flash,” after the Sub-Section had approved their content. But in one or two cases that approval was not obtained, and in one unfortunate example a leaflet in Romanian committed the Allies and the United States to the union of all Romanians in Austria-Hungary with Romania. Such geopolitics was emphatically not the job of AEF propaganda and had the potential to cause serious embarrassment.
Psychological operations planning started before the US entry into the war, with the creation of the office of the Coordinatior of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA), under Nelson Rockefeller, with the responsibility for psychological operations targeted at Latin America. Special operations and intelligence concerning Latin America was a bureaucratic problem throughout the war. Where the OSS eventually had most such responsibilities, the FBI had its own intelligence system in Latin America.
On 11 July 1941, William Donovan was named the Coordinator of Information, which subsequently became the OSS. At first, there was a unit called the Foreign Information Service inside COI, headed by Robert Sherwood, which produced white propaganda outside Latin America.
To deal with some of the bureaucratic problems, the Office of War Information (OWl) was created with Elmer Davis as director. FIS, still under Sherwood, became the Overseas Branch of OWl, dealing in white propaganda. OSS was created at the same time. Donovan obtained considerable help from the British, especially with black propaganda, from the British Political Warfare Executive (PWE), part of the Ministry of Economic Warfare. PWE was a sister organization to the Special Operations Executive, which conducted guerilla warfare. The British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6), was an essentially independent organization. For the US, the OSS included the functions of SIS and SOE, and the black propaganda work of PWE.
The OSS Morale Operations (MO) branch was the psychological operations arm of OSS. In general, its units worked on a theater-by-theater basis, without a great deal of central coordination. It was present in most theaters, with the exception of the Southwest Pacific theater under Douglas MacArthur, who was hostile to OSS.
OSS was responsible for strategic propaganda, while the military commanders had operational and tactical responsibility. Dwight Eisenhower was notably supportive of psychological operations, had psychological warfare organization in the staff of all his commands, and worked with OSS and OWI. The military did theater-level white propaganda, although the black propaganda function varied, often carried out by joint US-UK organizations.
For the first time in U.S. history, American psywarriors employed electronic psywar in the field, in September 1944. Engineers of the 1st Radio Section of the 1st MRBC recorded POW interviews for front- line broadcasts, and reproduced the sound effects of vast numbers of tanks and other motor vehicles for Allied armored units in attempts to mislead German intelligence and lower enemy morale.
Leaflets were delivered principally from aircraft, but also with artillery shells.
Since the war was a United Nations operation, political sensitivities were high. UN propaganda probably lost opportuntities due to rules against mentioning the Peoples Republic of China or the Soviet Union, first due to fear it would increase their intervention, and later because it might demoralize ROK civilians..
Various methods were used to deliver propaganda, with constraints imposed by exceptionally rugged terrain and that radios were relatively uncommon among DPRK and PRC troops. Loudspeaker teams often had to get dangerously close to enemy positions. Artillery and light aircraft delivered leaflets on the front lines, while heavy bombers dropped leaflets in the rear. There was a somewhat artificial distinction made between strategic and tactical leaflets: rather than differentiating by the message, tactical leaflets were delivered within of the front lines and strategic leaflets were those delivered farther away.
Less direct and immediate correlation between tactical PSYOP efforts and target audience behavior may still be substantiated after the fact, especially by means of polling and interviews. For example, in the Korean War, approximately one-third of the total prisoner of war (POW) population polled by the United Nations (UN) forces claimed to have surrendered at least in part because of the propaganda leaflets. The contributions of PSYOP in the first Persian Gulf War have also been corroborated through POW interviews. Ninety-eight percent of the 87,000 POWs captured either possessed or had seen PSYOP leaflets that provided them with instructions on how to approach U.S. troops to surrender. Fifty-eight percent of the prisoners interviewed claimed to have heard coalition radio broadcasts, and 46 percent believed that the coalition broadcasts were truthful despite coming from their enemy. Again, some portion of the surrenders might have occurred even without PSYOP encouragement; but certainly, there would appear to be a correlation between PSYOP, which offered the enemy a way to escape the onslaught of U.S. military power, and their compliance with those instructions.
As early as August 1964, almost one year before the activation of the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO), General William Westmoreland told a CA and PSYOP conference that “psychological warfare and civic action are the very essence of the counterinsurgency campaign here in Vietnam…you cannot win this war by military means alone.” Westmoreland’s successor, Creighton Abrams, is known to have sent down guidelines to the 4th Psychological Operations Group that resulted in the drawing up of no less than 17 leaflets along those lines. In fact, the interest in PSYOP went all the way up to the Presidency; weekly reports from JUSPAO were sent to the White House, as well as to the Pentagon and the Ambassador in Saigon. In sum, it is a myth that the United States, stubbornly fixated on a World War II-style conventional war, was unaware of the “other war.”
During the Vietnam era, the organization of the 4th Psychological Operations Group was very different. The four battalions of the group were divided by geographic region rather than area of expertise as they are now.
The B companies consisted of the field teams that were stationed throughout their respective corps billeted with MACV teams and combat units.
The broader scope of information operations in Panama included denying the Noriega regime use of their own broadcasting facilities. A direct action mission removed key parts of the transmitters. After-action reports indicate that this action should have had a much higher priority and been done very early in the operation.
An unusual technique, developed in real time, was termed the "Ma Bell Mission", or, more formally, capitulation missions. There were a number of Panamian strongpoints that continued to have telephone access. By attaching Spanish-speaking Special Forces personnel to a combat unit that would otherwise take the strongpoint by force, the Spanish-speaking personnel would phone the Panamian commander, tell him to put away his weapons and assemble his men on the parade ground, or face lethal consequences. Because of the heavy reliance on telephones, these missions were nicknamed "Ma Bell" operations. "During this ten day period, TF BLACK elements were instrumental in the surrender of 14 cuartels (strongpoints), almost 2,000 troops, and over 6,000 weapons without a single U.S. casualty. Several high-ranking cronies of Manuel Noriega who were on the "most wanted" list were also captured in Ma Bell operations.
Psychological operations sometimes are intimately linked to combat operations, with the use of force driving home the propaganda mission. During the Panamanian operation, it was necessar Ft. Amador, an installation shared by the U.S. and Panamanian Defence Forces (PDF). There were US dependents at the installation, but security considerations prevented evacuating them before the attack. Concern for US citizens, and rules of engagement (ROE) that directed casualties be minimized, PSYOP loudspeaker teams, from the 1st Bn, 4th PSYOP Gp, became a key asset. When the PDF did not surrender after initial appeals, the message changed, with the tactical commander warning "that resistance was hopeless in the face of overwhelming firepower and a series of demonstrations took place, escalating from small arms to 105 mm howitzer rounds. Subsequent broadcasts convinced the PDF to give up. The entire process allowed Ft. Amador to be secured with few casualties and minimal damage."
United States PSYOP became a part of popular culture during the U.S. invasion of Panama, the America public watched on TV as PSYOP soldiers blasted rock music into the Vatican Embassy to drive out ousted leader Manuel Noriega. However, it is widely believed inside the PSYOP community that the reasoning for the music was not actually to drive Noriega out, but to keep American news reporters from listening in on the negotiations for Noriega's surrender.
Psychological Operations was extremely valuable during the Gulf War due to the Iraqi military's desire to avoid combat. Through leaflets and loudspeaker broadcasts, PSYOP forces walked many enemy soldiers through successful surrender.
Coalition forces worked extensively with Saudi, Kuwaiti, and other partners, to be sure psychological operations were culturally and linguistically appropriate. . One unusual technique involved dropping leaflets telling Iraqi troops that they would be bombed, the next day, by B-52 bombers, and urged them to surrender and save their lives. After the bombing the next day, which was not done in a manner to maximize casualties, another set of leaflets were dropped, saying the promise was kept and the survivors should surrender to save themselves. Variants of this technique were used on other units, telling them the specific unit that had been bombed the previous day. By the number of prisoners who surrendered, presenting the leaflet that identified itself as a safe-conduct pass, this program was effective.
United States PSYOP was widely employed in both Bosnia and Kosovo, most famously for their "mine awareness" campaign and its Superman comic.
The broader scope of information operations in Bosnia included denying groups, breaking the peace agreement, of the use of their own broadcasting facilities, with capture or destruction of the transmitters.
U.S. Psychological Operations have been widespread during the Global War on Terrorism.
In the 1990s it came to light that soldiers from the 4th Psychological Operations Group had been interning at the American news networks Cable News Network (CNN) and National Public Radio (NPR). The program was claimed by the Army to be an attempt to provide its PSYOP personnel with the expertise developed by the private sector under its "Training with Industry" program. The program caused concern about the influence these soldiers might have on American news and the programs were terminated.
The U.S. Army's Psychological Operations unit placed interns at CNN and NPR in 1998 and 1999. The placements at CNN were reported in the European press in February of this year and the program was terminated. The NPR placements will be reported this week in TV Guide.
An incident involving U.S. PSYOP soldiers occurred when enemy bodies were burned in Afghanistan and filmed by freelance journalist Stephen Dupont. Dupont reported that the PSYOP soldiers claimed the bodies were to be burned due to hygiene concerns
During the War on Terror, U.S. PSYOP teams often broadcast abrasive messages over loudspeakers to try tempting enemy fighters into a direct confrontation where the Americans have the upper hand. Other times, they use their loudspeaker to convince enemy soldiers to surrender. In the Afghanistan incident, a PSYOP sergeant broadcast the following message to the Taliban:
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.
Another soldier stated:
You attack and run away like women. You call yourself Talibs but you are a disgrace to the Muslim religion and you bring shame upon your family. Come and fight like men instead of the cowardly dogs you are.
However, according to the Army Times, the SBS broadcast did not include audio of the soldiers broadcasting the message.
U. S. authorities were to investigate the incident which may have contravened the Geneva convention.
The PSYOP soldiers that were responsible for these acts were trying 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.
Arguably the most visible image of the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the toppling of a statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in central Baghdad. While the event, at first glance, gave the impression that the act was a spontaneous action of the citizens of the city, it was actually an idea hatched by an Army psychological operations team. Allegations surfaced that the group of people surrounding the statue and cheering was in fact smaller than it was made out to be in the official story, and that the group were by some accounts not local to the area but were instead brought in by the military for the specific purpose of watching and lending credence to the planned toppling.