Saturday, June 7, 2008

War of Ideas vs. PSYOPS

[Note to author Ed Cline...]

Read your "War of non-Ideas" piece in Rule of Reason (, for everyone else). I kept reading about that "Leiter" fellow and thinking "Felix". But I like Leiter reading.

Here's some stuff for you, which I gathered a couple weeks ago while doing some research. Upshot: Official U.S. government law and policy, by legislation (1948), presidential directive (several since then) and institutional decisions, is that any kind of "psychological operations" (aka, "psyops"), of which a "war of ideas" definitely falls under, is prohibited if it can influence an American audience in any way. Ie, if a propaganda leaflet is dropped in Afghanistan, and if it can make it's way back to the North American continent, in theory those leaflets are not allowed.

Now the practical fact of the matter: There isn't a single bit of "psyops" that could be practiced under this policy, so it gets overridden all the time by bureaucratic fiat. Authority for psyops wends it's way up the chain of command for approvals, sometimes all the way to the president -- psyops are reviewed at each level, and decisions are made... the more controversial the operation, the higher the level of review, but practically, in the military, it stops at the lower levels with approvals for routine psyops, such as telling Mohammed that he is going to die in vast numbers if he doesn't surrender, or the trite stuff like pamphlets that exhort American virtues to foreign audiences, such as, "Americans love camel jockeys -- come work with us in building a better Iraq." Etc.

But the same policy applies to the entire U.S. government -- including State and FBI (ie, Michael Leiter and company), etc. State usually tries to usurp anything beyond routine (they see themselves as the "keepers" of deeper ideas), and the psyops gets relabeled "public policy" as a means of avoiding the statutes and directives for anything controversial.

You can see how a "war of ideas" as practiced by the U.S. government is almost impossible, then -- the military won't take the risk of instituting a "war of ideas" that could find some left-wing lawyer sticking his nose up their butts and prosecuting them down the road, and the State Department won't wage a real war of ideas cause they are in sympathy with the enemy. Not that most of the guys in any department *know* the right ideas to promote or how to promote them.

(The closest is educational exchange programs as means to "cultural awareness", but then, they send these people to schools in the U.S that teach explicit anti-Americanism, so.... Could sending an innocent foreign student to an American university be considered basis for a charge of treason against the State Department official who authorized it, or is it simply a crime against humanity? What to do, what to do. The mind boggles at the conflict.)

That leaves the "war of ideas" (one of the great oxymorons, in the hands of the Feds) to be implemented (if at all) as a series of post-modern and altruist bromides: "America respects other cultures", "America wants to help". "America hands out candy bars to your kids -- please love us", "America will dole out massive amounts of foreign aid if you work with us", yadayada ad-barfing-nauseum. While the acolytes of Mohammed are laughing themselves all the way to the next suicide bombing.

I copy below a few key excerpts that I pulled out of some documents (links at bottom -- they're too big to attach); that said, I don't have docs more recent than 2003, but I've heard the policy has officially changed, classified. I doubt it's any more effective, though.

Interestingly, I think some of this stuff is applicable to the promotion of intellectual ideas, in a very crude and sometimes metaphorical way, though mostly, they could learn a lot more about effective psyops if they studied Objectivism.


(Most of this comes from official U.S. government documents. Sorry for not providing reference document and page number -- this was rapidly collected in the middle of the night. As I said, links are available below. Added emphasis is always mine.)
"To seduce the enemy’s soldiers from their allegiance and encourage them to surrender is of especial service, for an adversary is more hurt by desertion than by slaughter." Flavius Vegetius Renatus, The Military Institutions of the Romans, c. 378 AD

"An adversary who feels inferior is in reality so." Field Marshal Carl Gustav, Baron von Mannerheim, in The Memoirs of Field Marshal Mannerheim, 1953

"There are but two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run the sword is always beaten by the mind." Napoleon Bonaparte

"If you are going to win any battle, you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do... the body is never tired if the mind is not tired." General George S. Patton, US Army
"Strategic Psychological Operations (PSYOP) International information activities conducted by US Government agencies to influence foreign attitudes, perceptions, and behavior in favor of US goals and objectives during peacetime and in times of conflict. These programs are conducted predominantly outside the military arena but can utilize Department of Defense assets."

"PSYOP are used to conduct counterpropaganda, induce or reinforce attitudes and behavior to friendly objectives, and discourage support for adversaries and their goals…

"the primary purpose is to influence the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, decision making, or behavior of the foreign target audience (TA)."

"Countering adversary propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, and opposing information to correctly portray friendly intent and actions, US forces want to face an adversary that is both unsure about its cause and capabilities and sure about its impending defeat — an adversary who, even if unwilling to surrender, has little will to engage in combat."

"In peacetime, IO [Information Operations, ie, psyops] support national objectives primarily by influencing foreign perceptions and decision making. …IO contribute by taking advantage of information technology, exploiting the growing worldwide dependence upon automated information systems and near real time global dissemination of information, to affect adversary decision cycles with the goal of achieving information superiority.

[Goals of PSYOPS:]

  • Mobilize popular support for US and multinational military operations... ;
  • Gain and sustain popular belief in and support for US and multinational political systems (including ideology and infrastructure) and political, social, and economic programs;
  • Attack the legitimacy and credibility of the adversary political systems
  • Publicize beneficial reforms and programs to be implemented after defeat of the adversary;
  • Shift the loyalty of adversary forces and their supporters to the friendly powers;
  • Deter adversary powers or groups from initiating actions detrimental to the interests of the US, its allies, or the conduct of friendly military operations;
  • Promote cessation of hostilities to reduce casualties on both sides, reduce collateral damage, and enhance transition to post-hostilities
  • Modify the behavior of selected target audiences toward US and multinational capabilities;
  • Counter hostile foreign psychological operations efforts;
  • Amplify economic and other nonviolent forms of sanctions against an adversary;
  • Undermine confidence in the adversary leadership...

"Persuasive Communications [one kind of "psyop"]: All communications that systemically convey information with the intent of affecting the perceptions and behaviors of the foreign TA are persuasive communications. These communications will interact with individual beliefs to change or reinforce attitudes and behaviors.

[You got that? "interact with individual beliefs to reinforce attitudes and behaviors". B.F. Skinner's legacy. We're all rats in a maze looking for a carrot. No wonder the "war of ideas" is a joke.]

"PSYOP production is the transformation of products into media that are compatible with the way foreign populations are accustomed to receiving information. Production is not just the technological transfer of script to media, but the study, refinement, and application of media technique, language, journalistic style, theater, art, music, visual cues, and media format.

[You see that it pretty much covers *anything*.]

"Psywarriors have found that ‘the truth is the best propaganda,’ says [Colonel] James Treadwell, the 4th [Psychological Operations] Group’s commander. Otherwise, ‘you lose credibility,’ he explains, and the audience tunes out."

[This guy is close to getting it... but what is "truth" to him? "Pravda"? ]

"PSYOP Themes, Activities, and Symbols should be based on a thorough analysis of targets, including friendly and adversary PSYOP capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

"The medium or media selected for transmission or dissemination should be relevant, reliable, and readily accessible by the intended foreign TAs.

[We do a lot of TV broadcasting overseas, by the way. "Commando Solo". We send a tricked up C130 overhead pumping out a megawatt of power that overwhelms any local transmissions, and people get to see specialized American programming instead of the Friends of the Lonesome Goat hour.]

"the Information Operations Roadmap oversight panel [2003] directed "improvements . . . to rapidly generate audience specific, commercial-quality products into denied areas" and a "focus on aggressive behavior modification at the operational and tactical level of war."

"The International Public Information [IPI] System is designed to "influence foreign audiences" in support of US foreign policy and to counteract propaganda by enemies of the United States. The intent is "to enhance U.S. security, bolster America's economic prosperity and to promote democracy abroad," IPI control over "international military information" is intended to "influence the emotions, motives, objective reasoning and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups and individuals." …IPI activities "are overt and address foreign audiences only" while domestic information should be "deconflicted" and "synchronized" to avoid contradictory messages.

"The objective of IPI is to synchronize the informational objectives, themes and messages that will be projected overseas . . . to prevent and mitigate crises and to influence foreign audiences in ways favorable to the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives."

"The information distributed through IPI should be designed not "to mislead foreign audiences" and that information programs "must be truthful."

[Which pretty much goes against a lot of war-time psyops (ie, scare the bejeezus out of the enemy by any means), but this is more for the State Department level. (U.S. Information Agency, etc.)]

"The new information policy will not be used to influence the American public… since foreign media reports are frequently reflected in American news media, it will be impossible to entirely preclude a backwash of the IPI-generated information into America.

"The U.S. government is legally prohibited from conflating these operations by targeting PSYOP activities--intended for foreign audiences--at the American public. 22 U.S.C. § 1461 (Smith-Mundt Act:, which created the United States Information Agency (USIA) in 1948, directs that information about the United States and its policies intended for foreign audiences "shall not be disseminated within the United States, its territories, or possessions".

"Amendments to the Smith-Mundt Act in 1972 and 1998 further clarified the legal obligations of the government's public diplomacy apparatus and several presidential directives, including

Reagan's 1983 NSD-77 (,

Clinton's PDD-68 in 1999, and

Bush's: NSPD-16 ( in July 2002 (the latter two still classified),

have set up specific structures and procedures, as well as further legal restrictions, regarding U.S. public diplomacy and information operations.

"President Clinton's secret Presidential Decision Directive: PDD-68 (, issued on April 30, 1999, expanded public diplomacy and public affairs operations beyond USIA and the Department of State to include all agencies and set out the objective of IPI "to synchronize the informational objectives, themes and messages that will be projected overseas . . . to prevent and mitigate crises and to influence foreign audiences in ways favorable to the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives." (PDD-68 also cautioned against using the new information operations to influence the American public, but recognized the potential for "backwash" of IPI information to the United States and so called for coordinated domestic and foreign public affairs operations to synchronize foreign policy messages.

"Presidential Decision Direction PDD 68 ordered top officials from the Defense, State, Justice, Commerce and Treasury departments and the Central Intelligence Agency and FBI to establish an IPI Core Group… to "assist [U.S. government] efforts in defeating adversaries." "The intelligence community will play a crucial role . . . for identifying hostile foreign propaganda and deception that targets the U.S."

[And of course, the net effectiveness so far is somewhere between zed and zilch.]

"The newly-released Information Operations Roadmap, with the goal of expansion and central coordination of Pentagon PSYOP and public diplomacy operations, also recognizes the legal conundrum presented by the use of overseas propaganda in the information age. But while the document recognizes the need for boundaries-referred to as "[l]anes"-between U.S. public diplomacy and foreign propaganda, it fails to provide any such limits:

"The likelihood that PSYOP messages will be replayed to a much broader audience, including the American public, requires that specific boundaries be established for PSYOP. In particular:
22 U.S.C. § 1461 (Smith-Mundt Act), which created the United States Information Agency (USIA) in 1948, directs that information about the United States and its policies intended for foreign audiences "shall not be disseminated within the United States, its territories, or possessions."

[Anyway, you get the picture -- psyops is all-encompassing in scope, and policy and law are massively contradictory.] is a comprehensive link from which a most of these docs can be found, along with a reasonable overview.

Other selected links:

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