Psychological warfare (PSYWAR), or the basic aspects of modern psychological operations (PsyOp), have been known by many other names or terms, including Military Information Support Operations (MISO), Psy Ops, political warfare, “Hearts and Minds”, and propaganda. The term is used “to denote any action which is practiced mainly by psychological methods with the aim of evoking a planned psychological reaction in other people”.
Various techniques are used, and are aimed at influencing a target audience’s value system, belief system, emotions, motives, reasoning, or behavior. It is used to induce confessions or reinforce attitudes and behaviors favorable to the originator’s objectives, and are sometimes combined with black operations or false flag tactics. It is also used to destroy the morale of enemies through tactics that aim to depress troops’ psychological states.
Target audiences can be governments, organizations, groups, and individuals, and is not just limited to soldiers. Civilians of foreign territories can also be targeted by technology and media so as to cause an effect in the government of their country.
In Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Jacques Ellul discusses psychological warfare as a common peace policy practice between nations as a form of indirect aggression. This type of propaganda drains the public opinion of an opposing regime by stripping away its power on public opinion. This form of aggression is hard to defend against because no international court of justice is capable of protecting against psychological aggression since it cannot be legally adjudicated.
“Here the propagandists is [sic] dealing with a foreign adversary whose morale he seeks to destroy by psychological means so that the opponent begins to doubt the validity of his beliefs and actions.”
There is evidence of psychological warfare throughout written history. In modern times, psychological warfare efforts have been used extensively. Mass communication allows for direct communication with an enemy populace, and therefore has been used in many efforts. In recent times, social media channels and the internet allow for campaigns of disinformation and misinformation performed by agents anywhere in the world.
Most modern uses of the term psychological warfare, refers to the following military methods:
- Distributing pamphlets that encourage desertion or supply instructions on how to surrender
- Shock and awe military strategy
- Projecting repetitive and disturbing chicken noises and music for long periods at high volume towards groups under siege like during Operation Nifty Package
- Tolerance indoctrination, so that the totems and culture of a defeated enemy can be removed or replaced without conflict.
- Propaganda radio stations, such as Lord Haw-Haw in World War II on the “Germany calling” station
- Renaming cities and other places when captured, such as the renaming of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City after Communist victory in the Vietnam War
- False flag events
- Use of loudspeaker systems to communicate with enemy soldiers
- The threat of chemical weapons
- Information warfare
Most of these techniques were developed during World War II or earlier, and have been used to some degree in every conflict since. Daniel Lerner was in the OSS (the predecessor to the American CIA) and in his book, attempts to analyze how effective the various strategies were. He concludes that there is little evidence that any of them were dramatically successful, except perhaps surrender instructions over loudspeakers when victory was imminent. Measuring the success or failure of psychological warfare is very hard, as the conditions are very far from being a controlled experiment.
Lerner also divides psychological warfare operations into three categories:
- White propaganda (Omissions and Emphasis): Truthful and not strongly biased, where the source of information is acknowledged.
- Grey propaganda (Omissions, Emphasis and Racial/Ethnic/Religious Bias): Largely truthful, containing no information that can be proven wrong; the source is not identified.
- Black propaganda (Commissions of falsification): Inherently deceitful, information given in the product is attributed to a source that was not responsible for its creation.
Lerner points out that grey and black operations ultimately have a heavy cost, in that the target population sooner or later recognizes them as propaganda and discredits the source. He writes, “This is one of the few dogmas advanced by Sykewarriors that is likely to endure as an axiom of propaganda: Credibility is a condition of persuasion. Before you can make a man do as you say, you must make him believe what you say.”
Consistent with this idea, the Allied strategy in World War II was predominantly one of truth (with certain exceptions).
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Information warfare (IW) (as different from cyber warfare that attacks computers, software, and command control systems) manipulates information trusted by targets without their awareness, so that the targets will make decisions against their interest but in the interest of the one conducting information warfare. It is a concept involving the battlespace use and management of information and communication technology (ICT) in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent. Information warfare is the manipulation of information trusted by a target without the target’s awareness so that the target will make decisions against their interest but in the interest of the one conducting information warfare. As a result, it is not clear when information warfare begins, ends, and how strong or destructive it is. Information warfare may involve the collection of tactical information, assurance(s) that one’s information is valid, spreading of propaganda or disinformation to demoralize or manipulate the enemy and the public, undermining the quality of the opposing force’s information and denial of information-collection opportunities to opposing forces. Information warfare is closely linked to psychological warfare.
The United States military focus tends to favor technology and hence tends to extend into the realms of electronic warfare, cyberwarfare, information assurance and computer network operations, attack, and defense.
Most of the rest of the world use the much broader term of “Information Operations” which, although making use of technology, focuses on the more human-related aspects of information use, including (amongst many others) social network analysis, decision analysis, and the human aspects of command and control.
Information warfare can take many forms:
- Television, internet and radio transmission(s) can be jammed.
- Television, internet and radio transmission(s) can be hijacked for a disinformation campaign.
- Logistics networks can be disabled.
- Enemy communications networks can be disabled or spoofed, especially online social community in modern days.
- Stock exchange transactions can be sabotaged, either with electronic intervention, by leaking sensitive information or by placing disinformation.
- The use of drones and other surveillance robots or webcams.
- Communication management
The U.S. Air Force has had Information Warfare Squadrons since the 1980s. In fact, the official mission of the U.S. Air Force is now “To fly, fight and win…in air, space and cyberspace”, with the latter referring to its information warfare role.
As the U.S. Air Force often risks aircraft and aircrews to attack strategic enemy communications targets, remotely disabling such targets using software and other means can provide a safer alternative. In addition, disabling such networks electronically (instead of explosively) also allows them to be quickly re-enabled after the enemy territory is occupied. Similarly, counter-information warfare units are employed to deny such capability to the enemy. The first application of these techniques was used against Iraqi communications networks in the Gulf War.
Also during the Gulf War, Dutch hackers allegedly stole information about U.S. troop movements from U.S. Defense Department computers and tried to sell it to the Iraqis, who thought it was a hoax and turned it down. In January 1999, U.S. Air Intelligence computers were hit by a coordinated attack (Moonlight Maze), part of which came from a Russian mainframe. This could not be confirmed as a Russian cyber attack due to non-attribution – the principle that online identity may not serve as proof of real world identity.
Mainstream media (MSM) is a term and abbreviation used to refer collectively to the various large mass news media that influence many people, and both reflect and shape prevailing currents of thought. The term is used to contrast with alternative media.
The term is often used for large news conglomerates, including newspapers and broadcast media, that underwent successive mergers in many countries. The concentration of media ownership has raised concerns of a homogenization of viewpoints presented to news consumers. Consequently, the term mainstream media has been used in conversation and the blogosphere, sometimes in oppositional, pejorative or dismissive senses, in discussion of the mass media and media bias.
Fear mongering – Wikipedia
Mind games – Wikipedia
The Frankfurt School and Critical Theory – Cultural Marxism