Psyops or Psychological Operations are initiatives which convey information to audiences in order to alter their thinking and behaviour. Also known as Military Information Support Operations or MISO in the U.S., Psyops work by manipulating the emotions, motivations, and objective reasoning of the audience it is directed at. The purpose of Psyops is to induce or reinforce attitudes and behaviours in its targets that are beneficial to the sponsor organisation.
Whilst the two concepts are often used interchangeably, Psychological Warfare (Psywar) refers to an overarching campaign incorporating many different facets, including Psyops, Misinformation, Disinformation and Propaganda; whereas Psychological Operations (Psyops) is used more to describe specific military operations and the tactical units which practice them.
As a technique of Propaganda, Psyops can also be subject to similar classification systems depending on the degree of transparency of the source. If the correct sponsor of the Psychological Operations is disclosed to its audience, it can be considered White Propaganda. If a Psyops campaign is carried out without identifying or by actively obscuring the source of the campaign, it can be considered Grey Propaganda. When Psychological Operations are sponsored by one source, but are deceptively claiming to be from another, they can be considered Black Propaganda. In all of these instances, the information conveyed as part of the Psychological Operations can be true or false.
Psychological Operations are often a key aspect of many nations’ military strategies during both peace and wartime. From a military perspective Psyops can work to crush the morale of enemy troops, reduce their combat efficiency, and sow dissidence within their ranks. Effective Psyops initiatives can also promote resistance in a civilian population against a hostile Government or enhance the image of a foreign power .
- 1 Types of Psyops
- 2 Carrying out Psyops
- 3 Modern Day Psyops
- 4 Resources
- 5 Notes
Types of Psyops
Tactical Psychological Operations are addressed toward a specific opposition fighting force in a particular battlefield, aiming to influence their morale, combat effectiveness and behaviour in a short-scale combat situation.
Strategic Psychological Operations are large-scale initiatives that comprise part of a carefully planned long-term campaign. They are directed at much larger target audiences than Tactical Psyops, aiming to influence public opinion.
Consolidation Psychological Operations aim to aid friendly civil and military forces strengthen their influence over an environment. This can include maintaining law and order, re-establishing governance, and aiding with disaster relief in both occupied and liberated areas.
Carrying out Psyops
Before modern day Psychological Operations can be authorised, intelligence analysts carefully profile potential targets in order to determine which sections of the population would be the most susceptible and should therefore be targeted. In order to figure this out, intelligence operatives need to determine the vulnerabilities of the target population and what would most affect them, as well as exploring a multitude of other factors like attitudes, motivations, cultural tensions, prejudices and languages. Once the targets have been effectively profiled, the Psyop process can begin.
The Psyop Process
1) Clearly define the mission in terms of national objectives
2) Carry out a Psyop estimation of the current situation
3) Prepare a plan of implementation
4) Select the medium of distribution
5) Product development
6) Pretesting; determining the probable impact upon the target audience
7) Production and dissemination of the Psyop material
8) Implement the plan
9) Posttesting; evaluating the response of the target audience
10) Feedback to inform future Psyop ventures.
Modern Day Psyops
15 Psychological Operations Group
The British were one of the first nation-state powers to effectively utilise Psychological Operations during both the First and Second World Wars. In the current British Army, Psyops initiatives are handled by the 15 Psychological Operations Group, a joint service organisation, with personnel from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. The Group was formed directly after the Gulf War in 1991, and comprises over 150 personnel, approximately 75 from the regular Armed Services and 75 from the Reserves. The Psychological Operations Group supports deployed commanders in the provision of Psychological Operations in operational and tactical environments.
As of January 2015, the 15 Psychological Operations Group will comprise one of the sub-units of the 77th Brigade, formerly the Security Assistance Group, which has been created to deal with the evolving nature of modern conflicts, recognising that modern battlefields are affected by by a variety of non-violent measures.
Since 2010, U.S. Psychological Operations have been known as Military Information Support Operations (MISO). U.S. Psyop forces are forbidden to target U.S. citizens at any time, in any global location, under any circumstances (except to provide public information to aid natural disaster relief).
2nd Psychological Operations Group
Formed on the 29 October 1965, the 2nd Psychological Operations Group is a Psyops Unit of the United States Army Reserve. When called to active duty, it supports the 4th Military Information Support Group (Airborne) in deploying anywhere in the world on short notice; planning, developing, and conducting Psyops to help benefit U.S. troops, coalition forces, or other government agencies as directed by the Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command.
7th Psychological Operations Group
Formed on 19 August 1965, the 7th Psychological Operations Group is a Psyops unit of the United States Army Reserve. When called to active duty, it supports the 4th Information Support Group (Airborne) in deploying anywhere in the world on short notice; planning, developing, and conducting Psyops to help benefit U.S. troops, coalition forces, or other government agencies as directed by the Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command.
4th Military Information Support Group
Formed on 07 November 1967, the 4th Military Information Support Group (Airborne) is an active Psychological Operations unit of the United States Army, alongside the 8th Military Information Support Group (Airborne). The Group currently has around 1000 active service personnel. The unit is part of the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), the organisation charged with overseeing the various special operations forces of the United States Army based, which is currently based at Fort Bragg, NC.
The 4th Military Information Support Group (Airborne) personnel include regional experts and linguists who understand the political, cultural ethnic, and religious subtleties of the target audience. They also include functional experts in technical fields such as broadcast journalism radio operations, print, illustration, interrogation layout operations, and long-range tactical communications.
The Group had a distinguished record during the Vietnam conflict, where the unit provided tactical support for allied operations and took part in 11 strategic campaigns against North Vietnam, including the Tet Counteroffensive. The Group provided Psyops support in both Grenada for Operation Urgent Fury and Panama for Operation Just Cause. During Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, the 4th Military Information Support Group provided Psyops support to coalition troops fighting Iraqi forces in southern Iraq and Kuwait. The Group subsequently provided Psychological Operations support to missions ranging from humanitarian assistance, like Operation Provide Promise in Bosnia-Herzegovina and peace keeping in Bosnia and Kosovo. After the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Group was heavily engaged in the Global War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines and other areas throughout the globe.
8th Military Information Support Group
Formed on 26 August 2011, the 8th Military Information Support Group (Airborne) is an active Psychological Operations unit of the United States Army, alongside the 4th Military Information Support Group (Airborne). The Group currently has around 1070 active service personnel. The unit was created as part of the restructuring of Military Information Support Operations within the United States Army Special Operations Command.
The Group has been commissioned with helping to provide Psychological Operations support to geographic combatant commanders, special operations task forces, and U.S. ambassadors. The Group has yet to see active service in any major military campaigns yet.
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 organisations. As part of the broader function of information operations, COMMANDO SOLO can also jam the enemy's Psychological Warfare broadcasts.
- Military.com, PSYOPS: Defining US Psyops
- Frank Goldstein and Benjamin Findley, ed., (1996), Psychological Operations: Principles and Case Studies: Broad review of US Military view on Psyops
- Wikipedia, Psychological Operations (United States): US Psyops
- Ed Rouse, Psychological Operations/Warfare: Brief look at the history of Psyops
- Online Psychology Degree, PSYOPS – Wars Are Fought On and Off the Battlefield: Infographic on Psyops
- Jon Kelly, The secret world of 'psy-ops': Article exploring modern British Psyops
- Harold Kennedy, : Article discussing the modernisation of U.S. Psyops technology
- Military.com, PSYOPS, Military.com website, accessed 16 March 2015
- Debra Kelly (2014), The Difference Between Gray, White And Black Propaganda, KnowledgeNuts website, 12 February 2014, accessed 17 March 2015
- Frank Goldstein and Benjamin Findley, ed., (1996), Psychological Operations: Principles and Case Studies, Alabama: Air University Press
- Ed Rouse, Psychological Operations/Warfare, Psywarrior website, accessed 17 March 2015
- Department of the Army (2005), Field Manual 3-05.30: Psychological Operations, Federation of American Scientists website, 15 April 2005, accessed 26 March 2015. Washington, DC: Department of the Army
- Royal Navy, Psychological Ops Group, Ministry of Defence website, archived via the Internet Archive on 02 July 2010, accessed 26 March 2015
- Ewen MacAskill, British army creates team of Facebook warriors, The Guardian website, 31 January 2015, accessed 26 March 2015
- Craig Whitlock (2013), Somali American caught up in a shadowy Pentagon counterpropaganda campaign, Washington Post website, 07 July 2013, accessed 26 March 2015
- Global Security, 2nd Psychological Operations Group (Airborne), Global Security website, accessed 26 March 2015
- Global Security, 7th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne), Global Security website, accessed 26 March 2015
- Global Security, 4th Military Information Support Operations Group (Airborne) Global Security website, accessed 26 March 2015
- Global Security, 8th Military Information Support Operations Group (Airborne) (Provisional), Global Security website, accessed 26 March 2015
- Christopher Lamb, Paris Genalis (2005), Review of Psychological Operations: Lessons Learned from Recent Operational Experience, September 2005, Washington, DC: National Defense University Press. Federation of American Scientists website, accessed 26 March 2015