In the absence of an aggressor, a psychological operation conducted against allies
Written by Vladimir Gazetov and Vadim Khomenko; Originally appeared VPK, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The Swedish public is experiencing strong pressure from the NATO leadership, prominent European politicians and mass media, loyal to the Alliance, together recommending the neutral country to join the bloc “in face of the Russian threat”. Unexpectedly in this propaganda team a new figure appears – minor by political weight, but significant.
The tension comes from the contribution of the commander of the elite division of psychological operations of the Swedish Armed Forces Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Tome. He mentioned Russian propaganda attacks on the Baltic countries and said that even if little is known about the squad in the Swedish army, he is fully prepared to implement military information campaigns.
We will underscore: “little is known” not about the division itself, but about its achievements. We have enough information about its numerical composition, staffing structure, the functional responsibilities of all nine officers and lower ranks, technical equipment and armaments to make an objective conclusion on the potential possibilities and professional expertise. For obvious reasons, the majority of the activities of the division are secret. But sometimes the information leaks in open sources. The Swedish magazine Fokus tried to elucidate one of the mysteries by publishing an article under the suggestive headline “Secret Soldiers of Swedish Propaganda”. The publication informed the readers on the presence in the national Armed Forces of psychological operations divisions, of personnel that have special methods to influence attitudes and behaviours of the opponent.
The formation of the Swedish psychological defence systems accompanied with large-scale scientific research, carried out by the war department at the Centre for Research on Asymmetrical Threats and Terrorism (Centrum for asymmetriska hot och terrorismstudier – CATS), of the Swedish National Defence College (SNDC). «Asymmetrical threats with elements of terror and hybrid war today are more likely than classic war interventions», believes Eino Tubin of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences. Currently the CATS collaborators’ research work is focused on four lines: strategies of war on terrorism, information analysis, cyber security, and information operations. The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) finances the CATS operations.
The analysis of the research results, formulated in the lengthy military-strategic doctrine, finds a clear tendency of Sweden, towards the accepted by the USA and recommended by NATO, concepts of conducting psychological operations. The special attention of the member countries of the Alliance in the development of current concepts of informational operations emerge in the establishment of a permanent multinational forum of specialists in this sphere, The Multinational Information Operations Experiment (MNIEO) and intended “to the identification of common and different approaches to the conceptual understanding of informational operations”. On the doctrinal level the NATO perspective was expressed in the MNIEO’s preparation of the White Book “INFO Ops in Future Operations of the Coalition”. Among the contributors of the final report of the Research and Technology Organisation (RTO) of NATO Work Package 1: Overview of INFO OPS Documents, the Swedish specialists M. Lev and M. Marklund are listed.
Characteristics of CATS
In the core document of the Alliance MC 422/1 “NATO Military Policy on Information Operations” under information operations one understands the measures, designed to influence decision making in support of political and military goals. The formation of a positive image of the military forces in the eyes of national and international populations and the neutralisation of efforts of countries that take a negative position of NATO’s relations in conflict zones is at the core of strategic settings of informational support. The goals at the operational-tactical level consist of discrediting the governments and political parties of opposing countries in the eyes of its own population and world public opinion, demoralising enemy personnel, motivating for desertion and disobedience, positive presentation of the opposition of the authorities of internal forces, activities of spreading of rumours and disinformation.
A new concept of psychological warfare, developed by CATS and with the USA’s and NATO’s blessing, provides the introduction against the alleged enemy not only defensive but also preventive offensive actions. The creation of specialized units is considered useful to the establishment of the Swedish Armed Forces to increase their effectiveness. This calls for serious preparations of the personnel, as well as the expected participation in operations of international forces outside the territories of the country. In 2016 the Swedish Armed Forces implemented a new programme for basic training, receiving, according to the words of the editor in chief of Mundus News Jessica Nilsson Williams, the name “soldier factory” (soldat fabriken). More than four thousand contract servicemen will be trained annually for further services on the island of Gotland, in the cities Karlskrona and Enköping. It is precisely in this bucolic spot on the river Enköpingsån that empties into Lake Mälaren, 78 kilometres west of Stockholm that was deployed the new division of the Swedish Armed Forces – 10th Squad POU (10:e Psychological Operating Unit – 10. Psyopsforband).
The Swedish officers study at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg (North Carolina) advanced technologies in the management of psychological operations. Captain David Bergman, holding science degrees in the fields of sociology and psychology, admits candidly in the magazine Fokus: “We took home all training materials and spread it all in the conference room”. Training the personnel and holding the position of chief of the 10th Squad POU, Bergman competently shows a direct borrowing of key terms and definitions of American and NATO doctrines of psychological operations. Probably that is why the unit replicates the organisational structure of expeditionary groups of the POU of NATO member countries, although greatly inferior to them in the number of members. The main combat unit is the platoon, and not the battalion. The distinctive signs of the personnel are khaki stripes on the sleeves of the jackets: on the right shoulder, the emblem of the specialists of POU of the Armed Forces, on the left shoulder, the name of the unit 10. Psyopsforband, with the Swedish state flag over it and the coat of arms of the 1st Training and Mobilisation Regiment below it.
Since 2011 the mission of the POU squad of the Swedish Armed Forces finds itself under the direct control of the country’s military leadership. Exercising the management of the special activities of the 10th Lieutenant-Colonel Bjorn Anderson sees the task of how to use the information as an instrument in a war context and as effectively as possible.
The first commander of the squad was Lieutenant-Colonel Erik Martensson, pointed out at the Royal Academy of Military Sciences Forsvar och Sakerhet forum of the usefulness of having units on national and international standards. He strived to transform the squad into a mobile, capable of rapid expeditionary deployment division. Although as the Swedish journalist Klas Lenegord notes, originally the 10th was ready only for limited problem solving tasks, it was quickly integrated into the structure of the combat tactical group of the Nordic Battle Group of the European Union’s rapid reaction forces that can act in a radius of 600 miles from Brussels.
A lecture on the platoon
The squad is formed in a four-platoon formation. The lead platoon manages the planning of daily activities, operational and military readiness, usage and supply of the squad. The analysis platoon summarises the information, identifying the socio-psychological characteristics of the population, determines the key actors, capable of playing an important role when solving problems. In the implementation of the psychological operations it develops projects tied with printed materials, preparation of scenarios for radio and vocal (with the use of sound systems) broadcasts. Of the soldiers of the platoon a few groups are formed to study personal characteristics of the local population for the constant accumulation and accounting of information about the main target audiences. One of the pioneer squads, having received an award from the American John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, the current head of the Research Center for Asymmetric Threats and Terrorism Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Conander stated in the newspaper Goteborgs-Posten that propaganda and psychological operations are an effective way to influence people, it is also easier to influence large groups of people than to change the worldview of one individual.
The media platoon is tasked with the preparation and dissemination of information-propaganda audio and printed materials, developed by the analyst colleagues. It is not only printed or electronic production, television and radio programmes but pages on social networks, blogs and specially created sites. The media platoon has at its disposal, since its inception in 2011, a universal mobile media package, as well as Mac computers with a collection of programmes, including Illustrator, Photoshop, ProTools. Out of necessity from the personnel a group of reporters is formed with mobile photo and editorial-mounting equipment. The servicepersons of the platoon combine a few professions and prepare to fulfill diverse tasks. “Today we are busy producing media, says Biz Seblom, tomorrow, the shooting range, then behind the wheel of an SUV or truck”.
The tactical POU platoon of the group aims to provide massive coverage of propaganda materials. “Whole audiences, says the current commander of the 10th Squad POU of the Swedish Armed Forces, can be enemy fighters, politicians or public figures”. The latter, according to the Lieutenant-Colonel have an obvious preference. Tome admitted to reporters in seeking to influence the population not directly but indirectly through key society figures. These include village elders, clan leaders, mullahs, school directors, teachers and police chiefs. They precisely represent a special interest with their connections with the masses and their positions in the local government and social structures. Therefore the favourite work method for the platoon with the population in a conflict zone became Key Leader Engagement (KLE), designed to use the authority and intellectual potential of key actors. The KLE strategy, with the help of the POU, assumes the development of interactions with influential political, military, tribal and religious leaders. For each one of them the squad creates a dossier. Or as they are called here, psychological profiles. Information is entered on interests of the key figures, family members, memberships in associations and alliances, social status, bad habits, contacts and ties with other important persons, dependencies on third parties.
Among the basic working tools the squad is given placards, leaflets, newspapers, radio, speakers, television, film, music, Internet, SMS, the right contacts. Techniques and methods of psychological influences were developed with the help of marketing specialist at the Stockholm School of Economics. “They are the same as what how publicity is taught in schools, adds Lieutenant-Colonel Tome. It is like encouraging people to choose another brand of toothpaste. It is the same marketing mechanisms”. Lieutenant-Colonel Bjorn Andersson, responsible for the execution of psychological operations, echoes the commander of the POU squad, comparing the techniques of psychological operations and the advertising industry: “The perceived reality by people does not necessarily correspond to reality”.
Tactical groups (TG) are made up of six people, each staffed only with military personnel. In the structure of the TG, there are two drivers, one radio operator, and one combat medic. As a rule, the commander of the TG POU and his deputy manage the population through words. Otherwise the group is given a military translator or a civilian from the local community is hired.
In Sweden there are no military schools for training specialists in the POU field. The recruitment of the squad is made on a competitive basis from a number of contract servicemen. The vast majority of them prior to joining the service were communicators, marketers, copywriters, art directors, designers, reporters, producers, psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, and anthropologists. They went through special training in the USA, Great Britain, Germany and Belgium and were invited to participate in relevant NATO groups. Each candidate, according to the members of the selection committee, meet the requirements of being collected, resourceful, creative, easily and quickly adaptive to new conditions. In national defence, the main weapon is the brain, Patrick Tome teaches the fighters. “There are not that many people, explains Lieutenant Andreas Vadsterm that are able to combine a professor’s level of knowledge of Russian language skills with the skills of a class manager”. The recruitment of the personnel of the POU squad is handled personally by the chief of staff, Major Magnus Rosengren.
Very Aggressive Marketing
Lately distinct signs appear in the use of the war tool of psychological warfare in Sweden in a well-planned campaign waged to bring the country into NATO. In a recent interview for the magazine Reserv Officerarna the commander of the unit actually admitted this fact. “We work basically in a grey zone between war and peace, declared Tome. When the enemy steps on the shore and starts the battle, it will be too late”. Such a revelation would have been impossible just a few years ago. And today the government, boasting of its 200-year neutrality, with words uttered by Lieutenant-Colonel Tome and the use of methods of psychological impact of his subordinates, suggests to the public the idea of the transience of this situation.
Legislative bans exist in many countries on the use of means and methods of the POU against their own citizens, populations of the NATO member countries, allied troops. The Swedish MSM did not touch once this thorny subject and Patrick Tome’s statements. The local inhabitant has developed, as it transpires, unfounded notions, that the military forces of his country can use POU only against operations in maintaining peace. But suddenly, the Swedes are seeing grim pictures of the attempts of specialized governmental structures to manipulate public opinion. “The battle in the information environment happens here and now, and we are part of it”, proudly declares the Lieutenant-Colonel.
In the Western press, chilling stories periodically leak about the use by special propagandists in various countries of psychological influence against individuals or whole target audiences. The British BBC aired revelations of a former intelligence officer in Belfast, factually recognizing using POU methods in Northern Ireland during the turmoil. A video report by Emily Buchannan for the BBC programme Newsnight covered English professionals in the field of manipulation of mass consciousness out of the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre at Chicksands.
The Swedish magazine Fokus told a gripping story about how the USA military carried out psychological operations against their own legislators. Readers learned that the reporter of the magazine Rolling Stone Michael Hastings, who conducted the investigation of the covert operation on the senators, implemented on the orders of Lieutenant General William Caldwell with the aim of manipulating their consciousness for financial gain and increase in the number of USA troops in Afghanistan, tragically died under mysterious circumstances shortly after the publication of the revelatory material. His charred corpse to this day is still unidentified [Note from translator: His body was identified using fingerprints, link here]. Published by the Nixon Centre the magazine The National Interest (TNI) quoted Hastings’ words: “Federal law forbids the military to carry out psychological operations against Americans”.
The tactic used to carry out psychological operations against its own population is worked through during numerous military exercises. At the recent Cold Response-2016 military exercises in Norway, where the Swedish operative POU group with at its head Patrick Tome arrived in five trucks and three SUVs, to implement in full capacity the squad commander’s instructions to effectively influence on the attitudes and behaviours of separate target groups. Remember that we are talking about friendly nations, members of NATO, wonderfully committed to the methods of psychological impact on its population. To consolidate the response to a possible invasion by any aggressor on the Northern borders of the Alliance, Tome’s specialist propagandists using his methods, instilled to the Norwegians to stay off the roads, on which American columns moved. At the same time the residents were encouraged to photograph the equipment of the contingent enemy and immediately notify its itinerary. “This was real work”, shares his impressions Biz Seblom.
Vaguely and with reservation Lieutenant-Colonel Tome talks about the possible usages of his division in his own country. In Sweden, in his words, the activities of the POU squad consist of preventive operations on lobbying for foreign interests.
The Swedish anti-terrorist actions of their special propagandists bear their fruits. If earlier the number of supporters for entry into NATO barely reached ten percent, now the situation changes sharply. One can clearly see today that the number of supporters and opponents are about equal, with a tendency towards an entry of the country into NATO. Psychological operations, and Patrick Tome speaks with knowledge on the matter, change the mind and behaviour of people, forcing them to make convenient decisions.
Frugal Swedes generously support their armed forces, for the elite unit, which has a new function, conducting psychological operation not only against allies but also against their own countrymen.
Vladimir Gazetof, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Professor of the Military University of the Department of Defence, Russian Federation
Vadim Khomenko, Candidate of Pedagogical Sciences, Professor of the Military University of the Department of Defence, Russian Federation