Originally appeared at southfront.org on June 26, 2016
Psychological Operations or PSYOP are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of organizations, groups, and individuals.
The beginning of interest in post-Cold War information operations can be traced to the UN intervention in Somalia and the Rwanda Genocide. Relatively honest and direct reporting from these war zones meant that the public opinion of Western countries was a factor that had to be considered by the political classes. Hence the complaining at the time about the so-called “CNN Effect” which forced the politicians to send and/or withdraw troops irrespective of what the elites actually wanted to happen at the time. The early methods of influencing the public opinion by manipulating the media, though reasonably effective, were not enough. We have seen their strengths and limitations during both wars against Iraq, in which the bulk of the media was effectively co-opted through the process of frequent press briefings (featuring no shortage of videos showing NATO bombs unerringly falling toward their obviously evil targets) and later by “embedding” the mostly male reporters in military units, which naturally had the dual effect of stroking their egos and adopting the military’s point of view.
Still, in spite of all that, it proved impossible to control the narrative, and the public support for the various US and NATO wars collapsed under the pressure of inconvenient news coming even from mainstream media which clearly maintained a degree of independence. But if you fast-forward a decade, to the current wars in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Ukraine, and others, it is clear that something has changed. There is one dominant narrative that is being pushed by literally every mainstream media source, irrespective of their ostensible ideological bent. No matter where you turn, you read or hear about Assad’s “barrel bombs”, Gaddafi’s “massacres”, or “Russian aggression.” These reports invariably represent a point of view that is not only completely one-sided, but also factually wrong, even on the most basic of issues. How did US and NATO manage to achieve such an amazing discipline within the supposedly free and independent Western media?
There are essentially three parts to the answer: state oversight of the media; co-opting individual reporters; disseminating propaganda through covert means. The first two are obvious enough and have long been practiced. Media corporations are just that–corporations, subject to variety of laws and regulations whose enforcement can be used to steer individual outlets toward adopting a desired point of view. Individual reporter’s coin of the realm is “access” to privileged information, which may be granted or withheld depending on their effectiveness as government propagandist. The third, the covert dissemination of propaganda, is new, and that factor likely explains the lack of variation from one media outlet to the next. The media are no longer merely encouraged to toe the official line–they have the stories planted for them to pick up through social media and other unofficial channels.
The so-called investigations of the MH17 disaster is a case study, though a fairly crude one due to Ukraine’s crude methods of information warfare. But it is evident that nearly all the “evidence” implicating Russia or the Novorossia insurgents was prepared by Ukrainian secret services, then laundered through social media, before being presented to Western audiences as the truth, the only truth, and nothing but the truth.
NATO is conducting similar operations which are harder to identify and counter because they are more sophisticated, better institutionalized, and provided with higher levels of funding. The United Kingdom, for example, maintains the 77th Brigade whose subunits include the Media Operations Group and the shadowy 15th Psychological Operations Group that has been dubbed the “Twitter detachment.” Germany has established the ZOpKomBw, or the Bundeswehr Rapid Communications Center. In the US, information operations against the US population appear to be the responsibility of the intelligence community, which is understandable considering the taboo on US military operations on US territory. As such, they remain largely out of public scrutiny, though their handiwork can be readily seen in the form of unverifiable reports from a variety of war zones, and even placing specially prepared “witnesses” in front of Congressional committees. Even non-NATO countries like Sweden are following suit by establishing their own information operations units intended for waging information war on its own population. At the NATO level, information operations are coordinated by NATO doctrine JP 13-3 Information Operations, with practical applications honed by alliance-wide exercises such as the Multinational Information Operations Experiment (MNIOE).
Western voters have been accepting of all these measures because they were sold to them as part of their countries’ counter-terrorism measures. What they failed to take into account is that terrorism is a phenomenon that knows no borders, with the enemy already present among Western societies. Which means that, if counter-terrorist information operations are to be effective, they also have to be aimed at Western publics.
In the short-term, information operations may be effective in manufacturing popular support for policies that otherwise no free society would accept. In the longer term, bypassing the public opinion means the elites are now more free than ever to embark on highly dangerous international adventures that will likely backfire and lower even further the already low standing of the elites. Therefore the fact that the so-called “free world” elites increasingly have to resort to such dirty tricks in order to stay in power means that their grasp on power is slowly weakening.
If people don’t wake up from this Orwellian nightmare soon and realize that ‘Western’ governments are feeding them nothing but propaganda, they’ll soon be rewarded with ww3.
An interesting observation is that all of those media stooges pushing the propaganda, will get to be annihilated with the rest of us when the nukes begin to fall. Makes you wonder about intelligence of the species in general.
Which species? The shape shifting lizards, or homo sapiens?
‘If there is hope,’ wrote Winston, ‘it lies in the proles.’ If there was hope, it MUST lie in the proles, because only there in those swarming disregarded masses, 85 per cent of the population of Oceania, could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated.’
The proles won the referendum. I wish I had a bumper sticker ‘if there is hope it lies in the proles’
And when Blair invented the Ministry of Justice in 2007, the joke was on us and they were rubbing our faces it. I thought.
‘Winston could not definitely remember a time when his country had not been at war, but it was evident that there had been a fairly long interval of peace during his childhood’
Well that’s anyone under thirty years old today ain’t it.
I often wonder what results would turn up if you stood in the street and asked people if we (UK) were at war or not. Once upon a time we were usually not at war, and if we were, everyone knew we were. Now it is continuous but possibly quite a few citizens might need to stop and think about it to be sure if the answer to the question is yes or no. Even I am confused. Are we at war? How many wars are we at? Why does the prime minister not address the nation regularly on how the war is going?
Very Good, thanks SF.
Have not read it through but it is the area that’s bothering me, which is why all the politicians and journalists go along with propaganda to such an extent that there is no alternative message- there used to be.
I rememberT he Guardian Weekly (the one on thin airmail paper) that included editorials from Le Monde and a yank paper (Washington Post?) placed opposite each other, after the Iraqi’s pulled out of Kuwait.
Le Monde described the miles of burnt out convoys as a scene of horrific death with the sad sight of things the defenceless conscripts tried to take home for their kids, a television, a teddy bear or doll. A cruel slaughter.
The American paper described a scene in which the US Air Force had destroyed the convoy without, miraculously, killing anyone at all! But the evidence of untrammelled looting and pillaging was enough to make you wish they’d killed them all.
Couldn’t have been more different. Quite unforgettable and I never viewed journalism the same again from that day forth.
The first US-Iraq war was an early “test” of embedded reporting and hard-core propagandizing – hence the total schizophrenia of some reports like you mention. A good writer for that war is Robert Fisk – still a MSM man at heart, but he has lived in Lebanon most of his career and has a better insight into the region than most. He has the most balanced articles about Syria you’ll find anywhere in the MSM and is amazingly still on the Independent website. There is a horrible story about the mass slaughter of the retreating Iraq army (the “turkey shoot”) behind those pictures of alleged looted objects – buried in the desert en masse by the merciless fascist hordes of the new conscript US army. My father was a journalist, and I remember the 80s were a lot more balanced than nowadays, though still heavily slanted toward the Western perspective. Now he writes for the business papers!
Western democracy by nature will accumulates power in an unnoticeable way called wealth. There’s a need to built a system that can disintegrate or redistribute those power annually.
Very well explained
They’ve been doing this for a very long time – the difference is the internet and social media allowed discerning and intelligent people to see right through the bullshit, as well as corporate monopolization of media companies. Basically, the New York Times and Washington Post etc are not actual newspapers or news media – they are corporate brands literally purchased by the CIA or other spooks through intermediaries so they don’t have to bother bribing journos like cheap whores anymore, just hire the ones who “think right” or don’t have any conscience. No longer do our “owners” have to put up with the shock of opening a paper and reading an article by Seymour Hersh or John Pilger about their crimes which is read by millions – now those great investigative journalists are forced to work for “Kremlin stooges” like RT and Sputnik.Truly a sad scenario for journalists today. I think the eventual backlash of the empire’s lies will result in a general return to better news media, but that could be many years away. For now, I just hope that SouthFront keeps good backups and has a plan B in case of a censorship attack.
The propoganda is jolly hard work mentally to cope with and resist except now I only view BBC in a research sorta way and that helps.