"You may not be interested in psychological warfare, but psychological warfare is interested in you."
As the U.S. has increased its use of Psychological Operations (PSYOP), the acknowledged effectiveness of its methods has led to global use of PSYOPS tactics by both U.S. allies and enemies. Recent reports indicate that U.S. PSYOP has even extended to target U.S. citizens - which constitutes a violation of law.
According to the U.S. Army website, "the role of Psychological Operations [PSYOP] is to alter the behavior of foreign populations in a manner consistent with United States diplomatic, national security and foreign policy objectives." Upon assessing a target, a team of PSYOP specialists will "deliver the right message at the right time and place" to induce the desired psychological effect and behavior. PSYOP is often used during warfare to provoke dissension among the ranks of opposition forces and their supporters, and to otherwise disrupt and undermine an enemy's ability to mobilize. It may be either overt or secret, and its methods range from the dissemination of objective information to tactics of deception. Its first extensive use is said to have occurred during World War II, when U.S. radio engineers aimed to mislead and demoralize German troops by broadcasting the sound effects of large numbers of Allied military units on the battlefield. PSYOP has also allegedly been used against U.S. allies and neutral countries. Reportedly, during the 1980s, the U.S. and Britain deployed military vessels into Swedish waters, convincing the Swedish population that the ships were of Soviet origin. As intended, this persuaded Swedes of the supposed Soviet threat, and in the process turned many of them against the Soviet Union.
The 2003 toppling of a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad was (contrary to popular belief) staged by a U.S. Army PSYOP team. According to cables released by Wikileaks, U.S. PSYOP units during the war in Iraq have organized "poetry readings, concerts and Koranic recitations," while also employing local television outlets to turn the public against Al Qaeda. Kabul embassy cables show that the U.S. has encouraged the use of PSYOP in Afghanistan's Public Protection Program, to generate "local support and responsibility for security."
PSYOP methods reportedly include: the dissemination of propaganda via leaflets, local television and radio stations, newspapers, and the internet; using prolonged noise harassment to demoralize targets; and telephoning the family members of enemy forces, in efforts to intimidate the opposition. The U.S. has portrayed PSYOP as an essential tool in the global War on Terror. As one cable explains:
Expanded Trans-Regional Program objectives are to encourage divisiveness amongst members of trans-regional terrorist organizations; discourage membership in trans-regional terrorist organizations; discourage financial and logistical support for trans-regional terrorists and their affiliates; deny sponsorship and support by unwitting supporters of trans-regional terrorist organizations; discredit trans-regional terrorist organizations; marginalize radical ideology and develop a favorable information environment to U.S. and participating nations.
Recently, the U.S. has expanded its global PSYOP efforts; embassy cables illustrate the extent to which allies have enlisted U.S. assistance in developing and implementing their own PSYOPS programs. One cable shows that the U.S. expanded its counter-terrorism campaign by deploying PSYOP personnel into Mexico. Cables issued from 2001-2007 show extensive coordination between the U.S. and Colombian governments in support of Colombia's efforts to rout alleged guerrilla groups and "narco-gangs."
However, U.S. PSYOPS activity has not been limited to the Americas. The U.S. has implemented, assisted, or recommended PSYOP within the national borders of such "critical partner[s]" as Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A 2008 Paraguay embassy cable reveals the use of PSYOP not only in response to actual conflicts, but as a pre-emptive measure: in the absence of any imminent terrorist threat, the government of Paraguay expressed an interest in using PSYOP to "deter the development of transnational narco-terrorism and terrorism" and "to support stability operations, whose purpose is to eliminate internal threats and deny conditions that could be exploited by terrorists through their enablers." Increasingly, the U.S. and its allies have contended with the successful use of PSYOP tactics by enemy nations and groups labeled as terrorist organizations. A 2006 cable complains that the Taliban had successfully made use of PSYOP to "misrepresent" the acts of coalition forces; other embassy cables lament the gains of "disinformation" campaigns waged by opposition groups in Turkey and Nepal.
More troubling to some have been indications that the U.S. may have recently overstepped its bounds by using PSYOP domestically. U.S. government personnel are legally prohibited from using PSYOP tactics against their fellow citizens. Nevertheless, earlier this year, a scandal ensued after accusations flew that a top general had illegally used PSYOP against U.S. senators -- allegedly so as to influence them to provide more troops and funding for the war in Afghanistan. Other recent reports revealed that, for at least a decade, the U.S. Army has allegedly used local U.S. television stations as PSYOP "training posts." With the ostensible aim of providing opportunities for its personnel to learn new skills, the U.S. military has also placed PSYOP forces in internships at major U.S. media outlets such as Cable News Network (CNN) and National Public Radio (NPR).