Psychological warfare (PSYWAR), or the basic aspects of modern
psychological operations (PSYOP), have been known by many other names
or terms, including 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
1.2.1 First World War
1.2.3 Vietnam War
1.2.4 Recent operations
3 By country
3.1 Soviet Union
3.4 United Kingdom
3.5 United States
4 See also
6 External links
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great on his campaign against the Persian
Since prehistoric times, warlords and chiefs have recognised the
importance of inducing psychological terror in opponents. Facing
armies would shout, hurl insults at each other and beat weapons
together or on shields prior to an engagement, all designed to
intimidate the enemy. Massacres and other atrocities were certainly
first employed at this time to subdue enemy or rebellious populations
or induce an enemy to abandon their struggle.
Battle of Pelusium (525 BC) between the
Persian Empire and
ancient Egypt, the Persian forces used cats and other animals as
psychological tactic against the Egyptians, who avoided harming cats
due to religious beliefs.
Currying favour with supporters was the other side of psychological
warfare, and an early practitioner of such this was Alexander the
Great, who successfully conquered large parts of
Europe and the Middle
East and held on to his territorial gains by co-opting local elites
into the Greek administration and culture. Alexander left some of his
men behind in each conquered city to introduce Greek culture and
oppress dissident views. His soldiers were paid dowries to marry
locals in an effort to encourage assimilation.
Genghis Khan, leader of the
Mongolian Empire in the 13th century AD
employed less subtle techniques. Defeating the will of the enemy
before having to attack and reaching a consented settlement was
preferable to actually fighting. The Mongol generals demanded
submission to the Khan, and threatened the initially captured villages
with complete destruction if they refused to surrender. If they had to
fight to take the settlement, the Mongol generals fulfilled their
threats and massacred the survivors. Tales of the encroaching horde
spread to the next villages and created an aura of insecurity that
undermined the possibility of future resistance.
The Khan also employed tactics that made his numbers seem greater than
they actually were. During night operations he ordered each soldier to
light three torches at dusk to give the illusion of an overwhelming
army and deceive and intimidate enemy scouts. He also sometimes had
objects tied to the tails of his horses, so that riding on open and
dry fields raised a cloud of dust that gave the enemy the impression
of great numbers. His soldiers used arrows specially notched to
whistle as they flew through the air, creating a terrifying noise.
Another tactic favoured by the Mongols was catapulting severed human
heads over city walls to frighten the inhabitants and spread disease
in the besieged city's closed confines. This was especially used by
the later Turko-Mongol chieftain.
The Muslim caliph Omar, in his battles against the Byzantine Empire,
sent small reinforcements in the form of a continuous stream, giving
the impression that a large force would accumulate eventually if not
swiftly dealt with.
In the 6th century BCE Greek
Bias of Priene
Bias of Priene successfully resisted the
Lydian king Alyattes by fattening up a pair of mules and driving them
out of the besieged city. When Alyattes' envoy was then sent to
Priene, Bias had piles of sand covered with corn to give the
impression of plentiful resources.
This ruse appears to have been well known in medieval Europe:
defenders in castles or towns under siege would throw food from the
walls to show besiegers that provisions were plentiful. A famous
example occurs in the 8th century legend of Lady Carcas, who
supposedly persuaded the Franks to abandon a five-year siege by this
means and gave her name to
Carcassonne as a result.
First World War
Lord Bryce led the commission of 1915 to document German atrocities
committed against Belgian civilians.
The start of modern psychological operations in war is generally dated
to the First World War. By that point, Western societies were
increasingly educated and urbanized, and mass media was available in
the form of large circulation newspapers and posters. It was also
possible to transmit propaganda to the enemy via the use of airborne
leaflets or through explosive delivery systems like modified artillery
or mortar rounds.
At the start of the war, the belligerents, especially the British and
Germans, began distributing propaganda, both domestically and on the
Western front. The British had several advantages that allowed them to
succeed in the battle for world opinion; they had one of the world's
most reputable news systems, with much experience in international and
cross-cultural communication, and they controlled much of the undersea
cable system then in operation. These capabilities were easily
transitioned to the task of warfare.
The British also had a diplomatic service that kept up good relations
with many nations around the world, in contrast to the reputation of
the German services. While German attempts to foment revolution in
parts of the British Empire, such as
Ireland and India, were
ineffective, extensive experience in the
Middle East allowed the
British to successfully induce the Arabs to revolt against the Ottoman
In August 1914,
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George appointed
Charles Masterman MP, to
Propaganda Agency at Wellington House. A distinguished body of
literary talent was enlisted for the task, with its members including
Arthur Conan Doyle, Ford Madox Ford, G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Hardy,
Rudyard Kipling and H. G. Wells. Over 1,160 pamphlets were published
during the war and distributed to neutral countries, and eventually,
to Germany. One of the first significant publications, the Report on
Alleged German Outrages of 1915, had a great effect on general opinion
across the world. The pamphlet documented atrocities, both actual and
alleged, committed by the German army against Belgian civilians. A
Dutch illustrator, Louis Raemaekers, provided the highly emotional
drawings which appeared in the pamphlet.
In 1917, the bureau was subsumed into the new Department of
Information and branched out into telegraph communications, radio,
newspapers, magazines and the cinema. In 1918, Viscount Northcliffe
was appointed Director of
Propaganda in Enemy Countries. The
department was split between propaganda against
Germany organized by
H.G Wells and against the
Austro-Hungarian Empire supervised by
Wickham Steed and Robert William Seton-Watson; the attempts of the
latter focused on the lack of ethnic cohesion in the Empire and stoked
the grievances of minorities such as the Croats and Slovenes. It had a
significant effect on the final collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Army
Battle of Vittorio Veneto.
Aerial leaflets were dropped over German trenches containing postcards
from prisoners of war detailing their humane conditions, surrender
notices and general propaganda against the Kaiser and the German
generals. By the end of the war,
MI7b had distributed almost 26
million leaflets. The Germans began shooting the leaflet-dropping
pilots, prompting the British to develop unmanned leaflet balloons
that drifted across no-man's land. At least one in seven of these
leaflets were not handed in by the soldiers to their superiors,
despite severe penalties for that offence. Even
admitted that "Unsuspectingly, many thousands consumed the poison",
and POWs admitted to being disillusioned by the propaganda leaflets
that depicted the use of German troops as mere cannon fodder. In 1915,
the British began airdropping a regular leaflet newspaper Le Courrier
de l'Air for civilians in German-occupied France and Belgium.
At the start of the war, the French government took control of the
media to suppress negative coverage. Only in 1916, with the
establishment of the Maison de la Presse, did they begin to use
similar tactics for the purpose of psychological warfare. One of its
sections was the "Service de la Propagande aérienne" (Aerial
Propaganda Service), headed by Professor Tonnelat and Jean-Jacques
Waltz, an Alsatian artist code-named "Hansi". The French tended to
distribute leaflets of images only, although the full publication of
US President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, which had been heavily
edited in the German newspapers, was distributed via airborne leaflets
by the French.
Central Powers were slow to use these techniques; however, at the
start of the war the Germans succeeded in inducing the
Sultan of the
Ottoman Empire to declare 'holy war', or Jihad, against the Western
infidels. They also attempted to foment rebellion against the British
Empire in places as far afield as Ireland, Afghanistan, and India. The
Germans' greatest success was in giving the Russian revolutionary,
Lenin, free transit on a sealed train from
Switzerland to Finland
after the overthrow of the Tsar. This soon paid off when the Bolshevik
Russia out of the war.
An example of a World
War II era leaflet meant to be dropped from an
American B-17 over a German city. See the file description page for a
Adolf Hitler was greatly influenced by the psychological tactics of
warfare the British had employed during WWI, and attributed the defeat
Germany to the effects this propaganda had on the soldiers. He
became committed to the use of mass propaganda to influence the minds
of the German population in the decades to come. By calling his
movement The Third Reich, he was able to convince many civilians that
his cause was not just a fad, but the way of their future. Joseph
Goebbels was appointed as
Propaganda Minister when Hitler came to
power in 1933, and he portrayed Hitler as a messianic figure for the
redemption of Germany. Hitler also coupled this with the resonating
projections of his orations for effect.
Germany's Fall Grün plan of invasion of Czechoslovakia had a large
part dealing with psychological warfare aimed both at the Czechoslovak
civilians and government as well as, crucially, at Czechoslovak
allies. It became successful to the point that
support of UK and France through appeasement to occupy Czechoslovakia
without having to fight an all-out war, sustaining only minimum losses
in covert war before the Munich Agreement.
At the start of the Second World War, the British set up the Political
Warfare Executive to produce and distribute propaganda. Through the
use of powerful transmitters, broadcasts could be made across Europe.
Sefton Delmer managed a successful black propaganda campaign through
several radio stations which were designed to be popular with German
troops while at the same time introducing news material that would
weaken their morale under a veneer of authenticity. British Prime
Winston Churchill made use of radio broadcasts for propaganda
against the Germans.
Map depicting the targets of all the subordinate plans of Operation
War II, the British made extensive use of deception –
developing many new techniques and theories. The main protagonists at
this time were 'A' Force, set up in 1940 under Dudley Clarke, and the
London Controlling Section, chartered in 1942 under the control of
John Bevan. Clarke pioneered many of the strategies of
military deception. His ideas for combining fictional orders of
battle, visual deception and double agents helped define Allied
deception strategy during the war, for which he has been referred to
as "the greatest British deceiver of WW2".
During the lead up to the Allied invasion of Normandy, many new
tactics in psychological warfare were devised. The plan for Operation
Bodyguard set out a general strategy to mislead German high command as
to the exact date and location of the invasion. Planning began in 1943
under the auspices of the
London Controlling Section
London Controlling Section (LCS). A draft
strategy, referred to as Plan Jael, was presented to Allied high
command at the Tehran Conference.
Operation Fortitude was intended to
convince the Germans of a greater Allied military strength than
existed, through fictional field armies, faked operations to prepare
the ground for invasion and leaked information about the Allied order
of battle and war plans.
Elaborate naval deceptions (Operations Glimmer, Taxable and Big Drum)
were undertaken in the English Channel. Small ships and aircraft
simulated invasion fleets lying off Pas de Calais, Cap d'Antifer and
the western flank of the real invasion force. At the same time
Operation Titanic involved the
RAF dropping fake paratroopers to the
east and west of the Normandy landings.
A dummy Sherman tank, used to deceive the Germans.
The deceptions were implemented with the use of double agents, radio
traffic and visual deception. The British "Double Cross"
anti-espionage operation had proven very successful from the outset of
the war, and the LCS was able to use double agents to send back
misleading information about Allied invasion plans. The use of
visual deception, including mock tanks and other military hardware had
been developed during the North Africa campaign. Mock hardware was
created for Bodyguard; in particular, dummy landing craft were
stockpiled to give the impression that the invasion would take place
The Operation was a strategic success and the Normandy landings caught
German defences unaware. Subsequent deception led Hitler into delaying
reinforcement from the
Calais region for nearly seven weeks.
"Viet Cong, beware!" –
South Vietnam leaflets urging the defection
of Viet Cong.
United States ran an extensive program of psychological warfare
during the Vietnam War. The
Phoenix Program had the dual aim of
assassinating National Liberation Front of
South Vietnam (NLF or Viet
Cong) personnel and terrorizing any potential sympathizers or passive
Chieu Hoi program of the
South Vietnam government promoted
When members of the PRG were assassinated,
operatives placed playing cards in the mouth of the deceased as a
calling card. During the Phoenix Program, over 19,000 NLF supporters
were killed. The
United States also used tapes of distorted human
sounds and played them during the night making the Vietnamese soldiers
think that the dead were back for revenge.
An American PSYOP leaflet disseminated during the
Iraq War. It shows a
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi caught in a
rat trap. The caption reads "This is your future, Zarqawi".
CIA made extensive use of Contra soldiers to destabilize the
Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The
CIA used psychological
warfare techniques against the Panamanians by delivering unlicensed TV
United States government has used propaganda
broadcasts against the Cuban government through TV Marti, based in
Miami, Florida. However, the Cuban government has been successful at
jamming the signal of TV Marti.
Iraq War, the
United States used the shock and awe campaign to
psychologically maim and break the will of the
Iraqi Army to fight.
In cyberspace, social media has enabled the use of disinformation on a
wide scale. Analysts have found evidence of doctored or misleading
photographs spread by social media in the Syrian Civil
War and 2014
Russian military intervention in Ukraine, possibly with state
involvement. Military and governments have engaged in
psychological operations (PSYOPS) and informational warfare on social
networking platforms to regulate foreign propaganda, which includes
countries like the US, Russia, and China.
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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
Shock and awe military strategy
Projecting repetitive and annoying sounds and music for long periods
at high volume towards groups under siege like during Operation Nifty
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
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City after Vietnamese victory in the Vietnam
False flag events
Use of loudspeaker systems to communicate with enemy soldiers
The threat of chemical weapons
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. It should be noted, though,
that measuring the success or failure of psychological warfare is very
hard, as the conditions are very far from being a controlled
Lerner also divides psychological warfare operations into three
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.":28 Consistent with this idea, the Allied strategy
War II was predominantly one of truth (with certain
Main articles: Zersetzung, Russian military deception, and Active
According to U.S. military analysts, attacking the enemy’s mind is
an important element of the People's Republic of China's military
strategy. This type of warfare is rooted in the Chinese Stratagems
Sun Tzu in The Art of
War and Thirty-Six Stratagems. In
its dealings with its rivals, China is expected to utilize
mobilize communist loyalists, as well as flex its economic and
military muscle to persuade other nations to act in China's interests.
The Chinese government also tries to control the media to keep a tight
hold on propaganda efforts for its people.
In the German Bundeswehr, the Zentrum Operative Information and its
subordinate Batallion für Operative Information 950 are responsible
for the PSYOP efforts (called Operative Information in German). Both
the center and the battalion are subordinate to the new
Streitkräftebasis (Joint Services Support Command, SKB) and together
consist of about 1,200 soldiers specialising in modern communication
and media technologies. One project of the German PSYOP forces is the
radio station Stimme der Freiheit (Sada-e Azadi, Voice of
Freedom), heard by thousands of Afghans. Another is the
publication of various newspapers and magazines in
Afghanistan, where German soldiers serve with NATO.
The British were one of the first major military powers to use
psychological warfare in the First and Second World Wars. In current
the British Armed Forces, PSYOPS are handled by the tri-service 15
Psychological Operations Group. (See also
MI5 and Secret Intelligence
Psychological Operations Group comprises over 150
personnel, approximately 75 from the regular Armed Services and 75
from the Reserves. The Group supports deployed commanders in the
provision of psychological operations in operational and tactical
The Group was established immediately after the 1991 Gulf War, has
since grown significantly in size to meet operational
requirements, and from 2015 it will be one of the sub-units of the
77th Brigade, formerly called the Security Assistance Group.
Stephen Jolly, the MOD's Director of Defence Communications and former
Chair of the UK's National Security Communications Committee
(2013–15), is thought to be the most senior serving psyops officer
within British Defence.
In June 2015, NSA files published by
Glenn Greenwald revealed details
JTRIG group at British intelligence agency
manipulating online communities. This is in line with JTRIG's
goal: to "destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt" enemies by
"discrediting" them, planting misinformation and shutting down their
Psychological Operations (United States)
U.S. Army soldier hands out a newspaper to a local in Mosul, Iraq.
U.S. Army loudspeaker team in action in Korea
The term psychological warfare is believed to have migrated from
Germany to the
United States in 1941. During World
War II, the
Joint Chiefs of Staff
Joint Chiefs of Staff defined psychological warfare
broadly, stating "
Psychological warfare employs any weapon to
influence the mind of the enemy. The weapons are psychological only in
the effect they produce and not because of the weapons
U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense currently defines
psychological warfare as:
"The planned use of propaganda and other psychological actions having
the primary purpose of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes,
and behavior of hostile foreign groups in such a way as to support the
achievement of national objectives."
This definition indicates that a critical element of the U.S.
psychological operations capabilities includes propaganda and by
extension counterpropaganda. Joint Publication 3-53 establishes
specific policy to use public affairs mediums to counterpropaganda
from foreign origins.
The purpose of
United States psychological operations is to induce or
reinforce attitudes and behaviors favorable to US objectives. The
Special Activities Division
Special Activities Division (SAD) is a division of the Central
Intelligence Agency's National Clandestine Service, responsible for
Covert Action and "
Special Activities". These special activities
include covert political influence (which includes psychological
operations) and paramilitary operations. SAD's political influence
group is the only US unit allowed to conduct these operations covertly
and is considered the primary unit in this area.
Dedicated psychological operations units exist in the United States
United States Navy also plans and executes limited PSYOP
United States PSYOP units and soldiers of all branches of
the military are prohibited by law from targeting U.S. citizens with
PSYOP within the borders of the
United States (Executive Order S-1233,
DOD Directive S-3321.1, and National Security Decision Directive 130).
United States Army PSYOP units may offer non-PSYOP support to
domestic military missions, they can only target foreign audiences.
A U.S. Army field manual released in January 2013 states that "Inform
and Influence Activities" are critical for describing, directing, and
leading military operations. Several Army Division leadership staff
are assigned to “planning, integration and synchronization of
designated information-related capabilities."
Charles Douglas Jackson
Demonizing the enemy
Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes
Fear § Manipulation
Able Archer 83
Information Operations Roadmap
NLF and PAVN battle tactics
Psychological operations (United States)
Special Activities Division
Zarqawi PSYOP program
Political Warfare Executive
Psychological Warfare Division
Fourth generation warfare
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ISBN 1-878109-40-5 (2006). ASP Press.
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sociali. Introduzione del Gen. Carlo Jean e di Alessandro Politi
Editrice Aracne, Roma, 2012.
Gagliano Giuseppe. Guerra psicologia.Saggio sulle moderne tecniche
militari, di guerra cognitiva e disinformazione. Introduzione del Gen.
Carlo Jean, Editrice Fuoco, Roma 2012.
Paul M. A. Linebarger.
Psychological Warfare: International Propaganda
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Look up psychological warfare in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Movie: Psywar: The Real Battlefield is the Mind by Metanoia films
Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger.
Psychological Warfare at Project
The history of psychological warfare
Psychological Operations (PsyOps) / Influence Operations
"Pentagon psychological warfare operation", USA Today, December 15,
"U.S. Adapts Cold-
War Idea to Fight Terrorists", New York Times, March
US Army PSYOPS Info - Detailed information about the US Army
Psychological Operation Soldiers
IWS — The Information Warfare Site
U.S. — PSYOP producing mid-eastern kids comic book
The Institute of Heraldry —
Criticism of advertising
Burying of scholars
Fake news website
Word of mouth
Cult of personality
Denial and deception
Ruse de guerre