Psychological operations (PSYOP) — military programs that seek to influence the attitudes and shape the behavior of a target audience — have the potential to increase the effectiveness of the armed forces they support while minimizing violent conflict. But the U.S. military is not notably good at conducting such programs.
To achieve their objective, PSYOP practitioners should ideally have a clear understanding of the values and thought processes of their audience (as well as their own), and they should have a credible and compelling message to deliver. These have often been lacking.
According to a 2004 Army evaluation of PSYOP activities during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, “it is clear that on the whole, PSYOP produced much less than expected and perhaps less than claimed.”
Two newly disclosed Army publications provide insight into Army PSYOP planning and procedures.
“Psychological Operations Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures,” U.S. Army Field Manual FM 3-05.301, December 2003 (a revision was issued in August 2007) (439 pages, 6.2 MB).
“Tactical Psychological Operations: Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures,” U.S. Army Field Manual 3-05.302, October 2005 (255 pages, 11.2 MB).
These documents have not been approved for public release, but copies were obtained by Secrecy News.
In the worst cases, poorly executed PSYOP activities are not merely futile but may actually be counterproductive.
In 2003, a U.S. information operations officer produced posters picturing Saddam Hussein as Homer Simpson and other figures of ridicule. “The posters enraged Iraqis and led to conflict that resulted in casualties for U.S. forces,” according to a 2005 study of PSYOP lessons learned.
See “Review of Psychological Operations: Lessons Learned from Recent Operational Experience” by Christopher J. Lamb, National Defense University Press, September 2005.