DoD “Clarifies” Doctrine on Psychological Operations

The Department of Defense has issued a new publication (pdf) to update and clarify its doctrine on “psychological operations.”

Psychological operations, or PSYOP, are intended to “convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of psychological operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to the originator’s objectives.”

PSYOP is among the oldest of military disciplines, but the new DoD doctrine continues to wrestle with basic definitional issues.

It endorses a new, negative definition of the term “propaganda,” which had formerly been used in a neutral sense to refer to “Any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly.” From now on, propaganda will refer only to what the enemy does:  “Any form of adversary communication, especially of a biased or misleading nature, designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly.”

The new doctrine also dictates that the term “perception management” shall be eliminated from the DoD lexicon (pdf).

DoD acknowledges that PSYOP is limited by legal constraints, including statutes, international agreements, and national policies. Among other things, the DoD doctrine states, there is a “requirement that US PSYOP forces will not target US citizens at any time, in any location globally, or under any circumstances.”  Yet in a near contradiction, the doctrine also states that “When authorized, PSYOP forces may be used domestically to assist lead federal agencies during disaster relief and crisis management by informing the domestic population.”  Perhaps the PSYOP forces are supposed to inform the domestic population without “targeting” them.

Fundamentally, psychological operations are tethered to the reality of U.S. government actions, for good or for ill.  As the new doctrine notes, “Every activity of the force has potential psychological implications that may be leveraged to influence foreign targets.”  But PSYOP cannot substitute for an incoherent policy or rescue a poorly executed plan.

See “Psychological Operations,” Joint Publication 3-13.2, Joint Chiefs of Staff, January 7, 2010.

No Responses to “DoD “Clarifies” Doctrine on Psychological Operations”

  1. dr_who January 25, 2010 at 12:49 PM #

    important information – keep up the great work in terms of bringing this stuff to the surface!

  2. femtobeam January 27, 2010 at 9:02 PM #

    All of this presumes there are borders, which we now know there are not after the recent Cyber Attacks by China. What about attacks by China on US computers, companies and individuals on US soil. Would that not be a “circumstance” requiring location “awareness”?

    Targeting seems like a term involving “testing” of equipment on nameless victims. This seems more like a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” doctrine of not only ignoring a serious threat, but tying the hands of the US Government to protect and defend the US public from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. This is profoundly important when it comes to PSYOPS, affecting the brain and body, physically.

    Anyway, the US Government won’t be able to do anything at all in 2 years when China cuts them off of all supplies of Rare Earth Elements (REE’s). They will have then given up control of even the materials for the equipment they now cannot use “under any circumstance”. What is such a joke about this is the fact that the DoD has a technology sharing arrangement with Japan, Israel and China and access to US citizens and PSYOPS operations wording did not include them. All the equipment is supplied by them also and increasingly, it is their operators, not US operators at the other end of the IP address.

    If they are serious about this, why did they allow the Supreme Court and the hearings on Advertising agency access to medical devices to stand? Perhaps the soldiers, once home from war, should be at least listened to once in a while to find out if they really are suffering from traumatic brain injury instead of being victimized by a foreign operation of PSYOPS.

  3. Cristiano March 12, 2010 at 8:24 AM #

    olá companheiros norte-americanos,sou um cadete do Brasil estou executando uma monocrafia a respeito de opeações psicoógicas gostaria de saber a respeito das doutrinas abordada por voces principalmente no tocante á softwares eletronicos como o jogo American’s Army.por favor se for possivel mande uma e-mail.muito obigado pela cooperação.

  4. tony knouf September 22, 2010 at 4:21 PM #

    Excellent info, but 2 Things:

    1) You are leaving out a fundamental part to this seriousness of this rape of the law. Propaganda is illegal and was always ok for PSYOP to use on foreign populations. It was NOT ok for its Public Affairs to use against American people. And it still is not. But now, obviously, Public Affairs will not use adversary communication against Americans. So it seems like anything goes now! There are other authoritative definitions like the ones proposed by the GAO and CRS, but the DoD will attempt to stand by their new definition with a team of lawyers. I don’t remember seeing this change published in the Federal Register. They are required to publish policy changes that affect the public. Can anybody tell me where it might be?

    2) The seeming contradiction “When authorized, PSYOP forces may be used domestically to assist lead federal agencies during disaster relief and crisis management by informing the domestic population.” Your missing the critical part: “When authorized” Do you know when they would be authorized? Operation Garden Plot, Annex F, authorizes PSYOP to work in conjunction with Public Affairs to broadcast messages to the public in the event of a civil uprising in the United States. At the same time CONPLAN 2502 and other Continuance of Government plans will do the same thing to establish Marshall Law.

  5. Alex December 9, 2011 at 12:42 PM #

    Dear Steven Aftergood,

    Always important to know, thank you.
    Perhaps you can get hands on some material that will help worldwide targets of electronic harassment to prove their situation.