from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 6
January 19, 2010

Secrecy News Blog:


The Department of Defense has issued a new publication 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 originatorís 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.

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:


Newly published congressional hearing volumes on national security-related topics include the following.

"Nomination of Leon Panetta to be Director of Central Intelligence Agency," Senate Intelligence Committee, February 5-6, 2009:

"Nomination of David S. Kris to be Assistant Attorney General for National Security," Senate Intelligence Committee, March 10, 2009:

"Nomination of J. Patrick Rowan to be Assistant Attorney General for National Security," Senate Intelligence Committee, September 25, 2008:

"USA Patriot Act," House Judiciary Committee, September 22, 2009:

"Advancing Technology for Nuclear Fuel Recycling: What Should Our Research, Development, and Demonstration Strategy Be?" House Science and Technology Committee, June 17, 2009:

"The Incidence of Suicides of United States Servicemembers and Initiatives within the Department of Defense to Prevent Military Suicides," Senate Armed Services Committee, March 18, 2009:


Worlds seem to collide as I sat in a Chevy Chase synagogue last night waiting to hear Israeli Talmudist Adin Steinsaltz and the ACLU's Art Spitzer discuss Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail. Former Bush Administration Pentagon official Douglas Feith, of all people, sat a few rows back. I was reading a 2006 book about information policy called "Change of State" by University of Wisconsin professor Sandra Braman.

"That looks really boring," volunteered an unknown gentleman seated next to me in the packed hall.

In fact, Change of State is a deeply thought, deeply felt (if sometimes quite dense) account of information policy that takes the subject much more seriously than do many practitioners in the field.

"Information policy fundamentally shapes the conditions within which we undertake all other political, social, cultural, and economic activity," the author writes. "And it is information policy that is the legal domain through which the government wields the most important form of power in today's world, informational power."

A central claim of the book is that the very nature of government has been altered and transformed from the bureaucratic welfare state into what may be called the informational state, in which governments "deliberately, explicitly, and consistently control information creation, processing, flows, and use to exercise power."

In developing her argument, the author covers a tremendous amount of interdisciplinary ground. The bibliographical essays that accompany the text and the standard bibliography at the end are richly informative all by themselves.

Inevitably, there are errors and questionable judgments to be found. Hacker Kevin Mitnick was sent to jail for computer fraud, not because he "publicly released a free and easy method for encryption on the Internet" (p. 131). And on the list of information policy principles that are explicit or implicit in the U.S. Constitution, I would have included the Statement and Account clause (Article I, section 9, clause 7) which requires that "the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time."

"Change of State: Information, Policy, and Power" by Sandra Braman was published by MIT Press. For more information, including the Table of Contents and a sample chapter, see here:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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