Information Warfare: Fixing That Scary PsyWar Stuff

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July 5, 2010: American Army psychological warfare (PsyWar) troops are rebranding themselves. From now on, these troops will be called MISO (Military Information Support Operations). The main reason for the change is that senior government and military officials believe the media has attached too many sinister motives to PsyWar (or PsyOps) work, and a relabeling will deal with the problem or at least confuse the media for a while. The change is not popular with PsyWar troops, who like the old name just fine, and know, perhaps more than their bosses and journalists, where it all came from.

In all started in September 1950, when a Psychological Warfare Division was established within the U.S. Army General Staff. This was done as a subterfuge, to get the Special Forces established, despite considerable opposition within the army. While most American generals still did not consider guerilla operations "real soldiering," they increasingly realized that they'd have to deal with some aspects of it. The communists were successfully using propaganda and political organization to sway public opinion and foment guerilla warfare throughout the world. The compromise solution was more emphasis on Psychological Warfare. In the late 1940s, this was a hot topic. The Cold War was new at the time and people were searching for ways to counter communist tactics. The Special Forces advocates used the Psychological Warfare angle to get themselves resources and the Pentagon was as susceptible as anyone else. The Army needed Special Forces, they just weren't ready to admit it just yet.

The old school generals had a point. All combat operations involved some psychological warfare techniques. Be it deception, camouflage, demoralizing the foe or simply outsmarting their leaders, this was all stuff now claimed by psychological warfare specialists. But the traditional generals misunderstood the usefulness of having full time psychological warfare experts, and that's what the Special Forces wanted to do.

In early 1951, the Psychological Warfare operation got more power, money and autonomy when it became the Office of the Chief of Psychological Warfare (OCPW). This was a first for the Pentagon, as OCPW was an autonomous Special Staff Division working directly for the chief of staff. Keep in mind that the uniformed Special Forces advocates in the Pentagon were practicing what they preached (guerilla warfare) in getting the OCPW established. The OCPW contained many World War II veterans who had worked on commando, guerilla and Psychological Warfare operations against the Germans and Japanese. Here they were using those skills against communists, and the Pentagon bureaucracy.

The Special Forces advocates had managed to get an army field manual on guerilla warfare published (FM 31-21 the Organization and Conduct of Guerrilla Warfare, 1951) This manual contained lots  of practical advice on how to deal with starting guerilla wars, although little on how to recognize how the communists had updated and improved this form of warfare. Moreover, the OCPW did not ignore their primary job; Psychological Warfare. Throughout the 1950s, much of OCPW's effort was devoted to studies on Psychological Warfare and developing new techniques.

Even before North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, there had been an active communist guerilla movement going in the south. This put guerilla warfare on the front pages, and American veterans of World War II guerilla operations managed to interest enough people in Congress to get Public Law 597 passed. This allowed the army to get into the "unconventional (guerilla) warfare" business, even if most Army generals were not interested.

Brigadier General Robert McClure, then chief Special Forces advocate and head of OCPW, moved quickly to take advantage of Public Law 597. In May, 1952, he opened the Psychological Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Because of Public Law 597, this soon became the Special Warfare School (which, to this day, has a large Psychological Warfare component). The law stipulated 2,300 troops for the new Special Forces units. McClure sent the word out throughout the army for any men with guerilla war experience to consider moving over to the Ft Bragg operations. This brought in more operators, many with recent experience in places like Korea and other post-World War II guerilla wars. McClure also went looking for experienced operators (as Special Forces troops came to be called). He was granted access to World War II OSS personnel records. There he found 3,500 individuals with experience in guerilla operations. Some 1,500 of these men were found to be "available", and most were induced (or, if in the reserves, ordered) to return to active duty. Also recruited were men from Eastern Europe who could speak the local languages and were eager to evict the communist governments being imposed by the Soviet Union. The name of this first unit was the 10th Special Forces Group.

As Special Forces grew larger over the following decades, there was always a Psychological Warfare component. There still is, except now you have to call it MISO.

 

 

 


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