Military Information Support Operations

On June 21, 2010, an announcement was made that the military intends to rename Psychological Operations, or PSYOP, to Military Information Support to Operations. The decision, made a few days earlier by Admiral Eric Olson, Commander, Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and Army Chief of Staff General George Casey, was propagated through a memo dated June 23, 2010.

The name change is “not a negative or punitive action” but rather the result of the success of the Psychological Operations Regiment, as the memo states. The new name builds on the flexible deployment of Military Information Support Teams, or MIST, in support of a variety of missions, including direct support to State Department posts described, in part, as public information support to diplomacy (see this previous post on a State Department Inspector General report that mentions MIST). The name change will, the memo concludes, help advance the mission of “Persuade-Change-Influence” in “operations of every type, anywhere, anytime.”

While the new name invites the obvious jokes – most of which were already tiresome the week of the announcement – this is a positive shift that creates distance from the “five dollar, five syllable” word that General Dwight Eisenhower, as a candidate for President, told us to stop fearing. We, as Americans, never did drop that fear and as a result believe that any activity from the big, bad scary PSYOP is an exercise in mind control. The reality PSYOP, and now MISO, brings analytics and methodologies necessary to engage today’s global dynamic and fluid environments.

The substance of this change is yet to be seen. Hopefully, this shift will help update the tactics, techniques, and procedures of the public affairs officer to be more proactive and engaging across mediums. This shift must also address PSYOP/MISO’s relationship to military deception, which PSYOP is too often and incorrectly synonymous with.

Real change will come only if the PSYOP/MISO force is properly trained, equipped, supported, and integrated. Unfortunately, it is not and hopefully this change will facilitate both the internal (within the Defense Department) and external (across the agencies and the Congress) awareness of the importance of information to influence relevant audiences and participants, increasingly regardless of geography or language. This name change is potentially a significant first step at rebranding through substance and not simply a squandered opportunity.

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11 thoughts on “Military Information Support Operations

  1. @AnonFair enough the memo indicates the intent to change. I also agree there will not be a direct impact on military PAO TTPs, but the indirect pressures will and must arise, as the several PSYOP studies due to come out later should indicate is required, at least indirectly.

  2. Matt, I feel obliged to point out that there has been no official decision or announcement on this from the Pentagon (OSD or JS) yet, nor do we expect one until sometime late next week — at the earliest. Note that even the memo says “is changing” and “will change” in the first paragraph — not “has changed”. As both you and the memo itself point out, there’s a lot that needs to be thought through to ensure that this change is substantive rather than purely cosmetic to get rid of the dreaded word “psychological”. There are a number of studies coming due this Summer which hopefully will help with the substantive side. But, regarding your comment about PA in your fourth para, since this change is for PSYOP, I doubt that this name change will have any direct impact at all on military PAO TTPs.

  3. Oh sure – call it whatever. the history of propaganda, er, public relations, I mean to say, public diplomacy, whoops, that is to say, strategic communication (STRATCOM fer short), oh dear, I meant to say Public Affairs (PA) – did I say that? I should have said, Behavioral Modification – you know, Perception Management. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Engineering of Consent, you could also say. Molding public opinion. Psychographics. Even simpler: agit-prop. Hey just don’t call it: disinformation, misinformation, brainwashing, or hasbara. Because it is not! Oh no. And whatever you call it, never ever call it plain old-fashioned lying. Whew! (And it’s not “war” either, it’s “defense”, see? Oh, don’t get me started on that.)But where was I? The history of propaganda is that the creators of propaganda keep calling it something different, once the last name becomes synonymous with er, fibbing. Dang, I did it again!

  4. O.B. You could not be more wrong. Military PSYOP does not lie. Based upon the tenor of your comment, I imagine that you will not believe this either. Reputable and credible news sources are caught with manufactured stories quite regularly (side-saddle Chevy gas tank explosions, etc), and yet they recover. The issue for PSYOP in the military is not one of telling lies, it is instead partially an issue of a pejorative perception of the name itself at high echelons and other governmental agencies, and within DoD it is also an issue of enabling a force to possess more than one capability (PSYOP).

  5. As former 4th POG Commander COL Paddock eloquently said in his article in Small Wars Journal, “the decision has been made”.However, I think it important to note that the form of that decision did not follow normal military protocol for such a change – i.e. message traffic from those with the authority to make the decision. After all, it was HQDA General Order 30, signed by the Secretary of the Army and citing USC Title 10 as the authority, which officially created a Psychological Operations Branch within the Army. One would assume that this kind of total change would have similar documentation.
    There is an email from the USSOCOM Commander, which “officially changes” the term Psychological Operations to “Military Information Support” and “Military Information Support Operations” (though it is unclear which term applies to what aspect of PSYOP), that everyone agrees, and that it will happen “quickly”. The SOCOM commander does have the authority to change organization titles, so those in uniform will just have to accept that. However, Adm Olson’s message states in a turn reminiscent of Syme from the Oceanian Ministry of Truth, that the term PSYOP “will be eliminated from the vernacular except in a historical context.” Never mind the fact that the term is codified in Title 10 of the United States Code, section 167 where it gives the Department of Defense the authority to conduct psychological operations as part of special operations campaigns and that the primary regulation governing PSYOP is a 1984 DOD directive, “Overt Psychological Operations Conducted by the Military Services in Peacetime.” Joint and Service Publications define PSYOP at length and the term is a topic of a great deal of intellectual work that SOCOM does not exclusively own. It may be a trivial matter to update legislation so that DOD has the authority to conduct MISO but are we to throw much of the science and art of persuasive influence out because it contains the term PSYOP?
    There are many good reasons for not making this change and few, if any, for doing so. COL Paddock has made such a case in the SWJ article, the PSYOP Regiment blog, and a JFQ article published before the “decision”. As he rightly argues, leadership should make a defense of PSYOP, aggressively institutionalize, frame the argument in support of persuasive influence done by PSYOP, and ensure that the US Government form a unified policy on persuasive influence that has a reasonable chance of success. Instead, the name change, if that is all it is, pushes “restart” on the education and outreach the PSYOP community has done to date without dealing with any of the systemic and persistent challenges PSYOP forces are wrestling with.
    Unfortunately, many outside the PSYOP community are simply labeling any rational critique as emotional rumblings from a passionate PSYOP community instead of accepting the counsel of wisdom, history, and common sense.
    Why should PSYOP be ashamed, and why should any military leader or policy maker be troubled by the term? Congress has legislated on it and it is clearly defined, and regulated. As Daniel Silverberg and Joseph Heimann write in Parameters (DIME), “DOD exclusively relied upon PSYOP forces to conduct “influence” operations. It trained PSYOP practitioners to work within long-standing regulatory directives that limited the scope of their activities and required extensive oversight.” Without new legislation for the term MISO the underlying authority could be lost.
    In the memo released by the Special Warfare Center Commander, MG Csrnko heralds the name change as a historic event that promises to “allow a greater recognition and understanding of our inform and influence activities” and “give us greater flexibility”. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The move from a very defined, codified, and procedurally designed PSYOP to a yet not officially defined MISO leaves us with a critical identity crisis. It also leaves the science of human influence, that we have remaining in PSYOP, at great risk at a time where we need to be standing on solid ground and pushing for more science, education, and mental capability in our force. The reality is that PSYOP brings an analytical process and methodologies necessary to engage today’s global dynamic and fluid environments. That DOD has never adequately provided for PSYOP or institutionalized a clear understanding of its function is also a historical truism.
    There has already appeared a difference between MISO as “Military Information Support Operations” (from the MG Csrnko memo) and “Military Information Support and Operations” (from the Adm Olson email) – I believe the difference between the two and from PSYOP is much more than semantic. Two key philosophical bents challenge us: 1) that PSYOP (now MISO) ONLY supports others to achieve SC objectives vs PSYOP conducting operations (on its own) and supporting others in achieving natl objs. 2) That information dissemination is our key role vs influencing behavior (a constant challenge for PSYOP at all levels). The MG Csrnko memo seems to emphasize information at the expense of Influence and implies structural change with absolutely no specificity.
    Ridiculous hyperbole? How many PSYOPers currently have a deep understanding of Political Warfare, or have read some of the seminal books on persuasive influence such as Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda or have a firm grasp of the role of the psychological warfare in the OSS. These topics are largely kept in the history books and distant from current doctrine – though every well trained PSYOPer has studied them as part of their personal development. When the word PSYOP is banished to the history book will the scientific and conceptual underpinnings disappear from our understanding? Or will future MISO forces read about PSYOP only to become frustrated?
    So why then was this decision made?
    The Washington Post reported that “Pentagon officials including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, SOCOM’s commander, Adm. Eric T. Olson, announced last week that the PSYOP name will be dropped because of bad connotations and changed to Military Information Support Operations (MISO).” if the key reason for making this move was to remove the obstacle that a “caustic” word created (without changing the essential nature of the operations conducted and methods used) then this action will merely be seen as an obfuscation and confirmation to the suspicious crowd that We are in fact “evil propagandists bent on lying to the American people”. The example of the 15th (UK) PSYOP Group, raised by COL Paddock, is one piece of evidence, but a quick jaunt through Twitter and the comments of several blogs (like Mountain Runner) is a clear confirmation that the public is not buying it. In fact, the discussion is only highlighting negative misunderstandings of PSYOP and journalists with an ax to grind with the Defense Department are attributing all sorts of “misdeeds” to PSYOP.
    How does this allow us to realize our potential without changing Title 10? Is there a plan to do that? If there is or not, this move complicates the “evolution”. If MISO is to take a more active role in peacetime deterrence activities in the highly nuanced, rapidly evolving globalized media environment outlined in most strategic documents, “an Information Support Element in response to a domestic or overseas natural disaster…Army Commander’s trusted advisor… in public and community relations… public information support to diplomacy” are not terms that give us “flexibility”. Nor do they provide clarity or a defined mission set. On the contrary, this move will do more to restrain the persuasive influence arm of the military from acting at the strategic level, and potentially take us far away from the behavioral influence role that is proven and backed up by the science of human influence. It really defines a tactical dissemination support role for former PSYOP forces.
    Certainly, the SOCOM commander does not need to give a reason for this change. However, Adm Olson offers that SOCOM has already changed PSYOP Support Elements to MISTs for OCONUS presentation of the force, that the Joint PSYOP Support Element changed its name to Joint Military Information Support Command (though to be truthful the JPSE was forced to change its name as a prerequisite to becoming a command), and “it’s the right thing to do”. By that logic, Unconventional Warfare (an equally controversial but very necessary discipline) should be renamed Military Liaison Support Operations or some equally vague moniker. Yet such a move isn’t even under contemplation and my very mention of it will likely set off all sorts of alarms in the Special Forces Community.
    I think all of us “Propagandists” recognize propaganda and new-speak when we see it. The memo from MG Csrnko is particularly troubling. As professionals, we don’t need the pep talk or shallow attempts to make us feel good about a ill considered policy (its purpose is evident to any real PSYOPer) – What we need is clarity; Crystal clear leadership and well defined missions, goals, and operational parameters for us to plan against, not simple attempts to brush off challenges by changing names. What exactly does the “the most senior military leadership” and more importantly Civilian leadership responsible for defending our way of life want us to be and specifically do? if nothing has changed but the name, have we not just gone from the frying pan into the fire?
    Angelo Codevilla wrote in 1986, “We can operate radios, dispense money, and pull strings. But unless we do so in a manner reasonably calculated to significantly affect the outcome of a war or similar conflict that we are reasonably trying to win, we are not engaging in political warfare any more than someone engages in masonry who builds unconnected piles of bricks and mortar. Without policy, the tools of policy-but especially secret tools-are worse than useless. That is because incompetent policymakers can use them as substitutes for policy, as evidence to themselves and others that they are doing something, and thus as reasons to forestall confronting hard choices.” It was true then, it is no less true today. The only measure PSYOP should be judged with is do we achieve the policy objective we were given. It has been my experience (and the experience of history) that when we have failed it was never because we needed a different name.

  6. re: “the discussion is only highlighting negative misunderstandings of PSYOP and journalists with an ax to grind”I don’t know, maybe Robert Hawkins is correct and I do, in fact have an axe to grind. Even though I was born in a USMC hospital in North Carolina, I’m still a bit upset you could say after losing my father as cannon fodder to the war/propaganda machine (Vietnam). Major General Smedley D. Butler was right. War is a racket. What does that make those involved in this racket?
    And yes, the name change indeed looks like another obfuscation. Or worse. MISO is allowed to “influence” (hoo boy) U.S. voters at home in the U.S.A., where “PSYOPs” (in name and de jure if not de facto) could not so boldly go.

  7. One of the many problems plaguing the blogosphere is a lack of understanding and information about PSYOP. This article appears to interchange PAO and PSYOP as the same people, and obviously nothing could be farther from the truth. Nor is someone in IO a PSYOPer by default.And O.B. Server, you would simply be too easy to PSYOP. A few posters encouraging you to get out and protest the Vietnam war, a radio spot about Soldiers lost in Vietnam, a magazine article exposing the criminal financial enterprise of war, a loud speaker broadcast in your neighborhood about you being a coward and not fighting against it…I could have you out in the streets doing what I wanted in a heartbeat. And I would synchronize it with combat operations to have you precisely in the right place at the right time…
    That is some of what a PSYOPer might do.

  8. re: “I could have you out in the streets doing what I wanted in a heartbeat”… “with combat operations”, etc.Yes: When you have a gun at someone’s head, you’re the big man, the all-powerful! Then, with gun cocked at your fellows’ temples, they obey “your” (?) will. That’s your power: the power of a gun. Pretty much the same power Cain had over Abel.
    I don’t care how nice your Officers’ Clubs are (and I’ve seen the inside of quite a few) – Major General Smedley D. Butler was correct, and the biggest gang with the biggest guns prove it every day. You’re fooling yourself, if you can’t see past the trappings.
    Has anyone here even read Major General Smedley D. Butler’s book? (Before last week, I mean.)

  9. Well I would say this thread has departed a bit from the PSYOP name change to MISO or even Strategic Communications, Public Diplomacy, etc. But I feel O. B. Server should get an answer. Yes I have read MG Butler’s pamphlet “War is a Racket”. Studying a bit about this 2x Medal of Honor awardee I can understand how he may have come to this conclusion following the Bonus Army march in 1932 and the Business Plot a year later. But MG Butler implies that all war is a racket solely benifiting “big Business”. MG Butler also accused the American Legion as being nothing more than a “Strike Busting outfit” to combat unions.the bigger question that Americans should answer is if there are things worth fighting for. Certainly, Businesses benefitted from most of the Expeditions MG Butler was involved in, and one the out comes of WWI was a business climate in Asia that favored the Allied Powers (specifically US, UK, and France) over the people of those developing nations. Arguably setting the conditions for Japan’s militarism and WWII in the Pacific theater. Butler was very vocal about the Racket going on in Asia in the years leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor but had very little to say about the Rape of Nanking and he died in 1940 so its speculation as to how he would have reacted to Japan’s attack in 1941.
    was America’s fight against Hitler and the Nazis a Racket that we should have sat out on? was the War of Independence a Racket or did it serve a necessary and nobel purpose?
    You ask “if war is a racket what does that those involved?” Well if war also serves very necessary functions of defense I would say we are soldiers who under the laws of our nation serve the decisions of the officials empowered by law to make war and elected by the people (which some have called a racket as well). If the Wars our officials get us into are rackets that is the fault of the people. From my read on history most of the “bad wars” the US has gotten into have been because of bad policies from politicians far preceeding the actual war.
    Now to PSYOP – I continue to be a PSYOPer because I have seen on numerous occasions our ability to save life through effective persuasion. As a PSYOPer I have never had to stick a gun in anybody’s face – in fact there have been quite a few times I’ve been unarmed while conducting my duties. I feel so strongly about this capability’s potential to save both American and foreign lives that it disturbs me that 1) we have to defend its use because politicians wont and 2) that senior officers are monkeying with terminology that could negetively impact it on what appears to be a PC whim.
    fact is there are bad people in this world that must be confronted. anybody that attempts to deny it is just plain wrong. As Americans we should make every effort to do this only when necessary and then in a way that limits the loss of Human Life. theres more but thats the discussion for another thread.
    O. B. MG Butler is only part right, which makes him also part very wrong. the sacrifice you’ve experienced is real – I’m sorry for it. But I would encourage you to look at something other than Butler, like Geo Washington, and find some balance. A study of Butler is very instructive If all Americans studied more of our history perhaps we would have better policy from our politicians. But I’m not ready to throw the Constitution away or leave it undefended.

  10. There is discussion regarding the terminology “target audience” now and I saw that you have referred to target audiences as “relevant participants”….how much do you want to bet that this change is handed to the community too?

  11. Great discussion, thanks to all participants. I’ll leave you with some fresh and exclusive doggerel.Once the enemy was “Over There”;
    but now the enemy is everywhere.
    Once the enemy was the “Evil Hun” –
    but now the enemy is everyone.
    Once the enemy was “O’er the Sea”,
    but now the enemy is you and me.

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