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.