Wikileaks: Psychological warfare in Iraq

The Wikileaks Iraq war documents give an insight into the use of ‘psychological warfare‘ by the United States military, illustrating how the PSYOP response evolved through the conflict.

If you want to pull out the raw reports, you can search the Wikileaks Iraq war archive by using the term ‘PSYOP’ or by clicking here.

Although it’s not clear how comprehensively the logs cover the day-to-day operation of US Psychological Operations, they do give a snapshot of the sort of challenges the units faced.

Out of the leaked reports, 84 mention PSYOP, although not all are directly about the unit (for example, in one, a mention is purely because some of their leaflets were found in a car).

However, out of the reports that are directly about the units themselves, perhaps most striking is how many reports of attacks there are.

I counted at least nine reports of attacks by improvised explosive devices (eg), two by rocket propelled grenades (eg) and units were also on the receiving end of shootings while handing out toys to children, conducting a billboard assessment and carrying out ‘atmospheric sampling’.

‘Atmospheric sampling’ is a phrase that turns up a lot in the reports, and I’m not entirely clear what it means, but this essay [pdf] from the Small Wars Journal seems to suggest its a sort of military market research:

The atmospheric report is filed in a database along with reports from a multitude of other organizations and planners must pull the information if (and it’s a big if) the report is ever referenced. PSYOP units glean atmospherics for two primary reasons; first to drive an understanding of the target audience and second to assess whether or not proposed or previously disseminated product has any effect.

This is one of the seemingly ongoing activities, along with delivering leaflets (eg), preparing statements for the media (eg), making radio broadcasts to the local people (eg), and accompanying general forces on everything from raids of mosques to investigating explosions.

However, it’s clear that when the logs start, in 2004, the units were used as more as a general purpose communication service to allow the military to communicate with the local populace, often after things got heated.

For example, they might be warning people to stay out of the streets for their own safety, or attempting to calm a crowd after they were angered when a car crash killed two civilians, or broadcasting radio messages in support of voting.

As the conflict develops, the reports start to discuss more detailed PSYOP responses that have specific points of information that the military wants to get across and the strategies they apply for doing so.

For example, this report from 26th January 2009 describes the PSYOP response to an explosion from a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device in Mosul (the blank spaces are where identifying information was removed):

IO [Information Operations] Recommendations and talking points:

___.To allow these criminals to conduct such attacks ___ to hurt the innocent people of Mosul and increase the likelihood of more attacks.

___.IP [Iraqi police] and IA [Iraqi army] are valiant guardians of your ___ security. These cowardly acts are to hurt you, you must protect them. (Protect the Protector Theme)

___.Prevent attacks like these by informing officials if you have any information of knowledge of these types of activities. Your information can prevent the death of those that protect you and your family.

___.Your efforts to secure your country must continue; you have chosen the right path. (Choose Campaign)

PSYOP: Should the /___ commander approve, ___ has products supporting the above campaigns for dissemination.

KEY Leader Engagements: Recommended /___ Commander to follow up with the Police Chief
___: Monitor for Media Feedback

Recommend sending ___-approved radio message (___-VBIED [Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device] and Protect Your Security Forces) to ___ and ___

I was particularly interested by the fact that some of the later reports mention specific themes or templates for messages (in this case the ‘Protect the Protector Theme’) that have presumably been developed to be deployed widely and ensure certain ideas are reinforced consistently.

It may be that the reports just contain more comprehensive descriptions of information operations that the earlier reports lacked, but the leaked logs do give the impression that the PSYOP response matures as the conflict develops, to convey more information in more complex and targeted ways .

Link to PSYOP records on Wikileaks Iraq war archive.
Link to excellent Wikipedia page on US PSYOP.

4 thoughts on “Wikileaks: Psychological warfare in Iraq”

  1. I recently discussed this with a group of parents while I was briefly coaching debate, or trying to. I told them of what I knew in terms of how PSYOPS operates and tried to convey that sometimes people don’t understand your thoughts, so you must teach them with their emotions because we all have them. The moral of my story was that it’s easy to get upset about an idea, but it should be much more difficult to be upset about a child trying to learn.

  2. Murderous Mind Games are SOP for fbi/cia/nsa.

    usa- the assassins’ nation seeks to divide & conquer all nations and all peoples. Regarding the leaks,
    Well, USA-if you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear from the
    T R U T H.
    Be Set Free by admitting to ongoing & insufferable crimes against
    H U M A N I T Y .
    GERAL SOSBEE(956)536-3103

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