December 24, 2001: Headlines: COS - Aghanistan: Psychological Warfare: Intelligence Issues: Weekly Standard: RPCV David Champagne psyching Out The Taliban - The Army plans mind games at Fort Bragg

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Afghanistan: Peace Corps Afghanistan: The Peace Corps In Afghanistan: December 24, 2001: Headlines: COS - Aghanistan: Psychological Warfare: Intelligence Issues: Weekly Standard: RPCV David Champagne psyching Out The Taliban - The Army plans mind games at Fort Bragg

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - 4:46 pm: Edit Post

RPCV David Champagne psyching Out The Taliban - The Army plans mind games at Fort Bragg

RPCV David Champagne psyching Out The Taliban - The Army plans mind games at Fort Bragg

Psyching Out The Taliban - The Army plans mind games at Fort Bragg
Matt Labash
Weekly Standard

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Despite the low-rent ambiance of Bragg Blvd.-- the land of Park'n'Pawns and $1.99 fried chicken plates--Fort Bragg has always been synonymous with the Army's elite. Arriving at the home of the 82nd Airborne and Special Forces, visitors often experience the contact-buzz that comes from occupying the same ground as the Green Berets and Delta Force. But in a complex of ugly low-slung buildings resides another group of warriors, these mostly unsung--the soldiers and civilians of the 4th Psychological Operations Group.

After American bombs and Northern Alliance fighters, perhaps no one has had a greater effect on the rapid demise of the Taliban than the Army's psychological operations (PSYOPs) team. But you wouldn't know it from the way they act. Calling themselves "force multipliers" who deal in "perceptions management," they don't even have a blood-curdling nickname like the "Night Stalkers" or "Snake Eaters." While some Army regulars call them the "bullshit bombers" (for their propaganda dissemination), Maj. Ric Rohm, executive officer of the 8th PSYOP battalion, when pressed for a nickname, comes up stumped: "Umm, I guess it's just 'PSYOPer.'"

If PSYOPers themselves are an understated lot, the very term "psychological operations" tends to conjure images of black-bag artists-- camouflaged Freudians practiced in the dark art of winning hearts by warping minds. But operating under the regimental motto "Persuade, Change, Influence," the brass works overtime to stand a group of visiting reporters' stereotypes on end. (..)

Here, Dr. David Champagne, the 4th PSYOP Group's civilian Afghanistan expert, who says he fell in love with the country as a Peace Corps "hippie," translates the latest effort: a leaflet wishing Afghans "Happy Eid" (the feast in which Muslims break their Ramadan fast). "We want them to know that we care about them as human beings," says Champagne. "They probably haven't had many happy greetings for the last six years." (..)

PSYOPers, after all, are in the perception business. For this reason, 9th PSYOP battalion commander Lt. Col. Glenn Ayers goes so far as to say, "I do not like that 'P' word. Propaganda elicits the vision of Goebbels, who used it for nefarious reasons." Though military historian Daniel Lerner has written that the mark of a first-rate propagandist is one who "conceals his skill from the public" appearing to be "a simple man, telling the simple truth," Joseph Goebbels had no appetite for subtlety. (..)

With as brutal a regime as the Taliban, of course, there is no need to shade the truth. Consequently, American propaganda, in the form of leaflets and radio broadcasts beamed in from the EC-130 Commando Solo aircraft (television's not an option--since the Taliban destroyed everyone's sets), has come in four varieties:

* Informational--giving listings of American radio broadcasts, and cautioning civilians to stay clear of humanitarian food drops, since nothing spoils goodwill like killing someone with a crate of peanut butter.
* The Friendly Neighbor--smiling American family shakes hands with smiling Afghan family.
* Appeals to the Taliban Swing Voter: One leaflet shows Mullah Omar as a dog whose leash is held by Osama bin Laden, while another shows fleeing Taliban fighters running from an incinerated truck with the gentle admonition "Stop fighting for the Taliban and live."
* Sugar Daddy Appeals: $25 million to whoever assists in bin Laden's capture. (..)

And like good ad men, they focus-group everything, pre-testing and post-testing materials with natives, refugees, or prisoners of war. Failing to focus-group a message might cause them to miss important cultural nuances, which can jeopardize credibility, cause a piece to fall flat, or even worse, insult the audience that it is intended to persuade. (..) Such attention to detail has earned American PSYOPers a reputation as the modern era's finest propagandists, which is saying something, since psychological warfare is as old as war itself. (..)

In Iraq during the Gulf War, America ran a textbook PSYOP campaign, not only scaring the tar out of Iraqis by truthfully advertising when our B-52s would next bomb specific positions (causing mass surrenders), but also by running brilliant deception maneuvers (floating leaflets in bottles ashore in Kuwait to suggest an impending amphibious invasion that never came). (..)

While it's difficult to quantify PSYOP success, Sun Tzu, whom many consider the original PSYOPer, wrote that "To capture the enemy's entire army is better than to destroy it. For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence."

Score is often kept in conventional warfare by tallying how many are killed, but in some measure, PSYOP success is based on how many are allowed to live. In Iraq, Rouse writes, nearly 87,000 Iraqi soldiers turned themselves over to coalition forces, and many of them were clutching American leaflets, which offered "safe conduct passes." During Vietnam, which wasn't even our best PSYOP effort because of organizational problems and stateside dissent, it was still estimated that the average cost of killing one Viet Cong guerrilla was $400,000 (the price of artillery shells, cluster bombs, etc.), while the average cost of causing one Viet Cong defection was only $125.

The 4th PSYOP Group has yet to post-test its products with Afghans to see if they effectively employed "logic, fear, desire or other mental factors to promote specific emotions, attitudes or behaviors" (as the press release objectives state). But one is tempted to chalk the group's efforts up as successful. After all, in what other conflict have we so readily subdued the enemy? Then again, we have dropped over 12,000 bombs on Afghanistan since October 7. When it comes to modifying emotions, attitudes, and behavior, those tend to work wonders too.

When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Weekly Standard

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Aghanistan; Psychological Warfare; Intelligence Issues



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.