The terminology for propaganda operations inside the US government has differed across departments, audiences, and time. Terms used by the US government for propaganda include ‘information support’, ‘psychological operations’/PSYOP, ‘perception management’, ‘public diplomacy’, ‘information operation’, ‘strategic influence’, ‘strategic communication’ and many more. Lieutenant Commander of the United States Army, in a report on the evolution of US propaganda efforts into the 21st century, provides a quick summary.
Lieutenant Gough captures the US’s current stance on perception management in the phrase “Strategic influence constitutes the orchestrated combinations of them all”: through a mixture of internal debate, administration definitional exercises and typical fluctuations of expert language, different technical expressions of overt and covert influence have found themselves associated with particular but shifting terminology. These individual expressions of influence are combined together into the larger, more comprehensive propaganda effort. “Psychological Operations” (PSYOP), for example, emerged to mean “planned programming for the purposes of affecting the decision making of foreign populations and leaders.” On the other hand, “Perception Management” means something related, though slightly different.
PSYOP usually, though does not always, mean something different than “Military Deception” (MILDEC) which does sometimes include psychological programming but can instead primarily feature a host of traditional deceptive techniques such as “Signals Manipulation”: hacking radar, communications and other trusted measurement and transfer instruments. The specific use of PSYOP inside of a MILDEC setting is often called MISO – “Military Information Support Operations”.
The specific term used for the application of military style psychological operations inside of the United States is called CAIS. Civil Authority Information Support is given sometimes during “Defense Support for Civil Authorities”, a broader term for DoD support of peacekeeping operations inside the United States (think ‘calling the National Guard’). Defense and Information Support can be applied inside the United States during national disasters (Hurricane Katrina) and states of emergency (Occupy/Ferguson).
“Public Diplomacy” is an old, proven term used to mean information usually identified as coming from the US Government that is edited and planned to have a specific message and effect. Strategic Communication is a new term that identifies the other half of the influence space: information that may or may not be identified as coming from the US Government that is edited and planned to have a specific message and effect, including PSYOP. The (Bush/Obama administration era) overall comprehensive term used to mean ‘influence messaging’ span the overt and covert domains and is thus called “Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication” (PDSC).
In a fit of Foucaultian Knowledge/Power, Associate Professor of the Public Diplomacy Institute at George Washington University Bruce Gregory says of Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication that ‘naming is part of a struggle over meaning. In naming, we judge as well as we describe.’; This is support of positive perception of the PDSC term in contrast to alternatives such as “manipulation, … propaganda”.
Currently inside the US Government the terminology is inconsistently applied and subject to debate. For example, the DoD glossary of terms specifies that PSYOPs are often used incorrectly to describe the more specific Military Information Support Operation and also hinting at their overlapped territory. The same Bruce Gregory underscores some of the confusion and ‘considerable dispute’ across US Departments and the academic community over the scope and meaning at the boundaries of terms.
And lest it be misunderstood most Public Diplomacy is performed primarily by the Department of Defense. RAND contributor quotes Matt Armstrong’s “Operationalizing Public Diplomacy” when discussing what balance to strike between the Department of State and Department of Defense in future capability allocation. Both the Department of State and the Department of Defense believe that civilian authorities should have more direct control over Public Diplomacy narrative and capabilities. Matt Armstrong argues that this can’t be done by limiting the capabilities on the military side.
The DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms provides a helpful way to understand the primary breakdown of the difference in meaning between Strategic Communication (SC) (messaging people), and Information Operations (IO) (intervention with intelligence including people, processes, and also machines). On the SC side of the chart is detailed influence and emotional appeals – traditional propaganda. On the IO side of the chart lies OPSEC (Operational Security), CNO (Computer Network Operations/”hacking”) and others which are also used to influence decisions. [Offensive OPSEC are capabilities such as group infiltration, encouragement of political infighting and factionalization, and denying functional command chain.]
Upcoming articles will detail where and how these capabilities are known to have been applied both overseas and inside of the continental United States and what technology and practices available to the state to perform them.
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