Psychological Operations PsyOps

Psychological Operations (PSYOP) are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to target audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.

Capture their minds… and their hearts and souls will follow

“War is Deceit” – Bukhari 3027

Psychological Operations (PSYOP) are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to target audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.

PsyOps generally involve learning everything about the enemy state. The state is further classified into several audiences, namely the public, the officials, the journalists and more. The learning methodology involves documenting the beliefs, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and fault-lines. These entities are exploited through face-to-face communication (involving seminars, conferences, fairs, ceremonies etc.), audio media (soundcloud, podcasts, radio etc.), and more including visual media (leaflets, posters, newspapers, books, magazines, flyers, advertisements, videos, GIFs, television etc.). This media could be sent through any means of communication/multimedia.

To get to know the enemy better, the states aka trigger entity uses intelligence reports, area studies, in country research, surveys, native help, defectors, and even the Prisoners of War (POWs). The information obtained is then strictly monitored, collected and exploited. PysOps is a war of the mind, with primary weapon being sight and sound, it is a force multiplier to achieve the state’s objectives and support the interests, thus proving to be the most effective weapon system in any large-scale war.

PsyOps could also lead to sow the seeds of mistrust between the civil and military institutions thus endangering the interests and sovereignty of the target state. PsyOps has since extensively been used in shaping and manipulating the consensus and narratives of audience, exposing the hidden secrets of target state to their public, misleading the narratives, thus mobilizing the movements in deterrence. Other than that, deceiving, promoting a narrative while diminishing another are some of the many interests in initiating PsyOps.

Sun Tsu, recognized as one of the greatest military tacticians of all times, strongly advocated the use of psychological warfare as a force multiplier. Sun Tsu wrote that:

To capture the enemy’s entire army is better than to destroy it; to take intact a regiment, a company, or a squad is better than to destroy them. 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. Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy. Next best is to disrupt his alliances by diplomacy. The next best is to attack his army. And the worst policy is to attack cities.

Exploiting the beliefs, values and culture of the target state also does the bid. In Ancient Egypt it was believed that cats captured the glow of the setting sun in their eyes and kept it safe until morning. This made it unlawful for cats to be killed except in ritual sacrifice by priests. When Cambyses II led the Persian Army against the Egyptians in the battle of Pelusium they tied cats to their shields and won a staggering victory. Suicide attacks in the holy places, maligning the soft image of the religious crowd by involving a few into violent activities, all are part of the Psychological Warfare Operations (PsyOps).

With over 29 million pamphlets thrown over at least 300,000 troops in Gulf War, the PsyOps war in Iraq brought a whole new meaning to the psychological engineering. For the troops on ground, “Surrender”, “US/Coalition Superiority”, “Inevitability”, “Saddam is the Cause”, and “Abandon Equipment” were some of the many themes followed to generate propaganda-rich content.

Surah Al-Ahzab (The Clans) discusses the Battle of the Trench. With the enemy alliances surrounding the Madina to strike Muslims with united force, together they numbered from ten to twelve thousand men. Adding more to the vicious plot, they made a pact with Quraizah to attack Madina from within at a specified time. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him) had sorted out a firm strategy ahead. The intelligence men and sympathizers of Islamic movement in every tribe informed of the enemy’s movements. Therefore, the Prophet got a trench dug out in six days and took up a defensive position with 3,000 men.

Nuaim bin Masud, a member of the Ashja branch of the Ghatafan tribe, became a Muslim and came before the Holy Prophet and submitted: “No one as yet knows that I have embraced Islam: You can take from me whatever service you please.” The Holy Prophet replied: “Go and sow the seeds of discord among the enemy.”‘ So, first of all, Nu’aim went to the Quraizah with whom he was on friendly terms, and said to them, “The Quraish and the Ghatafan can become wearied of the siege and go back, and they will lose nothing, but you have to live here with the Muslims. Just consider what will be your position if the matter turns that way. Therefore, I would advise you not to join the enemy until the outsiders should send some of their prominent men as hostages to you.” This had the desired effect upon the Bani Quraizah and they decided to demand hostages from the united front of the tribes. Then he went to the chiefs of the Quraish and the Ghatafan and said to them, “The Bani Quraizah seem to be slack and irresolute. May be they demand some men as hostage from you, and then hand them over to Muhammad (upon whom be Allah’s peace) to settle their affair with him. Therefore, be very firm and cautious in your dealing with them.” This made the leaders of the united front suspicious of Bani Quraizah and they sent them a message, saying, “We are tired of the long siege; let there be a decisive battle; let us, therefore, make a general assault simultaneously from both the sides.” The Bani Quraizah sent back the word, saying, “We cannot afford to join the war unless you hand over some of your prominent men to us as hostages.” The leaders of the united front became convinced that what Nuaim had said was true. They refused to send hostages. And the Bani Quraizah, on the other side, also felt that Nuaim had given them the correct counsel. Thus, the strategy worked: it divided the enemy against itself. [Tareekh-ul-Islam – Part 1 – Page 241]

To get the target audience to think, decide, and act just like the way the trigger entity desires, a well-thought out propagated content must appeal to their intelligence, reason, and emotions. If these people are shooting at us, we can persuade them to lay down their arms. If they fear us, we can convince them that they have nothing to fear. If they are belligerent and uncooperative, we can show them the value of unity and cooperation. Lastly and most important, the utilization of PSYOP can prevent needless bloodshed, destruction and misery, of course on the trigger entity’s side in most of the cases.

According to the Military Information Support Operations (MISO) of Special Operations Command, United States, the planning, creation and dissemination of the message is classified into three types;

  1. White Delivery Method
  2. Gray Delivery Method
  3. Black Delivery Method

The WHITE is acknowledged as the official statement of the government. The government has the liability of the product it delivers therefore it must be true and factual. The GRAY is referred to as deliberately ambiguous. The product is attributed to an entity (an organization or institution) which attributes to the mutual interests of the government and its policies. The goal of this message delivery method is to avoid the identification. The BLACK is the primary one with the trigger entity institution or government often unnoticed by the target audience. It is best used in support of strategic plans. Nothing less than the form of an intellectual and political subversion, this method could also accompany a product containing an internal document of the target group, their fault-lines be exploited and their internal disputes be erupted, ultimately turning the odds in favor of trigger entity state.

With several kinds of propaganda media available, some became obsolete with the changing times while some with the development in the target audience. While Face-to-Face communication is more credible for the audience and builds a strong relationship, it limits in requiring able communicators who are responsible to interpret the policy, objectives and interests as it is. After Video Tapes, Loud speakers and radio to some extent got obsolete, Television, being one of the most effective media for persuasion, at one pole provides speed, overcomes illiteracy but limits itself in under-developed areas, vulnerability and reception. Motion Pictures, covering entertainment, documentaries, dramas, also prove to be a viable tool. With the advancements in the technology space, with advent of projection on low-hanging clouds and holograms, there bulges in the era of Social Media.

Analyzing more than 3 million tweets, gigabytes of YouTube content, and thousands of blog posts, social media played a central pivotal role in shaping the political debates in the Arab Spring. With the armed forces establishing a coup against Erdogan in Turkey, Erdogan gave a video interview via Social Media, asserting the legitimacy of his government’s authority, calling the Turkish people to take to the streets against the coup. So they did and won.

The developments in Information Technology space brought an immense change in the nature of conflicts, adding further layers of complexity to identify the nature of war and PsyOps in battle space. With accessibility to audience in relatively larger numbers as compared to other mediums, speed, anonymity, high volumes of information, elimination of geographic borders and other complexities, Social Media has redefined Hybrid Warfare, also known as non-linear warfare, a warfare with a merger of conventional warfare, and cyber-warfare. Social Media accounts for such purpose are termed as Trolls. The identification of such trolls is somewhat of a crucial and complex task, there are however ambiguities involved and one might even find verified Social Media accounts with obvious propaganda purposes, being managed by trolls. Such accounts, with unified interests and purposes, make up a troll army. There can be, however, multiple troll armies intended for different purposes and for different audience classifications.

Psychological Warfare is a force multiplier and so is the Social Media. Part of this is done by generating a huge volume of online data and disseminated to a large mass of followers/accounts so as to assure the visibility of the content to the intended audience. Social Media accounts must have a ‘Fake Peer Endorsement’, meaning they must have a good number of followers to influence upon their audience or that they must be in the right place to disseminate the propaganda content. Since such accounts cannot survive for long, hashtags and dispersing the content to masses have been quite a successful strategy since.

The aides to the trigger entity can be categorized into four levels. The first level being the trigger entity’s own Facebook/Twitter/G+ and other social media platform accounts. This central account could also be a hashtag. All the propaganda content is uploaded on this hashtag centrally, from various accounts, thus ensuring the disperse policy and making it difficult to pinpoint a central account. The second level consists of regional or provincial accounts, often disguising themselves as the local natives, with the responsibilities to disseminate crowd-sourced and crowd-translated content. The third level consists of automated bots who resemble the first and second level, thus adding to the complexion. The fourth level is somewhat more of the importance but also outside the direct approach and control of the trigger entity, the sympathizers and supporters, both of them being the disseminators of the original content. The trigger entity must make sure both of these entities stick by the intended interests, fed up constantly with the propaganda content, and provided the opportunity to initiate the tasks.

India and Pakistan have a very peculiar relationship, constantly fluctuating over a variety of different core issues including Kashmir. With an increasing provocative narrative existing between the public on both sides, Social Media is no less than a battleground. Pakistan approving Cyber Crime Bill in the wake of arrests of Social Media Activists for blasphemous content, anti-army and anti-judiciary campaigns, and even the death sentences, Interior Minister of Pakistan, Chaudhry Nisar, ordered action against those maligning Pakistan army on social media, stating that national security and defense institutions would not be criticized so as to not to damage the prestige, reputation, honor and goodwill of security institutions. Not only do the political parties have well-managed social media cells to propagate their content so as to win vote banks, but of all the 64 banned outfits in Pakistan, 41 have hundreds of Facebook pages, Twitter handles, and individual user profiles. Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has called for young educated people of the country to remain mindful and vigilant of hostile ideas being propagated on social media.

Indian Propaganda content on Indian-Occupied Kashmir and Pakistan’s Balochistan

India, on the other hand, is involved in two wars on social media battleground, against a mutual enemy, Pakistan, the virtual battlegrounds being Kashmir and Pakistan itself. The martyrdom of Burhan Wani, a young Kashmiri freedom fighter who was a poster-boy for Kashmiris and a social media activist, gave a new tide to the freedom struggle of Kashmir. In the wake of ban on media outlets, Kashmiris turned to Social Media to expose their poor plight to world’s humanitarian organizations. India reacted in banning Social Media; not for once but over 31 times during the period of 2012 to 2016. Rajnath Singh, Home Minister of India, accused Pakistani youth of inciting youths in Kashmir on Social Media to storm encounter-sites to help holed-up freedom fighters. Rajnath being dumbfounded by Social Media, Indian Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat also expressed deep concerns on Kashmiri youth joining the ranks of Freedom Fighters through Social Media. Accusing Pakistani youth of using Social Media to encourage the Kashmiri youth, India itself is evidently blamed for inciting the anti-Pakistan narratives under the disguise of Balochi native accounts. The capture of Kulbhushan Jadhav exposed the terrorism and spy network fueled by India in Pakistan. Lieutenant General H.S. Panag, served in Northern and Central Command of Indian army, talks about inciting PsyOps openly on Twitter. He says, “Our (Indian) strategy must focus on direct covert actions & exploiting the Pak fault lines i.e. Baluchistan, FATA, Baltistan, Shias & Economy.” A clear message sent by India, Pakistan is constantly fighting trolls even on CPEC, with Indian intentions being disseminating a sense of insecurity on the initiative between Pakistan and China.

To fill the void of constant need to fight Indian trolls, the youth must step up to play a proactive role since it is the youth who are equipped with knowledge, vision, patriotism, intellect and modern communications to defend Pakistan and Kashmir in the virtual space. Not only do we require to preserve the objectives, narratives, beliefs and interests of the nation, but a sustained moral, social, political, diplomatic, and mass-public support to the indigenous struggle of Kashmir. Hence, being proactive and positive, it’s needless to say, “If you won’t narrate your story, you will end up believing what your enemies want you to say.”

M. Waqas Abdullah

Husband | A proud father to a princess | Technoholic | Computers | Programming | Pak Activist | PsyOps | Founder

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