Last week, Rolling Stone broke the news that the US Army’s team of psy-ops (psychological operations) specialists in Afghanistan were ordered to target their efforts towards visiting US officials rather than Afghanis. This is highly illegal. US law says that any sort of psy-ops/propaganda efforts can only be targeted at foreign citizens:
The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops — the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors – are supposed to be used exclusively on “hostile foreign groups.” Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a “propaganda rider” that also prohibits such manipulation. “Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans,” says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s what you learn on day one.”
The army does have a public affairs team, who is supposed to help on domestic issues, but their focus is more of a PR type role, rather than overt propaganda and misdirection. However, it appears that some of the top Army brass in Afghanistan made it clear that the psy-ops team was to focus almost exclusively on visiting Americans, rather than influencing locals. The goal was to convince US politicians to keep sending more money and more men. The psy-ops team resisted and complained, but were continually ordered to do so. When the head of the team consulted a lawyer about the issue — and was told by the lawyer that his concerns appeared valid — the army retaliated by opening an investigation of the guy, Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, with what appear to be ridiculously trumped up charges (such as accusing him of using Facebook too much — something he’d been encouraged to do by his commanders).
And, of course, after all of this, the Pentagon and the Army appear to be working on ways to cover this all up by making it look legit. They’ve done away with the name “psy-ops,” changing it to the bland and vague “MISO” (Military Information Support Operations). Also, a few months later, the entire psy-ops team was told, “effective immediately,” that they were being renamed from an “information operation cell” to an “information engagement cell,” and told their “sole purpose” was to now do public relations, targeting everyone, including the US. So, basically, after going against the law that forbids propaganda targeted at the US, the Army decided to paper it over by taking the soldiers specifically trained for propaganda and pretending they’re just PR people.