(Syndicated from Viewpoint Online)
Imperialism had an unchallenged upper hand on how and where to launch psychological warfare until the age of cyberspace arrived. The new information and communication technologies (ICT) have provided amazing tools in the hands of common citizens worldwide to expose and challenge superpowers in their efforts to control people’s mind and mold their thoughts through direct and indirect psychological warfare (PSYWAR) activities.
Probably that’s why the American administration is so nervous about WikiLeaks that released approximately 250,000 secret State Department documents on November 28. The recent WikiLeaks information should be viewed as a new challenge to the American administration. The White house press secretary Robert Gibbs in an effort to deemphasize its effects said “By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information.” On the other hand, the whole administration is trying to repair the damage caused by these leaks. This is not the first time, however, that a private organization has exposed a large number of secret information that helped shape diplomatic moves, policies and PSYWAR behind the scene.
While the modern technologies have transformed war images to shape public opinion, the same technology has also revolutionized the war itself. The controversial Drone attacks within the Pakistani territories are planned and launched from a communication center in the United States located thousands of miles from the battle field. As it looks the Afghan war has also become a virtual game being played on computers and TV channels every day. Wonders of the internet technology, wireless telephony and the satellite communication have made the twenty-first century war a virtual game that you can watch in the comforts of your family room.
In this digital age, while robots are slowly replacing human soldiers as remotely controlled killing machines, a new kind of psychological warfare is also being designed to shape the worldwide public opinion. Although we receive the war related news from private media in the U.S., Pentagon is the basic source of all the war related information being released to the media after carefully analyzing and excluding unwanted information by its public affairs gurus. The objective is to control the crucial information and release only what is deemed necessary.
Consequently, the images we see on the internet, print media or television are part of a carefully orchestrated strategy of psychological warfare. While the coalition forces are busy invading countries, phrases, icons and media images are innovatively created to invade minds. This strategy works nicely to influence the public opinion and to make the public believe that invaders are good guys while others are bad.
Historically, three kinds of PSYWAR strategies have been used: Strategic-before the invasion, Tactical-during the combat mission and Consolidation-after the invasion. Within these broad-based categories, the coalition forces are widely using the following techniques these days: isolate the target from its people, create a heightened hysteria for national security and promote a people-friendly image of the invading army.
First the target individual or institution is carefully isolated from its relevant public before invading the country. Saddam Hussein, for example, was known to be a ruthless dictator and this fact was cleverly used in creating a gulf of distrust between him and the Muslims worldwide including Iraqis during the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and the Iraqi invasion in 2003 by President George W. Bush. It did not take too long, however, for the coalition forces in Afghanistan to isolate the Taliban from the public because of Taliban’s ruthless tactics and violence against Afghan citizens and women.
Strategic PSYWAR is usually carried out using the peace time mass media campaigns through radio programs, television, the internet and print media targeted at enemy citizens in their own languages. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of America (VOA) are the two major international radio channels that broadcast thousands of hours of programs in hundreds of world languages daily. While BBC’s approach is more indirect, VOA serves the American strategic interests directly mandated by its charter.
Second, national security becomes a magical mantra to mold the internal public opinion. The junior Bush administration believably claimed that the Saddam regime had failed to destroy Weapons of Mass Destruction implying that the UN inspectors and their work was not worth continuing. Fabricated information and data were widely used to convince the American population that Saddam is a major threat to the American security. Contrary to the ground realities, it was also desperately propagated that Al-Qaida was actively operating in Iraq.
Third, a carefully developed image of the invading force as liberators, friends and supporters of democracy is promoted through media channels. If the popular public opinion is against the war, it becomes highly crucial for invaders to show that invading forces are “people friendly” and they have arrived to establish democratic norms in an undemocratic country. Coverage of invading soldiers in Afghanistan involved in social activities, helping common citizens, building bridges and assisting the elderly are all common images we see in mass media as part of this PSYWAR activities these days.
Blogs, websites, social media and emails have also increasingly become part of the PSYWAR game but thanks to the same technologies it is not limited to superpowers only. The new information and communication technologies have also empowered human rights movements, nonprofits and common citizens to expose modern PSYWAR activities being carried out by the forces of imperialism today.
Reportedly, Pentagon has introduced several websites around the world in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa for peacetime PSYWAR activities. It hires writers to contribute articles to these websites. Cyberspace was also proved to be an effective tool in assisting the recent resistance movement in Iran in providing minute-to-minute online information and messages to opposition parties against the Iranian administration.
While the internet has provided a new dimension to the old psychological war tactics of imperialism in the 21st century, it has also empowered ordinary citizens in exposing the official information, challenging its accuracy and offering alternate views at the same time. For a long time psychological warfare has been a one-way secret game controlled by the imperialist powers but now it has become a two-way cyber street!