Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Is the U.S. Army "Training with Industry" program a big brother style of PSYOPS project?

The Democracy Now headlines for Oct 4 relates a post by the news blog Upshot that "... revealed the US Army has used local CBS television affiliates in Georgia and North Carolina as training posts for some of its psychological-operations personnel. Active-duty soldiers worked at the stations WRAL and WTOC as part of the Army’s Training with Industry Program. The PSYOPS soldiers learned broadcasting and communications expertise that they could apply in their mission to influence the emotions, motives and ultimately the behavior of foreign audiences." Having Army personnel occupying seats in newsrooms raises eery questions of journalistic freedom and whether they are manipulating the news that we receive. By using the label "PSYOPS soldiers," Democracy Now and The Upshot are certainly raising the question of news manipulation by the Army.

One might think that the U.S. is not a dictatorship whose media cannot be trusted. The media model in America is independence and journalists who are free to write whatever they wish. Unfortunately the true practice of journalism does not live up to that idealistic model, and journalists in America have often worked with the government to manipulate the news. A recent example is the collaboration with the NY Times journalist Judith Miller to plant news articles containing official lies and bogus intelligence leading up to the 2003 illegal U.S. invasion of and making war upon Iraq. Those lies planted by Judith Miller in the news led to the war on Iraq, the wastage of zillions of dollars of U.S. resources, the wastage of thousands of U.S. lives, and the tarnishing of U.S. image worldwide. That was by no means the only such case, and a quick yahoogling with "America media manipulation" turns up Project Mockingbird, a CIA project begun in 1950 to manipulate American and Foreign media. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Mockingbird

The word PSYOPS (a.k.a. Psychological Operations) are "planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals." In other words, PSYOPS is the planting of lies to influence events. You could also spin PSYOPS as the planting of propaganda, and it need not involve lies because the selective use of information can perpetuate a slanted view of reality without ever uttering a lie. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_Operations_(United_States)

An example of "white PSYOPS" is flying a helicopter over a village and dropping leaflets. What we're concerned about is black PSYOPS that may be committed by Army soldiers occupying American newsrooms and potentially telling journalists what stories to cover and their content.

The Upshot report states that since at least 2001 two CBS stations regularly hosted active-duty soldiers from the Army's 4th Psychological Operations unit as part of the Army Training With Industry program. Their report is based on documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request. Let's make no bones about this, these soldiers were assigned to a PSYOPS unit. The question is what were they doing?

The U.S. Army website includes a 2003 press release describing a TWI program in the Army Acquisition Support Center (see: Training with Industry Orientation Preps Officers on their New Roles as Army Acquisition Corps Ambassadors http://asc.army.mil/news/archives/twi.cfm) as a kind of work-study program. These officers are placed within partner companies to learn civilian management and leadership techniques, so they can better interface with companies from whom the Army is acquiring supplies. Yahoogling the phrase "Army Training With Industry" turns up other TWI programs in other military branches, each of which is a similar kind of work-study program enabling Army personnel to learn the ways of industrial corporations. A Wikipedia page reports the program was begun in the 1940's during WWII but was supposedly disbanded after that war. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Training_Within_Industry

Supposedly the soldiers in question were in newsrooms to "learn best practices in terms of programming and production side that they can use when they deploy." The Upshot report contains quotes saying that the soldiers were there to learn, they were not controlling the journalistic output, and "It was like shadowing."

Taking this at face value, this program is not direct media manipulation. Instead it's meant to train soldiers who will eventually be creating bogus propagandistic news stories.