The Pentagon is outsourcing a new wave of creative “psychological warfare,” designed to win minds and hearts overseas — particularly in Arab and Middle Eastern nations — with everything from Internet pop-up ads to a comic book series.
“If you want to influence someone, you have to touch their emotions.” Col. James A. Treadwell, director of the Joint Psychological Operations Support Element, told the Washington Post for a June 11 story. Treadwell’s group was established last year and includes a graphic artist and videographer, he said.
The Pentagon hired three firms, defense contractor SAIC, L-3 Communications subsidiary SYColeman and public relations firm Lincoln Group, to five-year contracts that could pay them as much as $300 million combined.
The firms are to produce a mix of print, video and audio “news,” Internet sites and pop-up ads, text messages and podcasting, and novelty items such as T-shirts and bumper stickers.
The contracts come following criticism that the Bush administration has not successfully coordinated efforts to repair the United States’ post-Iraq image problems abroad, particularly in the Muslim world. Vice President Cheney said in March that public diplomacy “has been a very weak part of our arsenal.”
But that’s not the only criticism facing the new propaganda efforts.
Officially, spreading psychological warfare messages to U.S. citizens is illegal. But some experts worry that the messages, especially disinformation efforts, might blow back to American audiences via the Internet and satellite news channels.
“In this age of the Internet and instant access, it’s of great concern,” Nancy Snow, a propaganda expert at California State University-Fullerton, told Media General News Service for a June 10 story. “If you plant false stories, how can you control where that story goes? You can’t.”
The five-year campaign is believed to be the first time that psycholgical warfare has been outsourced by the military. But psychological warfare expert Herb Friedman told Media General News Service that he isn’t surprised.
“The bottom line is, they don’t have the manpower,” Friedman said, adding that the military has just one active-duty and two reserve “psyops units” remaining.
The army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., is overseeing the effort to bring aboard someone to develop an Arab language comic book series. The unit has already done initial character and plot development for the series, according to BBC News’ website.
The concept is new for the unit, which has previously been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan dropping leaflets and cartoons urging surrender, and broadcasting pro-American messages via radio and television.
Those efforts have had mixed success, critics say. And they haven’t made a dent in shaping younger Arab and Middle Eastern minds.
“In order to achieve long-term peace and stability in the Middle East, the youth need to be reached,” a U.S. Federal Business Opportunities website advertisement reads.
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