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PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE (PSYWAR)

Paper No. 39

IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM

         The ability to manage and change the perceptions of a targeted audience is considered the fourth instrument of power available to a State, the other three being the diplomatic, the economic and the military powers.
         States not having the required capability for perception-management and for countering the perception management capabilities of not only other States, but also groups posing a threat to their national security and economic well-being, tend to become soft and vulnerable to external forces seeking to undermine the morale and culture of their people and the authority of their Governments.
         Expressions such as psychological warfare or psywar, perception-management, precision-guided propaganda etc refer to the same techniques of  influencing the minds of the people. This power has the hard and soft aspects.
         The hard aspect relates to creating in the minds of people negative perceptions of their state, government, society etc in order to sow the seeds of alienation.
         The soft aspect refers to projecting before the targeted audience attractive images of the state or group directing the propaganda in order to create a desire to follow its lead.
         Both these aspects have the ultimate objective of subverting  the mind of the audience and influencing it to act unconsciously as desired by the state or group directing the propaganda.
         Among the weapons now available for the exercise of this power are printed pamphlets and books, radio, TV, the telephone and the fax, the E-mail, the CD-ROM and the Internet.
         However, till the second World War, the weapons used focussed mainly on the printed pamphlets. The radio became an important instrument of  propaganda during the war.
         The Nazi forces were defeated not only by the superior military might of the Allies, but also by their better propaganda machine and, more particularly, by the British radio broadcasts,  which sapped the will of the German people to continue fighting.
         With the onset of the Cold War, the propaganda machine of  the Western world was directed towards the communist states of East Europe and Asia and Cuba as well as towards those countries in the Third World, including India, which had strong communist and socialist movements.
         A little-known fact is that the US National Security Act of 1947, which set up the National Security Council (NSC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), intended that the CIA should only co-ordinate the functioning of the intelligence organisations  of various government departments and not indulge in independent intelligence-collection.
         As psywar against the communists and the socialists assumed importance, the CIA, which had a core of experienced  intelligence and psywar experts of the second  World War vintage, was asked to assume responsibility for psywar. Later, as covert actions against states and individuals assumed priority, the agency took over the responsibility for intelligence collection and covert actions too.
         The Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) of the UK, also known as the MI6, which is the UK’s external intelligence agency, had distinguished itself in psywar  and behind-the-front covert actions during the second World War. The CIA, therefore, acted in tandem with the MI6 in its psywar operations during the Cold War.
TRADITIONAL METHODS
         The main instruments initially used by these agencies were the printed pamphlets, the radio and books. The CIA set up two radio stations in Munich, called Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, to broadcast to the communist countries. The Voice of America, which is controlled by the State Department and not by the CIA, worked in concert with the CIA stations of Munich. The MI6 continued to rely on the BBC.
         Another technique widely used during the Cold War was the co-opting of journalists, authors and publishing houses to help the intelligence agencies.
         One would recall the large number of  baseless reports regarding India granting base facilities to the Soviet Navy in Vizag and in the Andaman & Nicobar disseminated by the US and UK news agencies and newspapers during the prime ministership of Mrs.Indira Gandhi. Another baseless report disseminated by Western journalists was that experts of the KGB, the intelligence agency of the erstwhile USSR, were attached as advisers to the late Gen.Sunderji during Operation Blue Star of 1984.
         These reports stopped circulating as mysteriously as they had started after her assassination in 1984.
         Following disclosures in the media, the John Major Government of the UK admitted in 1995 that a number of British authors, whose anti-communist books had  become best-sellers during the Cold War, had been co-operating with the External Publicity Division of the British Foreign Office. Their co-operation was, in fact, with the MI6.
         How did their books become best-sellers? The MI6 encouraged publishing houses under its influence to publish their books, persuaded book reviewers to review their books favourably, bought thousands of copies of these books  and had them smuggled into the communist countries  and gave them free of cost to book-sellers of Third World countries co-operating with the MI6.
         This period also saw  the mushrooming, with funds allegedly provided by the CIA, of a large number of private radio stations in South-East Asia. Many of these radio stations, which were run by Christian organisations, were anti-communist and anti-socialist  in the contents of their programmes.
         Another technique, perfected during the Cold  War and still used, was the co-opting of policy and decision makers as well as academics and other sections of the elite of the Third World countries by arranging invitations for travel to West Europe and the US, either for research or for participation in seminars, helping individuals in these countries to float think-tanks and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and arranging funds for them.
         The funds were arranged through cut-outs of Western universities, academics and NGOs. The indirect funding of the so-called Track 2 diplomacy gatherings is another psywar technique of recent origin.
         Amongst well-known NGOs, which in the past had allegedly been in receipt of funds from intelligence agencies, were the Amnesty International of the UK  and  the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) of Geneva.
         The Amnesty International was allegedly in receipt of funds from the Harold Wilson Government  in return for its playing down allegations of human rights violations by the British Security forces in Aden and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the ICJ was allegedly in receipt of funds from private lawyers’ organisations in the US, whose contributions to the ICJ were re-imbursed to them by the CIA.
         Following disclosures to the British media by a secretary of the Amnesty, the Wilson Government had admitted its links with the organisation and the CIA’s alleged contributions to the ICJ through private lawyers’ organisations came to notice during the post-Watergate enquiries into the functioning of the CIA and the FBI.
USE OF THE TV
         The TV came on its own as an instrument of  perception-management in the 1960s. The role played by the visuals from Vietnam  disseminated by the anti-war groups in the West in turning public opinion against the war brought home to the Western agencies the importance of manipulating this medium.
         TV Marti, the TV station of the CIA , started telecasting programmes to the Cuban people and the CIA helped a number of private businessmen to start TV stations for telecasting programmes to the communist countries from places such as West Berlin and Hong Kong.
         Instruments such as printed pamphlets, books, radio broadcasts, the telephone and the fax, the E-mail and the Internet are good for the hard aspects of psywar  for alienating the people from their state and for discrediting the state in the eyes of its people and the world, but have only limited use  for the soft aspect of projecting the power or group behind the psywar in an attractive light  and creating a desire to emulate its culture, ways of life etc.
         It is here that the value of the TV as a medium comes. Through a sophisticated production and projection of programmes, one can create in the minds of the targeted 
audience, particularly the urban-based elite and youth, an uncritical  admiration of the Western societies, soften their prejudices towards the West and evoke a desire to imitate them. Sections of the targeted audience lose faith in their own society and culture.
         Writing in the “Washington Quarterly” of summer 1995, Gerald Segal, Senior Fellow, the International Institute For Strategic Studies, London, said: “ It is only when Hong Kong-based consortia began satellite broadcasting of foreign and Chinese soap operas and international sports that the satellite broadcasts were watched by many millions of people on a regular basis.  The fact that the BBC World Service TV was carried on the commercial satellite gave it greater penetration of the market, but persistent anecdotal evidence is clear that the viewers (in Asia) were picking up Western values mainly from the entertainment and only in passing from “talking heads” (talk shows) discussing human rights.  It was “Baywatch”, “Dallas”, “Beavis and Butt-Head” or “Kung-Fu” episodes that were watched by most people and precisely because they were so much more attractive than more cerebral television, such programmes were more effective in undermining state retention of authority and control over values.”
         He further said: “ When Rupert Murdoch, well-known for his outspoken criticism of Asian and especially communist authoritarians, dropped BBCWSTV  from his Hong Kong-based STAR TV because China warned that its presence put at risk the entire venture, many saw the move as an uncharacteristic pre-emptive kowtow to communists.  But, by removing the overtly political message and continuing to provide soap operas about conspicuous consumption and loose morals, STAR was actually beginning to do far more damage to the authority of the Chinese Communist Party.”
         Writing of the CNN and the BBCWSTV, Segal  further said: “ CNN and, for a time, BBCWSTV added subversive images to the subversive voices that came from the likes of the Voice of America and a wide range of European shortwave broadcasters.”
         As examples of such images, he cited the coverage of the demolition of the Berlin Wall, the popular uprising in Romania in 1989-90 and the student riots in Bangkok in 1992.
         India has bitter memories of  how doctored TV images and stories were used to incite the Kashmiris against the Government of India. In 1989-90,  before the advent of the satellite TV to the South Asian region, Pakistan TV bought  large quantities of video clips of the Romanian uprising from Western TV companies and telecast them to the Valley, inciting the local people to emulate the Romanians and rise against their government. Concerned over this, the then V.P.Singh Government  set up a special committee to counter the subversion of the Kashmiris through the TV.
         In October 1993, when the Kashmiri extremists occupied the Hazratbal shrine, the BBC telecast a report alleging that the Indian army had launched an operation Blue Star type raid of the shrine as a result of which it had caught fire. It never corrected this blatantly false report.
         In May 1995, after the burning-down of the Charar-e-Sharif  holy shrine in Kashmir by the extremists, the BBC, while telecasting the news, showed visuals of Russian-made tanks, apparently to create an impression in the minds of the Muslim viewers  that the shrine probably caught fire because of the use of the tanks by the Indian army.  When the Government of India protested and pointed out that the same visuals had some days earlier been shown while telecasting the fighting between Russian troops and Muslim extremists in Chechnya, the BBC telecast a correction only in its Asian service and not to the rest of the world.  It admitted that the visuals were from Chechnya and not Kashmir and attributed the mistake to a technical mix-up.
         Digitalisation and Direct-To-Home (DTH) TV  have added to the concerns of security experts. The Strategic Assessment for 1995 brought out by the Institute For National Strategic Studies of Washington, which functions under the National Defence University of the Pentagon, said: “ Tomorrow’s antennas can increasingly be blended into walls and other background, thus frustrating bans on their possession.  Electronic focussing can frustrate terrestrial jamming.  Video compression, which multiplies the number of channels that any satellite can host, enhances the economics of narrowcasting.  A billion dollar investment can yield well over a hundred digital stations, which, in turn, could be profitably leased for perhaps US $ two million a year.  At that price, any of several aggrieved national or political groups—Kurds, radical Shiites, Sikhs, Burmese mountain tribes---could afford to broadcast propaganda 24 hours a day to wide swaths of territory.”
         The DTHTV provides extremist elements, having large funds earned from narcotics, and foreign intelligence agencies with the opportunity of leasing channels under front companies from a DTH operator and using the channels to disseminate doctored images such as those of a Muslim killing Hindus or Christians or vice versa and rumours to the drawing rooms of individual viewers, thereby adding to social and communal tensions.
         Writing in the “Foreign Policy” (Fall 1997) , John Deutch, Director of the CIA during Clinton’s first term, referred to the dangers of morphed images and messages being introduced into a country’s  radio and TV systems, spreading lies and inciting people to violence.
         Till recently, in the US, foreigners were not permitted to operate telephone and DTH services.  Murdoch had to take up US nationality and permanent residence there before he could apply for a DTH licence . However, he has since abandoned his DTH project because of opposition from local cable operators. Now because of the stipulation of the World Trade Organisation on the opening-up of the telephone services to foreigners, the US Congress has been considering conditions under which foreigners would be issued a licence.  One of the conditions seeks to lay down that a licence can be refused in public interest, that is, on grounds of national security. Similar conditions are expected to be imposed in respect of DTH services by foreigners too.
         In South-East and East Asia, only Japan allows foreigners to have 25 per cent equity participation in companies offering DTH services. In other countries, including China, there is a ban on foreign participation in DTH services.
         Writing jointly in the “Foreign Affairs” journal of the US (March-April,1996), Joseph S.Nye, former Chairman of the US National Intelligence Council and former Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Affairs in the Clinton Administration,  and Admiral William A.Owens, former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Clinton Administration, said as follows: “Soft  power is the ability to achieve desired outcomes in international affairs through attraction rather than coercion. It works by convincing others to follow, or getting them to agree to, norms and institutions that produce the desired behaviour.  Soft power can rest on the appeal of one’s ideas or the ability to set the agenda in ways that shape the preference of others.  If a state can make its power legitimate in the perception of others and establish international institutions that encourage them to channel or limit their activities, it may not need to expend as many of its costly traditional economic or military resources.”
         They also added: “ The Voice of America has in the last few years become the primary news source for 60 per cent of the educated Chinese. America’s increasing technical ability to communicate with the public in foreign countries literally over the heads of their rulers via satellite (TV), provides a great opportunity to foster democracy.”
         After the collapse of the communist regimes of Europe, the direction of the US psywar machine has turned to Asia. The set-up of Radio Free Europe has reportedly been shifted from Munich to Prague to broadcast anti-Saddam Hussein programmes to Iraq. Since September 1996, a new radio station called Radio Free Asia, ostensibly privately run, but funded by the Congress, has been broadcasting programmes in Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese, Vietnamese and Korean languages. China started jamming these broadcasts in Septembert,1997.
THE FAX, THE E-MAIL, THE CD-ROM AND THE INTERNET
         The Fax, the E-mail, the CD-ROM and the Internet have placed new and sophisticated instruments of psywar in the hands of not only intelligence agencies, but also separatist, extremist and terrorist organisations.  These electronic instruments have totally revolutionised  the concept of psywar.
         Whereas psywar, as practised in the past, whether by a state or individual groups, was directed at a community or a group of people, these instruments have made it possible to direct psywar at specially-selected individuals in the targeted country or population, who would be in a position to influence others.
         The Fax, the E-mail, the Internet  and the CD-ROM are being extensively used by the Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch of the US and other anti-establishment NGOs, either acting on their own or at the instance of Western intelligence agencies, for maintaining two-way communications with political dissidents in China and Cuba.
         Political exiles from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt living in the UK, the Algerian exiles in France, the Kurdish exiles in different countries of Europe and the overseas supporters of the Kashmiri extremists  use these instruments for their propaganda. Similarly, the Tibetan and the Uighur exiles have been using them against China and the Burmese students abroad against the military regime.
         Writing in the “Strategic Review”  (Spring 1997), Christopher M. Centner, an analyst of the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), said: “ The modern information age provides a means to make arguments directly to influential individuals and audiences, without going through traditional diplomatic or propagandistic means.  The era of state-to-state diplomacy is fast declining.  The era of state-to-person diplomacy is beginning.”
         He added: “ The new information media---Internet and its associate systems, E-mail, satellite communications, personal computers , CD-ROMs and others--- permit the state more opportunities to address foreign individuals on a one-to-one basis…Data manipulation, E-mail spoofing (intentional electronic masquerading of oneself as another person or electronic entity) , turned human intelligence resources, altered audio, video and other media can all be used. Other information sources--- individuals, private companies, agencies---that could impede the acceptance of the campaign’s themes may be disabled or discredited by, among other means, the use of rumours spread through Faxes or E-mail, during conferences or World Wide Web sites.
         “The new information age permits precision-guided propaganda, much as modern technology permits precision-guided bombs.  Propaganda can be customised to particular individuals, interest groups and factions, increasing the probability of campaign success.  It is possible to envision the creation of a propaganda planning and execution organisation that would co-ordinate a campaign in support of a major national security goal.
         “ As we enter the age of information technology and information warfare, it is time to re-examine and revise our thoughts on propaganda. As information becomes increasingly critical, the molding of information and the judicious orchestration of emerging media become not only more essential to achieving national goals, but to US security itself, ” he assessed.
HOW TO COUNTER PSYWAR THROUGH ELECTRONIC MEANS?
         With the advent of the new electronic instruments, intelligence agencies have been facing difficulty in counter-psywar as seen from the experience of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Algeria and China.  It is reported that there are 15,000 web sites on the Internet operated by the Tibetan exiles and their world-wide supporters through which people in China  can access the Tibetan Government-in-exile, the Tibetan Library of Works and Archives, the International Campaign For Tibet etc.
         It is also believed that just as in the past Western intelligence agencies funded many NGOs in order to use them for their operations, they are now clandestinely funding many Internet service providers for similarly using them for their operations.  The CIA is believed to be operating many Internet service provider companies in the Scandinavian countries so that Chinese, Tibetan and Uighur political dissidents could directly send information about human rights violations through these CIA-operated servers without going through the servers of the Chinese Government.
         In its counter-psywar campaign, the Chinese Government ordered in 1996 that everyone subscribing to the Internet should be registered with the Ministry of Public Security, the internal intelligence organisation. On December 11,1997, the Chinese State Council approved a set of 25 new regulations to prevent the misuse of the Internet by anti-national elements for leaking state secrets, spreading harmful information, splitting the country and defaming government agencies and to strengthen the supervisory powers of the Ministry of Public Security.
         The ASEAN countries have also strengthened their supervisory mechanism to prevent the misuse of the Internet.
INDIA AND PSYWAR
         The importance of a co-ordinated, inter-departmental and inter-ministerial approach to psywar was realised in 1989-90 when the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan, the Kashmiri and Sikh extremists stepped up false propaganda against the Government of India on alleged human rights violations.
         Effective counter-psywar calls for collection of intelligence on the identities of the groups and agencies carrying on psywar against India, the details of their propaganda and the medium used by them for the dissemination ( pamphlets, radio, TV, Video cassettes, NGOs etc ).
         While this task was entrusted to the intelligence agencies, the formulation of a plan of action for counter-psywar, allotting responsibilities for its implementation and monitoring the execution of the plan were done by an inter-ministerial committee.  This structure produced good results.
         Psywar work has since become much more complex and difficult due to the easy access now available to the Fax, the E-mail and the Internet, the mushrooming of  foreign-controlled satellite TV channels, all of them uplinking from outside the country, the likely advent of DTH services provided by foreign companies and the proliferation of NGOs, some of them suspected to be funded by foreign intelligence agencies, specialising not only in human rights and environmental issues, but also in economic issues.
         Many of the economic NGOs and think-tanks, such as the Transparency International based in West Berlin, have been periodically issuing assessments and indices of questionable value such as the corruption index, the competitiveness index etc.  Their only purpose seems to be to create in the minds of the people of the emerging-market countries prejudices against their own leaders, bureaucrats and business firms and make the people more favourable to the multinationals. 
         Defensive psywar work during peace-time has now a political as well as an economic dimension. Political psywar relates to the identification of signs of alienation in any sections of our population which might become the targets of cultivation by foreign elements, advising the Government on action to remove their grievances, monitoring the attempts of foreign elements to exploit the alienation in their propaganda against the Government of India and countering such attempts and mounting a counter-campaign against the foreign elements in order to frustrate their efforts.
         Economic psywar is about identifying foreign elements trying to create false perceptions about the state of our economy through the dissemination of false reports, mischievous speculation and rumours and to damage our stock and currency markets and competitiveness and countering them.
         The essential requirement of effective psywar during peace or war-time is the availability of an exhaustive database with details of the elements carrying on false propaganda,  the contents of their propaganda, the dissemination techniques used by them etc.  The building-up of such a database should be a priority task of the intelligence community.
         While psywar during peace-time is of a purely defensive reactive nature, during war-time, it has to be proactive and aggressive in order to confuse and discredit the adversary in a pre-emptive manner.  The capability for such a psywar has to be built up in the intelligence community even during peace-time. 
 

B.RAMAN                                                        27-2-99
 

( The writer is Additional Secretary (Retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and presently, Director,  Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail address: corde@vsnl.com )

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