U.S. ARMY PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS SHOULDER STRAPS

Propaganda has been a powerful and controversial component of psychological operations for decades. Since World War II, propaganda employed by the United States military have generally been divided into three categories. White propaganda is essentially truthful advertising with a powerful message from an acknowledge source. Gray propaganda, on the other hand, often contains a great deal of truthful information, but it is presented in a way to reinforce a particular perspective and its source not identified. Black propaganda is nothing less than intentional deceit that is attributed to a source that was not responsible for its creation. Former CIA director William Colby described it as material that has been “planted by the United States but in such a way that it seems to be the product or even an internal document of the target group.”

While Black propaganda can prove quite effective at generating either public outrage or support for a particular cause or group, it comes at a price: The party truly responsible for its creation loses almost all its credibility should its identity come to light. In the age of the Internet, the sharing of information at essentially the speed of light makes such discovery more likely than ever before.

One example of black that was unmasked is Radio Tikrit, a radio station that began broadcasting in early February 2003. In the first few weeks of operations, the station seemed to show firm support for Saddam Hussein and his government, mimicking the types of opinions heard on government-sponsored media outlets. The very name also seemed to be very pro-Hussein, since Tikrit was his birthplace.

But in very short order the messages shifted dramatically. One report bewailed the widespread poverty in the country—presumably due to the policies of Saddam Hussein—and another went so far as to encourage soldiers to refuse direct orders issued by Hussein and their military leaders.

News of the change spread quickly around the Internet, and before February was over it was generally accepted that Radio Tikrit was some type of U.S. psyop. What gave the operation away was the rapidity at which the station changed the tenor of its broadcast despite the fact that nothing of import had changed in terms of the United States’ expected military intervention in the country.

Radio Tikrit was never officially linked to the U.S government, and in fact could have been a PSYOP launched by anti-Hussein segments inside Iraq (although voice analysis indicated one of the station’s announcers was also heard on an admitted U.S. radio station). Whatever the source, its efficacy at swaying public opinion was essentially eliminated once it was generally accepted to be operating under a false identity.

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