Leaked information ops guide reveals psychological warfare tactics


The U.S. Army’s “Special Forces Guide to Information Operations” comes complete with a “destruction notice” on its cover, urging the reader to get rid of it “by any method that will prevent disclosure of contents or reconstruction of the document.” Dramatic disclaimers aside, though, a 2013 edition of this document surfaced this week on the website PublicIntelligence.net. Since it’s now in the public domain, it seems worthwhile to take a look at what the army is teaching its information warriors.

“The possession and use of information can provide a marked advantage to one military force over another,” the training circular states. “Stated in the simplest way, IO is the use of information to gain an advantage over an opponent. Such an advantage, known as information superiority, is achieved by a series of actions by military and other forces to impact both enemy forces and the operational area.”


The manual goes on to describe various psychological tactics that can be employed against an enemy in a conflict by different specialized Special Forces teams. It uses a confusing alphabet soup of acronyms to describe these teams and their roles, making much of the manual hard to read and difficult to quote, as well as often using euphemistic language (e.g. “military information support operations” instead of “psychological operations” or “psychological warfare”). Nevertheless, some recurring themes emerge as one reads the document and examines its extensive tables and sample worksheets.

A table of “effects for information operations,” for example, lists as desired “physical effects” to “degrade,” “disrupt,” and “destroy” enemy capabilities, as well as to “isolate” the enemy both physically and “cognitively,” with the additional desired “cognitive effects” to “isolate,” and “deceive.” Another table lists “influence,” “inform,” and “deceive” as the desired effects produced by a tactical psychological operations company, while the job of the civil affairs battalion is to “influence,” “inform,” and “co-opt” both the local populace and its civilian leadership.



The guide includes appendixes to aid with “tactical deception,” “media assessment,” “conducting face-to-face meetings,” and “how to use translators.” At times, despite its largely jargon-heavy and euphemistic tone, the document inadvertently reveals harsh realities of the environments U.S. forces are operating in. In a section describing a “Department of Defense Rewards Program” that pays informants for relevant military intelligence, it specifically notes that these Pentagon funds cannot be used for “running an intelligence program,” “an assassination program,” or “paying for illegal drugs (for example, a poppy, heroin, or cocaine buying program).”

The sections on rewards programs also includes a subsection on “rewards as a divisive tool.”

“As rewards are paid to individuals concurrent with the kill or capture of high-value individuals, friction can be created within an enemy network as members consider who may be leaking information, intentionally or unintentionally, that places the network at risk,” the document notes.


In other areas, the guide sometimes comes across as simplistic and written for an audience almost totally incapable of abstract thinking. In a discussion of the “topography of an information environment,” the document takes a very literal approach. “What people see of their physical surroundings is critical to their situational awareness, perceptions, and behavior. On the other end of the spectrum—the strategic level—the information environment is impacted less by physical features and more by abstract ideas, ideologies, and philosophies. Information flow is not terrain-dependent, extending well over the horizon by long-range and mass-communications systems.”

At times, the guide gives advice that might seem obvious, and betrays its status as a training document. “Never assume that the target audience does not speak or understand English,” it notes.



Overall, the Special Forces Guide to Information Operations is a rather convoluted and technical document, but it’s also clear why the army would want to keep its distribution restricted. Though nearly buried by the acronyms and tables, euphemisms and jargon, it also contains revealing insights into the deeply cynical thinking behind U.S. psychological warfare strategy. The military may want to keep these things secret, but if U.S. voters are ever to become informed enough rein in their government’s reckless and counterproductive foreign policy that has led it into constant war for the past decade and a half, they’re the kind of things they need to know.



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