Psychological Operations. These two words have become so controversial that the U.S. Army in 2010 nonchalantly changed the term to the rather bland and bureaucratic “Military Information Support Operations (MISO).”  

Rosa Brooks, Senior Advisor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Rule of Law and International Humanitarian Policy explained: “The term PSYOP was anachronistic and misleading; Military Information Support is a more accurate description of the activities and programs at issue.”

But how necessary was this course of action? It was enough of concern, apparently, that our company command directed us to cover up the unit nomenclature anytime we took our vehicle out of Fort Bragg for field exercises. The word “POB” (Psychological Operations Battalion) was apparently enough to strike fear in the masses.

According to the United States Department of Defense (DoD), Psychological Operations or PSYOPs are: 

“Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of psychological operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to the originator’s objectives.”

The DoD definition of PSYOP also seeks to distance itself from words with negative connotations, such as “deception” or “lies.

U.S. PSYOP is essentially the means to influence foreign audiences to better serve the United States’ interests. Note the words “foreign audiences.” Whereas people might conflate the term “propaganda” with PSYOP, propaganda is a more generic term without constraints regarding target audience, type of message, or means of delivery.

Perhaps the concern stems from the fact the roots of military PSYOP relied heavily on experiences in civilian propaganda, with the two being conflated during times of conflict. Simply put, PSYOP is a form of propaganda, but not all forms of propaganda are PSYOP.