DOD aims psy-ops at Iraqi officers

193rd Special Operations Wing

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The Defense Department is continuing, and perhaps has stepped up, its electronic psychological operations campaign directed at the upper echelons of the Iraqi military now that hostilities have begun.

In a press conference March 20, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that DOD officials are "in communication with still more people who are officials of the [Iraqi] military at various levels," warning them of the outcome of their actions should they take up arms against U.S. or allied forces.

Defense officials confirmed in January that they had been sending e-mail messages to Iraqi military officials as part of a psychological operations campaign. For decades, military forces have dropped leaflets on enemy soldiers in an attempt to persuade them to surrender before engaging in combat. The new e-mail campaign, according to experts, is a technological extension of that.

DOD in January began sending thousands of e-mail messages to commanders, promising protection for those who comply with the order to not use weapons of mass destruction against allied forces. Responding to reports from CNN and Reuters that quote anonymous military officials, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command told Federal Computer Week that the e-mail program does exist, but he would not divulge any other details.

Robert Martinage, a senior defense analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the psychological operations campaigns have moved beyond just e-mail, but that remains the most directed effort of which he is aware.

E-mail messages can address an individual personally, rather than relying on blanketing a geographic area, as was required with dropping leaflets.

"The ability to reach into the country and communicate is really a part of an overall, comprehensive psychological operations plan that has gotten more sophisticated," Martinage said. "We have also taken control of the major airwaves and are sending U.S. broadcasts out."

Martinage said the message DOD is trying to get across to the Iraqi people in general, and military in particular, is threefold: first, do not resist or take up arms against the allies; second, do not use weapons of mass destruction, or they will be held accountable as war criminals; and third, this is not a force of occupation, but one of liberation.

Getting the right messages to the right people is a key part of the operation, proving that the United States has the knowledge of who is in charge and how to reach them, said retired Navy Rear Adm. Stephen Baker, a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information, a nonprofit, independent research organization.

Baker said the effectiveness of the psychological operations will probably be known in the first few days of the conflict, as allied ground forces move further into Iraq.

"The e-mail campaign will probably be proven to be a successful part of an overall psychological warfare plan to hit them in every direction using all of the conduits available to [the military]," he said.

The takeover of the radio airwaves will allow U.S. and allied forces to reach the Iraqi citizenry and soldiers in the field, and the e-mail campaign is directed at the higher-grade officers. Next, he said, could come the takeover of TV airwaves, giving allied forces a virtual lock on all forms of electronic media within the country.

"We have the technology and the capability to do just that, and it would probably prove to be very effective," Baker said.

Baker has said he thinks that the 193rd Special Operations Wing, which is part of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, and the CIA were "certainly" involved in the e-mail campaign, as were Iraqi defectors.

The 193rd is equipped with an airborne electronic broadcasting system and its mission is to support psychological operations by broadcasting programs in standard AM/FM radio, television, short wave and military communication bands, which they did during the Gulf War.

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