Over the past 200 years, a number of Western countries, primarily the United States, Britain, Germany and France, have honed their skills in conducting information operations aimed at both their own citizens and the enemy’s consciousness. With the advent of newspapers and magazines, political propaganda took many forms – essays, news stories, cartoons, manifestos, and open appeals.
During military conflicts, leaflets and sent agitators were used to influence the other side, and the spirit of patriotism was pumped up through the entertainment industry – theatres, and later radio and cinema. The leaders of Western countries spoke openly about the importance of fighting for the minds and hearts of people, often using clearly non-democratic methods for this. And the emergence of new technologies constantly strengthened the services of conducting information and psychological operations, regardless of which department they belonged to – civilian or military.
In turn, this led to the emergence of new terms – information war, network war, cognitive war, war by other means, etc. The most recent of them is Tik-Tok war, which appeared due to the surge (not without the help of Western intelligence agencies) of the pro-Ukrainian context on this social network.
Before we begin to describe the work of these centres, their methods, scope, and target groups, we need a brief historical digression to identify key events, organisations, and figures that have influenced the development of a culture of manipulation and disinformation in the West as a whole.
A significant contribution to the field of influence technologies in the United States was made by Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, who used the psychoanalytic ideas of his uncle along with methods of manipulation and crowd control. Bernays was a publicist for various companies from the Procter & Gamble company and General Motors to American Tobacco Company and General Electric. To describe the artificial creation of public opinion, he proposed the term “consent engineering”.
It was thanks to Bernays that the concept of PR (public relations) became widely known, as he proposed to replace it with “propaganda”, since after the Second World War, as he believed, this word was discredited by Nazi Germany.
Another key author from the United States is sociologist and journalist Walter Lippmann, who published the books “Public Opinion” and “Phantom Public”. It is important to note that Lippmann had access to the highest corridors of power, co-authored the convention on the creation of the League of Nations, coined the term “stereotype “and developed the concept of the “Cold War” in detail.
It is also important to note the contribution of Hollywood cinema to the manipulation of public consciousness. The very emergence of this film industry was associated with the need to reach the general public with an entertainment network, since theatres were too expensive for the poor in the United States to spend leisure time.
The Great Depression prompted the emergence of a special genre of superheroes, which were supposed to serve as a kind of solace from social adversity and rampant crime. If things were really bad in real life, the masses needed to be given a pill of illusions so that they would not give up hope for the future. The cartoon “Steamboat Willie” with Mickey Mouse was released in 1929, becoming a kind of sign of optimism and hard work.
Similarly, the cartoon “Three Little Pigs”, released on the screen in 1933, had a clear connotation with overcoming adversity and problems that were associated with the wolf. Poor young men and women in Hollywood movies who suddenly achieved success in a miraculous way, became symbols of success and faith in the unlimited possibilities of any ordinary American. Although not everyone tried to emulate them in practice, almost everyone began to believe that this is a kind of norm for the United States.
This approach was justified and even brought good profits to animation studios and film companies, so in the future such superheroes began to appear more and more often in comics and on screens. The same superman came out to the general public at the end of the Great Depression, in 1938 (although it was invented in 1933, but the authors Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster could not find a publisher) and quickly gained popularity.
A year later, the Great Depression was over, but soon the Second World War began, and propaganda methods needed to be adjusted. Having become well versed in the techniques of manipulating their own citizens, the staff of experts was ready to work on new tasks.
Prior to World War II, not much was officially done for external influence in the United States. President Woodrow Wilson created the Committee of Public Information in April 1917, when World War I was raging, but it only lasted until August 1919. Various foundations and interest groups were much more active. The Council on Foreign Relations was established in 1921.
Among the initiators of the creation, along with about 150 scientists, were the previously mentioned Walter Lippmann, as well as President Wilson’s adviser, Colonel Edward M. House. Since the late 30s the Council was supported by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. A breakthrough was achieved during the Second World War thanks to the specific activities of the group for the study of war and peace, and one of the directions in this structure was headed by the notorious Allen Dulles.
In addition to its extensive network of committees in US cities, the Council on Foreign Relations incorporated numerous officials into its membership, and later began to open branches abroad – these were their ears and eyes, which served a triple function – they were sensors for collecting necessary information, distributed their own content through controlled and associated organisations and media, and recruited personnel required for their work.
In the US armed forces in 1942, a single Office of Strategic Services was established, created on the basis of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and it was replaced in 1947 by the CIA. In parallel, the Office of War Information operated, which lasted from June 1942 to September 1945.
In 1948, the RAND Corporation was created, whose task was military planning based on research and high-tech technologies. The original site was the Douglas Aircraft Company, based in Santa Monica, California, which launched the project in October 1945, but then RAND became an independent non-profit organisation. [ii]
Already in 1946, prior to the separation into a separate organisation, the first project dedicated to the creation of a space satellite was completed, and in 1948 John von Neumann began work on a computer in order to analyse and process information more efficiently. In 1950, a project for research into the Soviet Union was launched – the first work was the report of Nathan Leites “The Operational Code of the Politburo”. In 1957, research in the field of artificial intelligence was launched, and in 1962, Paul Baran was working on a new type of communication based on distributed data packets, which became the basis for the Internet.
Overall, many of the studies were unique and promising. RAND analysts picked up problems at the stage of their early appearance and tried to find solutions for them. Often these recommendations later served as practical policies. For example, RAND conducted a special study on the topic of homosexuality in the US Armed forces back in 1993, and the conclusions stated that it was necessary to combat discrimination against homosexuals in the US army, for which legislative amendments were adopted and social policy within the US as a whole was adjusted.
It should be noted that since 1991, when it was no longer necessary to study the behaviour of Soviet leaders and the political course of the USSR, RAND has partially refocused on global issues, such as the spread of diseases and drug trafficking, hunger in poor countries, etc. However, after 2014, the subject of Russia is sharply updated, both in terms of strategic deterrence and military planning, as well as in terms of media and propaganda.
A sister project to RAND is the US Department of Defence’s Advanced Research Projects Agency DARPA, created in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of an artificial Earth satellite in February 1958. [iii]
The Agency now has seven departments that focus on technology adaptation; defence sciences; information innovation (the goal is to achieve the technological advantage of the United States in all areas); microsystem technologies such as chips, photonics and micro-materials; strategic technologies; tactical technologies and biotechnology. In a certain sense, some programs are interconnected.
Over the many years of the Agency’s existence, many programs and products related to manipulating public consciousness have been implemented, for example, Information Support for military operations. [iv]
The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University is another important tool for analysing and making decisions in US foreign policy. [v] The current director of the Belfer Center is former US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter.
One of his collaborators, Kelly Greenhill, released a study on how to use migration flows as a weapon of war. [vi] Since her first publication on the topic was published back in 2008, it can be assumed that this methodology was later adapted and applied to create a crisis situation with migrants in Europe. [vii] The Belfer Center has a special group for Russia.
Other think tanks include the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, which focuses on strategy, geopolitics, political planning, technology, cybersecurity, defence, economics, and energy. [viii] The centre employs about a hundred experts, and external staff is also involved.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace [ix] and the Rockefeller Foundation [x] are among the oldest think tanks that actively promote their agenda, including through the creation of media content and their local agents. And the National Endowment for Democracy is closely linked to the US State Department and has intervened in the internal affairs of other states.
With regard to broad media activity in the external environment for political purposes, this sector was brought under government control in 1953, when the United States Information Agency was created, which lasted until 1999, after which its functions were transferred to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which was reformed into the United States Agency for Global Media. [xi] Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and many other similar projects known since the Cold War are products of this agency.
The US Department of State’s Office of International Information Programs also engages in global outreach, working closely with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). [xii]
In addition, the globalisation of the American media itself, namely CNN, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC, the New York Times, Bloomberg, Washington Post, Reuters, Associated Press and others, has allowed the United States to achieve global dominance in the world of media and propaganda. It’s possible to recall the statement of former US Deputy Secretary of Defence Joseph Nye, the author of the concept of “soft power”, that “the world saw the Gulf War through the eyes of CNN”. [xiii] The special success of CNN was associated with its network structure – the word “network” is in the name of the media outlet.
Therefore, since the 1990s, experts in the United States have been paying special attention to network structures and the impact of new means of communication on the emergence of new methods of command, control and dissemination of information. “Power is migrating to nonstate actors, because they are able to organise into sprawling multiorganisational networks,” wrote John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt in their book “Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy”, published by the RAND Corporation. [xiv]
This is related to the interest of a number of US institutes, think tanks, and research laboratories in network models of organisations. Ann-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University (who also served as Director of Planning at the US State Department under Obama) pointed out that the modern political world is made up of many international networked “states”, whereas in true nation states such networked components become just as important as their central leadership. [xv]
Another example of the use of scientific methods for political purposes is the signing on September 15, 2015 by US President Barack Obama of a decree on the need to apply behavioural science methods in government agencies.[xvi] This clearly reflects the role of Cass Sunstein, formerly an administrator in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. He co-authored the book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness with a British colleague. where beautiful words hide methods of psychological manipulation in the context of everyday activities.
The Arab Spring, or rather, external influence through non-governmental organisations and social networks, also fits into the framework of behaviourism, only this time manipulation was carried out against citizens of other countries. And the latest offshoot of behaviourism, known as “nudge”, is nothing more than another technology for managing people adapted to modern reality.
It is important to note that manipulation is often carried out using pre-created narratives. It’s possible to create a powerful physical network infrastructure, but if adequate content is not properly pumped through it, in some ways corresponding to the expectations of the masses and shaping their positions, then it will be useless.
The main thing in this question is the narrative. And the narratives can be very diverse – from global warming and environmental problems (the goal in this case can be to reduce the consumption of classical energy sources, including oil, gas and nuclear energy) to safety problems and the introduction of any classifications that become important indicators.
As an example of such classification indicators, we can cite such concepts as “fragile state” and “failed state”, which are actively used in the United States as criteria for public policy in a particular country. The Fragile States Index has been published by the American Fund for Peace for many years. [xviii]
In one study, the phenomenon of the fragility of states is called nothing less than a new class of conflict. To deal with such problems, the United States has developed a strategy of interagency interaction, where the US State Department, the Office of the Coordinator for Stabilisation and Reconstruction, the USAID international aid agency, and the Department of Defence, through special forces and civil-military initiatives, will jointly restore order in countries that have had the misfortune to fall into the list of these fragile states. [xix] The concept of “stabilisation operations” previously formed the basis of the Field Charter of the US Army “FM 3-07 Stability Operations”, which was adopted in 2008. [xx]
However, it is interesting that in 2021, the highest increase in fragility occurred in the United States!
In addition, this criterion is also used by supranational structures such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. A special World Bank blog dedicated to fragile states justifies financial intervention in various regions and similar “economic murders”, often referred to as building inclusive societies. [xxi]
The World Bank will actively involve private businesses to work with fragile states, since the involvement of third parties is a kind of cover for economic occupation, and on the other hand, it is possible to shift some of the responsibility to donors, while at the same time establishing control over their activities.
The most cynical thing is that the World Bank develops policies for various countries that are labeled “fragile states” by a structure called the Independent Evaluation Group. [xxii]
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, another instrument of Western dominance, is also not indifferent to the dilemma of “fragile states”, and suggests doing nothing more than “mobilising local resources”, that is, giving a certain percentage of their national wealth – oil, gas, minerals, etc., since foreign direct investment in production will have too low a return. [xxiii]
As we can see, such a complex interweaving of evaluation criteria, legitimising documents, and institutions dealing with these issues makes it possible to implement a strategy of the progressive seizure of states, territories, and resources – all thanks to an artificially coined term.
Similar concepts include classifications of press freedom, religious freedom, economic freedom, and so on, all of which are fabricated by American think tanks and corporations. And as a result, the State Department’s desk is filled with information that justifies sanctions, military interventions, and colour revolutions.
So, as a result, we have several parallel branched structures united by similar goals and objectives. The US State Department and other authorised agencies are preparing content for disinformation and propaganda in other countries. Various private media outlets, such as print media, television, and Internet sites, conduct similar activities.
Specific tasks are performed by security forces — the Pentagon, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, etc., often in conjunction with the Agency for International Development.
Research centres, think tanks, and laboratories analyse specific topics and areas (for example, how to improve propaganda methods for North Korean citizens based on interviews with defectors) [xxiv], develop strategies and road maps in relation to certain regions or objects.
Further, the methods are transferred to operational centres for testing and, if positive results are obtained, they are applied to target groups and states. For this purpose, the necessary resources are regularly allocated, and specialists from various universities are selected to become research associates for certain projects, including military ones.
In the next publication, we will take a closer look at the programs and initiatives for informational-psychological operations in the military technology sector and the Pentagon.
[xiii] J. Nye. After Iraq: USA Power and Strategy. “Russia in Global Politics”. No. 3, July – September 2003.
[xiv] Arquilla J., Ronfeldt D. Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy. Santa Monica: RAND, 2001.
[xv] Slaughter, A.-M. 2004. A New World Order: Government Networks and the Disaggregated State. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
[xvii] Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Penguin Books, 2009.
[xix] Pauline H. Baker. Forging a U.S. Strategy Toward Fragile States. The Stanley Foundation’s Strategy for Peace Conference. October 15-17, 2009. http://www.stanleyfoundation.org/spc_2009/Baker.pdf
[xx] Field Manual 3-07 – Stability Operations. Headquarters of the Army. October 2008.
[xxiii] Green Duncan. How to Fix Fragile States? The OECD Reckons it’s All Down to Tax Systems. 02/28/2014 http://blogs.worldbank.org//publicsphere/how-fix-fragile-states-oecd-reckons-it-s-all-down-tax-systems