The recent revelations by Rolling Stone magazine about the US army’s alleged use of ‘psychological operations’ on Congressmen have created a stir in America.
It has been claimed that the “Psy Ops”, as they’re called, were used as a means of securing more military funding and support for the war in Afghanistan.
Now there are fears that US military hawks are extending too much influence into politics.
Rolling Stone magazine questions whether or not US lawmakers were brainwashed by the military when making key decisions on supporting the escalation of war in Afghanistan, alleging that Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the man in charge of training in Afghanistan, ordered psychological operations against visiting Senators and congressional delegations to manipulate them into backing more funding and troops for the war there.
The head of the special unit that conducts psychological operations, now termed “information support operations”, said he was told to provide, “deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds.”
“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” claims Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressmen, you’re crossing a line.”
Moreover, it’s illegal to do so. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psychological operations imply the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors, and are supposed to be used exclusively on “hostile foreign groups.”
But instead of fighting Afghan insurgents, Holmes and his team were systematically ordered to use their training to influence US members of Congress.
The Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation Steve Clemons believes “This is methodology used against enemies, this is not something you do with allies or members of your own government tasked with oversight responsibilities of your operations – that is why the Senators were there: not to be partners but to have oversight over what the Pentagon was doing.”
“Because the Pentagon did not want that oversight as much and wanted to extract more resources from the Senator support mission, they used the same techniques they used against the Taliban against the US Senate. That’s incredible.”
The long list of high-profile targets included the chairman of the Senate’s Armed Forces Committee Carl Levin, Steve Israel, member of the House Appropriations Committee Steve Israel, and senators John McCain and Al Franken.
However, some of the Senators say they doubt they were subject to any influence.
“I don’t see how it could have affected my positions in any way, we’ll see what happens,” John McCain said.
But back in January last year, Steve Clemons reported on the sudden shift of some of the senator’s views after their visit to Afghanistan. “There was a very big jump in position. And I felt “This is like a confidence game”. I felt as if the military was manipulating people. But I didn’t know about the Psy-Ops at that time,” Steve Clemons said.
One example is senator Al Franken, who in January last year went to Afghanistan with strong doubts and criticism, but came back “feeling much better”, as he put it.
Despite the US continuing to pump billions of dollars into the military campaign in Afghanistan, the insurgency has been intensifying; the rampant drug trade is surging just like the war’s unpopularity in America.
“The problem is that we need a political solution, not a military solution. Generals do not bring wars to an end – politicians do,” Jake Diliberto, of Veterans for Rethinking Afghanistan, said.
Some say the reported use of psychological tactics to influence politicians could be happening not only in Afghanistan, but in Washington as well.
“There tends to be a belief that you can’t necessarily trust the political leaders behind the war but you can trust the military command, but that’s not the case here. The military is just as eager to spin events to their own benefit and unfortunately Congressmen are all too willing to believe that,” shared Jason Ditz, Author from Antiwar.com.
Now the Pentagon is looking into the matter. Experts say they’re going to try and downplay the effect of the report, and Lt. Gen. Caldwell has denied having given such orders. If the allegations are true, for many it’s a further testament to the wobbliness of civilian control over the military in today’s America.
According to US Congressman from 1991-1995 Tom Andrews, it is quite possible that the American military could have exercised psychological weapons on its own lawmakers.
“It is clearly possible. There is a psychological weapon of war that is well-developed, that is in the parcel of warfare that most countries engage in to one degree or another. Of course, there is an entire unit in Afghanistan, and its mission is exactly that,” he said. “It is one thing to train that on the Taliban. It is another thing to train it on members of Congress.”
“To take sophisticated weapons of war and train them on your own Congress, which is responsible for civilian oversight of the military, is very serious indeed, and needs a thorough investigation not just by the Pentagon but by the Justice Department and by Congress,” Andrews added