“Psychological Operations” Are Now “Military Information Support Operations”

By Kevin Maurer
Associated Press
July 2, 2010

The Army has dropped the Vietnam-era name “psychological operations” for its branch in charge of trying to change minds behind enemy lines, acknowledging the term can sound ominous.

The Defense Department picked a more neutral moniker: “Military Information Support Operations,” or MISO.

U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw said Thursday the new name, adopted last month, more accurately reflects the unit’s job of producing leaflets, radio broadcasts and loudspeaker messages to influence enemy soldiers and civilians.

“One of the catalysts for the transition is foreign and domestic sensitivities to the term ‘psychological operations’ that often lead to a misunderstanding of the mission,” McGraw said.

Fort Bragg is home to the 4th Psychological Operations Group, the Army’s only active duty psychological operations unit. Psychological operations soldiers are trained at the post.

The name change is expected to extend to all military services, a senior defense official said in Washington. The official, who has direct knowledge of the change, spoke on condition of anonymity because not all services have announced how they will revamp or rename their psychological operations offices.

The change was driven from the top, by Pentagon policymakers working for Defense Secretary Robert Gates. It reflects unease with the Cold War echoes of the old terminology, and the implication that the work involved subterfuge.

The change, however, left some current practitioners of psychological operations cold. Gone is the cool factor, posters to online military blogs said. With a name like MISO, one wrote, you might as well join the supply command.

Alfred H. Paddock, Jr., a retired colonel who was Director for Psychological Operations in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1986 to 1988, said the term has always had some baggage and been difficult to explain.

“Somehow it gives a nefarious connotation, but I think that this baggage can be overcome,” said Paddock, who also served three combat tours with Special Forces in Laos and Vietnam.

He said the military was giving in to political correctness by changing the name.

Psychological operations have been cast as spooky in movies and books over the years portraying the soldiers as master manipulators. The 2009 movie “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” staring George Clooney, was about an army unit that trains psychic spies, based on Jon Ronson’s nonfiction account of the U.S. military’s hush-hush research into psychic warfare and espionage.

But the real mission is far more mundane. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, psychological operations units dropped leaflets urging Iraqis to surrender.

In Vietnam, a psychological operations effort called the Open Arms Program bombarded Viet Cong units with surrender appeals written by former members. The program got approximately 200,000 Viet Cong fighters to defect.

McGraw said the name change was approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Eric Olson, the Special Operations commander, in mid-June.

Many in the psychological operations community, including Paddock, dislike the new name.

“Military Information Support Operations, or MISO, is not something that rolls off the tip of your tongue,” Paddock said. “It makes it even more difficult for psychological operations personnel to explain what they do. That they still have the capability to employ programs and themes designed to influence the behavior of foreign target audiences.”

© 2010 Associated Press

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6 comments for ““Psychological Operations” Are Now “Military Information Support Operations”

  1. Soldier-Cynic
    July 3, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    The lords on high did not pre-test the name. The jokes over “Mee-So” are running rampant from the mundane over soup to the perverse with 2 Live Crew and Full Metal Jacket. Trading credibility for ridicule is always a winning strategy.

    This has been presented as merely a terminology change, not a doctrinal one begging the question of whether this is a continuation of hiding military operations behind a veil of euphemism.

  2. July 4, 2010 at 11:28 am

    George Orwell laughs..

  3. July 4, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Soldier-Cynic, to be fair, it’s not as if “psychological operations” was considerably less euphemistic. It sounds like a preventative measure involving medical professionals, intended to stave off PTSD, or something. And “offensive psychological operations” isn’t a whole lot less confusing.

    “Information support operations” sounds like it should involve routers, Cat-5 cable, print servers, traffic-shaping, intrusion-detection systems, an arcane lexicon of ominous-sounding terms like “grep” and “groff” and “zoo” and “kill”, and overdesigned posters about “how to make technical support services work for *you*”.

  4. Garrett
    October 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    this is stupid, who ever came up with this grand idea was surrounded by brown nosing yes-men. really are people that bored? gotta change names? stop kissing up everytime someone doesnt like something, PC till the point of stupidity. what if i called airborne Air Service Sounders? Or air assault Special Helicopter Introduction Teams?

  5. Garrett
    October 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    **Air Service Soldiers

  6. M. Glenn
    January 29, 2012 at 7:06 am

    I’m glad I retired *before* this change came down the pipeline. PSYOP units were having enough trouble explaining to the rest of the Army what we do; and were having more than enough trouble as it was explaining to the commanders of supported units what we were supposed to do. This name change is catastrophic– “MISO” units are doomed to get stuck under unit G-7s (“Information Operations”), and have their proposed operations muddled to hell and gone in theater and their capabilities ignored and/or buried. And when the fight comes to get support and funding for these units, the Pentagon Brass and the elected representatives in Congress are certain to share the confusion.

    Whoever wanted this name change, wanted to utterly KILL OFF all real trace of what used to be called “Psychological Operations”– you can pretty much guarantee that.

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