15 (UK) Psychological Operations Group
The 15 (UK) Psychological Operations Group is a Territorial Army support Group for the British Army specialising in psyops or Psychological Operations. It was set up in 1998. It is based in Chicksands, Bedfordshire at the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre.
Responding to a question from George Foulkes the Armed Forces Minister Nicholas Soames stated in March 1997 that ‘We have one psychological operations unit, to which two personnel are assigned permanently to provide instruction in the psychological operations role. This unit can be expanded when required. These arrangements are currently under review.’  The review evidently led to the creation of the 15 POG in 1998.
For a short period after the invasion of Iraq the Group was renamed as the 15 (UK) Information Support Group, with an email address reflecting this: email@example.com At the time the MoD website noted that ‘There is a small cadre of regular personnel drawn from all 3 services, whilst the Reservist group of 28 provides the Unit with its media, broadcasting and publishing specialists. TA members of the Group have the opportunity to take part in military operations; and they frequently deploy on exercises worldwide.’
Psyops and Propaganda
According to David Miller:
- Psyops or psychological operations are an important yet hidden element of the information apparatus. On the rare occasions where their work does surface in the mainstream media, the propaganda line that they engage only in 'white' operations involving radio broadcasts and leaflet drops which are targeted only at enemy opinion (ie Iraqi forces) in order to save lives is scrupulously maintained. As Major Harry Taylor, the head of 42 Commando Royal Marines psyops unit puts it: 'The main thing is that we are trying to save these peoples lives'.
- In the UK psyops has been renamed 'Information support' a decidely Orwellian name change. Thousands of British soliders have passed through the psyops course run by the military and based at Chicksands, the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre in Bedfordshire. The US psyops teams in Iraq were the largest of any conflict including 11 companies and almost 1,000 personnel in Iraq or in support roles in the US, according to Lt Col Glenn Ayers commander of the 9th Psychological Operations Battalion.
- After the war, commanders at the US psyops HQ at Fort Bragg, were so proud of their achievements that they invited the media into their new $8.1 million centre and showed them round the facilities said to be capable of producing one million leaflets an hour. More than 150 million leaflets have been produced at Fort Bragg and distributed throughout Afghanistan and Iraq since September 2001. According to the commander of the 4th Psychological Operations Group, Col. James Treadwell the staff at the complex support the work of nearly 900 psyops troops in 13 countries. Of course no attention was drawn to the hidden part of their work which has remained largely unreported.
- It almost goes without saying that the content of the psyops material is mendacious. According to Major Taylor one of the messages is that the UK and US will not 'plunder the country'. Both the US and UK have run 'white' radio operations inside Iraq including 'Information Radio' broadcast by the US and Radio Nahran (Two Rivers Radio) run by the British in Basra during the war. According to some reports 'grey' operations are continuing in Iraq with one Baghdad weekly printing articles supplied by Fort Bragg, 'most of which don't appear to come from a US or military source'. In exchange the US buys and distributes 70,000 copies. The day after the fall of Baghdad UK and US psyops operatives launched their first television channel. Broadcast on the frequency formerly occupied by Iraqi TV, ‘’Towards Freedom’’ featured messages from Bush and Blair. The channel was the idea of a UK government information working group and ins commissioned by the FCO, paid for by the British Ministry of Defence and transmitted via the US 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg for eventual broadcast to Iraq from Kuwait, from the US psyops plane known as Commando Solo and from SOMS-B (Special Operations Media System-B) inside Iraq. The programmes are outsourced to World Television News, the private company which already runs the UK grey propaganda operation known as British Satellite News.
- Still, it is clear that their activities do continue to encompass 'black' propaganda operations including radio stations which disguise their sponsors and media disinformation. But their covert work does leave some traces. For example, one 'elaborate disinformation operation' operation was conducted even before the bombs began to fall. The UK Foreign Office confirmed that it was 'investigating rumours' that the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, had defected. This prompted Aziz into making a live media appearance to deny the story. According to reports Aziz was then 'tracked… to a bunker at a presidential palace where they expected him to report to Saddam', leading to the 'decapitation strike' on the 20 March. As with much of the 'intelligence' surrounding Iraq this turned out to be a botched job and neither Aziz or Hussein were killed.
- Another example was Radio Tikrit which launched in early February. 'It appeared to be just another regime-run station. It mocked the US and… praised "Saddam Hussein's Iraq"'. By late February the tone had changed and according to BBC monitoring it started to call on the republic guard to desert their post 'before it is too late'.
- This is the kind of approach which psyops and government present as an attempt to save the lives of combatants and it is similar to the messages aimed at the civilian population to keep away from military installations. This version of their work is in itself spin since what they are aiming to do is terrorise the population by threatening their lives. As Christopher Simpson, author of an authoritative study of psyops in the US argues that psyops: 'are premised on violence and they're premised on terror. That's why they work, to the extent that they work at all'. As if to underline this account Major Taylor of the Royal Marines gives this account of the work of British Army psyops:
- We use tactical and strategic methods. Tactically, on the first stage, we target the military by dropping leaflets stating the inevitability of their defeat, telling them they will not be destroyed if they play our game and exactly how they can surrender. On the second wave we show them pictures of Iraqi officers who complied. On the third wave we show them pictures of those people who did not.
- In other words - co-operate or we will try to kill you. This effort is a co-ordinated part of the overall propaganda push. All psyops material is 'signed off right at the very top, by General Tommy Franks' according to Taylor. And the co-ordination is also evident in the wider role which psyops has, but tries to keep under wraps. This is the fact that it also contributes to the battle for hearts and minds internationally and at home as well as targeting 'enemy' opinion. As Lt Col. Jerry Broeckert a US Marine Corps public affairs officer acknowledged, the use of the media 'blurs the line between public relations and psychological operations'. As the attack on Iraq became bogged down at the end of the first week, the Russian website with links to Russian intelligence reported an intercepted report from the US Psychological Operations Tactical Group for the Special Ground Forces Command. The report was concerned about the development of a resistance ideology' in Iraq. Its solution: 'A more active use of the Iraqi opposition was suggested for propaganda work... The same opposition members will be used to create video footage of the "repented" Iraqi POWs and footage of the local [Iraqi] population "opposing Saddam."' As the US tanks rolled into Baghdad 11 days later, footage of Iraqi's celebrating as the statue of the dictator was toppled outside the Palestine Hotel, where the international media were based was indeed transmitted around the world. Other sources have suggested that among the celebrants were members of the Iraqi opposition Iraqi National Congress. The toppling of the statue was a propaganda triumph for the US and UK governments. The involvement of psyops in the photo opportunity indicates both the co-ordinated nature of 'coalition' propaganda sand that psyops operatives spend at least some of their time managing media operations which impact on domestic opinion.
The Gulf War (Op GRANBY) 1990 - 91
The 15 Psyops account of their activities in the 1990-1 Gulf War (Operation Granby) claims:
- In response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, a coalition of national forces was assembled to provide a framework for the conduct of PSYOPS.
- PSYOPS activities were: Counter-propaganda, Iraq set up several radio stations, 'Voice of Peace', also known as 'Baghdad Betty' broadcast to Arab coalition forces in Saudi Arabia, although had limited impact, as sound and content quality were poor. Leaflets, winning early air supremacy enabled extensive leaflet distribution by air, totalling 29 million leaflets dropped during the conflict and included encouragement to desert and instruction for surrender. PSYOPS and deception, leaflets were also dropped with information to aid strategic deception and led Iraq to falsely believe that there would be a marine assault east of Kuwait. Allied use of radio, A coalition PSYOPS radio station, 'Voice of the Gulf' – supplemented the leaflet campaign and broadcast messages to particular enemy formations. Loudspeakers, US troops deployed loudspeaker teams, who negotiated surrender, withdrawals of enemy formations, assisted in PW control and rounded up stragglers.
- It was discovered that up to 40% of all surrenders, defections and desertions could be attributed in some degree to coalition PSYOPS activity. This success, led the UK to recreate a permanent capability, which was eventually established in the form of 15 (UK) PSYOPS Group in 1998.
- Major Nigel Smith, circa 2002/3
- Lt Col Jim Suggit, Commanding Officer, circa 2008.
- Corporal Sarah Bryant, also a member of the Intelligence Corps killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday 17 June 2008.
- The original homepage of the 15 Psyops Group is no longer extant and there appears to be no replacement on the MoD website. The original URL was www.army.mod.uk/15psyops. Both the Internet Archive and the UK National Archives 'UK Government Web Archive' contains copies of the content of this URL between November 2004 and July 2006: http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.army.mod.uk/15psyops/ | http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/*/http://army.mod.uk/15psyops/
- Nicholas Soames to George Foulkes Psychological Operations Units, Written Answers, Hansard, 6 March 1997, col. 17987
- MoD, Original URL: http://www.army.mod.uk/ta/organisation/specialist_units/atoz_of_trades/info_sup.html
- David Miller (2004) 'The Propaganda Machine' in Miller, D. (Ed.) Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq London: Pluto Press
- Richard Edwards 'The propaganda war in Iraq', Guardian, 26 March 2003 <http://media.guardian.co.uk/broadcast/story/0,7493,921764,00.html>
- Jim Krane, 'US units try to win Iraqi hearts and Minds', Kvue.com 5 June 2003 <http://www.kvue.com/sharedcontent/iraq/military/060503cciraqhearts.8d028054.html>
- Associated Press 'Army gives psychological operations unit new base of operation', The Herald Sun, 1 July 2003 http://heraldsun.com/state/6-367297.html
- 'Iraq Media dossier: Psychological Warfare against Iraq', Radio Netherlands, <http://www.rnl.nl/realradio/features/html/iraq-psywar.html>
- Jim Krane, US Units.
- 'Iraq media dossier'.
- Chris McLaughlin, 'Under Fire: Spy trick led us to Saddam' Sunday Mirror March 23, 2003 Pg. 4.
- Press Association 'Mystery surrounds fate of Saddam's deputy' The Independent, 19 March 2003 <http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=388761>
- Brian Whitaker 'Wargames open with clandestine broadcasts: psychological assault led by "Radio Tikrit"', The Guardian, 25 February 2003. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4612747,00.html
- Leslie MacKinnon 'Reality Check: Psychological operations - cheaper than blood', CBC News Online 26 March 2003 http://www.cbc.ca/news/iraq/issues_analysis
- Edwards, Ibid.
- J Broeckert 'Loose Lips Float Ships! How the military uses the media today', Rake Magazine, April 2003, http://www.rakemag.com/features/detail.asp?catID=46&itemID=2136
- <http://www.aeronautics.ru>, March 29, 2003, 0924hrs MSK (GMT +4 DST).
- The original URL 'History - British PSYOPS' was at http://www.army.mod.uk/15psyops/history_british_psyops.htm. It was last accessed in January 2007.A version can be accessed at MoD History - British PSYOPS in the Internet Archive of 28 July 2006, accessed 13 November 2009
- Sam Gardiner (2003) Truth from These Podia: Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception Management, Strategic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological Operations in Gulf II, October 8, 2003. http://www.usnews.com/usnews/politics/whispers/documents/truth.pdf
- 15 (United Kingdom) Psychological Operations Group Annual Report 2007/08, Chicksands, MoD