The Minister of Information, Mr. Ali Abdu recently conducted an extensive interview with the media regarding the contemporary applications of psychological warfare, double standards in international media, the use of media by intelligence agencies of superpowers and other related issues. Mr. Ali also talked about why Eritrea is continuously targeted by smear campaigns and psychological warfare. Excerpts of the interview follow:
What exactly does psychological warfare mean?
Although I don’t think there is a single and concise definition of psychological warfare, we can try to look at it from the perspective of its universally accepted concept.
The commonly accepted definition of psychological warfare or psychological operations (psyops) as experts in the field call it is the repeated bombardment with planned propaganda and psychosomatic elements as well as the use of information as a weapon of war.
When I am talking about war, I mean both symmetric and asymmetric wars. Similarly, when it comes to information, there are those based on actual facts and those that are fabricated or tailored to serve a specific purpose.
Generally speaking, regardless of its definitions or objectives, psychological operation involves the use of sophisticated methods to influence the opinion, emotions, attitudes and behaviors of people so as to lure and compel them into conforming to desired political views.
Taking this as the commonly accepted definition, we can say that psychological warfare is one of the earliest mechanisms of war in the history of mankind; for it is something that evolved along with the first incidents of war in our world.
San Tzu, the renowned Chinese warrior of the 5th century, Genghis Khan of Mongolia and Alexander the Great of Macedonia are some of the historical figures that are often refereed to for their practical application of psychological warfare.
How does psychological warfare work basically, or what methods does it employ?
As San Tzu puts it “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” If we take this saying at face value, we can detect that psychological war is the conflict or confrontation of varying political beliefs, principles and ideologies. It is the kind of war where one side uses tailored information or subtle and sophisticated methods to compel the other side to conform to the desired strategy. That is why most psyop operators have a motto that says “capture their minds and their hearts and souls will follow.”
What makes psychological war different is the place where is it carried out. While regular wars are fought in battlefields, this kind of war is waged on the minds of people. It is a war fought with words, sounds, pictures and ideologies. That is why Napoleon Bonaparte said: “Moral and will is half of the critical power.”
The primary objective behind most psychological wars is to prey on people’s minds and thereby weaken their spirit. The history of such kind of warfare proves that communities everywhere should give due attention to the strength of their minds, souls and basic social fabric.
One cannot hope to maintain continuity or existence while surrendering his/her mind and spirit. Hence, people should be alert to any ideological infiltrations so that they don’t unwittingly become tools for foreign strategies.
Can you briefly explain the relationship between propaganda and psychological warfare?
Though psychological warfare does not follow a specific approach or method, the architects of this kind of warfare cite four procedures or action plans as part of the basic strategy.
1. Tactical Action
3. Strategic Action
4. Consolidation of psyops
These four action plans themselves are categorized within the perspective of the “three propaganda implementers”, which are white, black and grey types of propaganda. For the sake of saving time, we will only talk about the black form of propaganda today. Black propaganda is when psychological warfare strategists fabricate certain information, tailor it for a specific objective and then spread or implant it among a given community. The reason why such kind of fabricated information is infiltrated and implanted within a society is to make it look as though that information originated from within that society. This kind of information is often fabricated with the intent of waging a psychological war and is spread in a word-of-mouth mode so as to disrupt people’s unity, divert their ideologies and create conflict. Because, as I said earlier the primary objective of psychological wars is to weaken people’s minds and spirit.
We should not forget here that psychological war is a double-edged sword. Western powers wage such wars not only on peoples of other countries but also on their own people. We can cite the psychological wars during WWII and the Cold War as examples of such practices by Western powers on their own people. Particularly during the Vietnam War, Western powers used tailored information to prevent their people from questioning the legality and rightness of their policies executed though institutions such as the Committee on Public Information, Public Information Center and the British Council. Since their objective is to compel people to submit or conform to the desired strategy, Western powers did not refrain from employing such tactics on their own people.
But does it always work?
Considering what we have been talking about earlier, one cannot conclude whether psychological wars always work or that they never work. The result depends on the method or approach employed. As experts in the area indicate, the determinant factor in waging such wars is what is called clinical psychology. Psychological warfare operators use clinical psychology to dissect the dynamics of human behavior and the subconscious so as to outline a strategy based on the values, culture, identity and special attributes of a given community.
A good example of this is the case of “Tokyo Rose” during WWII and the Cold War. The psychological war waged through the Japanese radio program ‘Tokyo Rose’ was quite successful in disrupting the morale of US and Allied forces. On the other hand, a similar endeavor attempted through the ‘Baghdad Betty’ turned out to be an utter failure and a practical joke. On a more destructive note, we can look at the Rwandan genocide to understand how dangerous psychological war can be when it goes haywire. At the time when the genocide in Rwanda was escalating from bad to worse, one journalist read out an editorial on radio that called on every Hutu to kill any Tutsi in sight, including women and children-a broadcast that was instrumental in the ensuing unparalleled mayhem. Hence, as a result of this ill-conceived attempt at a psychological war, around 1,174,000 people were killed within 100 days, which means 10,000 people within a day and 400 within an hour.
There are also times when psychological warfare becomes a cause for mockery and ridicule. Upon hearing the TPLF regime’s half-baked and laughable attempts at a psychological war, you sometimes feel grateful that the regime is not on our side of the fence.
In your opinion, are there any methods or formulas that aid in the successful execution of such wars?
I don’t think we can say there is one clear or specific formula that dictates how a psychological warfare should and could be conducted. But there are documented records such that the Ivan Pavlov Study and the Ray Cline Formula that experts in the area use as references.
Pavlov’s Study, written by the Russian natural science researcher, is an analytical document based on his studies on the structure, action and interaction of people’s minds. According to his study, there are four levels of response: strong excitatory, lively, imperturbable and weak inhibitory. Looking at it from the perspective of this analysis, we can see that it is no coincidence that psychological war usually targets the minds of young people, which comes under the category of ‘strong excitatory’.
The Cline Formula is another reference that can be taken as a formula for psychological war, which examines a given country and people from the perspective of their psychological structure and national strategy. According to the Cline formula, the potential power of a given country is the combined result of its economic and military powers as well as its human and territorial capacity. This Formula maintains that the potential power of a country is determined by the afore-mentioned three factors multiplied by the national strategic goals and national will, taking the latter as the sole determinant feature. Since the other three factors are always multiplied by the national strategy and vision, in the absence of the latter, the former three are rendered fruitless.
Cline Formula: Pp= (C+E+M)x(S+W)
Pp= Potential Power
C =Critical Power
M= Military Power
We can see that this kind of reasoning is right on the mark if we refer to history records. Without venturing too far, if we look at the psychological wars waged against Eritrea, most of them targeted the multiplier factor, i.e., national strategic vision and national will. The reason why the aggressors continue to target our development and self-reliance policies is because it is the basic factor that boosts our military, economic and territorial powers.
If we look at this from the point of a computer’s working system, the national strategy is the software of the system while the rest constitute the hardware. That is why aggressors continue to try to corrupt this software from afar using viruses. In labeling the Warsai-Yikealo campaign as ‘an impossible project’, the national service as ‘military conscription’, our self-reliance policy as ‘isolation’ and our diplomatic independence as ‘stubbornness’, they sought to weaken our national strategy.
What is the relation between media and psychological warfare?
Practically speaking, in waging a war on people’s minds, mass media would be the best strategic weapon. For logical reasons, media is used by the architects of psychological warfare as a strategic weapon for influencing people’s minds and hijacking their emotions and attitudes into adopting the desired objectives. Mass media can reach anywhere at any time, which makes it the best possible choice of weapon for such wars. So we can say that media and psychological warfare have a direct and positive co-relation, the strengthening of which can guarantee favorable outcomes.
Can you give us some examples pertaining this subject?
Though we can cite numerous examples of this positive relationship, Iran’s experience in the 1950s can perhaps provide the best insight. The 1953 coup d’état in Iran was brought to effect using psychological war and the media, which is why it is known as ‘the first coup by the media’.
When the new Iranian government in the early 50s nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (85% of whose profits were going to Britain), the move did not sit well with the British government. The British then sought to overthrow Mohammad Mosaddeq’s government with the help of the United States. As part of the CIA’s plans to this end, the first task of the agency’s operatives when they entered Tehran was to recruit the editors and reporters of private media institutions. Consequently, enlisting the support of newspaper editors, reporters, certain parliament members, politicians and military commanders, the CIA waged a psychological war.
Articles and programs against the Tehran government were written in London and Washington and sent to Iran so that they can be translated into the local language and published in newspapers under the name of the Iranian editors. Most of the articles were aimed at polarizing the people vertically, while some focused on smearing the image of the popular Head of State. This tactic is known as ‘concentrating the fire’ in media terminology, which basically means attacking the strongest points of the enemy. Sabotaging the image of a popular leader is a media strategy that is commonly applied by the CIA.
In executing this coup, CIA operatives had even recruited homeless individuals to create public disturbance and spread tailored information at social gatherings.
When everything was made ready for coup using the above tactics, all the operatives were told that the order for the staging of the coup will be given through the BBC. At that time, the BBC used to end its broadcast at midnight and the Prime Minister of Imperial Britain, Winston Churchill, declared that the order for the coup will be given through the BBC. As a result, instead of ending its broadcast with the customary “This is BBC news”, that night’s broadcast ended with “This is BBC news. Now it is exactly midnight”, giving the green light for the coup. This is the real image of the BBC which claims to be a neutral, responsible and independent media organization.
The facts being as you just mentioned, next comes the issue of credible? Do people always readily accept or trust such media campaigns?
Well, today people have become more alert to such things. They have learned not to passively consume and believe everything they hear. For instance, as a recent study indicates, only 12% of the audience believe or trust US or European media. When one says 88% of the audience do not believe what the US or European media say, it is not the kind of figure one can ignore.
Are there any other tools for psychological warfare besides the media?
Although the media may be the primary weapon in such wars, there are other related approaches such as the film and music industry as well as aid organizations. For instance, Hollywood was created to make war movies. Particularly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942, the US Defense Department used the Hollywood film industry as an effective propaganda tool. Creating larger-than-life images of actors/heroes (such as President Ronald Reagan), more than 550 war movies were made during WWII. The core message behind all these movies was that ‘the US is a mighty country and might is right. Thus the world should accept the US as a superpower.’ Propagating this message was the primary objective of the Pentagon in creating the film industry and making a plethora of war movies. One man killing 500 Vietnamese soldiers and shooting down a helicopter with a stone, ‘Rambo’ represented US might.
While we are on the subject of media, do you think there is freedom of press in our world today? Or was there ever a ‘free press’ in the history of the world?
Those who claim to be advocates of free press know more than anyone else that there is no such thing as a ‘free press’. And those who believe that there is freedom of press are either naïve, irrational or both. Typical examples of this are the BBC and the VOA. The VOA is administered under nine members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), eight of whom are handpicked by the President of the United States. One of the members of the BBG is the US Secretary of State, and the VOA’s budget comes through and from the State Department. Every day programs of the media outlet are outlined and supervised by the State Department. So how can we say that this is a ‘neutral’ and ‘independent’ media organization?
Similarly, the BBC’s Director General and other Board members are selected by the Queen and approved by the government. The British government annually provides the BBC with a budget of 493 million dollars. It is stated in the BBC’s charter that its programs must go in line with the policies of the British government. So who could believe this media organization if it were to claim of being an independent institution.
It is often stated that George Orwell wrote Animal Farm based on his experience as the head of British propaganda in the 1950s.
So, does this mean that such things are being done in a subtle way?
The Western powers these days do not bother to cover up their control of the mass media. They openly acknowledge that the media should serve their interests. For example, a well known American scholar said: “Whenever significant social development has occurred in developing countries the US media outlets are instructed to raise doubts about the new social transformations.”
According to British laws, if media organizations take sides during a war, it makes it legal to take military action on them. But there is no saying as to how they define ‘taking sides’. There is a saying in media circles that “the first casualty of war is the truth”, for the aggressor would always try to stifle the truth in order to cover up unprovoked or illegal actions.
There is also this ‘embedded journalism’, introduced during the Gulf War, where news reporters have to be attached to military units. This kind of journalism basically means that a reporter will report the information put in his/her mouth by the military units. Traveling in armored tanks and trucks of US forces, the reporters mimicked whatever they were told by the military officials. Such practices often lead to a psychological phenomenon known as the Stockholm Syndrome, named after a hostage situation.
In the past century we have seen different forms of smear campaigns waged against various countries. Can you tell us about the relationship between psychological war and such smear campaigns?
Putting labels on countries is one of the methods of psychological war. The world powers put negative labels on some countries while positively portraying others. In psychological war this kind of labeling is know as ‘state branding’.
If we take our country for instance, you may have seen many news headlines such as “Tiny country Eritrea defies Security Council resolution”. The phrase ‘small’ or ‘tiny’ has its own connotations and is purposely used to serve a specific purpose. But the truth of the matter is that when it comes to the question of sovereignty, there is no such thing as tiny or big sovereignty. All countries are equal in this regard. We might differentiate countries as rich or poor, big or small in size but we cannot categorize their sovereignties.
Furthermore, labeling Eritrea as a ‘small’ country is in itself a lie. Out of the 234 countries and territories in the world, Eritrea ranks as 100th in land size. This means that there are 134 countries in the world that are smaller than Eritrea. Israel is one of those countries that are smaller than Eritrea, but we have never heard any Western newspaper referring to Israel as a small country; because if they do that, they know that their income will dry up. Liberia is also smaller than Eritrea, but save for the fact that it is the first country with a woman President, Liberia’s size or abiding corruption or lack of stability are rarely mentioned. Jordan is another country that is smaller than Eritrea, but since they consider that country one of their own, Western media outlets never talk about its size, while they continue to ignore the fact that 43% of Jordanian women are oppressed and abused by their husbands or partners.
There are certain labels that the Western media want to attach to Eritrea. They write news stories and articles titled ‘impoverished Eritrea refuses aid’. It is obvious what they are insinuating. But why have they chosen to target Eritrea this way? Where is the crime in saying that we don’t want to be perpetually dependent on aid and we want to stand on our own feet? They waged a smear campaign against Eritrea to prevent it from becoming a ‘bad example’ of good example. Their political strategy is driven by the fact that Eritrea is setting an example of independence and dignity to the rest of Africa, a development which is highly unwelcome to such quarters.
‘Small’, ‘Poor’ are not the kind of labels that should be attached to Eritrea. If we had lived in a world without double standards, Eritrea should have been described as :
– a country of dignity, self-reliance and committed people
– a country that relies on its own internal resources
– a country registering development and social progress
– the only country free from aid and dependence
– an African pioneer in securing sufficient social services
– a country committed to its dignity and national objectives
– a country exemplary for its internal peace and stability
– a country whose religious harmony and mutual respect could serve as an example to the rest of the world
However, Western media however cannot state or reflect these facts for Eritrea is not one of their agent states.
In connection with what you have just been saying, could you explain what ‘color revolution’ means?
Color Revolution is another face of psychological warfare and neo-colonialism. Color Revolution is when superpowers compel certain countries to conduct elections, and when the outcome does not turn out in their favor (when their chosen puppet fails to win the election), they organize riots mostly with the help of their chosen agent, his supporters and some NGOs. It is sad that most of those who participate in these riots do not even realize the motives of those pulling the strings behind the scene. To further escalate the riots into murderous attacks, intelligence agency operatives try to turn the situation into a religious, ethnic or regional conflict. And when the riots assume catastrophic proportions, the organizers themselves arrive on the scene as ‘crisis managers’ in a bid to haggle out a position for their agent. Realistically speaking, how can anyone believe that two contenders who had been running against each other with two different political programs would be able to administer a country under one government? This only proves that elections and ‘democracy’ are another face of neocolonialism. On the other hand, when elections do result in the desired outcome as in the case of Ethiopia, the superpowers provide their agent government with the necessary resources to stifle the inevitable popular uprising.
Hence we can say that the relatively recent phenomenon of Color Revolution is a continuation of psychological warfare. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Green Revolution in Iran, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, Saffron Revolution in Myanmar, Tulip Revolution in Moldova …etc. It looks as though such revolution will continue to till all the colors are finished.
If we look at the ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran, we can see that it was all orchestrated and hyped through the western media. To add fuel to the demonstrations, CNN opened a new situation room and went as far as encouraging the rioters using G.P.S. That is why many analysts called those riots in Tehran as CNN, Twitter or S.M.S Revolution. The objective or motive behind such strategies is to hold people hostage through perpetuating conflicts and division.
You have mentioned that NGOs are somehow involved in such situation, can you elaborate on that?
NGOs and aid agencies are directly involved in psychological wars. Working to make states dependent on aid and trying substitute legitimate governments is in itself a form of psychological war. This is an even worse form of warfare which strips countries of their dignities.
I will give you one example; it is a question I always ask myself. If you look at most aid items, you can detect that the containers are more expensive than the material they contain. The containers, be it sacks or tin cans, are manufactured for durability and usually have marks on them such as “USAID or aid from Canada”. These marks are put there on purpose to remind people that they are living in the world thanks to the good graces of these donors. If the motives of these donors were genuine, they could have provided the aid without putting brands on the aid materials. This is another aspect of psychological warfare.
Similarly, if you listen to the BBC Network Africa, the news hour is announced with the cluck of a hen or rooster, while the news hour in BBC World is announced with ring of a clock. This is purposely done to tell African people: “You are not our equals. You are backward.”
As you have said earlier, the positive sides of Eritrea are never given any attention or are never properly reflected. Why do you think is that?
It is unthinkable for the Western media to reflect Eritrea’s positive aspects. That is why people should be aware of the subtle psychological warfare. Just as we have preserved our culture, we should also safeguard our dignity and pride. They know that we are a people who do not compromise with their dignity and pride, and as such it is obvious that we are not the best candidates for entertaining their agendas. And it is obvious we would not like those who do despise our dignity and pride. Thus, in realization of the fact that such confrontations are not short term issue, the Eritrean people should as ever remain united and vigilant. This is the only way that would guarantee our success in the pursuit of our lofty national goals.