Due Diligence © Martyn Carruthers

Online Coaching, Counseling & Systemic Therapy

Protection from Psychological Operations

Psychological operations (psych-ops or psy-ops) refer to the planned use of psychological knowledge to influence groups, organizations or populations to act in certain ways. Although associated with guerilla warfare, rebellion and subversion; many marketing and political strategies include psych-ops techniques … perhaps called “office politics“, “hostile takeovers“, “social engineering” or “effective marketing“.

Organizations can protect themselves from hostile psych-ops manipulation by recognizing the warning signs, defusing their tactics and convincing its members to commit to a common mission. We sometimes coach leaders through these steps.

The methodologies developed for psy-ops provide a knowledge base for:

  • executives considering major organizational change
  • managers who wish to comprehend political realities
  • people who wish to recognize organizational strategies
  • leaders who wish to protect the interests of an organization

Persuasive efforts are labeled propaganda when someone
judges that the action which is the goal of the persuasive
effort will be advantageous to the persuader but not in the
best interests of the persuadee (…) We can study
propaganda as we can study good and evil.”

Roger Brown, Words and Things (1958)

What is Psychological Warfare?
  1. using propaganda to demoralize an enemy in war, including civilian populations
  2. using psychological tactics to disadvantage an opponent, e.g. causing fear
History of Psych-Ops

Psychological operations go back to at least the ancient Greek wars and the fall of Troy (the Trojan Horse still affects computer operations). More recently, the American Office of War Information disseminated information in the USA and abroad, and the American Office of Strategic Service (OSS) provided psychological operations against perceived or potential enemies. Many other countries developed similar organizations.

Peacetime applications of psych-ops may be most evident in political elections and marketing campaigns. Common techniques used to influence public attitude and opinion are:

  • use media to distort events
  • recruit and use opinion leaders
  • adjust appeals to fit group interests
  • manufacture “news” in staged events

Large commercial interests, such as oil, logging, drug and insurance companies, initiate extensive systemic politics to develop public support for legislation favorable to their interests. Similarly, civil rights and other movements may use low-budget psychological operations – protest marches, assemblies, picketing and sit-ins – although often with less expertise.

Psychological operations seem to be most effective with people who:

  • trust authorities
  • have little education
  • accept information uncritically
  • want to believe the propaganda
  • benefit from the proposed change
  • do not wish to understand their own motivations

Psychological operations are also used by anti-nuclear groups, women’s rights activists, pro-abortion and anti-abortion groups, gun-control lobbies, adherents of capital punishment, senior citizen groups, and small political organizations. Modern technology (e.g. internet and cell phones) greatly increases the influence of psych-ops efforts. (A sad example of psych-ops is parental alienation, in which a parent incites children to distrust or hate the other parent, to gain some personal advantage.)

Psych-Ops Missions

Psychological operations are designed to penetrate organizational, social or political entities to change the attitudes and activities of the members of an organization. In systemic politics, a common psych-ops goal is to use propaganda to provide multiple opportunities for members of an organization to distrust their existing leadership and to identify with new or changed missions. See Political and Leadership Coaching

Psy-ops missions include takeovers, mergers, changes of ownership, etc

The identification with a mission can be divided into systemic steps applying the hierarchy of logical types described by Dr Gregory Bateson in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972. Further applications are inherent in the research of Dr Clare Graves, in his studies of the evolution of organizations. See Evolution of Human Systems

Influential people can be recruited into a hierarchy with offers of power, security and material rewards. (Such recruits will likely test and attempt to exploit the existing leadership hierarchy.)

Spies, sleepers and moles can provide essential information for an effective Psych-Ops campaign. Informants can be found or planted into critical groups, or where resistance may be anticipated.

Effective propaganda changes the attitudes of populations. This can be achieved if people identify with a new or changed mission. Propaganda is used to extend this identification to increase popular support for a mission and provide points of convergence for transformative action.




The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) was created in 1937 to alert the public to political propaganda. The IPA identified seven basic propaganda tricks: Name-Calling, Glittering Generalities, Transfers, Testimonials, Plain Folks, Card Stacking and Band Wagon. According to Combs and Nimmo (1993), “these seven devices have been repeated so frequently in lectures, articles and textbooks ever since that they have become virtually synonymous with the practice and analysis of propaganda in all its aspects.”

Propaganda Teams
Propaganda Teams are formed by selecting and training persuasive, motivated people, who move within an organization and encourage people to support the organizational mission. They can provide a multi-stage program that integrates strategic planning with organizational attitudes, rumors and attitude changes.

Covert Members
Established professionals – doctors, lawyers, managers, etc, may be recruited to participate covertly. Their authority can influence members of a community or organization to support a changed political agenda or marketing mission.

In some cultures, bribing officials is the accepted way to get things done. In the West, the risks of bribery are high and exposure can be damaging although governments and corporations often offer and accept bribes publicly. Publicized bribery is commonplace and difficult to attack.

Mass Meetings
Mass meetings may be controlled by placing or recruiting operatives in organizations such as unions and professional associations. Operatives can prepare a mental attitude that can be transformed into votes. A small group can provide an impression of a wide popular movement, and motivate a behavior change of thousands of people.

If infiltration, propaganda, covert influence and controlled meetings are developed parallel to strategic operations (e.g. press releases, lawsuits and stock market moves), an order for focused synchronous action may complete that psych-ops mission.

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