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If there is one thing we can take away from the news of recent weeks it is this: the modern American surveillance state is not really the stuff of paranoid fantasies; it has arrived.
The revelations about the National Security Agency’s PRISM data collection program have raised awareness — and understandably, concern and fears — among American and those abroad, about the reach and power of secret intelligence gatherers operating behind the facades of government and business.
But those revelations, captivating as they are, have been partial —they primarily focus on one government agency and on the surveillance end of intelligence work, purportedly done in the interest of national security. What has received less attention is the fact that most intelligence work today is not carried out by government agencies but by private intelligence firms and that much of that work involves another common aspect of intelligence work: deception. That is, it is involved not just with the concealment of reality, but with the manufacture of it.
The realm of secrecy and deception among shadowy yet powerful forces may sound like the province of investigative reporters, thriller novelists and Hollywood moviemakers — and it is — but it is also a matter for philosophers. More accurately, understanding deception and and how it can be exposed has been a principle project of philosophy for the last 2500 years. And it is a place where the work of journalists, philosophers and other truth-seekers can meet.
Psyops need not be conducted by nation states; they can be undertaken by anyone with the capabilities and the incentive to conduct them, and in the case of private intelligence contractors, there are both incentives (billions of dollars in contracts) and capabilities.
“Unconventional Warfare Training Manual” defines Psyops as “planned operations to convey
selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives,
objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups,
and individuals.” In other words, it is sometimes more effective to deceive a population into a
false reality than it is to impose its will with force or conventional weapons.