Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Today is the LAST DAY of this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

TODAY is the last day to meet our goal -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year.

Sentient World Simulation

Domestically, it doesn't help that SWS and other developments in military Psychological Operations are accompanied by rollbacks in the right to dissent and bipartisan support of government surveillance of American citizens.

Welcome to the Jungle: US Military Psychological Operations and You

Heather Wokusch

"...the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other." - Benjamin Franklin, 1787 

They say that if you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water it will immediately jump out, but that if you raise the pot's heat gradually, the frog won't react.

The US public has been on a slow boil since 2001. This administration's rollbacks have been so consistent and so egregious that it's no surprise many Americans feel apathetic.

And that begs the question: What exactly would it take to get the US public spurred into action?

Sentient World Simulation (SWS) may have an answer. It's a computer-based project designed to "generate alternative futures" and no surprise, the US Defense Department is actively involved.

According to one of the project's developers, Purdue University professor Alok Chaturvedi, "SWS will consist of a synthetic environment that mirrors the real world in all it key aspects - Political, Military, Economic, Social, Information, and Infrastructure." The goal is to copy each person on earth into the SWS parallel universe, and then see how they respond to external events such as natural disasters or political upheavals.

The concept paper Chaturvedi co-authored additionally notes, "SWS provides an environment for testing Psychological Operations (PSYOP)," to help the military "develop and test multiple courses of action to anticipate and shape behaviors of adversaries, neutrals, and partners."

To anticipate and shape behaviors of adversaries, neutrals, and partners.

Blurring the lines between military and civilian Psychological Operations is nothing new. In 1989, US forces in Panama blasted Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" into the Vatican Embassy during negotiations for the handover of General Manuel Noriega, and from 1998-1999, US military PSYOP personnel interned at both CNN and NPR.

More recently, a 2003 Pentagon document called Information Operations Roadmap detailed the US military's approach to exploiting information in order to "keep pace with warfighter needs and support defense transformation." Personally approved by former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the document was declassified in 2006 and covers everything from the Pentagon's plans for Computer Network Attack ("We Must Fight the Net") to beefing up the use of Psychological Operations ("We Must Improve PSYOP") to manipulating information through means including: "Radio/ TV/Print/ Web media designed to directly modify behavior and distributed in theater supporting military endeavors in semi or non-permissive environment."

While The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 forbids US propaganda intended for foreign audiences from being used domestically, Information Operations Roadmap acknowledges that "information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP, increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience and vice-versa."

The 2003 Pentagon document adds, "the distinction between foreign and domestic audiences becomes more a question of USG [U.S. government] intent rather than information dissemination practices."

Perhaps that's why a top US general ordered public affairs to be joined with combat PSYOP into one "strategic communications office" in Iraq in the summer of 2004.

Domestically, it doesn't help that SWS and other developments in military Psychological Operations are accompanied by rollbacks in the right to dissent and bipartisan support of government surveillance of American citizens.

Makes you wish our cyberspace clones could tell us how best to fight the Matrix.

At the very least, we must become more vigilant about the ongoing use of military PSYOP and misinformation — the Pat Tillman case is a perfect example. Holding the Defense Department and media accountable for every mislead regarding the Bush administration's military adventurism is more important than ever.

Action Ideas:

  • For a great database on the Bush Administration's misleads about Iraq, see Rep. Henry A. Waxman's,  "Iraq on the Record."

  • One Defense Department group particularly especially interested in these topics is The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Its Information Exploitation Office, for example, is focused on "shaping the battlespace before conflict" and its site is filled with snappy computer graphics reminiscent of militaristic video games. Taxpayer dollars hard at work.
  • For media watchdog groups, check out Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting and Media Matters for America. 

  • Had enough? E-mail, call or write the White House, Congress or state and local government  here.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Heather Wokusch

Heather Wokusch

Heather Wokusch is an author and educator based in Europe. She can be reached via www.heatherwokusch.com.

TODAY is the last day of our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Texas Supreme Court Allows Century-Old Abortion Ban to Take Effect

"Extremist politicians are on a crusade to force Texans into pregnancy and childbirth against their will, no matter how devastating the consequences."

Jake Johnson ·


'What's There to Even Discuss?' Omar Says Free, Universal School Meals Should Be Permanent

"We have an opportunity to prove that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can still deliver big things. And we can feed tens of millions of hungry kids while we do it."

Jake Johnson ·


'Stark Betrayal': Biden Administration Floats New Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

"This is the third time since November the Biden administration has announced new oil and gas leasing plans on the Friday before a holiday," said one climate advocate. "They're ashamed, and they should be."

Jake Johnson ·


As US Rolls Back Reproductive Rights, Sierra Leone Moves to Decriminalize Abortion

"I'm hopeful today's announcement gives activists in the U.S., and especially Black women given the shared history, a restored faith that change is possible and progress can be made."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Indefensible': Outrage as New Reporting Shines Light on Biden Deal With McConnell

The president has reportedly agreed to nominate an anti-abortion Republican to a lifetime judgeship. In exchange, McConnell has vowed to stop blocking two Biden picks for term-limited U.S. attorney posts.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo