December 8, 2001
BROOKE GLADSTONE: A Taliban soldier surrenders to the Northern Alliance. A man in Kabul grows more resentful of Mullah Omar by the day. A family of refugees at the Pakistani border thinks maybe America can help, and maybe America has helped them think so, thanks to the 1200 men and women in North Carolina who work for the military psychological operations or Psy-Ops unit. On The Media's producer at large Mike Pesca visited the Army's only active Psy-Ops unit and came back with this.
MIKE PESCA: The printing press you're hearing has churned out millions of leaflets aimed at a target audience who sometimes literally are targets. A few feet away hangs a sign which pictures a portly man doubled over in laughter next to the words: You Want It When?!? But the Dilbert-esque workplace humor is in odd juxtaposition to the importance of what's being printed. A holiday card from the U.S. to the Afghan people celebrating Eid which falls at the end of Ramadan.
DAVID CHAMPAGNE: [SPEAKING IN ONE OF AFGHAN LANGUAGES]
MIKE PESCA: Which means?
DAVID CHAMPAGNE: Which means: the people of Afghanistan -- may you have a happy Eid. May your fasting and your food be, be acceptable. It just means have a nice Eid. It's like Happy New Year and Merry Christmas to them.
MIKE PESCA: David Champagne is a civilian analyst for the 4th Psy-Ops group based here at Fort Bragg. With wire-rimmed glasses and a gray suit he looks like a professor which he says he'd be if he didn't work for this unit of the U.S. Army's Special Operations Command. The Army terms his craft "information warfare," what the layman might call "propaganda," which as Group Commander Jim Treadwell notes doesn't necessarily mean being untruthful.
JIM TREADWELL: In my 13 years in Psychological Operations I have never produced a product that was false. We may not tell all the truth; we may only tell that part of the truth that focuses on the way that we want to focus the audience' attention, but I've never told a lie.
MIKE PESCA: Wearing fatigues, Treadwell looks like a toughened up version of the actor William H. Macy. The Psy-Ops crest he wears is black, white and gray -- each symbolizing a form of message. White messages are explicitly from America -- in this case, leaflets which depict Americans and Afghans hand in hand. The gray on the crest represents messages that America sends anonymously, for instance radio broadcasts where the announcer doesn't identify himself. The black represents propaganda where the intention is to deceive the recipient into believing that the message was created by someone other than the United States. Commander Treadwell says that while the colors have equal representation in the logo, it's not that way in action.
JIM TREADWELL: We don't ordinarily do black propaganda.
MIKE PESCA: Are you doing any black operations in Afghanistan?
JIM TREADWELL: If I was I couldn't tell you about 'em.
MIKE PESCA: Though effectiveness is hard to gauge in Afghanistan, anecdotal evidence indicates that the Psy-Ops produced radio broadcasts which are beamed from planes circling high above the country, are quite popular [MUSIC UP & UNDER] because they include music which the Taliban had outlawed.
ANNOUNCER: [SPEAKING ONE OF LANGUAGES OF AFGHANISTAN]
MIKE PESCA: The announcer says that time has come to form a peaceful government in Afghanistan. The Taliban has grown very weak, and the United Nations is strongly urging leaders from all ethnic groups to meet.
ANNOUNCER: [SPEAKING ONE OF LANGUAGES OF AFGHANISTAN]
MIKE PESCA:Civilian experts work under David Champagne to translate the Army's intended message into the local language, primarily Dari and Pashto in Afghanistan. Another linguist will translate it back into English to check for accuracy. Lessons of cross-cultural gaffes are carefully heeded. A Psy-Ops official cited the Case of the Chevy Nova. When the automaker tried to market the car in Latin America they learned that "Nova" is Spanish for "won't go." A Psy-Ops produced leaflet in Somalia tried to say United Nations but wound up saying to some speakers at least "Slave Nations." That's why the unit labors to get its language and symbolism right. One leaflet bearing the question: Who Rules the Taliban? depicts Mullah Omar as a dog on Osama bin Laden's leash. Afghans, having been ruled by outsiders for so long, are wary of Osama bin Laden, explains David Champagne.
DAVID CHAMPAGNE: In Afghanistan they're "coochie dogs" -they guard all the camps - sort of like American "yellow dog," you know the one - the Southern "yellow dog?" - and they keep them outside because dogs are [SPEAKS NON-ENGLISH WORD] - they're not allowed inside people's homes. And of course Osama bin Laden is dressed in an Arab outfit. He's not dressed in native clothes, and what we're saying is that Mullah Omar is his dog.
MIKE PESCA: Dr. Champagne's 3 years in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan forged his passion for the country, and he rejects the notion that Afghans have been so brainwashed that they're unreachable.
DAVID CHAMPAGNE: There is this idea since they're poor and they're in poverty and they haven't been in school for 5 years is you've got everyone in the country doesn't have a brain in their head. This is a country that has poetry! It has art! It had literature.
MIKE PESCA: In peacetime as well Psy-Ops are used to support U.S. diplomatic efforts. In Cambodia they warn about land mines. In Kosovo they urge Serbs to get out the vote. Members of the Psy-Ops force often stay in a country long after other special forces have left. Unlike physical landscapes, the battle terrain of the psychological warrior is never secured. [MUSIC] For On the Media, I'm Mike Pesca.