Psychological Operations, popularly known as PSYOP, are the weaponization of information for effect. The effect is to influence the targeted population, whether a group, an organization, a society, an element within a society, or a government, to either undertake an action or to prevent an action from being taken.

Black PSYOP refers to the attempts to launder the influence operation through a legitimate third party that is not connected to those conducting the influence operation. Former FBI Special Agent and Counterintelligence Officer Asha Rangappa provided an excellent rundown of Black PSYOP, with one of the classic historical examples, in a tweet thread. It is illegal for U.S. government officials to conduct propaganda, including Black Psychological Operations, as a form of propaganda, against U.S. citizens.

World Political Warfare. (Photo RAND Corporation)

This is important. As Dr. Fiona Hill asserted in her opening statement and answered in response to questioning during her Nov. 21 House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s impeachment hearings, the assertions that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 U.S. election by conspiring with the Democratic Party and Secretary Clinton’s campaign, is a Russian disinformation and misinformation operation. The Kremlin has advanced it.  We have the transcript of Vladimir Putin asserting this conspiracy theory in February 2017 posted on the Kremlin’s website:

“Second, as we all know, during the presidential campaign in the United States, the Ukrainian government adopted a unilateral position in favour of one candidate. More than that, certain oligarchs, certainly with the approval of the political leadership, funded this candidate, or female candidate, to be more precise. Now they need to improve relations with the current administration, and using a conflict to do so is always a better, easier way to draw the incumbent administration into addressing Ukrainian problems and thus establish a dialogue.”

There is also reporting that Russia began pushing this line of misinformation through its assets during the actual campaign in 2016 to try to obscure their active measures attack against the United States, here it is laid out by Putin. Putin and other Russian officials and assets pushing this misinformation do not make it a Black PSYOP – they’re not laundering it through a legitimate third party. It is just a portion of their ongoing information warfare campaign against the United States.

Putin and his surrogates have been pushing this misinformation in the attempt to muddy the waters about its active measures information warfare campaign against the U.S. to get the U.S. sanctions lifted. Their premise: if Ukraine could be set up to be blamed, not Russia, then the sanctions can be lifted, and the last major impediment to Putin’s strategic objectives goes away. U.S. intelligence officials have briefed members of Congress, over the past several weeks, that this is a Russian information warfare operation and that it is targeted at the US, American officials, and American citizens.

Example of Russian agitprop. Image courtesy of Brooklyn Museum.

The Black PSYOP part of this information warfare operation has, unfortunately, been coming from “inside the house,” so to speak. As a result of Ambassador Sondland’s testimony this past Wednesday, which confirmed Ambassador Taylor’s testimony from this past Tuesday, President Zelensky was prepared to do whatever the President asked to get military aid released to Ukraine.

The president, in his July 25 phone call with President Zelensky, had asked for a favor, which had two parts: an investigation into the Bidens and the related investigation into whether the interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was Ukrainian, not Russian. What Zelensky was prepared to do, according to last week’s testimony, went on CNN – a legitimate third party that the President routinely derides as hostile to him – and announce the opening of those two investigations. This was supposed to be the key line of effort of the Black PSYOP.

President Zelensky never did the interview because the whistleblower complaint, or at least the news that there was a whistle-blower complaint, became public two days before the scheduled interview. Following that news, the military aid that Congress had bipartisanly legislated for Ukraine being released to Ukraine, was hurriedly released, which prevented the need for Zelensky to do the President a favor.

Unfortunately, the Black PSYOP was picked up by other — American — actors; specifically, the Republican members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.  Congressman Nunes’, the ranking member on the committee, opening and closing statements, referenced the misinformation at the heart of this Black PSYOP. So did many of his questions, as well as those of Steve Castor, the minority counsel, and other Republican members of the committee.

By continually raising this misinformation, the Republican members of the House Permanent Select Committee, regardless of their reasons, are furthering Putin’s misinformation campaign against the United States and American citizens. By doing it in their official capacities during House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearings televised on all the broadcast and cable news networks and C-Span, as well as being covered in all the major print and digital news media and news and talk radio, they are wittingly or unwittingly laundering Putin’s misinformation through legitimate third parties: the U.S. House of Representatives and the broadcast, print, digital, and radio news media, as well as social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

This is classic “agitprop.” This is what has turned a Russian misinformation operation that is part of Putin’s ongoing information warfare campaign against the U.S. into a Black PSYOP. The question is:  why?

Editor’s note: “Agitprop” is political propaganda, especially the communist propaganda used in Soviet Russia since the 1917 revolution that is spread to the general public through popular media such as literature, plays, pamphlets, films and other art forms with an explicitly political message.