• PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE FILES /// DAMIEN GAYLE : UK military turns to universities to research psychological warfare
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DAMIEN GAYLE : UK military turns to universities to research psychological warfare

Cambridge among partners shortlisted for £70m MoD funding, documents show

Documents published by Cambridge showed the MoD wanted to find new ways of manipulating behaviour. Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA

The British military is recruiting philosophers, psychologists and theologians to research new methods of psychological warfare and behavioural manipulation, leaked documents show.

Cambridge University was among the institutions shortlisted by officials in the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), as it sought a partner to spend almost £70m in funding for a project known as the human and social sciences research capability (HSSRC), looking at how the arts, humanities and social sciences can shape military and security strategies, including “psychological operations”.

A spokesperson for the university said it had since pulled out. Others in the running were Lancaster University – which also subsequently dropped out – and the arms companies BAE Systems and QinetiQ.

In a slideshow to prospective contractors published online, DSTL listed “understanding and influencing human behaviour” among its list of research priorities, including through the “targeted manipulation of information” and “coordinated use of the full spectrum of national capabilities … including military, non-military, overt and covert”.


MoD chart for understanding and influencing human behaviour. Photograph: MoD

According to leaked Cambridge University documents detailing the research areas included under the programme and first reported by student newspaper Varsity, the military wants to develop “information activities and outreach, defence engagement and strategic communications” alongside military campaigns, as well as “communications and messaging [to] UK domestic and defence internal audiences that promote the attraction, health, welfare and resilience of our people (military and civilian)”.