Rolling Stone PsyOps Colonel Not PsyOps Trained

LTC Michael Holmes, the fellow who accused LTG William Caldwell of ordering him to perform psychological operations on Members of Congress, is not trained in psyops.

Thursday, Rolling Stone made waves with a story claiming the U.S. Army was illegally deploying psychological operations against Congress. Last night, WSJ’s Julian Barnes confirms what I’d seen buzzing on Twitter Thursday evening:  the chief accuser was not a psyops officer at all.

An Army officer who accused a top general in Afghanistan of using “psychological operations” against visiting lawmakers in an article in Rolling Stone magazine was not trained in the military specialty, Defense Department officials said.

The U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command announced Friday that their special warfare center has no record of training Lt. Col. Michael Holmes in “psychological operations.”  In an interview, Lt. Col. Holmes said he received training in information operations and how to use the psychological operation techniques but never claimed to have been trained as a psy-ops officer.


Although the senior officers in Afghanistan asked members of the military to refrain from discussing the case, officers speaking privately rallied to the defense of Gen. Caldwell on Friday. Several officers said that almost immediately after taking command, Gen. Caldwell determined it was inappropriate for a training command to try engage in information operations or try to influence any audiences with deception or other psychological operations techniques.

Military officers said that following that decision, Lt. Col. Holmes was reassigned to a strategic communications team that was tasked, in part, prepare the command for visits by congressional delegations.

Col. Holmes said he was asked to prepare background briefings on how to persuade congressional delegations on the importance of the training mission. But asking an officer trained in information operations to do the job of a public affairs officer is improper and illegal, Lt. Col. Holmes said. “What they wanted me to do is figure out what we had to say to a congressional delegation or think tank group to get them to agree with us,” he said. “Honestly this is pretty innocuous stuff. If I was a public affairs officer, it wouldn’t be that bad.”  Lt. Col. Holmes compared the request to asking a CIA officer to investigate a criminal in the U.S. It would be illegal for the intelligence officer to do tasks that are perfectly appropriate for a regular police officer.

But a military officer who served with Lt. Col. Holmes and under Gen. Caldwell said the accusation is baseless, and that the officer was specifically told not to use information operations techniques. The officer declined to allow his name to be used because the command in Afghanistan has asked people not to discuss the case. “I don’t know of any regulation that would say someone trained in info ops or psy-ops couldn’t put together a briefing packet,” said the officer who served with Lt. Col. Holmes. “There wasn’t any subliminal messages here. It was just look at what issues a lawmaker was championing so we can get our message out.”

In fairness to Holmes, most of the psyops hype was supplied by Michael Hastings, the Rolling Stone reporter. But it’s looking more an more like Raymond Pritchett‘s initial assessment of Holmes’ charges, that they are motivated by his sense that being tasked to prepare VIP briefings was beneath his talents, is right.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. narciso says:

    Don’t you remember the claims of Richard Brenneke, Ari ben Menashe, Barbara Honegger, who the left used to air their most deranged theories about Bush and Reagan, that the likes of Sy Hersh bought wholesale.

  2. DC Loser says:

    Holmes sounds like a bigtime prima donna. He’s not even in a combat arms branch, for crying out loud.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @DC Loser:

    Part of it is the Army’s bizarre career path. Holmes had come off a battalion command, where he was a relative god, to a lowly staff puke job that would probably be more suited to a young captain. It’s like the 0-6s who come to DC and find themselves getting coffee for generals. It’s a rather brutal blow to the ego.

  4. DC Loser says:

    I get ya, James. Many I times I chuckled at the Navy O-6 aviator, probably just off a tour as a carrier battle group CAG, trying to get himself on to a Pentagon shuttle bus to ride to his cubicle office making coffee for the admiral.

  5. MarkedMan says:

    It’s a question of trust. The army says – “Yes he was psy-ops, but we told him not to use those techniques”. Has the army behavior in Iraq/Afghanistan earned enough trust to give them the benefit of the doubt?

  6. OLDWISEONE says:

    Why not try to get the perspective of a couple of other officers assigned to this “congressional briefing” team. What were they told to do? Just briefing packages? Why was Holmes picked for this job and not given another? Don’t get “psyoped” by those wanting to forstall a deep look into this….