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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”.

According to leaked Cambridge University documents detailing the research areas included under the programme, 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)”.

This research would include “the testing, refinement and validation of workable concepts, tools, techniques and methods to enable analysis of audiences to inform planning of appropriate activities, synchronised delivery of these activities [and] measurement of their effectiveness”, the document said.

A spokesperson for DSTL said its research into “targeted manipulation of information” was focused on “communicating with overseas audiences and deterring adversaries who threaten the UK’s interests”. The research was intended to tailor military communications to key audiences in the most appropriate way, the spokesperson said, adding: “All DSTL research complies with ethical and legal requirements.” Read more

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