While boring from within, the FBI and police also attack dissident movements
from the outside. They openly mount propaganda campaigns through public
addresses, news releases, books, pamphlets, magazine articles, radio, and
television. They also use covert deception and manipulation. Documented
tactics of this kind include:
False Media Stories: COINTELPRO documents expose frequent collusion between
news media personnel and the FBI to publish false and distorted material at
the Bureau's behest. The FBI routinely leaked derogatory information to its
collaborators in the news media. It also created newspaper and magazine
articles and television "documentaries" which the media knowingly or
unknowingly carried as their own. Copies were sent anonymously or under
bogus letterhead to activists' financial backers, employers, business
associates, families, neighbors, church officials, school administrators,
landlords, and whomever else might cause them trouble.
One FBI media fabrication claimed that Jean Seberg, a white film star active
in anti-racist causes, was pregnant by a prominent Black leader. The Bureau
leaked the story anonymously to columnist Joyce Haber and also had it passed
to her by a "friendly" source in the Los Angeles Times editorial staff. The
item appeared without attribution in Haber's nationally syndicated column of
May 19, 1970. Seberg's husband has sued the FBI as responsible for her
resulting stillbirth, nervous breakdown, and suicide.
Bogus Leaflets, Pamphlets, and Other Publications: COINTELPRO documents show
that the FBI routinely put out phony leaflets, posters, pamphlets,
newspapers, and other publications in the name of movement groups. The
purpose was to discredit the groups and turn them against one another.
FBI cartoon leaflets were used to divide and disrupt the main national
anti-war coalition of the late 1960s. Similar fliers were circulated in 1968
and 1969 in the name of the Black Panthers and the United Slaves (US), a
rival Black nationalist group based in Southern California. The phony
Panther/US leaflets, together with other covert operations, were credited
with subverting a fragile truce between the two groups and igniting an
explosion of internecine violence that left four Panthers dead, many more
wounded, and a once-flourishing regional Black movement decimated.
Another major COINTELPRO operation involved a children's coloring book which
the Black Panther Party had rejected as anti-white and gratuitously violent.
The FBI revised the coloring book to make it even more offensive. Its field
offices then distributed thousands of copies anonymously or under phony
organizational letterheads. Many backers of the Party's program of free
breakfasts for children withdrew their support after the FBI conned them
into believing that the bogus coloring book was being used in the program.
Forged Correspondence: Former employees have confirmed that the FBI has the
capacity to produce state-of-the-art forgery. This capacity was used under
COINTELPRO to create snitch jackets and bogus communications that
exacerbated differences among activists and disrupted their work.
One such forgery intimidated civil rights worker Muhammed Kenyatta (Donald
Jackson), causing him to abandon promising projects in Jackson, Mississippi.
Kenyatta had foundation grants to form Black economic cooperatives and open
a "Black and Proud School" for dropouts. He was also a student organizer at
nearby Tougaloo College. In the winter of 1969, after an extended campaign
of FBI and police harassment, Kenyatta received a letter, purportedly from
the Tougaloo College Defense Committee, which "directed" that he cease his
political activities immediately. If he did not "heed our diplomatic and
well-thought-out warning," the committee would consider taking measures
"which would have a more direct effect and which would not be as cordial as
this note." Kenyatta and his wife left. Only years later did they learn it
was not Tougaloo students, but FBI covert operators who had driven them out.
Later in 1969, FBI agents fabricated a letter to the mainly white organizers
of a proposed Washington, D.C. anti-war rally demanding that they pay the
local Black community a $20,000 "security bond." This attempted extortion
was composed in the name of the local Black United Front (BUF) and signed
with the forged signature of its leader. FBI informers inside the BUF then
tried to get the group to back such a demand, and Bureau contacts in the
media made sure the story received wide publicity.
The Senate Intelligence Committee uncovered a series of FBI letters sent to
top Panther leaders throughout 1970 in the name of Connie Mathews, an
intermediary between the Black Panther Party's national office and Panther
leader Eldridge Cleaver, in exile in Algeria. These exquisite forgeries were
prepared on pilfered stationery in Panther vernacular expertly simulated by
the FBI's Washington, D.C. laboratory. Each was forwarded to an FBI Legal
Attache at a U.S. Embassy in a foreign country that Mathews was due to
travel through and then posted at just the right time "in such a manner that
it cannot be traced to the Bureau." The FBI enhanced the eerie authenticity
of these fabrications by lacing them with esoteric personal tidbits culled
from electronic surveillance of Panther homes and offices. Combined with
other forgeries, anonymous letters and phone calls, and the covert
intervention of FBI and police infiltrators, the Mathews correspondence
succeeded in inflaming intra-party mistrust and rivalry until it erupted
into the bitter public split that shattered the organization in the winter
Anonymous Letters and Telephone Calls: During the 1960s, activists received
a steady flow of anonymous letters and phone calls which turn out to have
been from the FBI. Some were unsigned, while others bore bogus names or
purported to come from unidentified activists in phony or actual
Many of these bogus communications promoted racial divisions and fears,
often by exploiting and exacerbating tensions between Jewish and Black
activists. One such FBI-concocted letter went to SDS members who had joined
Black students protesting New York University's discharge of a Black teacher
in 1969. The supposed author, an unnamed "SDS member," urged whites to break
ranks and abandon the Black students because of alleged anti-Semitic slurs
by the fired teacher and his supporters.
Other anonymous letters and phone calls falsely accused movement leaders of
collaboration with the authorities, corruption, or sexual affairs with other
activists' mates. The letter on the next page was used to provoke "a lasting
distrust" between a Black civil rights leader and his wife. Its FBI authors
hoped that his "concern over what to do about it" would "detract from his
time spent in the plots and plans of his organization." As in the Seberg
incident, inter-racial sex was a persistent theme. The husband of one white
woman active in civil rights and anti-war work filed for divorce soon after
receiving the FBI-authored letter reproduced on page 50.
Still other anonymous FBI communications were designed to intimidate
dissidents, disrupt coalitions, and provoke violence. Calls to Stokely
Carmichael's mother warning of a fictitious Black Panther murder plot drove
him to leave the country in September 1968. Similar anonymous FBI telephone
threats to SNCC leader James Forman were instrumental in thwarting efforts
to bring the two groups together.
The Chicago FBI made effective use of anonymous letters to sabotage the
Panthers efforts to build alliances with previously apolitical Black street
gangs. The most extensive of these operations involved the Black P. Stone
Nation, or "Blackstone Rangers," a powerful confederation of several
thousand local Black youth. Early in 1969, as FBI and police infiltrators in
the Rangers spread rumors of an impending Panther attack, the Bureau sent
Ranger chief Jeff Fort an incendiary note signed "a black brother you don't
know." Fort's supposed friend warned that "The brothers that run the
Panthers blame you for blocking their thing and there's supposed to be a hit
out for you." Another FBI-concocted anonymous "black man" then informed
Chicago Panther leader Fred Hampton of a Ranger plot "to get you out of the
way." These fabrications squelched promising talks between the two groups
and enabled Chicago Panther security chief William O'Neal, an FBI-paid
provocateur, to instigate a series of armed confrontations from which the
Panthers barely managed to escape without serious casualties.
Pressure Through Employers, Landlords, and Others: FBI records reveal
repeated maneuvers to generate pressure on dissidents from their parents,
children, spouses, landlords, employers, college administrators, church
superiors, welfare agencies, credit bureaus, and the like. Anonymous letters
and telephone calls were often used to this end. Confidential official
communications were effective in bringing to bear the Bureau's immense power
Agents' reports indicate that such FBI intervention denied Martin Luther
King, Jr., and other 1960s activists any number of foundation grants and
public speaking engagements. It also deprived alternative newspapers of
their printers, suppliers, and distributors and cost them crucial
advertising revenues when major record companies were persuaded to take
their business elsewhere. Similar government manipulation may underlie steps
recently taken by some insurance companies to cancel policies held by
churches giving sanctuary to refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala.
Tampering With Mail and Telephone Service: The FBI and CIA routinely used
mail covers (the recording of names and addresses) and electronic
surveillance in order to spy on 1960s movements. The CIA alone admitted to
photographing the outside of 2.7 million pieces of first-class mail during
the 1960s and to opening almost 215,000. Government agencies also tampered
with mail, altering, delaying, or "disappearing" it. Activists were quick to
blame one another, and infiltrators easily exploited the situation to
exacerbate their tensions.
Dissidents' telephone communications often were similarly obstructed. The
SDS Regional Office in Washington, D.C., for instance, mysteriously lost its
phone service the week preceding virtually every national anti-war
demonstration in the late 1960s.
Disinformation to Prevent or Disrupt Movement Meetings and Activities: A
favorite COINTELPRO tactic uncovered by Senate investigators was to
advertise a non-existent political event, or to misinform people of the time
and place of an actual one. They reported a variety of disruptive FBI "dirty
tricks" designed to cast blame on the organizers of movement events.
In one "disinformation" case, the [FBI's] Chicago Field Office duplicated
blank forms prepared by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War
in Vietnam ("NMC") soliciting housing for demonstrators at the Democratic
National Convention. Chicago filled out 217 of these forms with fictitious
names and addresses and sent them to the NMC, which provided them to
demonstrators who made "long and useless journeys to locate these
addresses." The NMC then decided to discard all replies received on the
housing forms rather than have out-of-town demonstrators try to locate
nonexistent addresses. (The same program was carried out when the Washington
Mobilization Committee distributed housing forms for demonstrators coming to
Washington for the 1969 Presidential inaugural ceremonies.)
In another case, during the demonstrations accompanying inauguration
ceremonies, the Washington Field Office discovered that NMC marshals were
using walkie-talkies to coordinate their movements and activities. WFO used
the same citizen band to supply the marshals with misinformation and,
pretending to be an NMC unit, countermanded NMC orders.
In a third case, a [Bureau] Midwest field office disrupted arrangements for
state university students to attend the 1969 inaugural demonstrations by
making a series of anonymous telephone calls to the transportation company.
The calls were designed to confuse both the transportation company and the
SDS leaders as to the cost of transportation and the time and place for
leaving and returning. This office also placed confusing leaflets around the
campus to show different times and places for demonstration-planning
meetings, as well as conflicting times and dates for traveling to
Special Thanks to Natturner for his collection of Cointelpro videos. This collectiongoes well with African America History Month. Nat has a great channel filled with information very few people are aware of. I am just beginning to crack the surface of the large amount of info. Though this channel is not exactly a "Truther Channel" per say, it does lend it self to the cause by way of equality for all people. Thank you for your contribution Natturner187, you are appreciated.
Most people associate propaganda with advertising, with partisan opinion
heard on talk shows, or with a zealous Sunday morning radio preacher.
Indeed, all of these are forms of propaganda, but for the most part they are
the least harmful kind because the audience recognizes them as such.
The advertiser, for example, clearly wants to sell something, and is trying
to keep a particular product or service on the minds of the audience or to
make it more appealing to potential consumers. Political commentary is
nearly always recognized as such, and while it is intended to persuade its
audience, it is far more useful as a means to inform or inspire those
already in agreement with the speaker. And audiences likewise recognize that
religious programming is intended as much to motivate followers to take a
particular course of action (such as donating money) as it is to change the
spiritual orientation of non-believers. Thus, they are convinced to embrace
the ideas of the speakers or to follow their instructions only if they are
already inclined to do so.
But there are other types of communication that are far more intrusive --
precisely because audiences tend not to recognize them as propaganda.
One example might be false or incomplete news reporting, presented as truth
or objective fact. Reports that war has broken out nearby or that a
highly-contagious and deadly disease is spreading among the local population
would certainly produce a more immediate reaction among large numbers of
people than would a commercial for a "new and better" laundry soap or a
preacher s plea for money to keep himself on the air.
Another way in which propaganda can turn around an unwilling audience is
through the process of repetition. At the end of World War II, for example,
the people of the United States were not inclined to worry very much about
an invasion by the Soviet Union. After all, the Russians had been America s
allies during the war. But as the country launched the most massive arms
build- up in the history of the world, the Soviet "threat" was stressed
again and again -- by government operatives and military leaders, who were
soon joined by vast numbers of private organizations, political
commentators, intellectuals, entertainers, and, of course, the news media.
Though the messages may have differed from one another -- and probably even
more so because they did -- the sheer volume of these warnings and the
diversity of the sources involved served to confirm in people s minds the
reality of the threat. Slogans like "the iron curtain" helped audiences to
visualize the "danger." And by the 1950s, bomb shelters and air raid drills
were added to the psychological arsenal -- orchestrated not so much to
protect the country as to bring about active participation and thus to raise
the level of hysteria.
The resulting climate of fear justified rapid expansion of military research
and arms stockpiling, as well as active combat in far-away places like
Korea. Indeed, it was not until people actually saw the brutality of battle
on their television screens during the Vietnam conflict that the notion of a
"defensive" war on the far side of the globe began to be questioned. So
profound, in fact, was the impact of propaganda in the anti-communist era
that even after the collapse of the USSR, a large part of the population
still wants to believe that America "survived" a great crisis.
Indeed, as can be seen from the cold war generally -- and from such
incidents as the Cuban missile crisis -- intensive, long-term propaganda
tends to be self-fulfilling. Like the arms race that accompanied it, the
anti-Soviet mania helped hostilities to flourish and multiply.
And while the propaganda of the anti-communist era was designed to
facilitate the development of a global US military presence, other types of
propaganda are directed more toward social behavior or group loyalties. This
was the case in later years of the cold war, when the ideological
battleground shifted from Europe to the developing or "non-aligned" world.
Harry Rositzke, a retired chief at the Central Intelligence Agency,
described the situation is a 1977 book called The CIA s Secret Operations:
Espionage, Counterespionage, and Covert Action: "During the fifties these
covertly sponsored activities sounded many of the themes that permeated
American official and unofficial propaganda. Politics was reduced to a
simple black-and-white formula of East or West, slavery or freedom...
[para.] In the late fifties, and during the sixties, as the American
propaganda effort shifted to the third world, this simple general line had
to be tempered for the new noncapitalist audiences.... [para.] Covert
propaganda operations in the third world were, in effect, a fight for the
media... Foreign editors and columnists were recruited, newspapers and
magazines subsidized, press services supported. Propagandists ranged from
paid agents to friendly collaborators, from liberal and socialist
anti-Communists to simple right-wingers. Facts, themes, editorial outlines,
model essays were sent out to third world stations to be reworked for local
consumption. Hot stories pere published in friendly outlets and replayed
around the globe..." (The CIA s Secret Operations: Espionage,
Counterespionage, and Covert Action by Harry Rositzke, 1988 edition,
Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, at page 162.)
The enormous cost of a large-scale foreign propaganda offensive --
establishing contacts, recruiting agents, underwriting news operations,
establishing front groups, laundering funds, developing messages and themes,
concealing the reality of foreign involvement, and at the same time making
certain that the "proper ideas" were aired conspicuously in a style
appropriate to the local peoples -- can only be justified on the grounds
that certain attitudes could be planted which otherwise would never have
been favored by the targets. In other words, the audience is lulled into
believing something -- or doing something or supporting something -- that
otherwise would have been rejected as being against group self-interest.
The fact that the audience is carefully and systematically led to a
particular set of beliefs is especially dangerous because the source of the
ideology -- and the motives of the sponsor -- are not known to the
recipients of the messages. In fact, use of local collaborators, clandestine
financing of indigenous news operations, and the like, only confirms that
the propaganda has to be falsely-attributed in order to be credible. The
message, in other words, is made believable by the fact that it appears to
come from within the target population itself. This is what is known as
"covert" or "subversive" propaganda and "black operations." And it is
generally acknowledged that much of what is conveyed through such campaigns
consists of false information.
As Rositzke notes in his memoir, " Black operations ... are designed to be
attributed to the other side and must be carried out by a secret agency in
order to hide the actual source of the propaganda. A black radio purportedly
broadcasting from Central Asia or a forged document purportedly coming out
of the classified files of a Soviet embassy requires expertise, secret
funds, and anonymous participants." (Rositzke, op. cit., at page 163.)
Propaganda of this nature, especially if carried out over a long period of
time and with the intent to achieve specific social or political changes, is
usually part of a larger conquest called "political warfare" -- and is
almost sure to be accompanied by diplomatic pressures against national
leaders, economic actions (e.g., foreign economic or military aid), cultural
intervention, and surveillance. As such, it can have a profound or even
devastating impact on the target peoples.
Skillful propaganda is capable also of manipulating its audience at the
emotional level. Psychological studies done in the United States two decades
ago proved the disastrous impact of widespread racism on children of African
descent. Black children in one test all believed a doll with light skin to
be more desirable than one with darker skin -- a measure of the "self-
hatred" instilled by social attitudes so prevalent as to be taken for
granted. In much the same way, protestant missionaries from the U.S. have
long promoted various forms of "biblical capitalism" which instill in
followers the belief that the "good" are rewarded by God with material
"blessings," and that poverty confirms the moral inadequacy of an
individual, a group, or a class of people.
In fact, some years ago the practice of "church trading" in Liberia became
the topic of media coverage. At that time, numerous minor protestant sects
and "biblical" institutes were actively trying to attract "affiliates" in
Liberia because they knew that a mission overseas would increase financial
contributions at home. So Liberian congregations were offered such
incentives as a new roof for a church building, for example, or a bus as an
incentive to adopt the name and doctrine of the competing American religious
organizations (nearly always white). And when promises went unfulfilled, as
was often the case, the Liberian sects would be forced to turn to other
sponsors who would, once the new relationship was cemented, dispatch
instructors to indoctrinate them in their new-found "theology."
This not only created confusion and obscured the religious identity of the
subjects, but, more importantly, led the Liberians to accept without
reservation their absolute dependence on the sponsoring churches and to
affirm their own collective inferiority. It is hardly surprising, given this
history of "spiritual abuse," that charges have been repeatedly made of CIA
backing for proselytizing among Catholic, Islamic, and traditional
As the case of the American "missions" in Liberia makes clear, money is
usually a critical factor in an effective propaganda drive. The vast
difference in wealth between the northern and southern hemispheres means,
for instance, that western powers can not only of gain access to agents and
collaborators for propaganda efforts, but can also penetrate indigenous
institutions and even establish new ones with minimal risk of detection by
the public at large.
They can disseminate literature, textbooks, pamphlets, cultural messages,
and other ideological materials in quantities that far exceed what local
markets could ever support. Money, funnelled through channels, can buy off
radio and television programmers, supply packaged propaganda programs or
special consultants, present "educational" seminars and conferences, offer
such financial inducements as prizes and awards, and upgrade studios and
broadcast facilities for reliable friends. The sheer volume of the operation
guarantees that indigenous opinion cannot compete.
Rich nations can also pressure governments -- under the threat of
withholding aid or credit, for example -- to formally "invite" them to
participate in the development of public "information" or "education"
campaigns. Moreover, when conditions are favorable, wealthy donors of
"technical assistance" projects can conduct highly sophisticated research
activities that enable them to thoroughly evaluate the sociological climate
of target countries, to pretest propaganda message on small groups, to
measure changes in attitudes over the course of time, and to intimidate
opponents, suppress dissent, and censor the dissemination of competing
Deception as Science
Social psychology textbooks list several ways in which audiences can be
deceived by propaganda.
First of all, audiences are more likely to accept an idea if they believe it
was heard inadvertently; in other words, there is a natural tendency to
resist a message that is presented in an assertive way, while there will be
far less negative reaction if the audience hears the same theme in a context
that is relatively "matter-of-fact."
Audiences are also more likely to actually change their opinions if they
receive a message from a variety of sources that mutually reinforce one
another. Similarly, people tend to approve of a statement made by someone
who is in some way similar to them, an expert on the topic under discussion,
or one who begins by expressing an opinion with which the listener (or
viewer or reader) strongly agrees.
Under some circumstances, propaganda messages can be made more potent by
incorporating opposing arguments in a way that tends to discredit them,
while at the same time giving the audience the impression that it is hearing
both side of the debate.
In large operations, propagandists often stimulate changes in attitudes by
generating a "band-wagon effect" -- creating the false impression that a
particular set of beliefs is more widely accepted than it really is. And
where a specific behavioral change is the intended goal of a communications
campaign, it is extremely useful to get members of the target group either
to express the idea publicly (thereby committing themselves to it) or to
engage in the desired conduct in some way short of compulsion (so that they
assume "ownership" of the idea). In either case, the tendency is to continue
to defend the opinion or action and in so doing to internalize the
There is no question that propaganda which discreetly and consistently
applies these principles can produce profound and far reaching changes in
the societies against whom it is directed. The reasons are relatively
simple. Individuals are part of groups. They share customs and common values
with other members of the groups to whom they belong.
If a person strongly identifies with the Islamic faith, for example, that
person s reaction to certain things -- the consumption of alcohol or pork,
perhaps -- will be shaped by religious tenets, even though it may express
itself as contempt for "drunkenness" or revulsion toward an "unclean food."
However, a concerted campaign to "revise" or subvert Islamic influences
could, over time, start in motion a slow process of subduing this emotional
Simply arguing that drink should be tolerated by Muslims is likely to do
nothing more than arouse resistance and provoke countering arguments from
those who know better. But it might also be a way to "open up the issue" for
further debate. A drawn out, well-publicized controversy about the
"benefits" of alcohol consumption, even if it changed very few minds over a
few years, would nonetheless create an atmosphere of ambivalence; the
certainty with which drink was condemned in previous times will have been
undermined, and much of the negative response inspired by the debate at the
beginning is gone.
The next step in this case might be for the propagandist to actually induce
certain members of the community (or agent- agitators posing as audience
peers) to openly consume alcohol as affirmation of the "new" ideas embraced
by a more "modern" or more "realistic" Islam. The endorsements of a few paid
collaborators would likewise be useful. All of this would be made known to
the public by means of aggressively-distributed news releases, video clips,
and pre-fabricated features to friends and hirelings in the local news
This phase of the operation gives the propagandist s suggestions what
psychologists call "false authority." In other words, the impression is made
that persons highly qualified to endorse such ideas are the source of the
information. These same activities further offer the propagandist a chance
to eliminate some negative stereotypes and to lower inhibitions against the
desired behavior. After being exposed on a regular basis to real examples of
such conduct, members of the target group would be far less likely to issue
strong condemnations because doing so would be perceived as a personal
attack on one s peers (or even leaders).
Finally, the instigator of the communications campaign might attempt to
undermine the most stubborn resistance to change through a mass media
offensive -- television spots, news articles, cartoons, billboards, rigged
debates, T-shirts, the cinema, and so forth -- that dishonors opponents by
linking them to unpopular causes, or by holding them up as objects of
ridicule. Even if most adults still cling to their original beliefs, the
younger generations would not have the benefit of the uncorrupted culture
their elders knew. Thus a chain of authority is weakened and a tradition
While it seems improbable that westerners would benefit by promoting the
consumption of alcohol or pork among Muslims, something of this sort might
be a very effective way to de- legitimize Islamic traditions in general --
and thus to lead followers away from religious orthodoxy so they could be
more easily integrated into a westernized world culture.
Regardless of whether propaganda is used to change human attitudes and
behavior or to simply get people to act on false information, group identity
is the key that propaganda seeks to exploit.
By definition, group membership imposes certain standards of behavior on the
individual. To put it another way, the individual cannot help but act in a
manner that takes into account the expectations of the group as a whole. It
is the shared values held in common within the group that shapes the conduct
of its members. And, at the same time, these customs are reinforced by the
members continued adherence to them.
For this reason, propaganda has to exploit group identity. It must attempt
to challenge the collective ambitions and prohibitions that direct group
conduct -- or to create the illusion that meaningful change is taking place
even when it is not. Either way, those who are part of the group are
inexorably led to change their own behavior in response to what they see as
an evolving group ethic.
But cultural manipulation is more than just advocacy. The modern
propagandist must understand the audience and learn how different events,
situations, and images influence the day-to-day actions of the target group.
If a change in behavior is contemplated, the sponsor has to discover what
practical obstacles might prevent the adoption of new forms of behavior once
the old taboos have been broken down. Those groups conducting the
intervention must then attempt to minimize any negative consequences that
might be experienced by group members who follow the suggestions introduced
through the propaganda. And it is likewise necessary that suitable measures
be found for reinforcing the new behavior and that a system of continuing
"psychic rewards" be developed for those who repeat it.
Moreover, propaganda professionals are also aware that change takes time --
that any attempt to establish or reverse social trends must necessarily be a
long-term operation, lest the intervention be exposed for what it is and
backfire. Colonel Michael Dewar, a British military intelligence specialist,
explains the philosophy of change this way: "[The] tendency is for the mind
to be lulled by regularity and routine. It tends to pay less attention to
events which occur again and again and is not good at spotting marginal or
gradual changes." (The Art of Deception in Warfare by Col. Michael Dewar, A
David & Charles military Book, Devon, 1989, at page 10.)
Meet Willie Horton
Propaganda can also be used to undermine the beliefs or loyalties of a
group. In most cases, this kind of mass media assault is negative -- meaning
that it is not so much designed to popularize a specific ideology as it is
to discredit a movement that already exists. This can be done in a variety
of ways -- by distracting potential adherents so that their attention is
diverted to other matters, by using "divide and conquer" tactics to create
splinter groups that confront one another instead of pursuing a common goal,
or by discrediting leaders so that the strength of the movement is
compromised or obscured.
The example of race in America again provides an illustration. In the
mid-1960s, there emerged a strong movement for black consciousness in the
U.S. Slogans like "black is beautiful" became a way of repairing the psychic
damage done by generations of contempt and organized discrimination. The
popularity of such themes and the enthusiasm with which they were adopted by
the masses gave them a momentum that carried into virtually every aspect of
social communications. Advertisers began to exploit minority "race pride" by
incorporating it into commercials. The cinema, too, reflected the
recognition that people of color deserved equity and respect, as did news
reporting and political discourse, at least within dominant liberal circles.
Even though this change in the portrayal of minorities was embraced by the
larger society for self-serving reasons, it nonetheless complemented and
reinforced the drive of minorities for a positive self-image.
But by the early part of the 1980s, it was all gone -- and the bigotry of
days gone by returned in a new and even more insidious form. "Black" was no
longer "beautiful." It was a threat.
What happened? Most people would agree that the curious reversal of a trend
was a result of "rewards" and "punishments" that were far less systematic
and harder to define than those of the past -- but no less effective.
During the late 1960s, for example, students at one California university
were able to document a distinct pattern of differential treatment toward
motorists. Automobiles having bumper stickers with "black power" messages
were several times more likely to be stopped by police for minor traffic
infractions or ticketed for parking violations than were those without such
visible identification -- regardless of the race of the driver. As a
consequence, black pride remained an acceptable group ideology, but became a
liability for the individual. Needless to say, it faded quickly.
Over the next two decades, minority persons were integrated into the middle
class -- visible proof of the "fairness" of the system. But these were
relatively few. The vast majority gained nothing from this extension of the
"American dream." People flocked into the cities in pursuit of the illusory
opportunity, only to find themselves trapped in cold, impersonal ghettos
where survival was a constant and depressing struggle.
By that time, of course, expressions of sympathy for the plight of the urban
poor was scarce. The example of the "good negro" who had climbed up the
ladder toward success furnished proof that the others were negligent -- or
worse. And then the media discovered "black rage." As group expectations
started to falter and oppression grew worse, conflict inevitably followed,
and the local television news crew was at hand to relate again and again
what happened and where it happened, but never why. And so "black power" as
a slogan of freedom was gradually replaced by the "black underclass" as an
excuse to build bigger, better jails.
In fact, the image of black males as criminals became such a national
obsession that George Bush, in his successful 1988 bid for the presidency,
used the issue of the parole of a black man convicted of raping a white
woman as evidence that his opponent, the former governor of the state of
Massachusetts, could not deal with crime. "Willie Horton" became symbolic of
black males in general, an image that thrived in a climate of growing white
fear and resentment.
Much of what occurred can be explained quite simply as the result of
habitual, deeply-rooted racism in America. Still, it is not likely that the
change could have been as dramatic or as fast as it was without an organized
effort at subversion. And an old FBI memorandum from 1968 provides evidence
of what transpired invisibly at the highest levels of the United States
The memo, FBI communique number 157-601, was the product of a
"counter-intelligence program" run by Special Agent Raymond N. Byers of the
San Francisco office. The subject was "racial intelligence."
After providing detailed evaluations of all "black nationalist" movements
represented in northern California, their leaders and members, the April 2,
1968 dispatch recommended ways in which the government might diffuse the
situation. Among other things, it recommended censorship, saying that
efforts should be undertaken toward "inhibiting the importation and
transportation of seditious and revolutionary literature." But that was just
a beginning. Propaganda -- or, more specifically, threats and intimidation
tactics aimed at all African in the U.S. -- would supplement the censorship
Thus, said the memo, the so-called "seditious and revolutionary literature"
of black intellectuals would be "counteracted" with different ideas, which
would be distributed through "a medium which reaches the entire Negro
population." To this end, it added, "There are papers and magazines which
should be used if they will accept this material. If they don t, radio and
especially TV should be utilized."
The theme to be conveyed by all this psychological warfare was also made
clear by the experts on "racial intelligence" at San Francisco FBI
headquarters. "One way to reach the Negro youth and moderate (sic.) might be
through searching examination and revelation of the true goals of black
nationalist organizations presented in a way that Negroes will realize the
dangers ahead for them," the FBI cable noted. "The Negro youth and moderate
must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching,
they will be dead revolutionaries. Is it not better to be a sports hero, a
well paid professional athlete or entertainer, a regularly paid white or
blue collar worker... than a Negro who may have got even with the
establishment ... and gained for him and all his people the hatred and
distrust of the whites for years to come?"
Those responsible for domestic psy-war operations know that this kind of
"threat conditioning" can be duplicated very effectively in foreign
situations. Language and cultural differences may make it difficult at the
beginning. But once in operation, and after the first recruits have been
identified and trained, the program can rapidly gather speed. Moreover, the
risk of detection is likely to be less with foreign audiences, particularly
if the propaganda is well-prepared and elaborately researched. Indeed, as
ruthless as the campaign against America's black leadership may have been
(and it still continues), propaganda programs in developing countries are
even more sadistic, and they can often be incredibly crude.
Pornography for Indonesia
An excellent overview of CIA propaganda operations can be found in a 1986
book, The CIA: A Forgotten History by William Blum (Zed Books, London). One
conspicuous target for U.S. psychological warfare personnel during the mid-
and late-1950s was Indonesian leader Achmed Sukarno, a charismatic figure
whose mere presence seem to inspire "third world" nationalism. After
repeated attempts to overthrow and assassinate the former anti- colonial
leader failed -- and were subsequently blamed on "communists" by American
propagandists -- it was decided that the best way of dealing with Sukarno
was to make him appear contemptible to the public. According to Blum, the
CIA then began circulating fabricated reports of an affair with a blonde
Russian agent who had blackmailed Sukarno into becoming a Soviet pawn.
After having some success in circulating the rumor, the CIA decided to come
up with "proof." According to Blum: "A substantial effort was made to come
up with a pornographic film or at least some still photographs that could
pass for Sukarno and his Russian girl friend engaged in his favorite
activity. When scrutiny of available porno films (supplied by the Chief of
Police of Los Angeles) failed to turn up a couple who could pass for Sukarno
(dark and bald) and a beautiful blonde Russian woman, the CIA undertook to
produce its own films... The outcome of this effort was a film produced for
the Agency by Robert Maheu, former FBI agent and intimate of Howard Hughes.
Maheu s film starred an actor who resembled Sukarno.... The CIA also
developed a full- face mask of the Indonesian leader which was sent to Los
Angeles where the police were to pay some porno-film actor to wear it during
his big scene. This project resulted in some photographs, although they
apparently were never used. In other parts of the world, at other times, the
CIA has done better in this line of work, having produced sex films of
target subjects caught in flagrante delicto who had been lured to Agency
safe-houses by female agents" (Blum, at pages 110-111).
Oil on the Moon
Disinformation is often an important part of a sustained propaganda effort.
Indeed, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that even the most ridiculous
concept can be made believable if enough time and effort is put into the
task. In difficult cases, it may also be necessary to take extra steps to
entice large numbers of key targets to participate in a way that almost
forces them to accept the concept conveyed by the propagandist.
Imagine that the industrialized bloc, for whatever reason, decided to spread
a truly outrageous theory among certain audiences in the developing world --
that immense oil reserves can be obtained from the moon, for example. Now it
is widely known that oil is of organic origin and that the moon consists of
dry rocks which have never supported vegetation. Thus, no reputable
scientist would ever even imagine such a theory. But the wizards of
deception might begin with a "pre-propaganda" publicity drive in which
statements of "experts" are presented which merely question what is known
about the moon and stress the importance of doing more research.
Later on, news articles and broadcast features might emphasize the enormous
significance of a new "theory" that could eventually make Arab oil obsolete.
Debates might be staged in which those disputing the idea look bad by
comparison. New "discoveries" of oil-like substances on the lunar surface
could also be brought to the public s attention at regular intervals -- and,
of course, with great fanfare.
Foreign propaganda sponsors and aid donors might also insist that school
textbooks make reference to the "vast supplies of petroleum" that are now
believed to exist on the moon; donated library books would be widely
circulated to support the same myth; and doctored photographs or video clips
might be passed around to the news media which purport to "prove" what the
bogus "scientists" are saying.
Finally, contests might be organized in which college students or news
reporters are offered generous prizes for the best essay on how to bring
about world peace and global prosperity by exploiting moon oil. Contestants
would be free to research the issue for themselves, of course, but would
find that texts supporting the existence of petroleum on the moon far
outnumber those that suggest otherwise. More importantly, they become eager
to propagandize themselves because they want to please contest judges and
claim the prize money. In essence, they fall into one of the most pernicious
of all propaganda traps -- one in which targets are duped into equating
their own self-worth with the success of the disinformation campaign.
Again, it is hard to imagine in what situation false information about
extra-terrestrial oil supplies would be useful to a propaganda sponsor,
except perhaps to undermine the confidence of OPEC countries in future
economic conditions or to discourage potential oil producing nations (e.g.
Senegal) from attempting to gain from their own reserves. But disinformation
is a major element of foreign propaganda, especially military "psy- war"
projects intended to facilitate the surrender of opposition troops or to
induce the defection of their members. Indeed, disinformation -- often
combined with opinion or ideological messages -- is a part of most peacetime
As bizarre as these tactics may seem, all are being used on a regular basis
to mold public opinion in developing countries on issues ranging from "free"
trade and western economic principles to birth control and population
planning. In fact, the psychological pressures of mass propaganda are an
essential element in building a constituency for U.S. military actions under
the mask of "international consensus." And communication campaigns have
become a routine way of discrediting anti- imperialist sentiments,
undermining claims for worldwide economic justice, and countering "threats"
to western interests posed by such diverse groups as religious movements,
so-called third world nationalists, and anti-corporate environmentalists.
But in a more general sense, control over communications in far-away lands
is as much an end in itself as it is a means to an end. To be able to
acquire and maintain the dominant influence over the spread of ideas and
information within a society is to exercise control over its people. As an
American military advisor reportedly said at the end of World War II,
"Whoever controls the radio controls Berlin."
Spies and Saboteurs
Propaganda and psychological warfare techniques are a fundamental part of
the western presence in the developing world. If a foreign power has an
established network of friends to convey its ideas to host country
audiences, it is well-situated to intervene in other ways, should the need
arise. Indeed, basic political influence and communications campaigns can be
a way to build a system for recruiting the local collaborators and front
groups necessary to wage proxy wars, subvert political movements, and
install puppet governments. Without such penetration, on the other hand,
these actions would be almost impossible.
At an October 30, 1991 conference on "Worldwide Threats" organized by the
U.S. General Accounting Office, numerous papers on foreign relations in the
post-cold war era were presented. One, "Intelligence for Low Intensity
Conflicts" by Robert C. Kingston, dealt with psychological operations and
covert activities. "Psychological operations wield words as nonviolent
weapon systems, set stages, exploit successes, and minimize failures when
properly employed," the paper noted, adding that specialists must "gather
intelligence that enables them to determine the predispositions,
vulnerabilities, and susceptibilities of targeted audiences..."
The Kingston report also pointed out that personal knowledge about a country
s leaders forms "the basis of successful operations to unseat or sidetrack
key personnel who plan and implement insurgencies, coups, transnational
terrorism [and other actions] that adversely affect U.S. interests."
Moreover, he continued, "U.S. leaders cannot knowledgeably support or oppose
any foreign coup that affects U.S. interests unless they are well informed
about potential successors, especially their attitudes toward the United
States and expected programs compared with those of incumbents. Otherwise,
short-term benefits may become long-term liabilities with local, regional,
and even global implications."
>From these words, it is apparent that western leaders will escalate
campaigns of propaganda and psychological warfare against their remaining
"enemy" in the aftermath of the cold war -- the emerging nations of the
southern hemisphere. And the goals will be many: curbing population growth,
maintaining cheap access to supplies of minerals, and neutralizing
ideological movements that run counter to U.S. interests, to name just a
In fact, Admiral James A. Baldwin, president of the National Defense
University in Washington, wrote in 1989: "Warfare is often defined as the
employment of military means to advance political ends.... Another, more
subtle, means -- political warfare -- uses images, ideas, speeches, slogans,
propaganda, economic pressures, even advertising techniques to influence the
political will of an adversary.... Now that the Soviets 40-year campaign of
aggression, intimidation, and hegemony is in apparent retreat and the world
is increasingly beset by low-intensity conflict and struggles for economic
domination, political warfare will be at the forefront of our national