From the October 2001 Idaho Observer:

The War on Terrorism:

Psychological Warfare? Again?

by Hari Heath

Manipulation of the mass mind has been developed into an exact science. In the wake of our recent national tragedy, government and major media's coordinated response is no accident. The history of the development of the science of communications can shed new light on current events and how we have come to perceive them. Are we being manipulated in a well managed mental herding? Is our “United We Stand,” flag waving frenzy genuine or manufactured? What is the history behind the techniques that guide our collective societal mind?

We now call it the science of communications, but the beginnings of this academic arena have a shady past. Originally developed for military purposes, psychological warfare and propaganda have been toned down to the more palatable title, communications. As Leo Bogart wrote in a report to the U. S. Information Agency, using the term “psychological warfare” in the public media “is like describing the technique of seduction, and making it look like wooing, in the presence of the girl you have seduced.” Since World War II, almost all of the research into techniques of persuasion, opinion measurement, interrogation, political and military mobilization, propagation of ideology and the selling of ideas has been funded by military intelligence, the CIA and various lesser known propaganda agencies. Communication-as-domination is often a preferred tool to conventional warfare. Persuasive mass communications can improve military operations while decreasing potential casualties, a valuable tool when trying to encourage a cornered enemy to surrender. It can also be used to create the consent and motivation of a population as it is led off to war. These wartime uses were expanded once the science was developed and are now applied across a broad spectrum of human endeavors.

The Bureau of Applied Social Research (BASR) at Columbia University, the Institute for International Social Research (IISR) at Princeton, the Center for International Studies (CENIS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) are a few of the academic recipients of decades of government research grants. Private funding also came from the Rockefeller Foundation and other elite interests who stood to gain from the research.

In the simplest of terms, the science of communications boils down to the study of “who says what to whom and with what effect.” Far from being a new idea, Harold Lasswell's 1926 dissertation, Propaganda Technique in the World War, explored persuasive communications strategies, audience psychology and the manipulation of symbols. Lasswell wrote in 1933 that “propaganda is one means of mass mobilization which is cheaper than violence...and other possible control techniques,” adding that, “successful social and political management often depends on proper coordination of propaganda with coercion, violent and non-violent; economic inducement; diplomatic negotiation; and other techniques.”

The term “psychological warfare” originated in 1941 from the Nazi term Weltanschauungskrieg, translated as “ worldview warfare,” and meaning the scientific application of propaganda, terror and state pressure as a means of securing an ideological victory over one's enemies.

William Donovan, then the director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) viewed Nazi psychological tactics as a vital source of ideas to be used by American agencies. Donovan sought to utilize psychological warfare as a major military tool. His theory of psychological warfare was to adapt the “engineering of consent” techniques used in peacetime propaganda to open warfare. Donovan was a personal friend of Franklin Roosevelt and convinced the president to establish the Office of the Coordinator of Information, in 1941, with Donovan in charge. It was to conduct propaganda and covert operations both at home and abroad. Bureaucratic rivalries soon changed the structure of this propaganda operation with a division that sent the “white” official propaganda operations to the Office of War Information (OWI), while the “black” covert functions went back to the OSS under Donovan. One of Donovan's colleagues, John McCloy, established the highly secret Psychologic Branch of the War Department which was restructured and renamed several times. The Psychological Warfare Division under Eisenhower's command in Europe eventually grew to 460 men and women. Virtually all of the scientific community in the communications field during the 1950's, emerged from wartime projects.

Congress passed the National Security Act in 1947, which created the CIA as a now legitimized collection of many former unofficial and semi-official covert operations groups. The Act also established the National Security Council (NSC) to advise the president on political and military strategy. The CIA's general counsel, Lawrence Houston, at the request of the new CIA director, issued a legal opinion as to whether the 1947 Act authorized “secret propaganda and paramilitary operations” in peacetime. Houston's opinion stated that no, the agency's charter did not allow such covert operations, the charter authorized only intelligence gathering and analysis. Even if the president ordered covert ops, they would be illegal without further congressional approval.

The NSC overcame these limitations with a deceitful misinformation tactic. They established a two-tiered, often contradictory, information system. “Classified,” and often intentionally doctored reports were circulated among thousands of employees, which predictably resulted in leaks to the press of “secret decisions” by the NSC. The accurate reports of actual activities were kept under a “top secret” classification limited to authorized persons with a need to know. The legally unauthorized covert ops were then designed to be deniable, with a plausible cover story created and released as the “classified” report.

Six months after the NSC was formed they created another branch whose very existence was a state secret. The euphemistically named Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), “coordinated” their only “policy” of conducting covert operations around the world. By 1952, this “non-existent” agency employed about six thousand operatives in forty-seven field stations with an estimated annual black budget of at least 82 million (1950's) dollars. Virtually all of their funding was spent on “black” psychological warfare. The OPC's charter gave them tasks including propaganda, economic warfare, preventative direct actions including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to resistance movements, and guerrilla forces. The OPC developed a special branch for managing assassinations and kidnappings of persons who were “inimical” to U. S. interests.

These were the people behind the mentality, which funded much of “communications research.” With ample resources this branch of science became well developed and is now a common part of the college curriculum. Few social studies and journalism students have any inkling as to the origins of their field of study. The results of the research are well separated from the motives and funding that developed them.

Hans Spier, working both in a high official capacity in the black ops arena and as a scholar of communications suggested as early as 1948 that the U.S. government should “impose martial law to guard against defeatism, demoralization and disorder,” and employ state-of-the-art techniques to facilitate a “future” war -- including coercive measures to ensure the U.S. population cooperated. Put in a more current context, with public confidence in government at an all time low, what is our national condition in the aftermath of September 11, 2001? Are we essentially, if not actually, in a state of martial law with machine gun toting troops guarding our airports and other infrastructures? Are the “communicators” in government and the press employing state-of-the-art techniques to facilitate a “future” war against the vague enemy “terrorism?” Has this “war” been developed to guard against the “defeatism, demoralization and disorder,” resulting from the common recognition that our government is incurably corrupt, destructive, and at odds with most everything Americans hold dear? Remembering the basic foundation of the communications equation, who said what to whom and with what effect, what has been the effect of the media campaign launched after our national tragedy? Was the design for our current flag-waving frenzy and “united we stand” attitude developed over a half century ago?

“The primary nexus between government and social science is an economic one,” wrote Albert Biderman and Elisabeth Crawford. In the first decade after World War II, the decade in which communications studies crystallized into a distinct academic field, propaganda and intelligence agencies and the military provided major funding for the field. The National Science Foundation (NSF) reported that in 1952 that over 96 percent of all reported funding for social science came from the U.S. military. Many millions were spent annually on communications research at BASR, the Institute for Social Research, NORPC, the Bureau of Social Science Research, the RAND Corporation and CENIS. Private money also came from the Ford, Rockefeller and Russell Sage Foundations. Nelson Rockefeller served as Eisenhower's principal advisor and strategist for psychological operations during 1954-55.

Networks of communication scientists naturally developed as funding for this niche in academia built their foundations. The intrinsic links between the black ops side of the science, the elite financiers and the willing recipients in academia created a dominant paradigm, which manifested itself as a paradigm of dominance. The focus of the studies became not so much on what communications is, but how the science could be could be used to manage social change, extract political concessions, or win purchasing decisions from targeted audiences. We have come a long way since the post-World War II era when this science was developed. Electronic communications have mushroomed the potential of a coercive media. This area of academia continues to expand as technology continues to provide the means.

Christopher Simpson concludes his book, The Science of Coercion, with the comment that the, “discussion of psychological warfare remains controversial because reexamination of its record leads in short order to a heretical conclusion: The role of the United States in World affairs during our lifetimes has often been rapacious, destructive, tolerant of genocide, and willing to sacrifice countless people in the pursuit of a chimera of security that has grown ever more remote. Such discussions have always upset those who are content with the present order of things. For the rest of us, though, they permit a glimmer of hope.”

At least a century of failed foreign policy has now brought U. S. cultivated and sown terrorism back to American soil. The delusions of our good conduct abroad have been manufactured by a science developed to manufacture our consent to whatever the elite interests behind our failed policies direct. Learn to read between the lines and sound bytes. This “war on terrorism” is just another national psych-op, perpetrated by the doctors of spin. Perhaps our government is right, but misdirected. We need a war on terrorism, but the war should be directed at the terrorism that has been perpetuated for countless decades by rogue agents hiding under the cloak of government. And a rogue media that cheers them on with the black art and exact science of communications.

Compiled, in part, from The Science of Coercion, by Christopher Simpson, Oxford Press, 1996.

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