Denis Boneau: Psy-ops & The Science of World Domination


Richard Moore

To implement this program of “psychological warfare” the secret services recruit specialists on behavioral sciences capable of inventing the “simple, clear and repetitive” white propaganda and the black propaganda aimed at provoking «disorder, confusion and… terror» within the enemy forces.

Torture was considered a research field in social sciences [8]. During the Korean war, the BSSR (main “black” propaganda research center) was in charge of carrying out studies for the army. 

Psychological Cold War
The Science of World Domination 
by Denis Boneau*

Communication sciences, whose development have been monitored by the CIA since the 50s, have been a key instrument in the “psychological warfare” waged against pro-Soviet governments and the countries that could follow the socialist block. Texas A&M University, the army and the secret services gathered information on “the enemy,” drew up NATO’s propaganda, prevented the emergence of liberation movements opposed to Washington and even served as torture advisers. Out of this “alliance between science and politics” a mechanism still used by the U.S. was created.

Since 1945, Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower institutionalized the propaganda agencies founded during WWII and gave them their new mission: to fight the Soviet Union and the socialist republics, labeled as satellites. “Containment”, the general strategy designed by Truman and his advisers, consisted in blocking the expansion of communism through the control of the national emancipation movements that could give the power to pro-Soviet or pro-socialist leaders. This ambitious project demanded the collaboration of experts capable of providing geographical, economic, cultural, psychological and sociological data useful to the army and the secret services. In this context, certain behavioral “scientists”, some of which had already worked against the Third Reich, were included in the new Cold War propaganda services.

In November 1945, General John Magruder proposed the military intelligence to be in charge of a “peace time” ambitious propaganda project based on the achievements of human sciences. However, his initiative did not convince American President Truman who decided to dismantle Donovan (Wild Bill)’ OSS [1], Roosevelt protégée. On its side, the Office of War Information (OWI) [2] was dismantled too on the ground of favoring Roosevelt’s 1944 reelection. In January 1946, Truman founded the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) which was renamed several weeks later the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) whose operations were unmentionable and unimaginable: «propaganda, economic war, direct preventive action, sabotage, anti-sabotage, destruction, subversion against hostile States, assistance to clandestine liberation movements, guerrilla, murders, assistance to indigenous groups opposed to the enemy countries of the «free world»…». The OPC [3] was the office in charge of implementing all these activities under the command of OSS veteran, Franck Wisner.

Theoretically speaking, the OPC depended on the CIA. But in real life, Wisner, backed up by George Kennan, had an enormous freedom of action. The OPC was in charge of a considerable part of “psychological warfare” operations. Wisner recruited scientists to guarantee data search, to convince “neutral” intellectuals and, obviously, to draw up NATO’s propaganda.

What is Psychological Warfare?

Psychological warfare includes a number of actions that range from radio propaganda to torture and require comprehensive information on the targeted populations. In a document written in 1948, American ground forces defined “psychological warfare” in the following way: «It is based on moral and physical means different from those upon which orthodox military techniques are based on. Its purpose is: • To destroy the will and the fighting spirit of the enemy and avoid its allies support • To encourage our troops and our allies’ will of being victorious The psychological warfare uses every possible weapon to have an influence on the will of the enemy. The weapons are labeled as psychological because of their effect and not because of their own nature. This is the reason why, open propaganda (white), secret (black) or grey propaganda -subversion, sabotage, murders, special operations, guerrilla, espionage, political, economic and racial pressures- are considered as useful weapons [in the psychological warfare]». To implement this program of “psychological warfare” the secret services recruit specialists on behavioral sciences capable of inventing the “simple, clear and repetitive” white propaganda and the black propaganda aimed at provoking «disorder, confusion and… terror» within the enemy forces.

Projects Troy and Camelot

Project Tory consisted in mobilizing scholars to identify the available means to transmit “Truth” (American propaganda) to the other side of the Iron Curtain [4]. Its objective was to strengthen the Voice of America (VOA), the broadcasting network founded by the International Information Service (IIS) which was an institution established by Truman to replace OWI. The Voice of America was a “white” propaganda operation whose objective was to promote the U.S. (“democracy”, “the American way of life”, “freedom”, were obviously the leitmotiv of the VOA discourse). One of the main leaders of Project Troy was James Webb, adviser to Secretary of State Dean Acheson and a quick follower of “psychological warfare” who suggested university experts and the government to work closer.

The scientists of Project Troy wrote a report in which they affirmed that Voice of America would not be enough to penetrate the Iron Curtain. Therefore, they suggested other means. Project Troy had to focus first on broadcasting and propaganda. Once they analyzed the purposes of their sponsors -the armed forces, the navy and probably the CIA- they decided to go further and proposed other channels to implement their “white” propaganda: university exchanges, publications of books… and affirmed that information could be transmitted by simply using the mail, through professional journals and other commerce or industrial publications. The report included very precise recommendations such as the centralization of propaganda operations and, consequently, Truman founded the Psychological Strategy Board, encouraged the studies on the “Soviet society” [program of interviews with dissidents] and favored the establishment of CENIS [5].

After this first important collaboration, the air force demanded a report on the Korean population in 1950. Wilbur Schramm (considered as the founding father of the mass communication paradigm), John Ridley and Fredericks Williams were given the mission of interviewing anti-communist refugees to draw up a propaganda strategy on Korea. The study produced two kinds of documents: publications in Public Opinion Quarterly (POQ), the official magazine of «psychological warfare» followers, a book titled The Reds Take a City and a secret report for the ground forces.

Another expression of the «psychological warfare», was the Camelot Project during the 60s. It was about defining models of the processes that led to national revolutions in Third World countries to facilitate counter-insurgence operations. Camelot was a real example of the strengthening ties between behavioral scholars and the American secret services. Begun in 1963, this project was aimed at facilitating interventions in Yemen, Cuba and Congo and -theoretically speaking- foreseeing and preventing the risk of revolution. In Chile, some left-wing newspapers denounced the American government involvement which directed Camelot through the Special Operations Research Office (SORO). The “yankee espionage plan” failed partially for, it seemed, the conclusions of the report were used by the American secret services to overthrow Allende and establish General Pinochet junta [6].

College Involvement

The understanding between a number of university graduates and the ground forces brought about the emergence of a new science used by the secret services. Communication sciences and the paradigm of “mass communication”, financed by the air force, the navy, the CIA, the State Department (…) led to an effective propaganda that was to penetrate the Iron Curtain through different ways: (leaflets, broadcasting…). The discipline’s field of study was wide: persuasion techniques, opinion polls, interviews, military and political mobilizations, dissemination of ideology… In order to satisfy the demand of scientific data, several institutions were financed:

• Paul Lazarsfeld’s Bureau of Applied Social Research (BASR), located in Columbia university

• Hadley Cantril’s Institute for International Social Research (IISR)

• Ithiel de Sola Pool’s Center for International Studies (CENIS) (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) whose funds were distributed by the Ford Foundation [7], but were actually provided by the CIA.

• Bureau of Social Science Research (BSSR), directly financed by the CIA which wanted to improve its interrogation techniques.

• Torture was considered a research field in social sciences [8]. During the Korean war, the BSSR (main “black” propaganda research center) was in charge of carrying out studies for the army. It had to identify Eastern Europe population’s “vulnerability targets and factors” while defining different “aspects of psychological violence”. To be precise, BSSR wrote reports on the effects of traditional interrogation techniques -electric shocks, blows, drugs… Financed by the CIA (50% of the center’s social budget), these studies gathered information, especially on the populations of Viet Nam and Africa with the purpose of improving torture effectiveness [9].

A Magazine: Public Opinion Quarterly

In 1937, De Witt Poole, of Princeton University, founded the Public Opinion Quarterly (POQ) magazine. It published articles on “psychological warfare”, mainly written by the people working for the OWI, studies on civil Germans’ morale, essays on troop training, reflections on war propaganda…Certain researches seemed to be directly inspired in the concerns of the secret services and propaganda agencies (opinion polls in France and Italy…) The magazine board of directors comprised specialists working for the psychological project of the CIA: Paul Lazarsfeld, Hadley Cantril, Rensis Likert and De Witt Poole (who later became the president of the National Committee for a Free Europe).

The study on the systems of communication of the countries controlled by the Soviet Union or the countries that could be conquered by the communist groups allowed for information gathering to be used immediately by the ground forces’ strategists and the directions -usually very precise – on the propagation modalities of “white” propaganda and the «black» methods of terror. Communications sciences, considered as means of surveillance and coercion had therefore a purely manipulative nature.

The Sciences of Coercion against Neutralism

The paradigm of mass communication, brought into being due to the financing of the Cold War services, was inserted in a broader intellectual plan consisting in the division of the world map based on the American strategists’ logic. The thesis defended by the patriarch of this discipline, Wilbur Schramm, offered a perspective of this reductionist dimension of communication sciences.

Schramm’s system (as Leo Strauss’) was based on the «good guys/bad guys» antagonism. This moral principle (communism symbolized Evil and America symbolized Good) was shared by the majority of the intellectual and scientists committed to the American government in the fight against the Soviet expansion. In this fight, neutralism was considered treason.

The intellectual struggle went beyond convincing communism followers to involve neutrals. In the Congress for the Freedom of Culture, the New York Intellectuals followed by a bunch of European NATO’s defenders, such as Raymond Aron in France, pointed neutralism as the key target of “their” work. Communication scholars worked on the general plan designed by the CIA and the OPC. In an article published in POQ by Daniel Lemer different aspects of neutralism were questioned and a “model” of the individuals included in this category was designed. Lemer’s response to question: How to identify a neutral? was:«[For a neutral] to choose between the U.S. and the USSR is not the same as choosing between freedom and slavery». Lemer defined several elements of neutralism: “Peace, security, détente of international relations”.

Apart from the similarities between the ideological lines of «psychological warfare» and those of the Congress for the Freedom of Culture which showed the relative coherence of the plan designed by Wisner and CIA leaders, it could also be noted that the specialists of “masses manipulation” were usually reformed Marxists. An example of this was Paul Lazarsfeld’s career who would become one of the main ideologues of “mass communication” and during the late 20s was an active socialist.

In France, he had relations with the SFIO and Leo Lagrange. In 1932, the Rockefeller Foundation offered him a scholarship to study in the U.S. Based on the idea that there was a “methodological relation between the act of buying soap and the socialist vote”, he became famous by writing articles about marketing. The government and the secret services quickly noticed him and asked his collaboration in a research program on the effects of radio broadcasting (the Radio Research Program) financed by the Ford Foundation and founded by BASR whose fundings came from the army and the CIA.

In 1951, he was appointed Ford Foundation’s Social Sciences adviser. Then, he facilitated the foundation of the Institute of Advanced Studies on Social Sciences in Austria and the beginning of an exchange program with Yugoslavia and Poland. During the 60s, he was appointed for expert posts in UNESCO and OCDE [10]. Therefore, Paul Lazarsfeld broke relations with the socialist groups to join the “psychological warfare” scientific teams. But he was not the only one to do this, something commendable by the New York Intellectuals [11]. Leo Lowenthal, one of the main contributors of POQ participated actively too in the drawing up of the “psychological” techniques to fight his former Marxists’ friends.

The scientific field of “behavioral scholars” was the study of the systems of communication of the “risky” countries. Consequently, the relationship between the history of this discipline and the conflicts in which the U.S. was involved during the Cold War (Korea, Viet Nam… and secretly, Chile and Angola…) was not surprising.

The Validity of the “Psychological Warfare”

The mechanism founded by Wisner was still in force at the end of the Cold War. While “behavioral scholars” were being recruited, the CIA was financing numerous international research centers or “study areas” with the purpose of gathering information on the “risky” geographical zones. In 1947, the Carnegie Foundation provided the necessary funds for the establishment of the Russian Research Center. Since 1953, one of the main CIA’s fronts, the Ford Foundation, provided funds to 34 universities to carry out international researches.

This project was not only implemented in the U.S. The Rockefeller Foundation financed several «Area studies» in France, once the financed researchers’ political beliefs were carefully verified. The VI Section of the Practical School of Higher Studies, which later became the “Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales” (EHESS), welcomed several research teams that produced works on China, Russia and other regions of interest for the American services. Even today, international studies are still an essential part of the EHESS’ concerns.

On its side, the Voice of America, the American broadcasting network, -the favorite toy of project Troy’s behavioral scholars- is still in effect. The law, passed by the Congress in 1960, and enacted by President Ford stipulated that: «direct radio communication [white propaganda] with the peoples of the world is useful in the long term for the American interests (…) the news of the VOA will be precise, objective and complete (…) The VOA will present the American policy in a clear and effective way!». Today, the VOA programs broadcasted through the transmitter in Greenville (North Carolina), are aimed at African countries and essentially seem to counteract the French influence in the region (the VOA founded its French broadcasting services in 1960).

By proclaiming its independence, the VOA ended its charter in the following way: «In the world, and especially in Africa, radio is still the main information mean. Today, as in the past (sic), our purpose is to broadcast programs with reliable and unbiased information to our listeners». In general, communications sciences favored the emergence of a new form of war propaganda adapted to the Cold War that was not conceived for a classical confrontation but for the ideological struggle between the East and the West and the low-intensity conflicts that took place in the Third World.

In 2001, the Bush Administration reactivated the Cold War mechanisms not to fight the Soviet Union but to impose a New World Order. Since September 11, 2001, the excuse for this reactivation has been the “war against terror”. In this context, the CIA turns again to universities. The director of scientific researches in the Agency, John Philips, took control of the Rochester Institute of Technology; Michael Crowl, vice director of the joint economic association of CIA in the computer sector, was appointed rector of the University of Arizona whereas Robert Gates (former CIA patron under Bush Senior) has become the director of Texas A&M University.

 Denis Boneau

French journalist, member of the French section of Voltaire Network.

This author’s articles 

[1] The OSS (Office of Strategic Services) is an intelligence and foreign action secret service founded during WWI. It used personalities of the social sciences such as Herbert Marcuse o Margaret Mead

[2] The Office of War Information was directed by Elmer Davis

[3] The OPC (Office of Policy Coordination) is the executive committee of the “stay-behind” network. See Thierry Meyssan: «Stay-behind, les réseaux d’ingérence américains», Voltaire, August 20, 2001

[4] Alan Needell: «Project Troy and the Cold war annexation», in Universities and Empire, Money and politics in the social sciences during the Cold war, The New Press, 1998

[5] The Center for International Studies (CENIS) is a department within the famous MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) directed by Max Millikan

[6] Ellen Herman: «Project Camelot and the Career of Cold War Psychology», ibid

[7] «La Fondation Ford, paravent philanthropique de la CIA», Voltaire, April 5, 2004

[8] Arthur Lepic: «Les manuels de torture de l’armée des États-Unis», Voltaire, May 26, 2004

[9] Christopher Simpson: Science of Coercion, Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960, Oxford university press, 1994

[10] Michael Pollack: «Paul Lazarsfeld, fondateur d’une multinationale scientifique», in Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, n° 25, January, 1979

[11] Denis Boneau: «Les New York Intellectuals et l’invention du néo-conservatisme», Voltaire, November 26, 2004