Monday, June 26, 2017

Joe Smith's Clandestine Training Classes

Joe Smith on Paul Linebarger

Joseph B. Smith in “Portrait of a Cold Warrior” (Ballantine 1976, p. 75) writes:

….In the early winter of 1952…I got the chance to attend Paul Linebarger’s seminar in psychological warfare. Linebarger had served as an Army psychological warfare officer in Chungking during the war. He had written a textbook on the subject in 1948. In 1951 he was serving as the Far East Division’s chief consultant. He also served as the Defense Department in the same capacity, giving advice on U.S. psychwar operations in Korea, and he was a professor of Asian politics at the School for Advanced International Studies of the John Hopkins University. His book by this time had gone through three American editions, two Argentine editions, and a Japanese edition.

He was far from a textbook warrior, however. He best described himself when he wrote in the introduction to his book, “Psychological warfare involves exciting wit-sharpening work. It tends to attract quick-minded people – men full of ideas.” His wits scarcely needed sharpening, and he was never at a loss for an idea.

The seminars were held for eight weeks, every Friday night at his home. Going to Paul Linebarger’s house on Friday evenings was not only an educational experience for those who attended the seminar, it was also an exercise in clandestinity. Learning covert operational conduct was considered part of the course. Each seminar was limited to no more than eight students. They were told to pose as students from the School of Advanced International Studies, to go to Paul’s house via different routes, and to say they were attending a seminar in Asian politics.....The School of Advanced International Studies had its campus in Washington, but over in Baltimore at the main campus of the John Hopkins University, Owen Lattimore, the expert on Asian geography, held sway…..

It would be difficult to say whether it was the political atmosphere in general, the office routine of the day just closed, or the drawn drapes in Linebarger’s living room, but students at the seminar met in an appropriately conspiratorial mood that raised the level of their appreciation of their subject.

The mood was fitting if not essential to an understanding of the material. The first point that Linebarger made was the purpose of all psychological warfare is the manipulation of people so that they are not able to detect they are being manipulated.

Wartime psychwar had been a matter of undermining the enemy civilian and military will to continue to fight. The audience, in brief, was very clearly defined. Determining just who it was they wanted to manipulate and for what ends was also pretty clear to the OPC personnel. Their targets were the Communists and their allies. Having this firmly in mind, any methods of manipulation could be used, especially “black propaganda.”

Black propaganda operations, by definition, are operations in which the source of the propaganda is disguised or misrepresented in one way or another so as not to be attributable to the people who really put it out. This distinguishes black from white propaganda, such as news bulletins and similar statements issued by one side in a conflict extolling its successes, of course, or other material just as clearly designed to serve the purposes of its identifiable authors….the United States was faced everywhere with an enemy that was using an untold array of black propaganda operations to undermine the nations of the world in order to present us with a fait accompli one fine morning when we would wake up to find all these countries under Communist control. Hence, it was vital to understand all about such operations from a defense standpoint if nothing else.
There was, however, something else. This was an attitude produced by the mixture of ancient wisdom that a good offense is the best defense, and the spirit of the times that made the existence of conspiracy seem so real. It was good to feel that we were learning how to beat the Communists at their own game.

Paul Linebarger’s was a seminar in black propaganda only. He loved black propaganda operations probably because they involved the wit-sharpening he loved to talk about. Also, he was so good at them that his was one of the inventive minds that refined the entire black operations field into shades of blackness. Linebarger and his disciples decided that propaganda that was merely not attributable to the United States was not really black, only gray. To be called black it had to be something more…This left the term black propaganda for a very special kind of propaganda activity. Black propaganda operations were operations done to look like, and carefully labeled to be, acts of the Communist enemy.

Not only was the attribution given the source of the propaganda activity used as a criterion for defining what kind of propaganda it was, but equally important was the kind of message used…Black propaganda operations, being attributed to the enemy, naturally did not (support US policies). In fact, black propaganda, to be believable, supported the enemy’s positions and openly opposed those of the United States….

Linebarger was always careful to point out that to have any chance of success, these black operations must be based on good solid information about how the Communist Party we proposed to imitate actually conducted its business. He also stressed we needed an equally solid basis of knowledge about the target audience and what it would really find offensive and objectionable if the Communists were to say or do it. This, he liked to emphasize, was why such operations belonged in an intelligence organization where sufficient expertise and specific knowledge of the kind required was most likely to be found. Intelligence information, especially the kind that is clandestinely collected, should serve more than as bits and pieces of the jigsaw puzzle known as enemy intentions. It should be used directly against the enemy while it is fresh. Otherwise, the distinction between intelligence reporting and historical writing tends to blur….

Linebarger undertook a kind of group therapy approach to try to show us that tricking someone into believing black is white comes naturally to everyone and is something that is practiced from childhood.

“Look,” he began, “can’t you remember how you fooled your brothers and sisters and your father and mother? Try to remember how old you were when you first tricked one of them.”

“I want you all to go out and get a copy of David Maurer’s classic on the confidence man. It’s called ‘The Big Con,’ and its available now in a paperback edition,” Paul continued. “That little book will teach you more about the art of covert operations than anything else I know.”

“Your job and the confidence man’s are almost identical…Of course, your motives and those of the confidence men are different. He wants to fleece his mark out of his money. You want to convince a Chinese, Filipino,…a Thai, that what you want him to believe or do for the good of the U.S. government is what he thinks he himself really believes and wants to do.”

“Maurer’s book will give you a lot of ideas on how to recruit agents, how to handle them and how to get rid of them peacefully when they’re no use to you any longer. Believe me, that last one is the toughest job of all.”

We were all soon reading “The Big Con.” The tales it told did, indeed, contain a lot of hints on how to do our jobs. For me one sentence seemed to sum it all up beautifully, “The big-time confidence games,” wrote Maurer, “are in reality only carefully rehearsed plays in which every member of the cast EXCEPT THE MARK knows his part perfectly.” 

He had two leading operational heroes whose activities formed the basis for lessons he wished us to learn and whose examples he thought we should follow. One was Lt. Col. Edward G. Lansdale, the OPC station chief in Manila, and the other was E. Howard Hunt, the OPC station chief in Mexico City. Both of them had what is called “black minds,” and the daring to defy bureaucratic restraints in thinking up and executing operations. He had a number of stories to tell about the exploits of both….

 A note of caution that Linebarger added to these discussions of black operations sounds like a bell down the years. He would explain, after someone had come up with an especially clever plan for getting the Communists completely incriminated in an exceedingly offensive act, that there should be limits to black activities.

“I hate to think what would ever happen,” he once said with a prophet’s voice, “if any of you ever got out of this business and got involved in U.S. politics. These kinds of dirty tricks must never be used in internal U.S. politics. The whole system would come apart.”

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