Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Joe Smith on Paul Linebarger and David Maurer

From Joseph B. Smith’s “Portrait of a Cold Warrior,” (Ballantine Books, NY, 1976)

Chapter 6, At the Foot of the Master

….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 (Korean) 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 the Defense Department in the same capacity, giving advice on U.S. psychwar operations in Korea, and he was 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 for Advanced International Studies, to go to Paul’s via different routes, and to say they were attending a seminar in Asian politics….

The School for Advanced International Studies had its campus in Washington, but over in Baltimore at the main campus of John Hopkins University, Owen Lattimore, the expert on Asian geography, held sway….

It could just be possible some communist surveillant might follow one of the students up Rock Creek Park to 29th Street. They might even be operating from the Shoreham hotel, a few blocks away…..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 that 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….

Paul Linebarger’s was a seminar in black propaganda only. One reason for this was that the United States already had an overt propaganda agency as part of the cold war apparatus. In those days it was run directly by the State Department, but in 1953 it would become formalized into the United States Information Agency and become the independent government agency responsible for worldwide Untied States propaganda operations….

Paul Linebarger loved black propaganda operations probably because they involved the wit-sharpening he liked 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 attributed to the United States was not really black, only gray. To be called black it had to be something more. Furthermore, they divided gray propaganda into shades of gray. So-called light gray was defined as propaganda that was not attributed to the United States government, but instead, for example, to a group that was known to be friendly to the United States….Dark gray was the term for propaganda attributed to a source usually hostile to the United States. 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….

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….

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

“Look,” he began, “can’t you remember how you fooled your brothers and sisters and 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.”

"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 avidly reading The Big Con. The tales it told did, indeed, contain a lot of hints on how to do our job. 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 he 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. 

He was particularly fond of Lansdale….He had a favorite Lansdale story and a favorite Hunt story to illustrate what he admired in each and to demonstrate two widely different kinds of black operations. Lansdale’s was somewhat complex and required the support of a number of people and pieces of equipment. Hunt’s was disarmingly simple….

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 get 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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