Black Propaganda

Black propaganda is false information and material that purports to be from a source on one side of a conflict, but is actually from the opposing side. It is typically used to vilify, embarrass or misrepresent the enemy.

Black propaganda contrasts with grey propaganda, the source of which is not identified, and white propaganda, in which the real source is declared and usually more accurate information is given, albeit slanted, distorted and omissive. Black propaganda is covert in nature in that its aims, identity, significance, and sources are hidden.

The major characteristic of black propaganda is that the people are not aware that someone is trying to influence them, and do not feel that they are being pushed in a certain direction. Black propaganda purports to emanate from a source other than the true source. This type of propaganda is associated with covert psychological operations. Sometimes the source is concealed or credited to a false authority and spreads lies, fabrications, and deceptions. Black propaganda is the ‘big lie,’ including all types of creative deceit. Black propaganda relies on the willingness of the receiver to accept the credibility of the source. If the creators or senders of the black propaganda message do not adequately understand their intended audience, the message may be misunderstood, seem suspicious, or fail altogether.

Governments will generally conduct black propaganda operations for two different reasons. First, by using black propaganda a government is more likely to succeed in convincing their target audience that the information that they are seeking to influence them with is disguised and that its motivations are not apparent. Second, there are diplomatic reasons behind the use of black propaganda. Black propaganda is necessary to obfuscate a government’s involvement in activities that may be detrimental to its foreign policies. In the United Kingdom, the Political Warfare Executive operated a number of black propaganda radio stations.

Gustav Siegfried Eins (GS1) was one of the first such stations—purporting to be a clandestine German station. The speaker, ‘Der Chef,’ purported to be a Nazi extremist, accusing Hitler and his henchmen of going soft. The station focused on alleged corruption and sexual improprieties of Nazi Party members. Another example was the British radio station Soldatensender Calais, which purported to be a radio station for the German military. Under the direction of Sefton Delmer, a British journalist who spoke perfect Berliner German, Soldatensender Calais and its associated shortwave station broadcast music, up-to-date sports scores, speeches of Adolf Hitler for ‘cover,’ and subtle propaganda.

Radio Deutschland was another radio station employed by the British during the war aimed and designed to undermine German morale and create tensions that would ultimately disrupt the German war effort. The station was broadcast from a signal close on the radio dial to an actual German station. During the war most Germans actually believed that this station was in fact a German radio station and even gained the recognition of Germany’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels. There were British black propaganda radio stations in most of the languages of occupied Europe as well as German and Italian. Most of these were based in the area around Woburn Abbey in the English Countryside north of London.

Another possible example was a rumor that there had been a German attempt to land on British shores at Shingle Street, but it had been repulsed with large German casualties. This was reported in the American press, and in William L. Shirer’s Berlin Diary but was officially denied. British papers, declassified in 1993, have suggested this was a successful example of British black propaganda to bolster morale in the UK, USA and occupied Europe. Author James Hayward has proposed that the rumors  which were widely reported in the American press, were a successfully engineered example of black propaganda with an aim of ensuring American co-operation and securing lend lease resources by showing that the United Kingdom was capable of successfully resisting the might of the German Army.

German black propaganda usually took advantage of European racism and anti-Communism. For example, on the night of April 27, 1944 German aircraft under cover of darkness (and possibly carrying fake Royal Air Force markings) dropped propaganda leaflets on occupied Denmark. These leaflets used the title of ‘Frihedsposten,’ a genuine Danish underground newspaper, and claimed that the ‘hour of liberation’ was approaching. They instructed Danes to accept ‘occupation by Russian or specially trained American Negro soldiers’ until the first disorders resulting from military operations were over. The German Büro Concordia organisation operated several black propaganda radio stations (many of which pretended to broadcast illegally from within the countries they targeted).

The ‘Tanaka Memorial,’ a document describing a Japanese plan for world conquest, beginning with the conquest of China, is now believed by most historians to be a forgery. Leaflets were dropped by the Japanese over the Philippines to turn Filipinos against the US. They purported to be an advisory from the US Army to its soldiers: ‘Lately there has been a great increase in the number of venereal diseases among our officers and men owing to prolific contacts with Filipino women of dubious character. Due to hard times and stricken conditions brought about by the Japanese occupation of the islands, Filipino women were willing to offer themselves for a small amount of foodstuffs. It is advisable in such cases to take full protective measures by use of condoms, protective medicines, etc.; better still to hold intercourse only with wives, virgins, or women of respective character. Furthermore, in view of the increase in pro-American leanings, many Filipino women are more than willing to offer themselves to American soldiers, and because Filipinos have no knowledge of hygiene, disease carriers are rampant and due care must be taken.’

Disinformation is a form of black propaganda because disinformation campaigns are covert in nature and use various forms of false information. Disinformation can be defined as false information that is deliberately, and often covertly spread in order to influence public opinion and obscure the truth. Prior to, and during the Cold War, the Soviet Union used disinformation on multiple occasions. It also employed the technique during the Iranian hostage crisis that took place from 1979 until 1981. For strictly political purposes, and to show support for the hostages, Soviet diplomats at the United Nations vocally criticized the taking of the hostages. At this same time, Soviet ‘black’ radio stations within Iran called the ‘National Voice of Iran’ openly broadcast strong support for the hostage-takers in an effort to increase anti-American sentiment inside Iran. This was a clear use of black propaganda to make anti-American broadcasts appear as if they were originating from Iranian sources.

Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union effectively utilized the KGB’s Service A of the First Chief Directorate in order to conduct its covert, or ‘black,’ ‘active measures.’ It was Service A that was responsible for clandestine campaigns that were targeted at foreign governments, public populations, as well as influential individuals and specific groups that were hostile towards the Soviet government and its policies. By the 1980s, Service A consisted of nearly 120 officers whose responsibilities consisted of covert media placements, and controlled media to covertly introduce carefully manufactured information, disinformation, and slogans into the areas such as government, media, and religion of their targeted countries, namely the United States. Because both the Soviet Union and the KGB’s involvements were not acknowledged and intentionally disguised, these operations are therefore classified as a form of black propaganda. The activities of Service A greatly increased during the period of the 1980s through the early 1990s presumably as the Soviet government fought to maintain control during the declining period of the Cold War.

Following the September 11 attacks against the United States, the Pentagon organized and implemented the Office of Strategic Influence in an effort to improve public support abroad, mainly in Islamic countries. The head of OSI was an appointed general, Pete Worden who maintained the mission of ‘circulating classified proposals calling for aggressive campaigns that use[d] not only the foreign media and the Internet, but also covert operations.’ Worden, as well as then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld planned for what they called ‘a broad mission ranging from ‘black’ campaigns that use[d] disinformation and other covert activities to ‘white’ public affairs that rely on truthful news releases.’ Therefore, OSI’s operations could include the blackest of activities.

OSI’s operations were to do more than public relations work, but included contacting and emailing media, journalist, and foreign community leaders with information that would counter foreign governments and organizations that are hostile to the United States. In doing so, the emails would be masked by utilizing addresses ending with .com as opposed to using the standard Pentagon address of .mil. and hide any involvement of the US government and the Pentagon. The Pentagon is forbidden to conduct black propaganda operations within the American media, but is not prohibited from conducting these operations against foreign media outlets. The thought of conducting black propaganda operations and utilizing disinformation resulted in harsh criticism for the program that resulted in its closure in 2002.

The ‘Black Panther Coloring Book’ was distributed in the United States in the late 1960s in an attempt to discredit the Black Panther Party, and the civil rights movement in general. In Dreux, France, in 1982 the National Front distributed anonymous fake letters, supposedly from an Algerian living in France to a brother living in Algeria. These fake letters, which described immigration as a method of conquering France without war, were instrumental in the National Front victory in the 1983 local council elections in Dreux. In the run-up to the 2007 federal election in Australia, flyers were circulated around Sydney under the name of a fake organisation called the Islamic Australia Federation. The flyers thanked the Australian Labor Party for supporting terrorism, Islamic fundamentalists, and the Bali bombing suspects. A group of Sydney-based Liberal Party members were implicated in the incident.

In the ‘Roorback forgery’ of 1844 the ‘Chronicle of Ithaca,’ New York ran a story, supposedly by a German tourist called Baron von Roorback, that James K. Polk, standing for re-election as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives, branded his slaves before selling them at auction to distinguish them from the others on sale. Polk actually benefited from the ploy, as it reflected badly on his opponents when the lie was found out. During the 1972 U.S. presidential election, Donald H. Segretti, a political operative for President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign, released a faked letter, on Senator Edmund Muskie’s letterhead, falsely alleging that Senator Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson, against whom Muskie was running for the Democratic Party’s nomination, had had an illegitimate child with a seventeen-year-old. Muskie, who had been considered the frontrunner, lost the nomination to George McGovern, and Nixon was reelected. The letter was part of a campaign of so-called ‘dirty tricks,’ directed by Segretti, and uncovered as part of the Watergate Scandal. Segretti went to prison in 1974 after pleading guilty to three misdemeanor counts of distributing illegal campaign literature.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counter-intelligence program ‘COINTELPRO,’ was intended to, according to the FBI, ‘expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalists, hate-type organizations and groups, their leadership, membership, and supporters.’ Black propaganda was used famously on Communists and the Black Panther Party. It was also used against domestic opponents of the invasion of Vietnam, labor leaders, and Native Americans . COINTELPRO’s use of black propaganda led to their creation of coloring books and cartoons. The FBI’s strategy was captured in a 1968 memo: ‘Consider the use of cartoons, photographs, and anonymous letters which will have the effect of ridiculing the New Left. Ridicule is one of the most potent weapons which we can use against it.’ The FBI employed a similar tactic in 1968 to disrupt activities of the Ku Klux Klan, as hundreds of ‘racist’ flyers with misleading information were fabricated and made to appear as if they originated from known Klan leaders.

The Church of Scientology, under the leadership of L. Ron Hubbard, is alleged to have advocated the usage of ‘black propaganda’ to ‘destroy reputation or public belief in persons, companies or nations’ as a practice of Fair Game against ‘Suppressive Persons.’

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