Counterintelligence, Subcourse ITO103, ed. 5, (U.S. Army), 1975,
pgs. 5;8-5;13 (propaganda techniques)
(sec 5, "countersubversion")
3. ORGANIZATION FOR SUBVERSION.
The actual structure of any subversive organization is subject to
infinite variation. To meet with success, the subversive element must
adopt that organization which is most suitable for the particular situation and circumstances in which it is operating. Regardless of this,
however, subversive organizations, in the case of both the Fascists and
the Communists, seem to divide themselves into two major divisions:
a. The Overt Organization. The overt organization is normally a
political party or association. It poses as a legitimate political
party, but by agitation, propaganda, infiltration, and the establishment
of front groups, this organization attempts to accomplish the subversion
of the society which harbors it. The organization is formed at every
level of society from the national right down to the smallest local
“club.” The activities of this branch are frequently kept well within
the law; membership figures of the overt branch are published, and the
activities of the organization on the higher levels are well publicized.
b. The Covert Apparatus. The covert or underground apparatus contains the leadership nucleus necessary for continuing the subversive
operations if the legal apparatus is declared illegal or suppressed to
the point where it becomes ineffective. Often this same nucleus is
designed to assume control when the ultimate objective of the subversive
movement is met. By placing its members in key positions in the government, armed forces, industry, etc., the underground organization is pre-
pared ultimately to engage in espionage, sedition, and sabotage. It may
also engage in such activities as the maintaining of clandestine communications networks, escape routes, illegal documentation facilities, and
may also engage in various illicit activities to obtain finances for both
the overt and covert divisions of the subversive movement.
4. SUBVERSIVE TACTICS.
Thus far, we have examined in a general way the goals of the subversive movement, and the basic organizational components into which
subversive elements divide themselv~s to achieve these goals. With these
in mind, we now turn to a discussion of the actual tactics employed by
subversive organizations in meeting their objectives. There are four
basic tactics that we shall consider. All of these techniques are based
on the assumption that the revolutionists will be a perpetual minority
in the population.
Again, we are using the Communists as the basis for our discussion. Ever since Lenin, the techniques of subversion have been developed
for the use of a small, militant, fanatical, and disciplined body. This
minority strategy is based on the principle of leverage. For example,
it may take one hundred men to build a bridge, but it only takes one man
to destroy it if he knows precisely where to deliver the destructive blow.
Let us examine the developed pattern of Communist subversive tactics.
a. Agitation. This is the most basic of the tactics of subversion.
The agitator seeks to develop the interest of the public in some theme
or idea which serves the interest of the subversive group. The difference between agitation and propaganda is that agitation, in the words of
Plekhanov, presents only one or a few ideas to a mass of people, while
propaganda presents a mass of ideas to one or a few people. Agitation
is generally the beginning of a conditioning process, and the agitator’s
method is the endless repetition of a few basic ideas varied to fit the
particular audience being addressed. For example, an agitator would
seize upon some easily comprehensible incident or fact, such as the death
of a student during a demonstration. His job is not in relating the facts
surrounding the incident to his audience, but to make a martyr out of the
victim and create an atmosphere of doubt, suspicion, fear or hatred, and
awaken the revolutionary ardor of the masses.
The appeal of the agitator is on a highly emotional plane. It is the
task of the agitator to affect the minds, emotions, and actions of large
groups on the “grass roots” level. Agitation goes hand in hand with
propaganda, and as Lenin said, “The agitator will fasten his attention
on a concrete injustice, leaving to the propagandist the responsibility
for a complete explanation of the injustice.”
b. Propaganda. We have noted that the function of the agitator is to
arouse the interest of the public in themes which serve the subversive’s
purpose. Propaganda capitalizes on this awakened interest and seeks to
transform this interest into firm points of view on those issues which
aid the subversive cause. Propaganda is long range in nature, and the
appeal is on a higher level than the simple, direct, emotional approach
of agitation. The propagandist expands upon the agitator’s simple themes,
fuses them together, and organizes them into coherent campaigns. The
ultimate purpose of the propagandist is to convince the people who accept
the propaganda to take action on the ideas and the opinions that they have
formed. Good propaganda is neither crude nor simple; it is smooth,
subtle, and often difficult to detect.
Propaganda is used by the Communists as an offensive weapon to place
their opposition in a morally defensive position; to convince the non—Communist world of Soviet superiority in military power, economic growth,
and scientific progress; to exploit tensions between non—Communist
countries; to capitalize on social, political, economic, and cultural
tensions within these countries; to confuse, divide, and eventually
destroy the ability of non—Communist societies to resist Communist take-over. Such questions as truth and consistency, often immensely important
in democratic studies of propaganda, mean practically nothing under the
modern totalitarian concept. Subversives operating within a democratic
society, taking full advantage of the freedoms and protections granted
to them by that society to express their dissent through speech, writing,
and lawful assembly for the very purpose of destroying those freedoms,
pose a difficult and perplexing problem.
(1) Objectives of propaganda. As an example of the immediate and
specific goals of the propaganda phase of a subversive campaign, let us
examine those of a subversive organization. Their goals include:
(a) Recruitment of new members.
(b) Gaining support for front. organizations.
(c) Undermining our faith in government, religion, education, and
the accepted ideals and standards of conduct.
(d) Developing an international consciousness and lessening patriotism.
(e) Developing support for the USSR and its policies.
(f) Creating internal dissension.
(g) Creating sources of revenues for the organization.
(h) Finally accomplishing the overthrow of the legally established
(2) Classes of propaganda. There are basically two classes of propaganda — “open” propaganda and “nonlabeled” propaganda.
(a) Open propaganda. This is propaganda emanating from the subversive movement, with no effort on the part of the subversives to conceal
the sources of its origin. In some cases, the propaganda is clearly
labeled as originating from the subversive elements. This type of
propaganda is also referred to as “white” propaganda. For example, when
the subversive organization advocates such things as a minimum wage of
$1.50, or a thirty—hour workweek for all workers, they want to be in
a position to claim the credit for these proposals from the people who
stand to gain. In this way they can expand the base of their support.
There is another type of open propaganda which, although not clearly
labeled as originating in a subversive movement, does not actively conceal the source of origin. This type of propaganda is known also as
(b) Nonlabeled propaganda. This is propaganda which cannot be
readily identified as originating from subversive sources. It is also
referred to as “black” propaganda. It reaches the public through the
reputable means of communication such as the newspapers, radio and TV
broadcasts, the cinema, and published material such as books, magazines,
and pamphlets. The fact that the subversive organization can use some
of these media for its purposes does not imply the media are under the
control of the subversive organization or in any way in sympathy with
its aims. But, on the other hand, just because an item is disseminated
by reputable means, we cannot guarantee that it is not subversive. Propaganda may be introduced into legitimate channels by carefully masked
front groups and can be introduced with such patience and tact that the
victimized organization has no idea at all that ‘it is dealing with subversive propaganda. Identification of this type of propaganda requires
the services of a specialist who is skilled in the art of content analysis,
and who has the necessary background in the theory of communism and the
techniques of the subversive propagandists in advancing the objectives of
their world revolutionary program.
(3) Organizing the campaign. Words and symbols are tools of the
propagandist, but they must be the right words and symbols to evoke the
reaction the propagandist desires. A number of characteristic propa-
ganda techniques are used to achieve this objective. Some of the devices
used by both good and bad propagandists are as old as language. Propagandists have used methods that we ordinarily use to convince each other.
These methods have been analyzed, refined, and experimented with until
they have been developed into tremendously powerful weapons for the
swaying of popular opinions and actions. Employing the axiom, “One
picture is worth a thousand words,” the propagandists have used leaflets,
posters, movies, and other visual means to dtive home their message at
varying levels of understanding.
(a) The first step in presenting propaganda is gaining attention.
Attention—getting devices include the organization of “marches” of
various kinds, extensive use of placards, and presentation of speeches
before a large gathering. A favorite area often used by the Communists
is the floor of the United Nations, where their speeches will reach
people from many nations.
(b) The next step is the selection of issues — issues that are
timely, controversial, and aimed at the particular target. Thus, integration of schools is an issue important to Negroes; pay raises are
matters of importance to government workers and others; peace propaganda
is a most effective means of appealing to women. The most important part
of issue selection is a thorough understanding of the psychology of the
propaganda target so that the director of the propaganda will know which
issues appeal most strongly to each target.
(4) Propaganda techniques. After the issue has been selected, the
propagandist uses many methods to make his own case appear valid. The
following are the actual techniques used.
(a) The first technique is known as card stacking. This might involve the use of statistics that support only the propagandist’s side
of an issue. It is like the question, “Answer yes or no — have you
stopped beating your wife?” It involves the selection and use of facts
or falsehoods, logical or illogical statements, to give the propagandist’s side of the case for an idea. It provides a false authenticity
for a weak case.
(b) Another technique is called transfer, which involves associating
a partisan cause with values and symbols that are highly regarded. This
accounts for sentimentalized propaganda, using references to religion,
the home, or motherhood, and attempting to identify the propaganda with
these admired or worshiped associations. Transfer can also be used in
the negative sense by identifying the enemy with evil symbols. This is
the sort of thing the Communist seeks to do when he refers to Western
ideas and practices as those of “war—mongering, imperialistic Wall
Street capitalists.” The Communists seek to associate us with war and
destruction, with colonialism and exploitation, with racial prejudice
and social injustice. For their own cause they use the symbols of work,
like the hammer and sickle, or the symbol of peace, like the dove; but
they try to identify us with the dollar sign as a symbol of exploitation
(c) This is closely connected with another technique,
in which bad labels are attached to enemy causes so that people will
reject and condemn these without examining the evidence. It is a
favorite technique of leftists in the US to attach the label “radical”
to all conservatives or nonleftists, even if the person’s views are far
from radical. Conversely, the true radical rightist uses the term
“Communist” when speaking of liberals. If the propagandist can get the
name to stick, he can defeat the cause, not on its merits, but on its
(d) Testimonial consists in having some respected or hated person
say that a given idea or program or person is good or bad. Thus, if one
can cite examples from Hitler’s writings testifying that someone or something was good, this alone will be enough to condemn the person or idea
as far as most anti—Nazis are concerned. On the other hand, if the
Communists can get some well—known American to testify to something they
want to promote, it is a help to their cause. This is the reason that
Communist propaganda quotes so often from the works of Jefferson or
Lincoln — in order to associate their cause with these respected
Americans. This is the same principle that advertisers use when they
get famous screen actors or sports heroes to endorse their cigarettes,
razors, or hair tonics.
(e) Glittering generalities are sweeping and often meaningless
statements which tend to oversimplify complex issues and link a cause
directly to a general value. Like transfer, it is a technique which
tries to associate something with a virtue word.” Thus, the Communists
refer to themselves as “the party of the people”; or they use such
generalities as “the toiling masses" or “the liberating forces of socialism," "peace" or "peaceful coexistence.” Terminology like this is a
kind of doubletalk, designed to delude the unwary by avoiding specific
terms and by seeming to mean a great deal more than is really said.
(f) Another propaganda device is called “plain folks” or “average
people,” which involves an attempt to identify the propagandist and his
views with the best interests of the people. In America this technique
has long been employed in the buildup for politicians by showing their
lowly origins and explaining how they rose from “rags to riches.” The
implication is that only they understand the “common people” because
they belong to them. The Communists, too, use this technique by pretending to speak on behalf of the “masses” and against “the favored few,”
“the Wall Street capitalists,” “the Pentagon militarists.”
(g) Allied with the plain folks technique is the bandwagon argument, which has as its theme, “Everybody’s doing it.” In this way the
propagandist tries to make the target believe that the idea or cause
he is propagating is “the wave of the future” and that the target “better
get aboard the bandwagon” and ride to victory with the victors; otherwise, in the words of the Communists, he will be “swept on to the rubbish
heap of history.” Propagandists are sensitive to the reluctance of
people to support a weak cause. Therefore, they put on displays of
strength — to frighten people into submission. This is what Hitler
did in his vast parades at the Nuremberg Congresses of the Nazi Party,
and this is what the Soviets do in their May Day parades in Moscow.
(h) The effectiveness of propaganda may be enhanced if the source
can raise anxieties and produce fear. Thus, the USSR bullies and
threatens its European neighbors with nuclear destruction if they permit
US missile installations in their territories. Communist bluster about
West Berlin is part of a propaganda campaign to make people so nervous
about the dangers of war that they will give in to part of their demands
ithout having to wage open war. This is really part of psychological
arfare. Hitler attempted to frighten his enemies and comfort his own
people in World War II by his stories of "secret weapons" that would
turn the tide of war and would guarantee victory for his side.
(i) Another technique is excluding competition. In propagandizing
their own people the Soviets are careful to prevent their people from
learning the other side of the story. By complete—control over all the
media of propaganda — schools, radio, TV, press, and publications — and
by jamming attempts of our Voice of America to reach the Russian people,
the rulers of the USSR make sure that only their distorted views reach
the Soviet citizens.
All of the propaganda techniques that we have discussed are familiar
to experts in this field; these techniques have been employed for good
causes as well as for bad ones. There is nothing inherently wrong with
propaganda. But our problem is to counter the subversive intent of
enemy propaganda, and to do this we must understand the enemy’s aims and
c. Front Groups.
(1) A front organization is, as its name implies, designed to place
a false exterior to the audience toward which it is directed. It is used