Definition, Purpose, and Objectives of Psychological Warfare


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This CIA declassified document was recovered from the internet archive. It was declassified in 2004. This document is from Robert A. Cresswell  (OSS Special Intelligence divisions person in charge of commissions and directives) – to David K.E. Bruce – who is the Director or Chief of the OSS SI division at the time of this document.

SI – Special Intelligence


Creswell and Bruce

David K.E. Bruce


Cresswell attended Princeton, and when World War I started he entered the First Officers training Camp at Fort Niagara. In March of 1918 he was promoted to Captain, eventually served overseas with the 79th Division in the Meus-Argonne offensive. After the war, he became a reporter for the New York Herald-Tribune in 1922, and was promoted to director and treasurer in 1932 – where he remained until 1940. In 1941 he headed a corporation that purchased the Philadelphia Evening Ledger, where he became President and publisher. He died while overseas on mission for the OSS in 1943.

Ref: St. Paul School bio on Cresswell.


As for David Bruce, there will be much more about him in the set of articles concerning the Beginnings of the OSS.


Document details

DATE: December 14, 1942

CIA #8973

NAMES mentioned:

  • Robert Creswell
  • Major Bruce – David K.E. Bruce


I had to hand-type the document to give you a plain text verion, but I think it’s worth it so that people can better use this information.

Plain text –

page 1

From Robert Cresswell to Major Bruce, December 14, 1942

Considerations in respect to the basis and procedures of Psychological Warfare

Inasmuch as the new directive indicates to such a marked degree a shift in the work of the Office of Strategic Service in the direction of Psychological Warfare, it may be appropriate to examine some of the  activities now being carried on in the light of the indicated new approach.

It seems desirable as the first step in such a survey to arrive at a definition of the term Psychological Warfare.

Psychological Warfare is one of the four forms of conflict between states, the other three being military, political and economical.

Psychological Warfare is closely allied to political or diplomatic warfare, which latter operates through the negotiation of treaties or alliances unfriendly to the potential enemy; Psychological Warfare to the extent of mobilizing public sentiment is usually a concomittant of political warfare.

page 2

Economic warfare, which involves the use of tariffs, import and export quotas, financial restrictions, exchange control, and preclusive buying is also closely akin to Psychological Warfare, since its secondary purpose is the weakening of the potential enemy’s will and ability to resist.

Military warfare, whose character need not be described, has from time immemorial been accompanied by Psychological Warfare. The boasts and taunts of the naked savage warrior as he faces his foe, represent Psychological Warfare in its most primitive form. However, it should be noted that whereas Psychological Warfare customarily exists when military warfare takes place it is a fact that Psychological Warfare can be waged without the nation committing its own forces to military warfare.

Let us first consider the principal objectives of Psychological Warfare: second, the procedures most commonly adopted in realizing them.

Page 3

Psychological Warfare seeks to:

1. Intimidate the enemy by presenting to him the most impressive picture of our own resources, while at the same time belittling the elements upon which he believes his power to be based.

2. Confuse the enemy by systematically misleading him as to our intentions military or otherwise, and as to the specific means available to us in a given theater of action.

3. Weaken the enemy’s will to resist, either by suggesting to his fighting men and civilians that their lot will be a far happier one if they will lay down their arms, or alternatively, by suggesting that retaliations that will become progressively more drastic the longer resistance is employed, or, finally by lulling the enemy into a false sense of security by persuading him that his efforts have already placed him far along the road to victory.

4. Creating internal dissidence and disturbance, by expertly setting against one another the antagonistic elements (whether social, political religious or economic) that may exist within the enemy’s cuntry, and by simultaneously fomenting the activity, through material and financial assistance to any subversive movements that can be organized within the enemy’s territory.

page 4

5. Alienate from the enemy the moral and sentimental support of public opinion wherever it may be favorable to him, and particularly among the population of any allies or associates whom he may happen to have.

6. Build up and maintain the morale and fighting spirit of our own population, and our allies and associates.

7. Create favorable public opinion toward our efforts among neutral countries.

The means whereby it is sought to meet these, objectives, differ widely in technique and application. Boradly speaking, they embrace every known form of communication of information.

page 5

Today radio broadcasting is commonly thought of as a major means of transmitting the propaganda associated with Psychological Warfare probably because it transcends the physical barriers and obstacles that are readily set in the way of printed, graphic or oral appeals. Because of the obviousness of radio’s availability as an instrument of Psychological Warfare, its messages are frequently suspect by its listeners; more so probably than in the case of printed matter, because of the fact that the average man through long indoctrination is apt to be more credulous about what he reads than about what he hears.

The use of printed material is perhaps the next most important means of transmitting Psychological Warfare propaganda to the enemy. Here, however, the overcoming of the difficulties of transportation and the barriers of censorship require a high degree of ingenuity. Nevertheless, printed material can be dropped from aeroplanes or can gain admission to enemy territory by the planting of stories in the columns of newspapers of neutral cuntries or can be smuggled in under certain circumstances. In this connection it should be noted that printed propaganda that does not reach the enemy’s public, need not necessarily be wasted effort; skillful propaganda that meets the eye of the enemy officials or censors can play a part in weakening the faith of the officials themselves, and in misleading enemy official thinking. Needless to say; the uses of propaganda by the printed word in neutral and friendly nations are diverse and manifold.

Graphic propaganda (that is, the cartoon, the moving picture and the poster) is a recognized and well established implement of Psychological Warfare. Its limitations in use are approximately the sae as those affecting the printed word but under certain circumstances, as for example, where there is a high degree of illiteracy, it may even be more effective than the printed word.

Oral propaganda as used in Psychological Warfare, can best be exemplified by the “whispering campaign”. Among the means of disseminating oral propaganda are travelers from neutral countries, neutral diplomats and their families, refugees, exchanged prisoners of war and secret agents.

page 7

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the value of all the efforts described above depends almost entirely on the degree of skill with which the content and phrasing of the message is handled. Inept propaganda is not only negative in its effect on the motivations of the recipient, but can be definitely harmful by causing antagonism, irritation or disillusionment.

It follows therefore, that the personnel selected to direct and carry out a Psychological Warfare program must be of the first order of ability. Theoretically its personnel should be recruited from among men whose training and habit is along the lines of persuasively presenting a point of view for public consumption; such men are ore particularly to be found among professional writers (newspaper as well), copy writers for advertising agencies (and often their principals as well), professional psychologists (although with many exceptions), and the experienced politicians or statesmen whose success, particularly in seeking elective office, bears witness to their perceptiveness as regards the current of the public opinion. The men selected from these categories for the staffing of a program of Psychological Warfare should also whenever possible have a first hand and professional knowledge of the history of the enemy nation, and of current developments therein both economic, political, religious and military, and their information should be supplemented by the research and knowledge of trained academic observers.

page 8

It may be noted that at the present tie the personnel assigned by the Office of Strateig Service to this work does, not, with one exception, measure up to the requirements just cited, for while members of the Psychological Warfare Committee are able and distinguished men, none of them have public recognition with the one excepton stated, in the art of swaying public opinion. No doubt Colonel Donovan is aware of this fact; it may be anticipated that the personnel will be strengthened by the addtion to the Committee of outstanding authorities as the pogram developes.

What does all this mean to the Secret Intelligence Branch?

page 9

Inasmuch as the effectiveness of any Psychological Warfare program is in direct ratio to the authenticity and freshness of its directors’ knowledge of the audience they are addressing, it follows that an intelligence service of some kind is absolutely indispensable to such program. The sources of intelligence developed to date by this organization are probably the most widespread and complete of those of any agency in the Government except perhaps the State Department, I do not think that there can be any question of the feasability and desirability of adapting the work of the Secret Intelligence Branch to the particular requirements of the Psychological Warfare program.

The principal change to be aticipated in the work of the Secret Intelligence Branch is a substantial enlargement in the scope and character of the information it will seek to obtain from its agents and other sources of information.

Up to the present time Secret Intelligence has deliberately played down the gathering of information revelatory of morale conditions. Much of the data it has gathered of this nature has been sent in to Headquarters, but it has been regarded as by-product, and subordinate in importance to information bearing directly on military and Government matters.

page 10

From now on, it seems to me that it will be a function of Secret Intelligence to seek out and report all information that might be of use in the attaining of the objectives for Psychological Warfare as outlined in the first part of this memorandum.

This will mean for Secret Intelligence a much greater attention to the morale factors involved in economic, political and religious conditions.

It will also mean attention to observed effects within enemy and neutral countries, of the means adopted for carrying our Psychological Warfare activities by the Office of Strategic Service.

Much data of a military or naval character will necessarily be regarded in the course of this work.

This, however, will be gathered henceforward as a valuable by-product, to be disseminated freely in the proper places instead of being, as now, the primary objective of our work.

page 11

The change in orientation must be accompanied by two changes in the current procedure of Secret Intelligence.

One of those is a change in the standard by which men are selected both for executive and field work. More emphasis must be placed on educational background and on special knowledge of the new factors that have to be taken into account. The other change will be in the direction of amplifying the instruction given at the Secret Intelligence Training School, so as to cover the broader scope of the work to be done by agents.

type-signed Robert Cresswell


Images and PDF files


For those who don’t know – OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition and when that is done on images, it makes it so you can search the images for certain words or phrases that you are looking for.

Here is an OCR’d PDF file of all the pages of this document.

Definition, Purpose, and Objectives of Psychological Warfare – Cresswell to Bruce


Following are the individual images of the document, for those who prefer to look at them that way.

(click to enlarge)

.cresswell14dec1942a cresswell14dec1942b cresswell14dec1942c cresswell14dec1942d cresswell14dec1942e cresswell14dec1942f cresswell14dec1942g cresswell14dec1942h cresswell14dec1942i cresswell14dec1942j cresswell14dec1942k


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