Psychological Warfare – The Criteria of a Successful Rumor (OSS Doctrine)


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This CIA declassified document was recovered from the internet archive. It was declassified in 2004.


The first is from: A. H. Onthank Colonel, M. I .,Secretary to P.G. 28


Document details

DATE: 2 June 1943

CIA # – 867144

NAMES (or titles) mentioned:

Mr. (Edmund) Taylor
Mr. (Robert) Knapp
A. H. Onthank Colonel, M. I .,Secretary.


Interesting points from document –

“The creation of a successful propaganda rumor is more an accomplishment of art than of science.”

1. The successful rumor is easy to remember.
a. It is sufficiently brief and simple to survive in memory of successive narrators.
b. I  concerns familiar persons , places and circumstances, and incorporates suitable “local color”.
c. It contains striking concrete detail.
d. It often incorporates stereotype phrase or slogan.
e. It contains a humorous twist when possible.

2. The successful rumor follows a stereotyped plot.
a. Its plot recapitulates precedents and traditions in the history and folklore of the group.
b. It observes the peculiar national dispositions of the group.
c. “It is the oldest story in the newest clothes.”

3. The successful rumor is a function of the momentary interests and circumstances of the group.
a. It is provoked by and provides an interpretation or elaboration of some isolated current happening or event.
b. It serves to supply information which is needed to fill a knowledge gap.
c. It stands upon the shoulders and derives support from other rumors or events.
d. It contains some accepted or verifiable detail.

4. The successful rumor exploits the emotions and sentiments of the group.
a. It expressess a widespread emotional disposition shared by members of the group.
b. It provides justification for suppressed fears, hatreds, or desires.
c. It serves to articulate a sentiment common to the group.

5. The successful rumor is challenging because:
a. It purports or appears to come from inside sources and usually has the character of “forbidden” information.
b. It is usually incapable of direct verification.
c. It i s neither too plausible or too implausible.

Summing up, the document gives a definition –

The successful rumor is a simple, brief, concrete and vivid story, purporting to come from inside sources and concerning persons and events familiar to all members of the group, Its plot is usually drawn from established traditions or precedents, but it is occasioned by the immediate interests and preoccupations of the group. It mirrors and provides justification for emotions shared by the group and at the same time serves to fill a knowledge gap. It is neither too plausible nor too implausible, and it cannot be readily verified.

Under Summary of Some Principles for Rumor Work, we see:

What Rumors Can Do:
Rumors can promote subversion and deception of enemy people and governments. The first, by creating and increasing fear, anxiety, confusion, over-confidence, distrust, and panic. The second, by forcing the release of enemy information and encouraging impotent enemy action . (P. 1)

“Effective rumor design requires special kinds of intelligence on Rumor Targets.”

It gives examples of how to do that.

A successful rumor must take advantage of the state of mind of the people for whom it is intended. The general principles are:
1. Those people who are most eager for information about events which effect them are the best targets for rumors supplying such information. (Pp . 3- 4).
2. People with fears, hopes, and hostilities stemming from their involvement in the war arc affected most by rumors that
feed on those feelings. (Pp . 3- 4)

In addition to the above principles a successful rumor will embody one or more of the following characteristics:
1 . Plausibility. Plausibility may be obtained by one or more of the following: Concreteness, unverifiability, authoritativeness, and credibility, (P. 6)
2. Simplicity. A good rumor characteristically presents one central, uncomplex idea, (P . 7)
3. Suitability to Task. “Slogan” rumors which summarize already accepted opinions , can be short and uncomplicated by
qualifications and complexities of plot. Rumors suggesting new attitudes should be embedded in an interesting narrative
allowing room for development of details and some complexity of plot. (P. 7)
4. Vividness. Rumors which make clear-cut mental pictures with strong emotional content are likely to be most effective.
(P , 8)
5. Suggestiveness. Frequently rumors which merely hint or suggest something instead of stating it are particularly adapted to spreading fear and doubt. (P. 8)

Different channels of rumor initiation and dissemination frequently require different forms and contents for the rumor. Thus the channel which it is planned to use (undercover agents, black radio, enemy mail, diplomatic media, etc.) should always be kept in mind when designing the rumor. (P. 9)

Planned lines of action against the enemy should include strategic themes for rumors. To implement rumor suggestions stemming directly from these themes one or more of the following techniques can be used: Different rumors revealing the same ” information”; planting the same rumor in different places; designing them so as to appear of independent origin; integrating them with black and white media. (P. 10)

Second topic of what rumors can do – SUBVERSION.

1. Exploit and increase fear and anxiety among those who have begun to lose confidence in military success.
EXAMPLE: In this class fall rumors such as those dealing with fearsome secret weapons which the Germans spread
so effectively throughout France just prior to the Battle of Flanders. Similarly, we might spread stories in Germany describing the horrible psychic and physical effects which the Allied blitz had on the Afrika Korps in Tunisia.
2. To exploit  temporary over-confidence which will lead to disillusionment.
EXAMPLE: In the early hours of the Polish invasion, Germans captured the Polish radio stations. Posing as Polish announcers, they spread enthusiastic and highly optimistic reports of successful Polish resistance to German forces. Then the truth became known later, the shock to Polish morale was terrific.
3. Foster suspicion and hostility between persons or groups who might otherwise cooperate.

EXAMPLE: In late 1939 and 1940, one of the most potent rumors current in France was to the effect that England will fight to the last Frenchman; similarly, we spread rumors among Bulgarian troops that instead of being used for Balkan defense, they are to be sacrificed at the spearhead of a new Nazi drive into Russia.
4. Create distrust in news sources.
EXAMPLE: The successful manipulation of this type of rumor by the enemy is illustrated by the Bahnhof bombing
incident early in the war.The Germans spread the rumor that the British, in a raid on Berlin,had severely damaged the Bahnhof. Eagerly, the BBC picked this story up and broadcast it. The Germans were then able to discredit British reportage by demonstrating that the Bahnhof was completely undamaged.
5. Lead civilian populations to precipitate financial, food and other crises through their own panicky reactions to rumors.
EXAMPLE: In 1917 the rumor was successfully spread in Germany that the German Government was going to confiscate all livestock. Farmers slaughtered tremendous numbers of cows and sheep . As a result, in 1918 the German Army ran short of meat. Similarly, we might cause Italians to refuse to deal in paper money by spreading the rumor that local Fascist officials are operating a counterfeit lire ring; or precipitate runs on banks with a story that the gold backing for deposits has been removed to Germany.
6 . Create confusion and nervous bewilderment as to our intentions and plans by the dissemination of a welter of contradictory reports.
EXAMPLE: In this category full all the “war of nerves” rumors now circulating in Europe which suggest that our invasion wlll come in Norway, or perhaps Brittany, or Greece, or Italy, etc .

And under a new category called DECEPTION this is an interesting one.

N. B. The accomplishment of those objectives requires close collaboration with military planning.
1 . Cause enemy people to raise questions which will require actions by their governments (information services) that will
reveal enemy plans or conditions.

It talks about that in dealing with COUNTER rumors (against the enemy’s rumors) that this is very tricky to do.

By and large, unless most subtly handled, counter-rumors may emphasize and increase the effectiveness of the rumor to be countered.

The next section talks about that in order to create effective rumors one needs intelligence on 2 points.

a. Intelligence on what kinds of information they are eager for,
b. With respect to (a), intelligence on what they actually know and what they lack.

Ergo, they felt these two points are what intelligence should be gathered.

a. Intelligence on their current fears, hopes, and hostilities relating to their war effort.
b. Research revealing their customary and traditional ways of expressing… their anxieties, hopes, aggressions,
especially in conditions of national crisis.

A good example is one that OSS MO operative Elizabeth McDonald came up with to mess with the Japanese people’s heads, described in this declassified CIA document.

Next section deals with tailoring rumors to specific targets.

1. Groups or classes of people that have become fearful and anxious about their personal well being. Focus on “information” that confirms the pessimistic expectations of the group involved. Extreme rumors designed to produce open panic should be timed with military action.

This one is particularly disgusting.

Note on “Magic Rumors: In the special circumstances when a group or class of enemy people begin to show signs of
seeing no course but disaster, focus on alleged events in which personages “signs” from their religion or folklore
present forebodings or prophesies of defeat, or of hope after defeat.

That’s what Elizabeth was taking advantage of in the document I mentioned above, but look at the example they give here – the “evil eye”!

EXAMPLE: In southern Italy, Sardinia and Corsica, the “Evil Eye” superstition has long been strong among the largely
illiterate, primitive people. Thus we spread the story that all the woes of the southern Mediterranean peoples date from
the Meeting of Hitler and Mussolini in 1934, at which time Hitler fixed the Duce with his Evil Eye. The result of this curse, we continue, was the Ethiopian failure , reverses in Spain, the current bombing of Italian cities, etc.

Look at point 3.

Groups of classes of people that are suspicious of or hate other groups of leaders. Focus on “information” that justifies and increases hostility.

Example given was manipulating the animosity between Rumanians and Hungarians.

Point 4 is fascinating, and I believe is the motivation behind targeting people today with colorful and fantastic conspiracy theories.

4. Groups or classes of people that lead monotonous lives which favor the use of fantasy.

Kind of a sick thought process to do this to people though, don’t you think? The examples they give of what kind of groups these are is even more revealing in the condescending thought process here.

EXAMPLE: inmates of prisons, concentration camps and army garrisons, factory workers compelled to work dull tasks 14-16 hours daily, armies of occupation, etc. These groups, whose humdrum existences make it difficult for them to weigh and evaluate “news” searchingly, are especially susceptible to fantastic rumors of all sorts . They will believe and transmit stories that better-balanced persona will reject as implausible.

So, you make them slaves, cut off their access to information, then gloat over that they would rather hear ANY story than no story and think that makes them stupid and “susceptible”? I see. (fricking arrogant fucks)

The next section addresses Properties of a Rumor that Make It spread.The examples of “poor technique” are pretty funny.

1. Plausibility. Plausibility may be obtained by one or more of the following:
a. Making the rumor concrete and, so far as possible, specific in terms of familiar persons, places, and round numbers.
EXAMPLE: Poor Technique: People in areas that may be invaded are sewing American flags inside their coats.



Poor technique, indeed. I wonder who came up with that one.

Better Technique: 36 arrests were made in Sicily by Fascist authorities when they discovered that Sicilians were
sowing crude American flags inside their coats.

Is this guy serious with this shit? Wow. Sure has some real-world relevance today though, this is exactly what we are getting half the time as “news”. Recognize the tactic?

b. Tying the rumor to known factor expectations.
EXAMPLE: Poor Technique: Among Near eastern Moslems, who are familiar with Hitler’s anti-Semitism, spread the
story that Hitler is going to seek Allied sympathy by resettling all European Jews in Palestine.
Better Technique: Tunisian Arabs know that some of their numbers were blown up by crossing German minefields. Among Arab populations we spread the following story: Not knowing the exact location of their own minefields, German
panzer troops retreating from Bizerte drove scores of Arabs ahead of them to touch off the explosive charges.

Check out these tactics, boy do these sound familiar!

c. Designing the rumor so that it consists in part of familiar, accepted information, and in part of “new information” which, though false, is unverifiable.

d. When relevant, making the rumor appear as an “inside story” which has leaked from an authoritative source.
EXAMPLE: Let us assume we wish to spread the idea that Hitler and von Rundstedt have quarreled.
Poor Technique: von Rundstedt and Hitler recently had a bitter quarrel when Rundstedt told the Fuhrer that German
divisions for the defense of France are second-rate.
Better Technique: The wife of an officer on General von Rundstedt Staff reports that Hitler and von Rundstedt recently had a bitter quarrel when Rundstedt charged that German divisions for the defense of France are second-rate.

e. Not exaggerating the facts in terms of contrasts or magnitudes beyond the bounds of credibility .

Under point #2 Simplicity there is comparison of a real rumor making all Italian women sound like they’re either being raped or or prostituting themselves out to the Germans without saying that directly. Gross!

2. SIMPLICITY. This means using only one central idea or core and keeping it uncomplex and thus memorable, regardless of the embellishments added for the sake of authenticity, plausibility or other reasons.
Poor Technique: The chief German Army medical .officer in Italy is carrying on an affair with Ciano’ s wife, and yet he has the nerve to issue an order stating that all Italian women in towns where German troops are garrisoned must be examined for venereal disease once a month in order to associate with members of the Wehrmacht.

Better Technique: The chief medical officer of the German Army has ordered that all Italian women must be examined
once a month for venereal disease .

Next, the point of “narrative rumors” is addressed and defined.

Narrative-type rumors, on the other hand, aim at introducing “information which will create or shape attitudes”. In this category are the elaborately detailed and embellished stories such as the one which “proves” that Hitler was mortally ill. Slogan-type rumors will gain acceptance only when the ground has been prepared for them by narrative-type rumors or by other forms of propaganda.

And then point #4 under our category of what makes Rumors spread. Please note, these sexual innuendo examples given are coming directly from one of Robert Vansittart’s guys – Sefton Delmer. (see section of Vansittart article “Vansittart inaugurates Black Radio”.

4. VIVIDNESS. Regardless of length or type, rumors which make clearcut mental pictures with strong emotional content
are likely to be most effective.
Poor Technique: We spread rumor among German troops at the front that their wives at home are complaining

because they are lonesome. (The German soldier may regret this, but it will not disturb him inordinately. )
Better Technique: We spread the rumor among German troops that because their wives are lonesome they are bedding
down with foreign workmen. (To a German soldier who relies on fidelity and moral support from the home front, this is
emotionally a strong, upsetting blow.)


That one is also a good example of the next point –

5. SUGGESTIVENESS. Whereas extreme concreteness helps to give a rumor plausibility the very opposite quality sometimes gives great effectiveness to rumors. The type of rumor which merely hints or suggests something instead of stating it seems particularly adapted to spreading fear and doubt.

Next they talk about tailoring for specific channels that will spread or use the information. Examples given –

1 . Undercover agents
2 . Black radio or press, including false documents
3. Enemy mail.
4. Compromised enemy communication media.
5. The media of international business, religious, professional, and other such organizations.
6. Diplomatic media.
7. Plants in neutral open propaganda media.
8. Plants in allied open propaganda media.

He gives a funny example of a rumor that would be dismissed immediately if it was tried to be spread in diplomatic media, a child of an Italian woman who had been seduced by a German officer was marked with a swastika stigmata at birth. Says that would be more likely to work on that channel would be “clever epigrams or witticisms” dealing with current personalities or events.

I call that cocktail-party drivel.


Other Images and People


Edmund Taylor

Is that guy creepy-looking or what?

And he really was too.

On June 16, 1941 Robert Sherwood of the Council on Foreign Relations (the British sister Round Table front group) sent a letter to William “Wild Bill” Donovan with a list of people he thought he could trust, one of which was a man named Edmund Taylor.

As a result, Edmund was invited to join the Office of Coordinator of Information (1941-1942) and later the planning board of the Office of Strategic Services (1942-1946). (Taylor papers)

All very generic sounding, but this man was actually the head of the Psychological Warfare Staff (1943) as proven in this CIA declassifed OSS document: The Planning Group for Psychological Warfare – Staff List

Not only that –

This man would become an extremely key figure in the War for the Minds of Men, as it has been dubbed, and was a little known buddy of George Hunter White. (more on this in part 3 of George’s story) but what he did that was really, really vicious, low down and dirty was his involvement with the National Student Association.

After the war, the slavemasters (and yes, both the British and the Vatican) had come up with using “study groups” as fronts to control the disbursing of funds and outside congressional reach direction of black operations. Example: Edmund Taylor Council on Foreign Relations – CFR Study Group 5152 – staffed with British and American intelligence agents.

You’ll want to read Field Guide For Whistleblowers and Truth-Tellers – Tactics 2: Counter-Intelligence and Suppression Tactics – the section starting “Enter the CFR – Study Group 5152 1949.” for much more about what Edmund did there.


Mr. Robert Knapp

Robert Hampden Knapp, wrote about rumors in an academic context and his work became the basis for a manual for rumor engineers at the OSS, in 1943.

Image from p. 93 of the Wesleyan 1954 yearbook;  page of Psychology Department persons –

Robert_Hampden_Knapp Robert_Hampden_Knapp_2_1954.

Robert Knapp’s specialty was infiltrating groups and pretending to be one of them. For example, he led an OSS sabotage team behind the German lines in Greece. He formed close friendships with Greek leftist guerrillas, who welcomed his open sympathy for their socialist and anti-monarchist political aims. His mission completed, he then was sent to China, where at Kunming he became a member of the anti-Kuomintang OSS faction.

Knapp was a Psychology major at Harvard, where he formed a “fascination” for propaganda. in 1942, in concert with a local Boston newspaper, he and two other men from Harvard edited a column called the “Rumor Clinic” . The column appeared in the Boston Traveler. It was aimed not so much at disproving all the rumors that come along, which would obviously be an impossible task, but more at making the public rumor conscious, according to Robert H. Knapp, teaching fellow in Psychology, one of the editors himself.

“Rumors are sent in by mail to the paper,” Knapp said, “and we select and disprove a certain number each day.”

On May 12th, 1942, he began a series of articles for The Crimson.



“Just as dreams are the psychologist’s cue to the structure of an individual personality, so rumor is a cue to the underlying morale of a nation. It reveals the conflicts, latent hostilities, wishes and fears of the people.”


I love this part, this is really hilarious, because  – the fact that the British were to blame for starting just about every war anywhere historically, this was not a “rumor” as Knapp tries to position it.

“Without doubt the British have born the brunt of the whispering campaign. Almost every frustration which the American have undergone in the last month has been laid at their door. For example, the sugar shortage, tire and gas rationing, and the shortage of tankers for oil transport were all attributed to the British. Every military reverse has similarity been alleged the result of British incompetency or worse. They seem to qualify as the number one scapegoat.“


They don’t seem to. They are.

Taylor tries to psychoanalyze the Americans to explain the bad reasons why they are targeting the British. He starts it out with an insult as if “Americans” are just stupid clod people. Typical British propaganda, actually.

Why should the American people prove such fertile ground for sentiments of this kind? [translation – “you stupid idiots”] The answer is to be found in the psychological process called “displacement of aggression”. Briefly, this process involves frustrations, which tend to arouse hostility. Normally, this hostility is directed against the offending object or persons.”

Oh I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because this was their stupid war over stealing other countries assets and eliminating competition, as usual? Just a thought.

He continues –

The question now becomes. “What forces are restraining the direct expression of this hostility toward the Axis and diverting it into hostility against the British, against our racial minorities and against our allies?” There are two main explanations: The first force is that during the past twenty years there has been pacifistic philosophy abroad in America which would rule aggression out of human nature, precisely as the Victorians sought to rule out sex.

The second factor lies in the inaccessibility of the enemy. Although we, are able to come to grips with the Japs, the Axis, which we are told is our prime enemy, is out of reach. It is hard to hate when you can’t do anything about it, and that has been the predicament of the American people up to the present time.

See where he says “pacifistic philosophy” – do you know what is a deliberate SPIN on? That Americans were refusing to go to any more British Wars – after the millions and millions of lives uselessly lost in Word War I – just so the British could divide up the Ottoman Empire like insane cake chefs! So, not only does he position that as causing this inappropriately directed mental illness label, he then tries to position Americans as “blocked” sexually as well!

He couldn’t be parroting Robert Vansittart any better if he tried.

After the war, in 1946 Robert (who was a graduate of the University of Oregon) went on to become part of the faculty of Wesleyan University. An obituary of what looks to be his brother, lists him as living in Cazenovia, N.Y., in 1992.


A. H. (Arthur Heath) Onthank Colonel, M. I .,Secretary.
young Onthank as manager of Harvard Lacrosse team in 1914

Onthank, born 21 November 1892,  is listed also in this CIA declassifed OSS document: The Planning Group for Psychological Warfare – Staff List

Name verification: San Bernardino Daily Sun March 21, 1941 –

And also verified here in this Harvard publication.

He was referred to as either Colonel, Boss, Art, or Heath.

The OMGUS Personnel Officer, working directly under General Milburn, Chief of Staff, is Col. Arthur Heath Onthank, variously known as Colonel, Boss, Art, Heath. He is a reserve officer, in his middle fifties, human, picturesque, and in every way a swell chap. He has been in the military government game ever since the first plans were laid. He was in the first plane which brought Americans into Berlin and has been here ever since. (First Person History; January 1946)

He was elected as in charge of personnel for the War Department September 27, 1930.

He’s also listed in a 2010 declassified document release (as part of Stanford University’s Preston Goodfellow collection) as writing about agreements between the OSS and the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) on 27 August 1942, citing that they “reached an agreement” in June of 1942.



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.


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

(click to enlarge)


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