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1. Its Character and the German attitude to it
Black propaganda covers all those forms of propaganda which are not identified with HMG and which have the appearance of springing spontaneously from the local population without British inspiration or connection. It is true that all forms of such propaganda cannot conceal from an enemy government their real source of inspiration, but it is equally true to say that, provided the propaganda is conducted in such a way as to conform with the feelings of a large section of the population in the country to which it is directed, the enemy government will not wish to denounce what strikes a sympathetic chord in the recipient and thereby call attention to its own opposition.
Experiences has shown that the German Government, whatever it may know about our black broadcasting propaganda, is most unwilling to call attention to it. This may rightly be regards as a tribute to its efficacy, for it can be taken for granted that, were our propaganda to be so maladroit as to be innocuous, the German Government would have no hesitation in exposing it. This applies particularly to our black propaganda in Germany, for it is understandable that the German authorities would be still more loath to give publicity to anti-German propaganda to populations whom they knew to be hostile to them.
It is important to bear this in mind, for the view is sometimes expressed here that, because the German authorities know that our black broadcasts come from this country, nothing should be said for which HMG would be unwilling to take responsibility. If this view were accepted, black broadcasting would be so hampered as to be ineffective and there is sufficient evidence to show that the German Government would in that case be much relieved. Those who discuss black broadcasts are helping the enemy in the same way as those who discuss our other secret operations. Total war is not yet totally understood by some people here and perhaps even less understood by some people in America.
It is not perhaps an exaggeration to suggest that the Service Departments would be displeased if the locality of certain secret operations they were conducting were referred to in the House of Commons, even under the name of Hogsnorton. They would consider this an undesirable publicity and the House of Commons would not be unsympathetic, but so little is political warfare understood in this country that such a remark by one who may be described as “an ex-service man” is not even noticed adversely and has been taken up by a leading Sunday newspaper.
2. Its Object
The object of black propaganda is to damage the enemy’s war effort either directly or indirectly. The black propagandist does not necessarily espouse a cause which is openly hostile to the enemy or to an enemy-controlled administration. He can for example have the appearance of being a patriotic Hitlerite or a patriotic Petainiste, under cover of which he can either denounce the evil practices of the men surrounding them, thereby undermining the regimes themselves, or he can supply information of a kind calculated to appeal táo the self-interest of his public so that they may, without considering themselves to be in opposition to their governments, do things which are harmful to those governments. This is the indirect method of attack.
The direct attack on the enemy is perhaps less complicated, but in such an attack it must be carefully borne in mind that the object is not to lead a revolt but to stimulate certain forms of discontent which are most likely to lead to revolt. It is not possible from this country to lead a revolt or to formulate a programme of revolt, for the leaders can only come from within and the leaders must formulate their own programme, but it is possible by propaganda from here to take up certain subjects which are known to be causes of resentment and thereby to stimulate resentment to a point where local action becomes more likely. It is highly dangerous for the propagandist to exaggerate the part he has to play. In serious propaganda over-acting one’s part is not only amateurish, but dangerous. The propagandist must be content to be the forerunner of those who will claim the prize.
3. Difference between White and Black Propaganda
There is a clear line of demarcation between White and Black propaganda. The former is British and speaks with official authority. Its main purpose is to keep its recipients regularly informed of the course of the war from the British point of view and to put strongly to Europe the part played by Britain in the war. It is not its purpose, at this stage of the war, to call on the peoples of Europe to revolt, but to let them judge from the information given them what are the possibilities of action.
Black propaganda on the other hand does not speak from outside, but lodges itself inside the country with which it is concerned. It looks at every question from the point of view of people living in the country and is far more concerned with local affairs than with international. It has to act as though it were part of a secret organisation operating from within. What matters is not what we here, but what people on the spot are saying or feeling, how they should be made to react to the hardships of living conditions, to regulations imposed by enemy or Quisling administrations, to the corruption and misdeeds of local bosses. The object in all such propaganda is to injure the German war machine, but we have to approach that object through stirring up all causes of irritation and resentment to a point where action will be taken of the kind most embarrassing to the Germans. For this purpose small details of intelligence affecting the ordinary lives of the populations concerned are more important in black propaganda than reports giving a broad summary of the political situation. Black propaganda from here has in fact to proceed in the same way as the propaganda agent working inside the country, gradually and methodically building up cells of resistance to the enemy by playing upon those causes of irritation most likely to stimulate resistance.
4. What has to be avoided
There are many temptations in the way of those who have to proceed on these lines. There is the temptation to go too fast, to appeal for action before the ground has been prepared for action, to exaggerate the importance of evidence of reception or to be unduly discouraged when evidence does not come in regularly, to indulge in certain forms of propaganda for the satisfaction it gives to the propagandist rather than for the effect that it will produce. In white propaganda HMG can speak its mind openly, but when HMG goes black, it has to make others speak in the way it wishes them to speak. Those who burrow like moles under the ground for HMG in the seclusion of Hogsnorton are striking to lay mines for the enemy so that HMG may advance more easily over the ground from which the enemy has been cleared.
5. Coordination of Black Propaganda
The underground activities are conducted from many places and by many methods. By broadcasts, by literature smuggled into the countries concerned, by whispers put out from neutral countries, by agents trained here and dropped from the air to carry out an agreed plan of propaganda. Through all these channels of propaganda the main plans of PWE have to be carried out, but in such a way that each channel must seem to be flowing quite independently. There must be coordination without the appearance of coordination. For example whispers must spread rumours which are not in conflict with rumours spread by broadcasts, but they must not be the same rumours; black broadcasts deal with subjects to which, though treated differently, black leaflets will refer; agents in the country will feed the clandestine press with similar subjects, will secure listeners for the broadcasts, will form propaganda cells within the areas allotted to them. Just as the BBC broadcasts to Europe must be coordinated so the HMG does not speak with conflicting voices to different countries, so must the various forms of black propaganda to coordinate, though much less openly, so that each form, not only does not conflict with the other, but assists it.
6. Is it really effective?
The black propagandist works unseen and without public recognition. He must cast his bread upon the waters in the hope that he may find it after many days. From time to time he gets evidence that his bread has had a safe passage. For example agents will report back by wireless saying that such and such material has been used and specifying further requirements. A report will come in that clandestine literature smuggled across the frontier has been circulating inside. Black broadcasts will be reported on, showing where there has been a listening public, or enemy-controlled broadcasts will answer stories put out by black broadcasts without revealing the source of the story.
There is evidence enough to show that the moles burrowing underground are reaching their destination. Many pages of such evidence are in the files of PWE and not a week passes without further evidence arriving. But one must not judge purely by evidence, reassuring as it may be to those engaged upon the actual work. There is only one sound standard for judgement, viz. is there a carefully thought out plan for the work, are the various aspects of the work properly coordinated, is the execution deftly handled with an adequate background of information and understanding? Black propaganda demands knowledge, skill, concentration, understanding and, above all, patience and persistence. A Fifth Column against the enemy is not built within a day, and it must be remembered that those here who are supplying the bricks and mortar for the building are not even present to witness its progress. Only when our forces of liberation set foot upon the European continent shall we be able to judge fully of the preparatory work that has been done behind the lines. If it has been well done, then a solid contribution to victory will have been achieved.
(Sgd.) R A LEEPER
18th July, 1942
The best evidence of the attitude of the German High Command to our black propaganda is contained in the following documents.
A special secret document of February 1942 issued by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht WFSt/WPr (IIe), entitled “The Officer’s Part in the Fight against Rumours”, contains the following paragraphs.
“It is necessary to be familiar with the following points about enemy technique in spreading rumours.
Guilelessness – because there are still people in Germany who think that there must be some little grain of truth about it when they hear some rumour. The enemy counts on this little grain of poison. He is, of course, aware that nobody in Germany believes all the lies that he puts out; but his calculation is that perhaps 10% might be believed, and that would be enough. So the guileless German, even if he deducted 90%, and then believes he has the truth, has in actual fact assimilated poisonous enemy fare.
The urge to show off – because many people feel themselves important when they think they know something, and when they have the air of being well-informed, and make an impression when passing on some unpleasant news.
When the officer knows the tricks of enemy propaganda, he will become particularly quick in spotting enemy rumours. He will not under any circumstances suffer such rumours to be repeated in his presence. This war does not bear the enemy to be given any chance. But he has a chance every time the poison, carefully and craftily prepared by him, reaches and harms a circle of the German population, may the individual harm be great or small.”
In a booklet issued by the OKH General Staff sometime after October 1941, containing twenty themes for use by Company Commanders in talking to their troops, there is a special article entitled “Rumours”.
Two paragraphs of this run as follows:
“A particularly effective weapon of the enemy are rumours. They are disseminated by black wireless transmitters, leaflets and whisper propaganda. They work as a creeping poison, like an influenza epidemic. They spread extraordinarily quickly.”
The article goes on to describe the kind of people who disseminate these rumours:
“The enemy know this type. They count on them when they put out rumours concerning alleged conflicts between the Army and the Party, concerning illness and disease, concerning embezzlements, racketeering and so forth.”
[Source: TNA FO 898/64, transcribed by www.psywar.org]