[back] CIA

Nerve War

This CIA guide to conducting "nerve war against individuals" was prepared in the summer of 1954, as the agency was preparing to overthrow the government of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz. Harassment operations such as these were added to the CIA's huge, and ultimately successful, psychological warfare campaign against Arbenz. The document is undated, but a cover note indicates it was forwarded to the CIA station in Guatemala City on June 9, 1954.

[document begins]


1. The strength of any enemy (foreign or domestic, political or military) consists largely of the individuals who occupy key positions in the enemy organization, as leaders, speakers, writers, organizers, cabinet members, senior government officials, army commanders and staff officers, and so forth. Any effort to defeat the enemy must therefore concentrate to a great extent upon these key enemy individuals.

2. If such an effort is made by means short of physical violence, we call it "psychological warfare". If it is focused less upon convincing those individuals by logical reasoning, but primarily upon moving them in the desired direction by means of harassment, by frightening, confusing or misleading them, we speak of "nerve war". Such a nerve war can be waged against an entire nation or against major groups of the population. In the present paper, however, we discuss only nerve war against individuals, that is, against key personalities in the enemy camp.


3. In order to make your effort as effective as possible, select only a limited number of enemy personalities as your targets. Effective nerve war involves in most cases a considerable amount of work: concentrate it therefore exclusively on persons who are really important to the enemy or a real danger to you (for instance, as persuasive speakers -- or as successful organizers, penetrating your own ranks, or the like). Select not more persons than you are confident you can handle effectively. If there are definitely more enemy key personalities than you can attack simultaneously, make a priority list, deal with the first group on the list first and add persons farther down the list only, if and when you have disposed of members of the first group (or if your potential increases by recruiting additional active personnel on your side, etc.)

4. Select your targets not necessarily according to their official ranks and titles but according to their real importance as individuals. In a political party, the chairman is not always the most important personality -- nor is the Mayor always the real head of a municipal government, and so forth. Aim primarily at the man who has the greatest influence upon his colleagues and his followers, who has the best brains, who is most fanatically devoted to the enemy cause, who is the most accomplished speaker, organizer or writer.

5. Select your targets also according to your ability of attacking them. Assume, the enemy leader is a very strong personality, unquestioningly beloved by his followers, of absolute integrity, etc.: you will find it extremely difficult to shake him. As a matter of fact, your attacks against him personally may only infuriate his followers and stimulate them into an even greater effort for his cause. However, even the most gifted leader cannot workk without associates, assistants of all sorts: if you can manage to deprive him of some of these (who may be weaker personalities, less popular, less integer than he is and therefore easier to attack), you will gradually weaken his position, too.

6. Once you have decided whom you want to make a target in your nerve war campaign, try to obtain all possible information about these persons: their political views (especially possible points of difference between them and the party, the government, etc. to which they belong), changes of opinion in the past, their personal habits and their private lives -- especially vulnerable points and guilty secrets (whether he has made secret trips to Moscow or receives funds from a foreign power, whether he is a drug addict, drinks too much, indulges in other vices, has embezzled money or is guilty of other illegal or immorall acts). It is also important to know who are his friends and who are his (personal) enemies, especially enemies close to him, in his own party, in his own family, men who aspire to the position which he now holds, and so forth. The more you know about the man, the better are your chances of conducting a successful nerve war operation against him.

Page 2


7. Your most natural objective will be to draw the person whom you attack over to your side. This, however, will not always be possible -- because the man might be such a dyed-in-the-wool militant of the enemy cause or may be so utterly opposed to you that it would be unrealistic to expect that you can win him as a friend or an ally. Moreover, there are undoubtedly certain persons in the enemy camp whom you would not even want to have on your side, even if you could manage to recruit them -- persons who are guilty of crimes or of shameful political or personal acts, persons whose names have become so closely indentified with your enemy that it would compromise and embarrass you if they were to join your side.

8. In the latter cases, you shall try to destroy that man's usefulness for the enemy side. By "destroy", we do not mean to kill the man -- since physical violence is not discussed in the present paper, but we mean either to make the man leave the enemy (without joining you), for instance, by withdrawing from all public activity, or by emigrating -- or to make the enemy oust the man, because of suspicions which you might have aroused against him. --As a temporary result, you may at least send the man out of harm's way in the critical moment (for instance, through a phony emergency call from a relative in a far-away town or through a phony order from a superior, sending him in the wrong direction.)


9. The methods which you could or should use to achieve the objectives defined above will naturally vary according to whether you want to recruit the man or to destroy him (or rather his usefulness to the enemy). Furthermore, these methods will differ according to the area in which you operate and the circumstances existing there at the time at which you undertake such a campaign. Finally, much will depend upon the person whom you have made your target. Do not consider, therefore, the following suggestions as a firmly established set of rules, equally applicable to all cases: examine rather every case on its own merits and find out which of the following bits of advice may suit your immediate problem. You will undoubtedly also discover ways and means of your own of which we did not think when preparing this paper.

10. If you want to win a man away from the enemy, over to your own side, you have to convince him that the enemy has evil intentions against him (whether against him as a person or as member of a given social class, or the like). For instance, if your target is a retired army officer and you can manage to convince him that the enemy party to which he belongs plans to oust all retired officers, he may leave the party rather than wait until he is ousted. Or, if you happen to know about a past legal offense of which your target has been guilty, but which went undetected (for instance, embezzlement of public funds) and you can convince him that his competitors have assembled evidence against him, he may resign his public office rather than await indictment.

11. On the other hand, if you intend to destroy a man, aim your efforts not so much at him personally, but at his colleagues or his superiors: furnish them (in a roundabout, devious way, of course) with material which indicates that the man is a traitor, that he is plotting to gain more power for himself, that he collaborates with their enemies, that he accepts money from a foreign power -- or that his private sins will cause a big public scandal soon so that it will be better for them (for their party, government, business corporation) to get rid of him immediately in order not to be affected by that scandal.

12. The most common techniques to be used for either purpose are rumors, anonymous letters, telegrams and telephone calls as well as visual symbols. Telephone calls should be made preferably in the early hours of the morning, say between 1 and 4 o'clock a.m., when a man's psychological resistance is usually at its lowest ebb. "Visual symbols" may include depositing a coffin or a hangman's noose in front of the man's house, painting threatening texts on the wall ("Here lives a spy", "You have only 5 more days...", "Your secret life has been discovered" or whatever may be appropriate), sending a phony bomb

Page 3

through the mails (include a cheap alarm clock, to suggest a time bomb, with a note "This is only a warning. The next time it will be real"), or the like.

13. You may preferably choose for your operations moments when your target is psychologically especially vulnerable. If, for instance, he is just celebrating his birthday and in the midst of a gay party, a telegram or telephone call with some ominous news (e.g., an imprending party purge) reaches him, this is likely to affect him more -- because of the sharp contrast with his elated mood at the moment -- than at ordinary times. On the other hand, if your messages reach him when he is already very much depressed (whether for political, business or family reasons), you may achieve a cumulative effect and thereby hit him harder than you could otherwise. (This again indicated clearly that you must keep a close watch over the persons against whom you wage such a campaign.)

14. "The kiss of death": If a man suddenly begins to be praised by his enemies, this is likely to arouse suspicions among his friends. Assume, a political leader makes a violent speech and the newspapers of the opposition commend him for his moderation, emphasize that he is different from his colleagues, easier to get along with etc., this is bound to embarrass him, especially if he belongs to a party characterized by great inner distrust and permanent fear of "deviationists and oppositionists", like the Communist Party. This effect can also be obtained by writing to such a man a friendly letter from abroad, from a hostile political group or the like, if one can be reasonably sure that the letter will be censored and thus come to the attention of the man's superiors.

15. Legal harassment: if local conditions permit, one can denounce a man to the proper authorities for any violation of the law of which he is either really guilty or for which at least suspicious looking evidence can be prepared. Such denunciations may range from treason to income tax evasion. Some times, an apparently very insignificant law violation may have interesting political consequences: assume you know that a man left secretly town one night to attend a clandestine meeting; you go to the police and accuse him of having seen him committing an immoral act (or, perhaps having parked his car, without lights, endangering public traffic) on that same night. In court, the man will naturally protest that he was not there at all: it will then be logical to ask him to prove to the court where he was at the time -- which will be obviously embarrassing to him.

16. Private harassment: If you want a man to leave the enemy camp, you might achieve this by having rumors about enemy intentions reach his wife, his parents or other close friends and relatives who may have much influence upon him. If one year's training to the Soviet Union, implying that the prettiest Russian girls are selected to keep these 'heroes from far-away lands' company, she may well insist that her husband not only does not go away, but quits the party. You may also make her suspect that the secret party meetings which he attends are actually visits to a mistress, or the like. If she is not the jealous type, you may make her fear for his life or indicate that he is going to lose his job because of his political activities or any such suggestion which is likely to make her interfere with his political work in the desired sense.

17. In certain cases, forged papers may greatly assist your campaign. For instance, if you mail to a Communist Party official a letter on party stationery, summoning him to appear before the party control commission to answer questions concerning his private associations with enemy agents, Trotskyites or the like, he may prefer to resign from the party rather than undergo the threatening purge (even if his conscience should happen to be clean -- but you will naturally choose a charge which has at least a small kernel of possible truth in it.) If you don't have the necessary stationery or at least a rubber stamp of the party, you'll have to try it by telephone call or by telegram.

18. Whichever method you choose, you'll have to pursue your campaign relentlessly and methodically, until your target either gives in -- or, on the contrary, until you recognize that this is, for the time being at least, a hopeless case and that you are wasting your effort. Repetition is one of the strongest devices in all propaganda and the cumulative effect of various means (as suggested in the foregoing paragraphs) increases with every additional step you take. Don't give

 Page 4

the man time to recover from the first shock: have him approached from different sides, by different people, but all contributing to the theme which you have chosen.

19. Never expose yourself in such a nerve war campaign: this is imperative not only to protect you from counter-measures and from possible legal prosecution, but also because an unknown, invisible enemy has a much greater harassing effect upon most minds than attacks by a known adversary. Therefore tell your rumors just to one or two gossipy persons of whom you can be sure that they will spread the story until it reaches the people for whom you intended it. Have other persons (i.e. people not known to the addressee) write anonymous letters, if the man in question knows you. Never mail them from a place close to where you live, but from another town or from another part of the city. Disguise your handwriting. Do not use your own stationery but buy the necessary sheets and envelopes separately. Make telephone calls only from public telephones and keep them very short so that they cannot be traced back.

[document ends]