The Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
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    OSS - The Psychology of War

The Office of Strategic Services was America's first "central" intelligence and covert action agency. Pioneered by a maverick Wall Street lawyer named William "Wild Bill" Donovan, the OSS seemed to take on his personality. Donovan was interested in results, had no patience for bureaucracy, and was willing to try any new idea. As a result, the work of the OSS ranged from the enlightened to the absurd.

While the OSS' mission may have been laudable, its hard-hitting methods set unfortunate precedents for future conflicts. Civilians were organized into partisan militias, and psychological terror was considered a weapon just like any other in the military's arsenal. These files offer a rare and uncensored view of the Second World War that you won't find in any history books.


Morale Operations (MO) were intended to generate panic, intimidate, demoralize, and spread confusion and distrust among enemy civilians and military forces; and to stimulate feelings of resentment and rebellion among occupied populations. Morale Operations used "black" propaganda, in which the source of the information was disguised. Black propaganda could be either true or false. For morale operations purposes, the truth or falisity was irrelevant. It was the effect on the target's mind that mattered.

MO propaganda was spread by a variety of creative and devious means. Subversive rumors were spread by agents or planted in news stories. Leaflets were scattered from airplanes, suddenly appearing on the streets of cities as if they had been casually discarded. Some urged resistance or gave sabotage instructions. Others were intented to "generate panic." For example, forged air raid instructions dropped on Japan urged people to flee when they heard the air raid sirens, adding to the confusion and panic generated by the raids. Other forgeries included currencies, train tickets, postage stamps, and military orders and manuals. Other Morale Operations were designed to encourage resistance movements, by creating the appearance of an organized resistance where there was none. Newspapers and flyers were produced. "Black radio" stations purported to be broadcasting from within enemy territory. Leaflets urged industrial sabotage and explained "simple sabotage" of railways, automobiles, etc. Graffitti was also used to create the impression of an organized resistance.

Morale Operations by Country
Modus Operandi

The Special Operations Branch worked with resistance organizations, organized sabotage operations and implemented many of the Morale Operations designed by the MO Branch. I have not focussed on this much since it has been well-researched by others. The SO Branch was led by Carl Hoffman and then William Davis, Jr.

X Plan

The Research and Analysis Branch of the OSS was the first concerted effort on the part of any world power to enlist members of the academic community as foreign affairs analysts. I began my study of the OSS here, in the files of R&A's Psychologic Warfare Division. These theoretical studies are among the most interesting, if somewhat kooky government documents I have ever seen. The R&A Branch was led by Dr. James Baxter and Dr. William Langer.

Psychological Surveys
Morale and the Subconscious

The Secret Intelligence Branch of the OSS, modeled after the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), collected information, primarily from underground organizations. SI agents were tasked to collect information about the vulnerabilities of enemy groups, both civil and military, and about neutral populations, to be exploited by psychological warfare. A study of SI and X-2, it's counterintelligence component, would be a massive undertaking in itself, and I have barely touched on it, limiting my work to collecting espionage instruction materials. The SI Branch was led by Paul Helliwell and then William Casey.


The Foreign Nationalities Branch, headed by Dewitt Poole, engaged in political warfare abroad using anti-Axis and immigrant groups based in the United States. This again would make a fascinating study of a subject that as far as I know has not been described in any books. I intend to develop this area further in the future.


This is really just a lot of odds and ends, organizational charts, and so on, that seem to have value, but may not be too interesting to read.


A cousin of Morale Operations, the Army's idea of psywar was to use it in combination with military operations. Dropping surrender leaflets, projecting loud noises, and so on, to affect the enemy's performance in battle. Whether this technique was more effective, I don't know, but this material is less bizarre and less interesting than the Morale Operations.


After the war, the OSS was disbanded. Many OSS psywar veterans went on to work for the Central Intelligence Agency, or for the Ford Foundation. Since CIA records are not yet available to the public, the study of psychological warfare in the cold war must be based on secondary sources, such as those used in this webpage. Whether there is any contemporary equivalent of the "ideological offensive" of the cold war, I don't know, and I do not mean to promote any theories about how public diplomacy is used today or what media channels might be used. That is for future historians to decide.