The History of PsyWar after WWII and Its Relationship to Special Forces


The relationship of Psychological Warfare and Special Forces Operations began as mix of confusion and identity. During the Vietnam War each evolved as separate parts of Special Operations but still working in a collaborative partnership.

My own experiences in the 14th PsyWar from 1961 to 1963 made me and I'm sure others wonder what our role was in the Cold War. Other military units did not seem to know who or what we were or how to deal with us. In many deployments, our identifying unit insignia were removed and we often wore civilian clothes.

We worked closely with First Special Forces on Okinawa and in one deployment (16th PsyWar Co) in Taiwan of which I was a part during 1962. We sometimes joked that we must have been part of Special Forces but no one would admit it. This was especially true as we were encouraged to volunteer for Jump Training...

Individual members and small groups of the 14th were deployed to Vietnam in the early part of the war and again worked closely with Special Forces units located there.

In 1965 with the reorganization of the 14th PsyWar to the 14th PsyOp and 7th Group, the move toward rapid deployment was increased with the 18th PsyOp Company becoming Airborne.

As the Vietnam war progressed, PsyOps became an integral part of Special Operations but still remaining separate from Special Forces.

Today All AC and RC US Army PSYOP forces are assigned to the US Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC), a major subordinate command of the US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The AC forces are organized under the 4 th Psychological Operations Group with four regionally oriented battalions, a tactical support battalion, and a PSYOP dissemination battalion. From: US Army Psychological Operations Forces

Excepts from the article Towards A Doctrine Of Special Warfare below relates the early history and confusion of PsyWar and Special Forces.

On the Eve of the Counterinsurgency Era

Special warfare doctrine began with the wreckage of the OSS and the first serious consideration in 1947 of a permanent military capability to undertake the kind of initiatives only then assigned to the newborn CIA. In 1947, a secret army review of wartime behind-the-lines operations A Study of Special and Subversive Operations, concentrated on the organization, tactics, and operations of U. S.- supported partisans or "guerrillas." This experience was duly reflected in 1960s manuals on offensive guerrilla warfare. The study also recommended a review of counterguerrilla measures and enumerated many of the options that were subsequently incorporated into the secret repertoire of the American counterinsurgent. Defensive measures "against an active underground" required "an efficient intelligence system, reliable communications,... fast mobile columns, radio direction finders, restrictions on the civilian use of radio, and very tight security...." Going on the offensive required active measures to cut off the guerrillas from local support and to hold the people accountable for guerrilla action:

Countermeasures include the control of movement of civilians, rendering civilian cooperation with our forces desirable, eliminating guerrilla sources of supply, the holding of hostages, reprisals against civilians, punitive expeditions, and transporting civilians on trains and columns to guaranty [ sic ] safe passage.... In general means must be devised to remove any guerrilla logistic support, to alienate the civilian population from the guerrillas, to isolate the underground, and to prevent support of them by air, sea, or land.

The tactics considered in 1947 generally fell within the range of Special Forces doctrine in the 1950s: the later written doctrine, however, more explicitly ratified the utility—and legitimacy—of terror tactics for the American guerrilla and counterguerrilla.

Psychological Warfare: The Army's Covert Dimension

An institutional antipathy to "guerrilla warfare"—as unmilitary and not particularly effective—as well as an aversion to elite units in the U.S. military establishment hindered the development of special operations forces in the early days of the Cold War. The military's reluctance to organize "guerrilla" forces prevailed until the Korean War; the military side of unconventional warfare fell principally within the ill-defined discipline of psychological warfare. In practice, psychological warfare in the Cold War came increasingly to be synonymous with special operations (its propaganda dimension became secondary)—and special operations meant covert action.

The military's definitions of terms were often as confusing as the terms themselves were redundant, a problem of which the military was itself not unaware. Decades later, Brigadier General Joseph C. Lutz, commander of the army's First Special Forces Command in the 1980s, told a conference on special operations that he was still amazed at the lack of understanding in the community of what it is we are actually talking about.... [S]pecial forces, special operations, special warfare, unconventional warfare, guerrilla warfare, partisan warfare, paramilitary operations, revolutionary warfare, proxies, surrogates, low-intensity conflict, and escape and evasion.... We have really serious problems with definitions.

The ambiguity, elasticity, and overlap of definitions was, in some ways, indeed a problem to the extent that it contributed to muddy thinking within the military itself. However, from the 1940s into the 1990s, it has also had certain advantages as military institutions have sought to obscure the real nature of some of their less conventional disciplines and programs.

In the 1940s, special operations were classed by the military under the inherently misleading discipline psychological warfare. After 1960, the army used the term "special warfare" much as the cold warriors of the 1940s had used "political warfare." Special warfare was the generic term that covered both the special operations and the propaganda side of 1940s and 1960s "psychological warfare." Although the OSS had applied the term special operations broadly to its clandestine behind-the-lines operations, special operations before the Korean War referred to night combat, jungle operations, winter operations, and other specialized responses to unusual combat circumstances—and not "unconventional" operations at all.

The term "Special Forces Operations" was apparently first adopted by the board of officers detailed to draft the Organization and Conduct of Guerrilla Warfare manual (FM 31-21 of 1951). According to a memorandum by Russell Volckmann, the board applied the term broadly to "operations conducted for a military purpose in enemy-controlled territory beyond the combat zone."44 The 14 October 1953, Department of the Army statement of policy, The Conduct of Guerrilla Warfare (Army Special Forces Program), defined the term as "operations conducted within or behind the enemy lines for military purposes."

At the inception of the Cold War, psychological warfare, however defined, was an area in which many military professionals were uncomfortable, despite its recognized importance during the war years. Many officers wanted to have "nothing at all" to do with it, believing "it was not 'real soldiering.' " Others recognized its value as a resource to be husbanded. Army Chief of Staff Dwight Eisenhower instructed the army in June 1947 "to take those steps that are necessary to keep alive the arts of psychological warfare and of cover and deception and that there should continue in being a nucleus of personnel capable of handling these arts in case an emergency arises."

Although most psy-war personnel were demobilized immediately after the war, a nucleus remained, as did several eloquent advocates for a revival of psy-war to meet the new threats of the Cold War. Principal among them was Brigadier General Robert McClure, head of psy-war in the European theater in World War II. In June 1946, McClure had pressed army headquarters for a top- level psychological warfare division and was roundly rebuffed. In November, however, he succeeded in moving psy-war within the army's organizational system, from G-2, intelligence, to G-3, operations. In a dune 1947 paper, McClure recommended renewing research efforts of psy-war, rebuilding a psychological warfare division at army headquarters, bringing together a voluntary "mixed military-civilian group... charged with studying psychological warfare policies and practices during the war," and establishing a training program in the military schools system. Although no dramatic organizational changes followed McClure's effort to put psy-war on the military agenda, others in the military concurred with his views. The chief of information of the army's Plans and Operations pressed for even more immediate action on the psy-war front than McClure had proposed, "in view of Russia's all-out use of the PW weapon against the interests of the U.S." In an argument similar to Kennan's logic of fighting "fire with fire," he stressed that psy-war should not be held back, considering "the present de facto state of 'undeclared emergency' or 'cold war' which exists vis-à-vis Russia." The United States could respond in kind "in the field of ideological or psychological warfare."

The army's eventual move into the unconventional warfare field was through the existing framework of psychological warfare. Wartime psy-war concepts were sufficiently broad to embrace the whole field of special, or covert operations, in line with OSS chief Donovan's "all encompassing concept" of psy-war, combining intelligence, special operations, and propaganda functions. As such, the development of an unconventional warfare capacity with a consolidated psy-war organization made sense to the Joins Chiefs.

The military's arm's-length position on covert action was gradually modified in the course of 1949, with the assignment of army officers to assist the CIA in developing training programs in guerrilla warfare, and, in November, the creation of a JCS agency, awkwardly named the Joint Subsidiary Plans Division (JSPD), to collaborate with the CIA (and other civilian bodies) in the areas of "psychological warfare and covert operations." Its staff of fourteen was divided into teams: team A dealt with "Psychological-Ideological Warfare," team Z with "1) NSC 1()/2 and 1()/5 matters; 2) Covert-Clandestine-Unconventional Warfare matters; 3) Escape and Evasion Operations; 4) Para-Military Operations; 5) Guerrilla Operations; 6) Preparation and Coordination of Plans; and 7) Special studies."

The outbreak of war in Korea on 25 June 1950 revitalized military interest in psychological warfare, and ill particular, military capability for unconventional warfare—although the innovations it catalyzed would come too late to influence the course of that conflict. A Psychological Warfare Division was established within the Army General Staff (in G-3) in September 1950, headed by Brigadier General Robert McClure. The division was to have a relatively large staff and was supported by a crash training program initiated in conjunction with Georgetown University. On 15 January 1951, McClure's outfit was recognized as the Office of the Chief of Psychological Warfare (OCPW), an autonomous Special Staff Division working directly with the chief of staff (the first of its kind).

Brigadier McClure moved rapidly to organize his "agency" into separate propaganda, unconventional warfare, and support divisions—and to obtain a charter authorizing a special operations role through which to wage unconventional warfare. Army Special Regulation 10-250-1 (22 May 1951) provided the latter, defining a mission to "formulate and develop psychological and special operations plans for the Army in consonance with established policies for and supervise the execution of Department of the Army programs in these fields."55 "Propaganda planning" was undertaken by Psychological Operations, while administrative, personnel, training, logistics, and research matters were handled by a Requirements Division. Activities concerning special operations were fully compartmentalized: "All planning in connection with covert operations, in view of its particular sensitivity, is segregated in a Special Operations Division..." The definition of special operations, in turn, was much as it is in the 1990s:

[T]hose conducted within or behind enemy lines for a military purpose, with the primary objective of organizing indigenous resistance potential and exploiting this potential to serve our military objectives. Such operations include: organization and conduct of guerrilla warfare; covert political, economic, and psychological warfare; subversion and sabotage; the infiltration of agents into the enemy's sphere of influence; anti-guerrilla warfare and escape and evasion activities carried on by Special Operations units and agencies.

In May 1952, OCPW chief McClure presided over the opening of the Psychological Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The center provided the institutional foundation for rebuilding a psy-war propaganda capability—and provided the home base for what became the Army Special Forces. Colonel Charles Karlstad was named the first commander of the center and of the adjoining Psychological Warfare School.

McClure's OCPW and the center at Fort Bragg reclaimed for the army a major role in the covert side of the Cold War. In 1951, the OCPW's Special Operations Division had been rapidly staffed with veterans of U.S. guerrilla warfare ventures—notably Colonel Wendell Fertig, who commanded Filipino guerrillas on Mindanao, and Colonel Aaron Bank, a former OSS agent with the French Maquis. McClure had detailed an officer to screen OSS files made available by General Donovan, and find some 3,500 names of personnel with experience in "guerrilla" operations. Some 1,500 were found "still available" and, where possible, "ordered to active duty" under McClure's command. Other key staff included army officers who since June 1950 had been involved in joint army-CIA special operations in Korea. Principal among them was Lieutenant Colonel Russell Volckmann, another veteran of guerrilla warfare in the Philippines (North Luzon), who in 1950 and 1951 "planned and directed behind-the-lines operations in North Korea."

The OCPW and the Psychological Warfare Center initially paid considerable attention to the traditional meaning of psychological warfare— of developing propaganda and "nonlethal" means of influencing enemy behavior. The emphasis gradually shifted, however, so that by 1960 the psy-war component of the work at the Psychological Warfare Center was by far subordinate to the concern with special operations and Special Forces. The files of the chief of psy-war for the 1951-1954 period (now in part declassified) are replete with psy-war studies and proposals along fairly conventional lines, ranging from developmental work on better loudspeakers, airborne leaflet delivery systems, and broadcasting technology, to harebrained schemes based on the pseudo- sociological unraveling of stereotypical "weaknesses" or foibles of particular ethnic groups. Some of the latter came from unsolicited suggestions from the public, which received serious attention (and polite responses).

Although General McClure appears to have been equally committed to psy-war per se as to his special operations establishment, other principal figures in OCPW and the early years at Fort Bragg later recalled the combination as having been essentially a marriage of bureaucratic convenience. Colonel Bank, the Special Forces' first commander, complained that in "all the time I was on the staff of PSYWAR (OCPW) I never saw any paper of any kind that indicates Special Forces operations is a part of psychological warfare." That not withstanding, "it is our concept that Special Forces operations is a part of unconventional warfare." This clearly made little sense to Bank: "Just because OCPW is responsible for the monitoring and supervision of planning and conduct of psychological warfare and special forces operations does not mean that they have to be the same."

Alfred Paddock has examined the organization of the special operations establishment in terms of institutional interests and initiatives, and the army's resistance to involvement in "unmilitary" roles. Paddock attributes the creation of the Special Forces to General McClure's bringing in unconventional warfare "through the back door of the psychological warfare house." The Special Operations Division, while under the psy-war rubric, "gave unconventional warfare advocates like Bank and Volckmann the official platform from which to 'sell' the Army on the need for Special Forces units." The shift to an emphasis on special operations appears to have begun by mid-1953, when the Office of Psychological Strategy, hitherto the point of liaison between the psy-war/unconventional warfare establishment and the Secretary of Defense was dissolved and replaced by an Office of Special Operations.

The Army Special Forces

The Army Special Forces were an integral part of the army's Psychological Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, and paralleled in their own development the formulation of doctrine there. The elaboration of unconventional warfare doctrine coincided with the expansion and deployment of Special Forces, first to the European command, and later successively into Asia in the 1980s and Latin America in the 1960s. The Special Forces experience of the 1980s in turn fundamentally influenced the later development of counterinsurgency doctrine. The armed forces' "special" forces were organized in order to establish and assist a particular kind of guerrilla—a partisan force dependent on a sponsoring power—and not as counterinsurgency forces. It was considerably later in the 1960s, that the two roles were combined in the same forces— with dramatic consequences for the development of doctrine and the conduct of counterinsurgency.

The armed forces' approach to "guerrilla" (and later "counterguerrilla") doctrine and development was predictably cautious. Having acknowledged a military role in "guerrilla" warfare, the armed forces remained reluctant to assign its conventional forces to an unconventional task. As a consequence, the Special Forces were well insulated from conventional units. They provided a resource for unconventional warfare and a laboratory for the development of doctrine. "Unconventional warfare," characterized "for Joint Usage" in military dictionaries, meant operations utilizing irregular forces and tactics in the enemy's sphere of influence, and was to be the principal domain of the army Special Forces.

In its broader sense, and that of popular usage, unconventional warfare referred to a way of warfare, not a class of conflict; as Colonel Karlstad observed ill a foreword to a service booklet on the new center, the Psychological Warfare and Special Forces departments "instruct in the unconventional weapons and tactics with which our modern army must be equipped to function effectively against enemy forces." Unconventional warfare, then, was both a kind of war and a range of tactics; the Special Forces were to become the adepts in their application.

In March 1952, when the establishment of the Psychological Warfare Center at Fort Bragg was authorized, provision was made for separate Psychological Warfare and Special Forces departments and the creation of a first Special Forces unit—the "Tenth" Special Forces Group. Activated in May 1952, the plans called for its development in three increments of 600 men, all volunteers fitting a demanding elite profile. Recruitment from army units around the country proceeded slowly in part because of stringent security requirements.

The Tenth Special Forces Group, authorized strength 1,713, was deployed to Bad Tolz, West Germany, in November 1953 to await its active role in the expected D-Day clash with the Warsaw Pact. "The period immediately following 'D' day is considered of vital importance.... Therefore, it is imperative that prior to 'D' day Special Forces field detachments be organized, equipped and trained for infiltration into operational areas." They would remain on alert awaiting the outbreak of hostilities, while providing cadre for the training of a second such group at Fort Bragg (the "77th"), and in 1957—after the first major shift from the hypnotic European theater—for the "First" Group, activated in Okinawa.

Special Forces deployment in the Pacific theater in 1956 began on a minor scale, in great secrecy, with the assignment of seven-man Mobile Training Teams to military advisory groups in Taiwan, Thailand, and South Vietnam.' Their task was to train counterpart forces in the "tactics and techniques" of unconventional warfare. The Special Forces presence in Asia expanded dramatically in June 1957 with the organization of the First (i.e., third) Special Forces Group based in Okinawa, with an initial force level of sixteen officers and ninety-six enlisted men. Training remained a principal task: The object was to train in unconventional warfare counterparts who would provide a nucleus for Special Forces units in their home countries.

In 1957 a fifty-man cadre was trained over six months in Taiwan, and assistance given the Chinese Nationalists in setting up their own Special Forces center at Lung Tan.... EDITOR'S NOTE: The 16th PsyWar Company (of which I was part) held joint exercises with the 1st Special Forces at Lung Tang in 1962) ......The Nationalists had earlier had extensive contact with the CIA as well as with Psychological Warfare officers at the Far East Command and the Fort Bragg center. The psy-war-unconventional warfare establishment hosted Nationalist officers in visits to Fort Bragg as early as 1953, including Chiang Kai-shek's son, and received for "research, analysis and evaluation purposes" information on unconventional warfare tactics employed by the Nationalists in their occasional incursions into mainland China. A psy-war report on a meeting with Lt. Gen. Cheng Kai-meng, chief of Mainland Operations, outlined measures taken, many of which would appear in the United States' own unconventional warfare repertoire. On the propaganda side, the Nationalists were adopting a traditional form of Peking drama for radio broadcasts, "inserting anti-communist material therein"—a dramatic but not particularly original psy-war effort. On the direct action side, efforts were underway utilize the Chinese secret societies for Nationalist purposes (as the Vietnamese Binh Xuyen sect would later be used in Saigon), and "assassination as a means toward intimidation has been effected."

A former Special Forces officer has described the deployment of the first small units in the Pacific as a peripheral—and unpopular—element of the then-strategic projection of an impending nuclear conflict: a "pickup-the-pieces" sideline in a contest envisioned as depending upon tactical nuclear weapons. "Secretive special mission units were an unwelcome complication to the high- ranking officers at Pacific Command, who were told to program them into war plans to organize behind-the-lines guerrilla fighters after nuclear exchanges." The strategic role remained unchanged throughout the 1950s: Special Forces were intended to supplement "the general scheme of atomic warfare" by preparing for insertion into enemy-held territory to organize partisans "capable of resistance and disrupting rear areas." In practical terms, the Special Forces' principal task was to train Asian forces in the methods developed for action behind enemy lines. These forces, in turn, were to apply the unconventional tactics and techniques at home.

Source: Towards A Doctrine Of Special Warfare