59. Memorandum From Douglass Cater to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • “Coordination and Over-all Supervision of All U.S. Resources in the Propaganda-Political Warfare Field”

I. On September 19, 1961, an Ad Hoc Committee appointed by the President, including Attorney General Kennedy, Deputy Under Secretary Johnson, CIA Director Dulles, USIA Director Murrow, and General Taylor, made recommendations to the President after a series of meetings “to examine U.S. effectiveness in the field of propaganda-political warfare.”2 These recommendations included:

a. “That the Secretary of State appoint a Special Assistant for Special Projects (the title is tentative) to give full time to the coordination and overall supervision of all United States resources in the propaganda-political warfare field.” (italics added)

b. “That the Secretary of State call upon the other federal agencies with a capability in this field to contribute a senior official to form an interdepartmental task force to work under the Special Assistant.”

c. “That, as an early step, the Special Assistant review United States results in exploiting the Soviet action in sealing off West Berlin and comment on the adequacy of these results.”3

II. Upon being offered the post of Special Assistant, I voiced to you my strong reservations about the sweeping nature of the job as specified by the Ad Hoc Committee. At your suggestion, I agreed to come into the Department for two weeks to examine the problem more [Page 159] thoroughly. During this time, I have held discussions with all the members of the Ad Hoc Committee, except General Taylor. I have reviewed U.S. propaganda-political warfare activities in connection with the Soviet sealing off of West Berlin, the Belgrade Conference of unaligned nations,4 and Soviet resumption of nuclear testing.5 Finally, I have worked closely with Deputy Under Secretary Johnson in the effort to supervise and coordinate propaganda-political activities following Khrushchev’s announcement of a 50-megaton bomb test6 and Malinovsky’s boast of Soviet anti-missile capability.

III. Any assessment must take account of past experience in this field. The history is not a reassuring one. Shortly after the Second World War, Secretary of State Byrnes attempted unsuccessfully to persuade Walter Lippmann to come into the Department to take charge of the “battle to win men’s minds.” The growth of operating agencies (notably USIA and CIA) only intensified the efforts to devise mechanisms for supervising and coordinating this battle. President Truman set up the Psychological Strategy Board7 as an adjunct to the National Security Council. Under Eisenhower, PSB was abolished and the Operations Coordinating Board was established.8 In addition, a succession of Special Assistants to the President, including William Jackson, C.D. Jackson, and Nelson Rockefeller, attempted to work in this field. In 1955 [Page 160] Rockefeller served as Chairman of a Plans Coordinating Group9 which included the Under Secretary of State, the Director of CIA, and other high Government officials for “coordination of economic, psychological and political warfare and foreign information activities.” The PCG was later abolished on the recommendation of its Chairman.10

To review these efforts raises questions that should not be glossed over now that the need has once again been recognized. The successive failures to reach a satisfactory administrative arrangement for coordinating propaganda-political activities suggests there are limiting factors that must be taken into account in any future arrangement.

IV. The following limitations, it seems to me, have not always been recognized:

1. Propaganda-political warfare cannot be isolated and administered as a separate part of the policy machinery of government. It must be integral to policies and programs in the planning stage and in every stage of implementation. To treat it separately runs two risks: By failing to take proper account of U.S. policies, it may inadvertently do great damage; or, more likely, by being ignored or overridden, it proves totally ineffectual.

The problems of propaganda-political warfare raised by the Soviet action in sealing off West (or East) Berlin illustrates this dilemma. It would have been perfectly possible to stimulate strong public reaction in Berlin as well as in East and West Germany. Citizen groups might have been induced to tear down sections of the wall. Uprisings in East Germany could possibly have been provoked. But such a free wheeling approach to propaganda-political warfare would have clashed head on with U.S. policy which was endeavoring to keep the German situation from flaring out of control.

Failing this approach in Germany, propaganda-political warfare could achieve only limited successes elsewhere. The United States lacks the disciplined cadres available to the Soviets which are capable of being turned on and off at a signal.

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2. The basic nature of the propaganda-political warfare between U.S. and U.S.S.R. results in an uneven contest. The conduct of propaganda-political warfare by the U.S. is very much limited by what we really mean to do. We lack the flexibility of the Soviets. We hesitate to rouse false hopes or false fears among allies and neutrals. Remembering the experience of Hungary, we are reluctant to stir unrest and uprisings within the Soviet bloc for fear that we will be called upon to go to the rescue. The Soviets, on the other hand, do not hesitate to play on the free world’s every vulnerability. They summon their partisans to acts of sabotage, terrorism and political uprising without moral obligation to back them directly.

3. U.S. conduct is limited by its open communications system. The Soviets can wage one type of political-propaganda campaign on one front and another on a second. Their domestic audience hears a different story from their foreign audience. There is almost sacrosanct communication within the official apparatus of the Soviet system.

U.S. Government, on the other hand, must reckon with a press which serves as a vigilant intelligence system whose loyalty is to a different set of values than the propaganda-political warfare interests of the nation. “News” is a commodity which can comprise the government’s deepest secrets—the press alone serves as judge.

As a result, U.S. gambits in the propaganda-political warfare are frequently checkmated by our own players. The decision to delay underground nuclear testing after the Soviets had resumed was effectively neutralized by the press’ explanation that the only reason for the delay was to “maximize” opposition of world public opinion against the Soviets. (This explanation, it should be added, was made freely available by the politicians in Congress who have their own problems of propaganda-political warfare back home.)

4. Finally, the U.S. government is limited in the uses for which it can mobilize non-governmental groups. Much has been freely advocated about employing the resources of labor unions, businesses and others who have dealings abroad. But these groups, by and large, are suspicious of attempts to make them into official organs of propaganda and intrigue. Any large scale effort at such recruitment, except on the most carefully defined terms, is apt to be counter-productive.

V. Recognizing these limitations, the U.S. government still has urgent need to integrate propaganda-political warfare more fully into the formulation and conduct of foreign policy. The so-called “P factor” (C.D. Jackson’s innovation) should be an important item on the checklist of policy makers in every related activity of government. This “extra dimension” to policy needs to be constantly drummed into the consciousness of those who must execute policy in the field.

The “P factor” must be rescued from the faint derision it often receives from the diplomats and the military strategists. Its present [Page 162] importance could not be more obvious. Policy makers, for example, could conceivably execute a faultless series of diplomatic and military moves in defense of Berlin, only to lose the city because of defeats in the propaganda-political warfare.

The basic strategy directives of propaganda-political warfare must emanate from the top of government rather than emerge in harum-scarum fashion down the line. These directives need to be few in number, simple and clear-cut in expression. Ideally, they should be enunciated by the President himself after deliberation in the National Security Council.

Once adopted, they should serve as general guidelines to U.S. officials in Washington and abroad. Following these guidelines, the State Department would regularly send out “talking papers” to our representatives abroad which take account of the propaganda-political warfare factors in a current situation. The guidelines should be broad enough to provide direction for the various representatives and agents of the U.S. government abroad. They should also be capable of adaptation to provide useful information to private citizens and groups working abroad.

(See Appendix11 for more specific suggestions).


1. Appointment of a Special Assistant to the Secretary of State to “coordinate and supervise” propaganda-political warfare is, I believe, unfeasible and unwise. Administratively, he would cut across the statutory authority vested in the Directors of USIA and CIA. He would have vague and unsupported responsibility in areas of policy guidance now belonging to the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and the Director of the Office of Intelligence Research. The field is already cluttered with overlapping hegemonies. It would not be clarified by setting up still another high-level “coordinator” who would have neither the staff nor the necessary powers to do his job. The inter-departmental task force he is supposed to head would not likely draw on sufficiently high ranking agency representatives to be able to implement any agreements it might reach.

2. Quite apart from his contribution to administrative anarchy, such a Special Assistant might prove actually harmful to the conduct of foreign policy. Standing apart from the chain of command, he would be tempted to justify his existence by peddling “gimmicks” for waging propaganda-political warfare. Alternatively, he would grow reconciled to serving as the whipping-boy for the government’s continued failure to deal with this problem.

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3. Better coordination of propaganda-political warfare can only be achieved by a better working relationship among those who are primarily charged with responsibility in this area. It would be a mistake to return to the excessively formalistic arrangements of the Psychological Strategy Board or the Operations Coordinating Board. These groups became so enmeshed in formal agenda, voluminous staff studies and rituals that they lacked the capacity to respond to urgent needs. In their place I would suggest the formation of an ad hoc working group chaired by the Deputy Under Secretary of State and including the appropriate Assistant Secretaries of State and agency representatives. For particular projects the acting chairmanship could be delegated to one of the other members. An assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary could act as expediter for this working group, serving not as a senior official but only on the authority of his boss. The group’s value would lie in the speed and flexibility of its working relations.

4. An improved flow of ideas about propaganda-political warfare might also come from better use of already existing institutions within the Government. These include in the State Department the Policy Planning Staff, the Policy Guidance Staff in the Bureau of Public Affairs, and the Soviet Counter Propaganda Committee now located in the Office of Intelligence Research. There are similar groups already at work within USIA and CIA. No Special Assistant, working alone, could hope to duplicate their potential for creative thinking in this field.

5. Better ways should be devised to make certain that political-propaganda problems do not get neglected at the very highest levels of government. The Tuesday Lunch Group, which brings together the second-tier officials, should keep the “P factor” more regularly under survey. Needless to add, it should be a regular part of NSC deliberations.

I can only reiterate that the effort to “orchestrate” governmental activities in propaganda-political warfare will succeed only when there are clear and firm directives emanating from the top which are sustained by clear and firm policies. It is not a matter of turning this business over to a medicine man—or, for that matter, a beady-eyed Psychological warrior. It will take the energy and insight of the President himself to accomplish anything really significant.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files, 511.00/11–961. Confidential. Cater sent the memorandum to Rusk under a November 8 note on Wesleyan University letterhead, in which he wrote: “I have perhaps overstretched your invitation to think freshly about the problems of propaganda-political warfare. But here is the result. While I have been negative about the job as specified, I hope that my other suggestions are more positive.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files, 511.00/11–861) Cater also sent a copy of the memorandum to Battle under a November 9 note. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files, 511.00/11–961) Battle sent copies of Cater’s memorandum to Murrow, U. Alexis Johnson, Bohlen, McGhee, and Tubby under a November 14 note, indicating that Rusk “would like to have you read this” and meet. (National Archives, RG 306, Director’s Subject Files, 1961, Entry UD WW 142, Box 7, Government Agencies—State Department of, 1961 Aug.–Dec.)
  2. See Document 51.
  3. The construction of the Berlin Wall began in August after the border was closed.
  4. September 1–6.
  5. See Document 47 and footnote 2 thereto.
  6. On October 31, Khrushchev announced the detonation of a 50-megaton bomb at the 22nd Communist Party Congress in Moscow. For information, see Howard Simons, “K Says Bomb Exceeded 50 Megatons by ‘Mistake’,” The Washington Post, November 1, 1961, pp. A1, A12.
  7. In an April 4, 1951, directive, sent to the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and Director of Central Intelligence, Truman established the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB). For the text of the directive, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. I, National Security Affairs; Foreign Economic Policy, Document 16. See also Foreign Relations, 1950–1955, The Intelligence Community, 1950–1955, Document 60. For the text of the public directive, dated June 20, 1951, see Public Papers: Truman, 1951, pp. 341–342.
  8. On September 2, 1953, Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10483, establishing the Operations Coordinating Board (OCB), based on recommendations made in the report of the Committee on International Information Activities. For the text of the Executive Order and a White House press release, see Department of State Bulletin, September 28, 1953, pp. 420–421. Eisenhower also outlined additional functions of the OCB in a September 2 memorandum to Lay; the memorandum is printed in Foreign Relations, 1950–1955, The Intelligence Community, 1950–1955, Document 158. The Committee’s June 30 report is printed in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. II, Part 2, National Security Affairs, pp. 1795–1874. Executive Order 10920, issued on February 18, 1961, formally abolished the OCB. For the text of the Executive Order and President Kennedy’s statement regarding it, see Department of State Bulletin, March 6, 1961, p. 345.
  9. In a March 3, 1955, memorandum to Eisenhower, Director of the Bureau of the Budget Rowland Hughes recommended that a Planning Coordination Group (PCG) be created, within the framework of the OCB, with Rockefeller as its chair. The memorandum is printed in Foreign Relations, 1950–1955, The Intelligence Community, 1950–1955, Document 210. On March 10, 1955, Eisenhower, in a letter to Rockefeller, established the PCG. For additional information, see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. XIX, National Security Policy, Document 16.
  10. Rockefeller made this recommendation, based on the input of the other members of the PCG, following the Group’s conclusion that the PCG would not be able to accomplish its objectives related to the coordination of economic, psychological, and political warfare and information activities. In a December 14 memorandum to Hoover, Rockefeller stated the Group’s recommendation to abolish the PCG as of December 31, 1955. ( Foreign Relations, 1950–1955, The Intelligence Community, 1950–1955, Document 246)
  11. Attached but not printed is the 4-page appendix.