- - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OSS OPERATION BLACK MAIL: ONE WOMAN’S COVERT WAR AGAINST THE IMPERIAL JAPANESE ARMY

By Ann Todd

Naval University Press, $27.95, 258 pages

Black propaganda is one of the more ticklish weapons of the intelligence profession. Put simply, it means lying to an adversary to attack the morale not only of his battlefield fighters, but also his supporters back home — which means civilians.

Black propaganda boils down to the art of telling believable lies. As stated by an OSS officer quoted in Ann Todd’s incisive — and highly delightful — book, “The key to black propaganda is to do as much truth as possible, and just bend it a little at the end. Just put a little hook in it.”

Ms. Todd’s book revolves around a remarkable woman named Elizabeth “Betty” McIntosh, a sometime journalist who joined the Office of Strategic Services at the outset of World War II. Having lived in the Far East, she was assigned to work in OSS “Morale Operations” (a euphemism for propaganda) in the China-Burma-India theater.

“MO” is a tactic that stands as a major OSS wartime contribution, and that has proved most useful in its postwar progeny, the Central Intelligence Agency. Many OSS techniques withstood the test of time.

Using MO against the Japanese was especially difficult because the concept of “bushido” forbade members of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) from surrendering, which meant both personal and familial shame.

So rather than target foot soldiers, the OSS worked to convince families that the fighting was going poorly for the men on the front, who lacked food, clothing and medical care. The goal was to hurt home front morale.

The IJA permitted men to send postcards home. So Allied forces managed to grab thousands of such cards as battlefield debris and turned them over to Betty McIntosh and company.

What the soldiers wrote was erased, and replaced with messages with the themes: “The Japanese army in Burma was not well-equipped and they were being defeated. U.S. bombers passed overhead daily for mass bombings in Japan troops were disturbed by rumors of strikes on the home front and government upsets [and] the war was lost.”

The altered cards were slipped into Japanese field post offices and sent along. Their impact? One downside of MO is that measuring the impact was nigh impossible.

Incoming mail was intercepted and edited. A soldier at the front would receive letters “telling him his children, evacuated to a county village, were dangerously ill owing to the inadequate care and food” being provided by the government. The object “was merely to shake the soldier’s nerves, make him hate the war.”

A recurring theme was that equipment shortages on the front were caused by strikes and by the failure of ally Germany to provide promised equipment.

Contrasts were drawn between American and Japanese soldiers. Many of the latter had been away from home for years. Bogus messages told them that the Americans were given two months of home leave after one year at the front, that they were well-supplied, and “live a luxurious life incompatible to the jungle.”

Rumors were a major MO weapon. The Soviets were massing hordes of Cossack troops to sweep down from Manchuria, led by a Japanese-hating field marshal who longed to invade and gain revenge for a past defeat. The Japanese Communist Party had 300,000 members ready to join the Soviets. And if the Americans won the war, “they would prevent the birth of Japanese babies by castrating all Japanese men or sending them to exile on distant islands.”

A former U.S. ambassador to Japan was quoted (falsely) as saying, “The only good way to deal with the Japanese is to kill them.”

One of Ms. McIntosh’s ploys was creation of a “Hindu sage” who based his predictions of “fire and doom” on the supposed alignment of five planets. U.S. air raids shortly thereafter would give credence to his contrived forecasts.

In another operation, the OSS obtained 500 captured Japanese rifles and altered them so that “they would explode in the operator’s face when fired.” Next: circulation of a rumor about “shoddy workmanship” back home.

Late in the war the OSS struck against the Japanese “no surrender” rule. Ms. McIntosh’s section forged formal orders authorizing surrender “when soldiers [are] hopelessly outnumbered too ill to fight.”

But how to circulate the “order?” Ms. McIntosh’s solution: kill a courier and plant the documents on him, “so that his comrades would find them with his body.”

Postwar, Ms. McIntosh married an OSS colleague, worked briefly for Voice of America, then served with CIA from 1958 until retirement in 1973. She died in 2015. Ms. Todd first interviewed her for a doctoral dissertation, and OSS documents enabled her to flesh out a readable book that is a tribute to an inventive “woman of intelligence” and an important OSS success story.

Joseph Goulden writes frequently on intelligence and military affairs.


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