05:38 GMT21 October 2020
Listen Live
    Get short URL

    Newly declassified files reveal how the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, instructed agents in the art of bribery and blackmail to achieve major covert objectives.

    A declassified US intelligence field manual, prepared under the direction of "Wild Bill" Donovan, Head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II predecessor to CIA, explains to new recruits how to use bribery and blackmail to make friends and influence people.

    Dubbed the Morale Operations Field Manual, the document served as the "basic doctrine" for OSS psychological warfare training, and sets out "all measures of subversion other than physical" used to create "confusion and division" and "undermine the morale and the political unity of the enemy." Suggestions include using bribery and blackmail to start riots and trigger coups, and getting individuals addicted to drugs.

    "The OSS will employ the following implements for the accomplishment of objectives: contact with and manipulation of individuals and underground groups; agent provocateurs; bribery and blackmail; rumors; forgery, including the writing of poison pen letters, forging intelligence documents, falsification of enemy documents and periodicals, printing of false orders to the enemy; "freedom stations" masquerading as the voice of groups resistant within enemy and enemy-occupied countries," the document reads.

    Bribery and blackmail are said to be "extremely effective" in many cases, although both are deemed dangerous. While bribery could be used to target "political and military leaders, newspaper editors and reporters, radio broadcasters, heads of business houses, religious, professional and labor leaders, police, petty officials, customs officers and sentries," it was seen as likely to expose agents, since any bribed individual was "apt to be an unscrupulous person willing to work for either side."

    © CC0 / Pixabay
    "Bribery and blackmail must be used with great caution…they must be adjusted to the social customs and expectations of the recipient. In some areas of the world, bribery is almost as common as tipping in the US, but in other areas it is highly insulting," the authors explained.

    Manufacturing Dissent

    In a section titled "Provoking Rebellion or Coup d'Etat in a Satellite Country or Inducing Its Separation from the Axis" the manual advocates "inciting and carrying through" revolutions, and coup d'etats, although given the highly sensitive nature of these missions, "close consultation with the State Department may be necessary."

    The manual suggests bribery of local leaders and professional groups could convince them to become subversives, who would serve US objectives. The manual even suggests bribing officials and then revealing the bribes to enemy authorities as a way of eliminating troublesome individuals and spreading doubt and suspicion among authorities, or threatening to as a form of blackmail.

    "Once the initial bribe has been accepted, and evidence of such bribery has been obtained, the demands can become successively greater. Where possible, the reward should also be of a nature as to become increasingly indispensable to the recipient," the manual recommends.

    This could mean providing something other than money — food, medicine, drugs, clothes, alcohol, protection, favors, etc. In the instance of drugs, it may involve first inducing a "dependency in the individual" on the drug.

    The manual explains bribes should be covert and deniable, and advocates techniques still used today by intelligence agencies and organized crime alike — buying goods above their value or selling goods below it, deliberately losing bets, presenting people with expensive gifts or interest-free, and establishing "philanthropic" organizations as fronts. Furthermore, the best bribes relied on understanding and exploiting the recipient's "needs, weaknesses, grievances, fears, hopes, honesty, and integrity."

    Hush Money

    The manual's section on blackmail is short, reiterating much of the guidance offered in the bribery segment. After all, blackmail can be used "against the same targets" and for the same purposes as bribery — typical threats include the release of information about a target that may cause them harm. Even if the information was inaccurate, subjects could be made to believe the material was true, or made to appreciate convincing corresponding evidence could and would be fabricated.

    Still, blackmail should, the manual states, be based on legitimate intelligence on an individual's vulnerabilities — although it acknowledges there would often be occasions when "incriminating information" was difficult to secure, or when no such information existed. In such instances, the authors recommend creating or planting damaging information.

    Indeed, there are few subversive goals the manual's authors didn't think could be accomplished with bribery or blackmail, or both — the OSS believed everyone had a weakness, and it was an agent's duty to identify and exploit these shortcomings. Moreover, if those weaknesses couldn't be found, or didn't apparently exist, fabricating evidence or inducing drug dependencies would certainly do the trick.


    Lost, Not Found: Raft of CIA Files on Lee Harvey Oswald Has 'Gone Missing'
    CIA Files Reveal US Intelligence Used Psychics to Spy on Iran
    X-Files Declassified: A Trove of UFO-Related Info Released by CIA
    Secret Files: Untold Story of CIA Covert Operations in Tibet
    intelligence agencies, intelligence community, drug addiction, spying, blackmail, bribery, World War II, Office of Strategic Services, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), United States
    Community standardsDiscussion