Black propaganda is a form of propaganda intended to create the impression that it was created by those it is supposed to discredit. Black propaganda contrasts with grey propaganda, which does not identify its source, and white propaganda, which does not disguise its origins at all. It is typically used to vilify, embarrass, or misrepresent the enemy.
The major characteristic of black propaganda is that the people are not aware that someone is influencing them, and do not feel that they are being pushed in a certain direction. Black propaganda purports to emanate from a source other than the true source. This type of propaganda is associated with covert psychological operations. Sometimes the source is concealed or credited to a false authority and spreads lies, fabrications, and deceptions. Black propaganda is the "big lie", including all types of creative deceit. Black propaganda relies on the willingness of the receiver to accept the credibility of the source. If the creators or senders of the black propaganda message do not adequately understand their intended audience, the message may be misunderstood, seem suspicious, or fail altogether.
Governments conduct black propaganda for reasons that include: A) by disguising their direct involvement a government may be more likely to succeed in convincing an otherwise unbelieving target audience, and B) there are diplomatic reasons behind the use of black propaganda. Black propaganda is necessary to obfuscate a government's involvement in activities that may be detrimental to its foreign policies.
In the United Kingdom, the Political Warfare Executive operated a number of black propaganda radio stations. Gustav Siegfried Eins (GS1) was one of the first such stations—purporting to be a clandestine German station. The speaker, "Der Chef", purported to be a Nazi extremist, accusing Hitler and his henchmen of going soft. The station focused on alleged corruption and sexual improprieties of Nazi Party members.
Another example was the British radio station Soldatensender Calais, which purported to be a radio station for the German military. Under the direction of Sefton Delmer, a British journalist who spoke perfect Berliner German, Soldatensender Calais and its associated shortwave station, Kurzwellensender Atlantik , broadcast music, up-to-date sports scores, speeches of Adolf Hitler for "cover" and subtle propaganda.
Radio Deutschland was another radio station employed by the British during the war aimed and designed to undermine German morale and create tensions that would ultimately disrupt the German war effort. The station was broadcast on a frequency close on the radio dial to an actual German station. During the war most Germans actually believed that this station was in fact a German radio station and it even gained the recognition of Germany's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.
There were British black propaganda radio stations in most of the languages of occupied Europe as well as German and Italian. Most of these were based in the area around Bletchley Park and Woburn Abbey in Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire respectively.
Another possible example was a rumour that there had been a German attempt to land on British shores at Shingle Street, but it had been repulsed with large German casualties. This was reported in the American press, and in William L. Shirer's Berlin Diary but was officially denied. British papers, declassified in 1993, have suggested this was a successful example of British black propaganda to bolster morale in the UK, USA and occupied Europe.
Author James Hayward has proposed that the rumours, which were widely reported in the American press, were a successfully engineered example of black propaganda with an aim of ensuring American co-operation and securing lend lease resources by showing that the United Kingdom was capable of successfully resisting the might of the German Army.
German black propaganda usually took advantage of European racism and anti-Communism. For example, on the night of April 27, 1944 German aircraft under cover of darkness (and possibly carrying fake Royal Air Force markings) dropped propaganda leaflets on occupied Denmark. These leaflets used the title of Frihedsposten, a genuine Danish underground newspaper, and claimed that the "hour of liberation" was approaching. They instructed Danes to accept "occupation by Russian or specially trained American Negro soldiers" until the first disorders resulting from military operations were over.
The German Büro Concordia organisation operated several black propaganda radio stations (many of which pretended to broadcast illegally from within the countries they targeted).
The following message was distributed in black propaganda leaflets dropped by the Japanese over the Philippines in World War II. It was designed to turn Filipinos against the United States:
Guard Against Venereal Diseases
Lately there has been a great increase in the number of venereal diseases among our officers and men owing to prolific contacts with Filipino women of dubious character.
Due to hard times and stricken conditions brought about by the Japanese occupation of the islands, Filipino women were willing to offer themselves for a small amount of foodstuffs. It is advisable in such cases to take full protective measures by use of condoms, protective medicines, etc.; better still to hold intercourse only with wives, virgins, or women of respectable character.
Furthermore, in view of the increase in pro-American leanings, many Filipino women are more than willing to offer themselves to American soldiers, and because Filipinos have no knowledge of hygiene, disease carriers are rampant and due care must be taken.— US Army
Prior to, and during the Cold War, the Soviet Union used disinformation on multiple occasions. It also employed the technique during the Iranian hostage crisis that took place from 1979 until 1981. For strictly political purposes, and to show support for the hostages, Soviet diplomats at the United Nations vocally criticized the taking of the hostages. At this same time, Soviet "black" radio stations within Iran called the National Voice of Iran openly broadcast strong support for the hostage-takers in an effort to increase anti-American sentiment inside Iran. This was a clear use of black propaganda to make anti-American broadcasts appear as if they were originating from Iranian sources.
Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union effectively used the KGB's Service A of the First Chief Directorate in order to conduct its covert, or "black", "active measures". It was Service A that was responsible for clandestine campaigns that were targeted at foreign governments, public populations, as well as to influence individuals and specific groups that were hostile towards the Soviet government and its policies. The majority of their operations was actually conducted by other elements and directorates of the KGB. As a result, it was the First Chief Directorate that was ultimately responsible for the production of Soviet black propaganda operations.
By the 1980s, Service A consisted of nearly 120 officers whose responsibilities consisted of covert media placements, and controlled media to covertly introduce carefully manufactured information, disinformation, and slogans into the areas such as government, media, and religion of their targeted countries, namely the United States. Because both the Soviet Union and the KGB's involvements were not acknowledged and intentionally disguised, these operations are therefore classified as a form of black propaganda. The activities of Service A greatly increased during the period of the 1980s through the early 1990s presumably as the Soviet government fought to maintain control during the declining period of the Cold War.
Following the September 11 attacks against the United States, the Pentagon organized and implemented the Office of Strategic Influence in an effort to improve public support abroad, mainly in Islamic countries. The head of OSI was an appointed general, Pete Worden who maintained the mission of "circulating classified proposals calling for aggressive campaigns that use[d] not only the foreign media and the Internet, but also covert operations." Worden, as well as then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld planned for what they called "a broad mission ranging from 'black' campaigns that use[d] disinformation and other covert activities to 'white' public affairs that rely on truthful news releases." Therefore, OSI's operations could include black activities.
OSI's operations were to do more than public relations work, but included contacting and emailing media, journalist, and foreign community leaders with information that would counter foreign governments and organizations that are hostile to the United States. In doing so, the emails would be masked by using addresses ending with .com as opposed to using the standard Pentagon address of .mil. and hide any involvement of the US government and the Pentagon. The Pentagon is forbidden to conduct black propaganda operations within the American media, but is not prohibited for conducting these operations against foreign media outlets. The thought of conducting black propaganda operations and utilizing disinformation resulted in harsh criticism for the program that resulted in its closure in 2002.
The Cohen Plan was a document prepared by Brazilian military with the intention to simulate, for study purposes, a Jewish-Communist revolution in Brazil. Although it was a hypothetical situation, the plan was falsely attributed to the Communist International and used as the main political instrument for the establishment of a dictatorial fascist regime in Brazil, called Estado Novo.
On September 30, 1937, General Góes Monteiro, head of the Brazilian Army General Staff, reported through the radio, the discovery of a plan to overthrow President Getúlio Vargas. According to the general, the Cohen Plan, as it came to be called, had been jointly planned by the Brazilian Communist Party and by international Jewish organizations. The plan of course, didn't exist and it was a total fabrication by right wing military leaders, such as Captain Olímpio Mourão Filho.
The Cohen Plan was elaborated by Captain Olímpio Mourão Filho, then chief of staff of the Brazilian Nazi Party militia and head of his secret service. Curiously, the same captain Olímpio Mourão Filho, 27 years later would be the central figure in another extreme right-wing coup, the 1964 overthrown of democratically elected President João Goulart.
The name "Cohen" was given in reference to communist leader Bela Cohen, who had governed Hungary between March and July 1919 and whose actions was supposedly the inspiration for the Brazilian revolutionaries that were trying to overthrow the government.