the War of the Mind - the Studies and Observations Group's use of "black Propaganda" in Vietnam
The Military Assistance Group, Vietnam and the Special Operations Group, later renamed Studies and Observations Group, was a highly classified U.S. Special Special Operation Forces Unit. It was created on January 24, 1964 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was made up of personnel from the United States Army, Navy Seals, Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency, and United States Marine Corp Reconnaissance units, making it the largest special forces group created since the OSS in World War II. Although the SOG was a branch of the MACV, it was ultimately under the direct control of the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA) and its staff at the Pentagon. This is because the MACV could not conduct operations outside of South Vietnam (Myth Merchant Films, pars. 1-2). The purpose of the SOG in Vietnam was to conduct strategic reconnaissance missions in South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In addition to these reconnaissance missions, the SOG also carried out the capture of enemy prisoners, rescued downed pilots and POWs, and conducted psychological operations throughout Southeast Asia ("MACV-SOG: A Short History," par. 1).
Along with conducting reconnaissance and rescue operations, the SOG also waged psychological warfare against the people of North Vietnam. SOG OP-33, or the SOG's Psychological Studies Branch, used "black propaganda" as a means to increase tensions between the people of North Vietnam and China by reinforcing the cynical distrust that the North Vietnamese had towards China.
"Project Humidor" was one just one undertaking of SOG OP-33. The purpose of this project was to create an imaginary anti-Communist resistance group called the Sacred Sword of the Patriot League (SSPL), and use it to indoctrinate North Vietnamese civilians into believing that life under the Patriot League was far superior to life under Communist control. In order to fulfill the project's objective, South Vietnamese commandos would use fast patrol boats to capture fisherman from the North Vietnamese coast and transport them to the island of Cu Lao Cham, the SSPL's base of operations. This island was chosen for the SSPL's base because the surrounding landscape looked identical to that of North Vietnam, thus making the captives think that there were still in their own country.
On the island, the captives would be kept for at least a month and would receive medical and dental care. They would also receive ample amounts of food, as some of the captives were suffering from malnutrition. Along with this care, they would also be slowly introduced to the beliefs of the resistance, such as the philosophy of receiving equal pay according to their contribution and ability, concepts that had been suppressed by the Communists.
After the period of a month, the captives were given a gift package and would be released to return to their own village. These packages were filled with things that the SOG knew were in short supply in the North, including fishhooks, sewing supplies, and medicine. These gift packages would eventually be confiscated by Communist security forces, and the recipient questioned, in which he would tell about the presence of the SSPL (Appy 90-91).
Poison pen letters
Another "black propaganda program carried out by SOG OP-33 was the Poison Pen Letters program. This program served as an attempt to incriminate or draw suspicion toward North Vietnamese officials by fabricating evidence of espionage and disloyalty. These letters would be written in Saigon and sent to North Vietnam, through addresses in cities all over the world, namely Hong Kong. Throughout the length of the program, the SOG sent out hundreds of these letters a month to officials that SOG analysts had found criminal evidence against.
An example of a poison pen letter would be a letter that had a Paris return address but a Hong Kong postmark. This letter would be noticed by the censors, who then would treat the letter with chemicals to make sure no hidden messages were written on it. After such a letter was treated with these chemicals a hidden message would appear, telling the recipient that an agent had been captured and that they were to take over the captured agent's mission. Sometimes the agents that were mentioned in these letters were actual agents that had been captured or that were missing in action. This would further incriminate the recipient and would instill paranoia among North Vietnamese officials, making them think that the SSPL was more numerous than they had originally thought (Black Propaganda, pars. 8-13).
Chase Newell, 3/19/2016