secrecy {fragments}

~ musings on secrecy ~

Newly Declassified CREST Doc

In a 2017 FOIA to CIA, I requested a full declassification of CIA-RDP86M00886R002800010009-5 (found in CREST). This “sanitized” correspondence between former DCI William J. Casey and an unnamed individual (dated June 16 and 19, 1984) caught my eye for its detailed discussion of propaganda and “semantic pollution.” After reading the original redacted CREST doc, I wanted to learn the identity of the writer of the “Dear Bill” letter and their relationship with DCI Casey.

The fully declassified letter reveals the identity of the author as Emeritus Prof. Aaron Levenstein. Dr. Levenstein taught at City College of NY and Baruch College, and is the author of Escape to Freedom:The Story of the International Rescue Committee.  It appears that Casey and Levenstein were World War II colleagues from the War Economics Division, Research Institute Of America Inc.

In his June 16th, 1984 nine-page letter to Casey, Levenstein writes:

It is my firm conviction, as I have said to Leo on many occasions, that if we can’t resolve the problem of propaganda – conscious and unconscious – in this age of mass communications, democracy will not be able to survive. The basic premise of a free society is that, in the long run, people will reach the right decisions and select the right leadership if they have access to truthful information. Democracy will die if the current wave of “semantic pollution” cannot be conquered. (p.1)

The “Leo” mentioned in the letter is most likely attorney Leo M. Cherne, executive director and editor-in-chief of the War Economics Division, Research Institute of America publications and “a close friend of William Casey.” Cherne later served as a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) and later its Vice Chair. He was also involved in the “Green Book” affair along with Casey in 1975.

In the letter, Levenstein cites Orwell’s seminal Politics and the English Language and sets about outlining the machinations of propaganda and techniques in “past studies” and their “modification.” The letter is a veritable (communication) scholars’ who’s who, with mentions of Harold Lasswell, Paul Lazarsfeld, Leonard Doob, Kurt Lewin, and William Schramm. Included in Levenstein’s letter is a copy of Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan’s article from Policy Review (fall 1978; excerpted here), titled “Words and Foreign Policy,” which discusses Orwell’s essay and Dr. Fred C. Iklé’s concept of “semantic infiltration” (p.70).

In battling propaganda, Levenstein writes,

Of course we must not interfere with the great tradition embodied in the First Amendment. But that very amendment is based on the premise that the health of the Republic requires that there be competition in the marketplace of ideas. If we have reached a point where there is only uniformity of opinion in the marketplace – not by virtue of conspiracy, I repeat, but inherent in the very mechanisms of mass communication  –  then those who believe in preserving America’s tradition of pluralism must undertake new initiatives. (p.8)

Levenstein recommends several policy actions: “convening some of the people who participated in the efforts to inoculate Americans against the Nazi propaganda during the 1930s and the War – semanticists like S.I. Hayakawa and sociologists Seymour Martin Lipset and Nathan Glazer“*; a “thorough analysis of what is happening in our mass communications system”; and reinvigorating the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, which like its predecessor would be conducted by private citizens and would function in the interests of American democracy and without partisan bias” (p.9). Levenstein’s recommendations – made in 1984 – are sound words for our time of conspiracy, lies, distortion – and propaganda.

On June 19th, 1984, DCI Casey forwarded Levenstein’s letter to then Deputy Director of Intelligence Robert M. Gates and recommended Prof. Levenstein “in formulating the project you and I talked about.”

It is interesting to note the letters Levenstein and Casey exchanged were during the era of the Reagan administration’s Project Truth and public diplomacy programs.


*For more on inoculation theory, see Google Scholar.


Absher, Kenneth Michael, Michael C. Desch, and Roman Popadiuk. Privileged and Confidential: The Secret History of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

Written by S.

August 28, 2018 at 3:11 am

Issue 2

Secrecy and Society issue #2 is finally published. Among the articles included in the issue is my article on the Psychological Strategy Board.

Written by S.

February 20, 2018 at 10:20 pm

CFP / Secrecy and Society

Call for Papers for volume 1, issue 2 of Secrecy and Society on the subject of secrecy and authoritarianism.

This call for papers is a response to resurgent political trends, especially in the wake of recent world events and social movements. In Issue 2 of Secrecy and Society, we address the subject of secrecy and authoritarianism, including how ideology and popular beliefs are constituted through knowledge claims such as “alternative facts,” disinformation, disingenuous rhetoric, “populist conspiracy theory,” “post-truth,” and propaganda.

We welcome papers that also propose novel theories and methods that conceptualize these subjects. The inspiration for this special section is Richard Hofstadter’s paranoid style in politics, history as conspiracy, and ideas on anti-intellectualism. We encourage scholars, including doctoral students, from around the globe to submit their work.

In addition to papers on the theme of secrecy and authoritarianism, submissions that address any aspect of secrecy and society will be considered.

CFP is here.

Written by S.

February 25, 2017 at 1:07 am


As I delve more fully into the history of the Psychological Strategy Board through the CIA’s CREST system, I’m amazed at the richness of historical documents and especially how they provide a snapshot of post-WWII ideology. One document in particular titled Preliminary Staff Meeting National Psychological Strategy Board (NPSB) is a record of a May 8, 1951 meeting with “General W. B. Smith, General Magruder, Admiral Stevens, Assistant Secretary Barrett, Mr. Allan Dulles, Mr. Frank Wisner, Mr. Philip Davidson, Mr. Max Millikan, and Mr. H. A. Winston, Recorder.” Among the topics discussed at the meeting was the purpose and mission of the new Psychological Board, covert and overt psychological warfare, NSC 10/2, the VOA (Voice of America), World Bank loans and the State Department.

Around page 3 (count when scrolling as there aren’t assigned page numbers), Allen Dulles asks General Walter B. Smith to recount the “lie detector story he told yesterday,”

General Smith: We had a man who refused to take the lie detector test. They told him that his chief took it, Smith took it, Dulles took it, and that he ought to take it. Still he objected. Finally he said, ‘Well, if you force me to, I’ll tell you why I don’t want to take it.’

Fast forward, the gist of Smith’s story is the “man” didn’t want to be subjected to a polygraph as he had cheated on his wife during the war and might be asked about being faithful. What follows is a revealing statement from Gen. Smith regarding sex, loyalty, and security that ends with a question:

In these cases I have only one question: that we get these name checks. You would be surprised at the number of elderly gentlemen who come to work for the Government and whose lady visitors slip away from the house early in the morning. The only question is, are there any homosexuals involved? (p.4)

The minutes reflect no response to Gen. Smith’s question, but instead shift to the business of locating a (pro forma) director of the fledgling PSB:

Assume: First, the director is a front. You can get planning and operations in the absence of a director. (p.5)


Ah, to be a fly on the wall.

Written by S.

February 20, 2017 at 8:40 pm

Japanese-American Internment

Today is the somber anniversary of Executive Order 9066  (February 19, 1942) that led to the institutionalized, forced roundup (“mass migration” as mentioned in the film below) and detention of Japanese-American citizens. Marking the 75th anniversary, Russ Kick @ Memory Hole 2 created an accessible list from NARA records of the approximately 104,000 individuals sent to internment camps.



In honor of these individuals, I post a work begun in library school during the reparations and redress movement titled The Desert Years: An Annotated Bibliography of Japanese-American lnternment in Arizona and the United States during World War ll. The foreword is written by my mother-in-law Monica Itoi Sone, whose name appears on the roster with her siblings, parents, and future husband.

The Desert Years is mentioned in an online exhibition on internment camps in Arizona, but this is the first time the bibliography appears in digital format. I scanned two versions of the bibliography from a tightly bound issue and hope it serves as a memory tool.

The Desert Years (color scan) | The Desert Years (black/white scan)

Written by S.

February 20, 2017 at 12:08 am