secrecy {fragments}

~ musings on secrecy ~

Archive for the ‘intelligence’ Category


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into the history of the Psychological Strategy Board through the CIA’s CREST system, I’m amazed at the richness of historical documents and especially how they provide a snapshot of post-WWII ideology.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

Approximate History: The PSB and Black Projects

For the past several years, one of my side research projects has been rummaging through the deep archive to discover the role of the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) in black projects such as BLUEBIRD, ARTICHOKE, perhaps even MKULTRA. Generally speaking, these projects involved research and development into “brainwashing,” interrogation and assassination techniques, propaganda and “messaging,” drug testing on a variety of animals and people (especially LSD 25 & 41), as well as exploration of novel plants and technologies to affect sleep, behavior, and mood. In part, I credit Christopher Simpson’s research on the PSB in his Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960 for piquing my interest.

Per Truman Directive 128, the PSB was established in June, 1951

for the formulation and promulgation, as guidance to the departments and agencies responsible for psychological operations, of over-all national psychological objectives, policies and programs, and for the coordination and evaluation of the national psychological effort.

PSB membership included the “Undersecretary of State, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and the Director of Central Intelligence, or, in their absence, their appropriate designees, and “an appropriate representative of the head of each such other department or agency of the Government as may, from time to time, be determined by the Board.” The PSB was abolished in September, 1953 and its activities transferred to the Eisenhower administration’s Operations Coordinating Board by way of Executive Order 10483.

PSB’s records – many still classified – are split between the Truman and Eisenhower presidential libraries, but also appear in spades within the CIA’s CREST collection; I’ve submitted Mandatory Declassification Reviews,  (one successful for the release of the PSB’s Biographic Register for the years 1952-53), filed appeals, become cozy with the collections at Truman and Eisenhower, traveled to NARA to use the CIA’s CREST collection, then used FOIA to obtain docs that weren’t full text .pdf in the online version. This week, all changed. The CIA made the Web version of CREST completely full text. No more FOIA to CIA or making a pilgrimage to NARA.

For an upcoming article to be published later this year, I’ll establish the PSB had knowledge of these black projects through its founding mission as it oversaw the “national psychological effort.” Three DCIs served on the Board, so their records, memos, and internal directives are essential in constructing the history of the PSB. At this critical point in the research process, access is everything. As I sift through and cross check the Black Vault MKULTRA collection (records obtained by John Marks and donated to the National Security Archive after his FOIA battle and completion of the groundbreaking 1979 The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and Mind Control) and comparing documents with the CREST collection, certain patterns are already appearing. Some documents are indeed duplicates between the two collections, but many are not.

In 1977, CIA located 18 cartons of documents on Bluebird and Artichoke. At the time, CIA determined the “newly discovered materials failed to reveal any information which would contradict or change that information previously furnished to investigating bodies.”*  While this may be good news for researchers like me who hope to reconstruct the history of the PSB, CIA, and clandestine projects,** it doesn’t imply the full story is told. New associations can now be made with this open access, ones that reclaim history and voice.


* The “investigating bodies” CIA refers to are the

  • Rockefeller Commission (June 1975)
  • Kennedy Commission hearings (Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Subcommittee on Health), September 10, 12, and November 7, 1975 (and its report, Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Human-Use Experimentation Programs of the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency
  • The mothership of all hearings, the 1976 Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, commonly referred to as the Church hearings.
  • Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (1977), Project MKULTRA, the CIA’s Program of Research in Behavioral Modification

** It was revealed during the Kennedy hearings (Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Subcommittee on Health 1975, 280) that former CIA DCI Richard M. Helms ordered project files destroyed.

Written by S.

January 18, 2017 at 7:18 pm

Integrity of Info / Fact Checking / “Fake News”

With the election results now in, what is termed “fake news”  is big news lately. The Washington Post recently posted a guide titled The Fact Checker’s Guide for Detecting Fake News. Poynter has a guide; HuffPo has a cheat sheet too. Consortium News weighed in on the matter, and so did OpEd News. Facebook now has assistance from Snopes,, Politifact, ABC News, and AP to “make reporting hoaxes easier and disrupt the financial incentives of fake news spammers.”  This focus is fine and good, but what are we really talking about when we discuss fake news?

From where I sit as a former academic librarian, now college instructor and scholar, “fake news” has been with us a very long time in the guise of propaganda and its various forms, even seeping into the territory of information warfare and conspiracy theory building (see my Lexicon  and Goldman & Maret for definitions). Moreover, fake news is deeply intertwined with critical/analytical thinking and types of literacy (critical media literacy, data literacy, global critical media literacy, information, media-information literacy, news literacy, and research literacy). More importantly, librarians and teachers have been consistently – actively – involved in teaching literacies at the ground level from public libraries, academic libraries through the educational system  for decades. 

There’s oodles to say on the subject of news fakery, such as how specific literacies intersect and mesh with critical thinking skills and analytical reasoning, as well as  the long scholarly history of  fields and disciplines involved in confronting “fake news” (albeit using a different term and concept), such as journalism, media ecology, sociology (critical information studies, sociology of knowledge, social constructivism). Here I bracket a deeper discussion to share a few things from a course I recently taught at the School of Information, San Jose State University titled titled INFO 281-14, Integrity of Information.

Below I share a few notes from the first week of the course and a checklist I developed with the brave students who took the course with me the first time out; perhaps this info will shift thinking away from “fake” to more serious and significant issues on what I think of as conditions of information.


Abbreviated first week notes:

U.S. federal agencies first began using the concept of integrity with information quality and security with the 1995 Paperwork Reduction Act, P.L. 104-13, often referred to as the PRA. Described, but not defined in Sec. 3504 (B) of the PRA as “the integrity, objectivity, impartiality, utility, and confidentiality of information collected for statistical purposes,” by its association with these adjectives, integrity of information has a link to the roots of integrity as complete, whole, perhaps trustworthy information. In a new book titled Intelligence and Information Policy for National Security: Key Terms and Concepts that I co-edited with Dr. Jan Goldman, I included several uses of the information integrity/integrity of information concept (II). Below I briefly share these definitions so you can get a feel for how integrity is related to accuracy and credibility of information.

First, the Office of Management and Budget (2001) or OMB, while it does not define integrity, describes its features and associates the II concept with information quality throughout the life cycle of information.1 OMB directed federal agencies to develop guidelines and principles on information quality:

It is crucial that information Federal agencies disseminate meets these guidelines. In this respect, the fact that the Internet enables agencies to communicate information quickly and easily to a wide audience not only offers great benefits to society, but also increases the potential harm that can result from the dissemination of information that does not meet basic information quality guidelines.

Secondly, the U.S. Department of Defense Center for Development of Security Excellence (2012) took the step of defining II as

The state that exists when information is unchanged from its source and has not been accidentally or intentionally modified, altered, or destroyed.

We can further enlarge our view of II through the remarks of Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper (2015) in the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community. You might have seen Director Clapper’s statements in the news:

In the future, however, we might also see more cyber operations that will change or manipulate electronic information in order to compromise its integrity (i.e., accuracy and reliability) instead of deleting it or disrupting access. (p.3)

Successful cyber operations targeting the integrity of information would need to overcome any institutionalized checks and balances designed to prevent the manipulation of data, for example, market monitoring and clearing functions in the financial sector. (p.4)

Note that Clapper’s comments associate information integrity/integrity of information with accuracy, manipulation, and reliability. Clapper’s highlighting of these features suggests that information, especially in the online sphere, can be altered as to become disinformation, lies, misinformation, and/or propaganda; in other words, information is tampered with in order to present a specific perspective and to actively influence and/or mislead the reader by either omitting important details or flat out manipulating them.


1 OMB (2000) defines the information life cycle as “the stages through which information passes, typically characterized as creation or collection, processing, dissemination, use, storage, and disposition.”


Center for Development of Security Excellence. (2012). Glossary of security terms and definitions. U.S. Department of Defense, November 2012. Retrieved from

Clapper, J.R. (2015).Statement for the record: Worldwide threat assessment of the US intelligence community.Office of the Director of National Intelligence, February 26. Senate Armed Services Committee. Retrieved from

Office of Management and Budget. (2001). Guidelines for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of Information disseminated by federal agencies. Retrieved from


Here’s a copy of a research checklist I developed out of the course: Process_checklist

Written by S.

December 12, 2016 at 6:44 pm

New Book

Written by S.

September 10, 2016 at 12:16 am

9/11 and Recreancy

The upcoming thirteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks brings with it new commentary on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States’ (9/11 Commission) recommendations. The anniversary also brings with it a call to declassify and further investigate claims of alleged Saudi involvement in the attacks. These claims were initially made in the 2002 House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reports (often referred to as the Joint Inquiry).

To this end, my 2013 article Freudenburg beyond borders: Recreancy, atrophy of vigilance, bureaucratic slippage, and the tragedy of 9/11* deconstructs these two official accounts by way of sociologist Bill Freudenburg’s theory of recreancy, or institutional failure, as it applies to the 9/11 disaster.


* First appeared in Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, 21, pp.201- 223 (Gedenkschrift in honor of William R. Freudenburg, a life in social research, Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, 21).

Written by S.

August 19, 2014 at 12:22 am