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In the early 1980s, Nicaragua faced constant guerrilla warfare between the leftist Sandinista government and the Contra rebels. The U.S. government -- in its fight to stop the spread of communism in the Western Hemisphere -- secretly supported the Contra guerrillas with weapons and training.
The following document contains excerpts of an instruction manual provided by the CIA for guerrilla fighters. It includes detailed methods of gaining support through propaganda and selective violence.
CIA Manual: Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare
Guerrilla warfare is essentially a political war. Therefore, its area of operations exceeds the territorial limits of conventional warfare, to penetrate the political entity itself: the "political animal" that Aristotle defined.
In effect, the human being should be considered the priority objective in a political war. And conceived as the military target of guerrilla war, the human being has his most critical point in his mind. Once his mind has been reached, the "political animal" has been defeated, without necessarily receiving bullets.
Guerrilla warfare is born and grows in the political environment; in the constant combat to dominate that area of political mentality that is inherent to all human beings and which collectively constitutes the "environment" in which guerrilla warfare moves, and which is where precisely its victory or failure is defined.
This conception of guerrilla warfare as political war turns Psychological Operations into the decisive factor of the results. The target, then, is the minds of the population, all the population: our troops, the enemy troops and the civilian population.
This book is a manual for the training of guerrillas in psychological operations, and its application to the concrete case of the Christian and democratic crusade being waged in Nicaragua by the Freedom Commandos.
The purpose of this book is to introduce the guerrilla student to the psychological operations techniques that will be of immediate and practical value to him in guerrilla warfare. This section is introductory and general; subsequent sections will cover each point set forth here in more detail.
The nature of the environment of guerrilla warfare does not permit sophisticated psychological operations, and it becomes necessary for the chiefs of groups, chiefs of detachments and squadron leaders to have the ability to carry out, with minimal instructions from the higher levels, psychological action operations with the contacts that are thoroughly aware of the situation, i.e. the foundations.
Combatant, Propagandist Guerrillas
In order to obtain the maximum results from the psychological operations in guerrilla warfare, every combatant should be as highly motivated to carry out propaganda face to face as he is as a combatant. This means that the individual political awareness of the guerrilla of the reason for his struggle will be as acute as his ability to fight.
Such a political awareness and motivation is obtained through the dynamic of groups and self-criticism, as a standard method of instruction for the guerrilla training and operations. Group discussions raise the spirit and improve the unity of thought of the guerrilla squads and exercise social pressure on the weak members to carry out a better role in future training or in combative action. Self-criticism is in terms of one's contribution or defects in his contribution to the cause, to the movement, the struggle, etc.; and gives a positive individual commitment to the mission of the group.
The desired result is a guerrilla who can persuasively justify his actions when he comes into contact with any member of the People of Nicaragua, and especially with himself and his fellow guerrillas in dealing with the vicissitudes of guerrilla warfare. This means that every guerrilla will be persuasive in his face-to-face communication - propagandist - combatant - in his contact with the people; he should be able to give 5 or 10 logical reasons why, for example, a peasant should give him cloth, needle and thread to mend his clothes. When the guerrilla behaves in this manner, enemy propaganda will never succeed in making him an enemy in the eyes of the people. It also means that hunger, cold, fatigue and insecurity will have a meaning, psychologically, in the cause of the struggle due to his constant orientation.
Armed propaganda includes every act carried out, and the good impression that this armed force causes will result in positive attitudes in the population toward that force; and it does not include forced indoctrination. Armed propaganda improves the behavior of the population toward them, and it is not achieved by force.
This means that a guerrilla armed unit in a rural town will not give the impression that arms are their strength over the peasants, but rather that they are the strength of the peasants against the Sandinista government of repression. This is achieved through a close identification with the people, as follows: hanging up weapons and working together with them on their crops, in construction, in the harvesting of grains, in fishing, etc.; explanations to young men about basic weapons, e.g. giving them an unloaded weapon and letting them touch it, see it, etc.; describing in a rudimentary manner its operation; describing with simple slogans how weapons will serve the people to win their freedom; demanding the requests by the people for hospitals and education, reducing taxes, etc.
All these acts have as their goal the creation of an identification of the people with the weapons and the guerrillas who carry them, so that the population feels that the weapons are, indirectly, their weapon to protect them and help them in the struggle against a regime of oppression. Implicit terror always accompanies weapons, since the people are internally "aware" that they can be used against them, but as long as explicit coercion is avoided, positive attitudes can be achieved with respect to the presence of armed guerrillas within the population.
Armed Propaganda Teams
Armed Propaganda Teams (EPA) are formed through a careful selection of persuasive and highly motivated guerrillas who move about within the population, encouraging the people to support the guerrillas and put up resistance against the enemy. It combines a high degree of political awareness and the "armed" propaganda ability of the guerrillas toward a planned, programmed, and controlled effort.
The careful selection of the staff, based on their persuasiveness in informal discussions and their ability in combat, is more important than their degree of education or the training program. The tactics of the Armed Propaganda Teams are carried out covertly, and should be parallel to the tactical effort in guerrilla warfare. The knowledge of the psychology of the population is primary for the Armed Propaganda Teams, but much more intelligence data will be obtained from an EPA program in the area of operations.
Development and Control of the 'Front' Organizations
The development and control of "front" (or facade) organizations is carried out through subjective internal control at group meetings of "inside cadres," and the calculations of the time for the fusion of these combined efforts to be applied to the masses.
Established citizens -- doctors, lawyers, businessmen, teachers, etc., -- will be recruited initially as "Social Crusaders" in typically "innocuous" movements in the area of operations. When their "involvement" with the clandestine organization is revealed to them, this supplies the psychological pressure to use them as "inside cadres" in groups to which they already belong or of which they can be members.
Then they will receive instruction in techniques of persuasion over control of target groups to support our democratic revolution, through a gradual and skillful process. A cell control system isolates individuals from one another, and at the appropriate moment, their influence is used for the fusion of groups in a united national front.
Control of Meetings and Mass Assemblies
The control of mass meetings in support of guerrilla warfare is carried out internally through a covert commando element, bodyguards, messengers, shock forces (initiators of incidents), placard carriers (also used for making signals), shouters of slogans, everything under the control of the outside commando element.
When the cadres are placed or recruited in organizations such as labor unions, youth groups, agrarian organizations or professional associations, they will begin to manipulate the objectives of the groups. The psychological apparatus of our movement through inside cadres prepares a mental attitude which at the crucial moment can be turned into a fury of justified violence.
Through a small group of guerrillas infiltrated within the masses this can be carried out; they will have the mission of agitating by giving the impression that there are many of them and that they have a large popular backing. Using the tactics of a force of 200-300 agitators, a demonstration can be created in which 10,000-20,000 persons take part.
Support of Contacts with Their Roots in Reality
The support of local contacts who are familiar with the deep reality is achieved through the exploitation of the social and political weaknesses of the target society, with propagandist-combatant guerrillas, armed propaganda, armed propaganda teams, cover organizations and mass meetings.
The combatant-propagandist guerrilla is the result of a continuous program of indoctrination and motivation. They will have the mission of showing the people how great and fair our movement is in the eyes of all Nicaraguans and the world. Identifying themselves with our people, they will increase the sympathy towards our movement, which will result in greater support of the population for the freedom commandos, taking away support for the regime in power.
Armed propaganda will extend this identification process of the people with the Christian guerrillas, providing converging points against the Sandinista regime.
The Armed Propaganda Teams provide a several-stage program of persuasive planning in guerrilla warfare in all areas of the country. Also, these teams are the "eyes and ears" of our movement.
The development and control of the cover organizations in guerrilla warfare will give our movement the ability to create a "whiplash" effect within the population when the order for fusion is given. When the infiltration and internal subjective control have been developed in a manner parallel to other guerrilla activities, a comandante of ours will literally be able to shake up the Sandinista structure, and replace it.
The mass assemblies and meetings are the culmination of a wide base support among the population, and it comes about in the later phases of the operation. This is the moment in which the overthrow can be achieved and our revolution can become an open one, requiring the close collaboration of the entire population of the country, and of contacts with their roots in reality.
The tactical effort in guerrilla warfare is directed at the weaknesses of the enemy and at destroying their military resistance capacity, and should be parallel to a psychological effort to weaken and destroy their socio-political capacity at the same time. In guerrilla warfare, more than in any other type of military effort, the psychological activities should be simultaneous with the military ones, in order to achieve the objectives desired.
Implicit and Explicit Terror
A guerrilla armed force always involves implicit terror because the population, without saying it aloud, feels terror that the weapons may be used against them. However, if the terror does not become explicit, positive results can be expected.
In a revolution, the individual lives under a constant threat of physical damage. If the government police cannot put an end to the guerrilla activities, the population will lose confidence in the government, which has the inherent mission of guaranteeing the safety of citizens. However, the guerrillas should be careful not to become an explicit terror, because this would result in a loss of popular support.
In the words of a leader of the HUK guerrilla movement of the Philippine Islands:
"The population is always impressed by weapons, not by the terror that they cause, but rather by a sensation of strength/force. We must appear before the people, giving them support with our weapons; that will give them the message of the struggle."
This is then, in a few words, the essence of armed propaganda.
An armed guerrilla force can occupy an entire town or small city that is neutral or relatively passive in the conflict. In order to conduct the armed propaganda in an effective manner, the following should be carried out simultaneously:
Guerrilla Weapons are the Strength of the People over an Illegal Government
The armed propaganda in populated areas does not give the impression that weapons are the power of the guerrillas over the people, but rather that the weapons are the strength of the people against a regime of repression. Whenever it is necessary to use armed force in an occupation or visit to a town or village, guerrillas should emphasize making sure that they:
If, for example, it should be necessary for one of the advanced posts to have to fire on a citizen who was trying to leave the town or city in which the guerrillas are carrying out armed propaganda or political proselytism, the following is recommended:
Selective Use of Violence for Propagandistic Effects
It is possible to neutralize carefully selected and planned targets, such as court judges, mesta judges, police and State Security officials, CDS chiefs, etc. For psychological purposes it is necessary to take extreme precautions, and it is absolutely necessary to gather together the population affected, so that they will be present, take part in the act, and formulate accusations against the oppressor.
The target or person should be chosen on the basis of:
The person who will replace the target should be chosen carefully, based on:
The mission to replace the individual should be followed by: