Skilluminati Research

Towards a Psychological Operations Reading List

Posted Sep 07, 2011 11 comments


"Psychological Operations are conducted across the operational continuum." -- FM 33-1

Defining Psychological Operations is straightforward enough, but determining where exactly it ends is extremely tricky. The US Department of Defense has infiltrated institutions around the world, they expend billions every year on domestic and foreign propaganda, yet they still only represent a single slice of the spectrum. Intelligence agencies, private think tanks and public corporations are all competing for attentional bandwidth, too. PSYOPS has become ubiquitous, metastasized into Standard Operating Procedure for the entire edifice of Western Culture. Our news and our entertainment, scientific studies, history books, political campaigns and activist movements are all just sponsored messages and paid promotions. From advertisements to astroturfing, everyone's got "desired effects" and everyone's got a "target audience" now.

This is a work in progress, a reading list that attempts to outline how far gone we really are. Suggestions are more than welcome -- they're necessary.


Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann. Propaganda by Edward Bernays. These earlier works are included for the sake of history and history alone. While they clearly outline the mentality and general theory behind Psychological Operations, they're dated antiques and all the really juicy quotes have been strip-mined out by pretty much every subsequent book on the subject.

PR! - A Social History of Spin by Stuart Ewen. Toxic Sludge is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry and Trust Us We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. For a basic introduction to this entire field, this right here is where to start. Readable, entertaining and packed full of facts, these three are my top pick for general readers and curious mammals looking to get caught up.

The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America by HUGH Wilford. This is certainly one of the best books I've read, period. Wilford takes on an insanely ambitious and important subject that's been obscured by secrecy and history. He does it great justice and the writing itself is amazingly good. Once the premise and reality is established, Wilford kicks things into high gear, providing hundreds of pages of eye-opening connections that will change the way you think about the past six decades of US popular culture. It is a source of great amusement to me that so few self-proclaimed "conspiracy theorists" have even heard of this book, because their paranoia pales by comparison to what Wilford is laying out in abundantly documented detail here.

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward Herman & Noam Chomsky. Unfortunately, the 1992 documentary of the same name is far inferior, an over-long and confused muddle of a biopic that focuses far more on Chomsky as media celebrity and public intellectual than the actual subject of the book.

Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential by James Moore and Wayne Slater. While there are certainly better biographies of Rove in circulation, and I've read them all so far, I'm recommending this one because it's got the juiciest quotes and focuses on what Rove was actually doing to make his unique approach to political science work. I've got six books on Rove in the back room right now, but this is the one that's full of bookmarks, notes and annotations because I keep coming back to it while working on Skilluminati material. Rove is, of course, not the "genius" he's made out to be and his motus operandi is really rather crude. What makes Rove exceptional is his behind-the-scenes strategy and dedication to the pursuit of personal power, not to mention his willingness to take the usual dirty tricks further than most operatives would ever dare. Great reading.

Mirage Men by Mark Pilkington. While I do think Greg Bishop's Project Beta is one of the best-written treatments of disinformation in UFOlogy ever written, Pilkington's book is a more valuable read because his focus is so much broader. He begins at the same point: the sad saga of Paul Bennewitz. From there, however, he traces a national (and ultimately global) effort by the military and intelligence communities to control the entire field of UFO investigation through faked documents, hoaxed "events" and good old fashioned intimidation and violence. How you feel about the "field" of UFOlogy is quite beside the point -- the book's focus on operational and practical details makes it an essential pick for our purposes here today.


The Deep End

Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda, Third Edition by Philip M. Taylor. This is essentially The Textbook. That's why it's so expensive. If you care about this subject and take it seriously, you should buy this and then read it, hundreds of times. That is all.

The Gods of Antenna by Bruce Herschensohn. This deceptively short volume is an in-depth treatment of the subject from an insider of both corporate and military PsyOps, and stays relentlessly focused on the actual techniques of framing, priming, leading and outright deception that makes the magic possible. Loaded with examples and operational detail, this is essential stuff and I'm grateful & surprised it's still in print.

Universities and Empire: Money and Politics in the Social Sciences During the Cold War by Christopher Simpson. This is a collection of historical essays about the role of military money in guiding public research we well as controlling the content of education itself. There is certainly a sequel waiting to be written - hopefully it's already in print? - about how private corporations have taken up the slack as gov/mil money slowed down. I'm including it here because it's very well written and fleshes out the details of something that usually gets brought up as a general theory or vague accusation. Also - it's back in print and far, far cheaper than it was when I had to track down a used copy.

Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960 by Christopher Simpson. This is a dense book of original history and, much like the Carroll Quigley classic The Anglo-American Establishment, it frequently devolves into pages and pages of names and dates. So while it's far from easy reading, it's also an essential source document and I'm certain there are thousands of connections yet to be drawn from the material here.

The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion by John Zaller. This is some heavy going and the fact is, I never would have read it unless it was handed to me by a mentor. Years later, I find myself really wishing that I still had a copy because so much of the material was over my head at the time. This is a dense, slow going, top-level academic approach to the central question of Social Control that informs this entire reading list. It's also one of the more thought-provoking books my young brain ever came in touch with. For those of you interested in The Deep End, this is solid source material if you can find it.

A Century of Media. A Century of War by Robin Andersen. One last recommendation, this time second-hand. I've had a number of folks I really respect tell me I had to get ahold of a copy in recent months, but acute delusions of being a rapper have made that impossible so far. I'm looking forward to picking up a copy, though -- looks ambitious and heavy-duty.


...and? I'm betting there's dozens of hidden gems I have either forgotten or never knew about to begin with. I know the reader base here is a rare and strange breed of autodidact, so I'd like to turn the microphone over to you: what else should have been included here?

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  • 1. BL on Sep 07, 2011 at 9:01 AM permalink

    Very nice list, thanks for posting.

    A couple recommended additions for you:

    Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. A thorough history of how the CIA funded and manipulated artists and other intellectuals in service to their Cold War operations.

    Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. A profound existential treatise on what propaganda is and how thoroughly it saturates every strata of society.

  • 2. Luke on Sep 07, 2011 at 11:54 AM permalink

    Can’t reccommend the jacques ellul essay enough. gnome chompys the spectacular acheivements of propaganda is a good intro to union breaking and can be read in a single sitting if you’ve an hour or two free

  • 3. Justin R. on Sep 07, 2011 at 2:42 PM permalink

    To add to an earlier comment, I’d definitely recommend Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, also his book The Technological Society, and The Political Illusion.

    Also: Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing by William Sargant.

    Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes by Andrejz M. Lobaczewski.

    The following are on my to read list and may be worth looking into. Would appreciate any feedback from commenters here if you have read any of them:

    Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment-Network by James Der Derian.

    Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy by Matthew Alford.

    The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard.

    Newspeak in the 21st Century by David Edwards and David Cromwell.

    The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills.

  • 4. Thirtyseven on Sep 09, 2011 at 8:47 AM permalink

    Awesome, thanks folks. “Reel Power” is another one I’ve gotten several recommendations for, but I figured I should limit my reviews to, like, stuff I’ve actually read. Old school, you know.

    “Hidden Persuaders” by Packard is great stuff but my logic was that it’s pretty dated now. I think you’re right that it does deserve a place in the canon. It’s not like marketing logic has changed too much since the SRI days.

  • 5. Thirtyseven on Sep 10, 2011 at 8:01 PM permalink


    Additional suggestions from Public Intelligence...

    Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion by Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson (2001)

    Captains Of Consciousness Advertising And The Social Roots Of The Consumer Culture by Stuart Ewen (2001)

    Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists by Joel Best (2001)

    Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto (2002 x 1992)

    Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin by Larry Beinhart (2006)

    Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography by Roger Shattuck (1997)

    Hidden Truth: Forbidden Knowledge by Steven Greer (2006)

    Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ by Robert Parry (1999)

    Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq by Scott Bonn (2010)

    Media Control, Second Edition: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda by Noam Chomsky (2002)

    Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James Scott (1999)

    Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1997)

    Techniques of Propaganda and Persuasion by Magedah Shabo (2008)

    The Age of Missing Information by Bill McKibben (2006)

    The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America by Daniel Boorstein (1992)

    The Politics of Knowledge: Area Studies and the Disciplines by David Szanton (2004)

    Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber (2003)

    Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto (2010)

    When Media Goes to War: Hegemonic Discourse, Public Opinion, and the Limits of Dissent by Anthony DiMaggio (2010)

  • 6. Rob D on Sep 14, 2011 at 9:52 PM permalink

    You might want to look at something called The Incestuous Amplification Effect (

  • 7. Normal Bates on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:41 PM permalink

    “Social engineering” has been around in one form or another since the dawn of human civilization. And the reach of the “social engineers” has always greatly exceeded their grasp. I think this is inevitable...they’re operating under a lot of constraints, such as being embedded in what they’re attempting to model as if from the outside.

    You might say that the hermeneutics of the situation virtually guarantee that the George Hunter Whites of the world will end up in front of a mirror, shooting wax slugs at it with an empty half-gallon of gin beside them.

  • 8. Nick Madigan on Oct 18, 2011 at 3:55 PM permalink

    PERFECT TIMING. Thanks so much for this.

  • 9. Thirtyseven on Mar 29, 2012 at 10:15 AM permalink

    Roundup on “Definitive IO sources” via Joel Harding, who runs a detailed & very relevant site called “To Inform is to Influence”

  • 10. Thirtyseven on Apr 04, 2012 at 10:14 AM permalink

    Academic sources...been on a reading binge again.


    Determinants of Human Rights Attitudes and Behavior: A Comparison and Integration of Psychological Perspectives
    J. Christopher Cohrs, Jürgen Maes, Barbara Moschner and Sven Kielmann - Political Psychology Vol. 28, No. 4 (Aug., 2007) (pp. 441-469)

    The Strategies of Psychological Warfare

    Leonard W. Doob - The Public Opinion Quarterly Vol. 13, No. 4 (Winter, 1949-1950) (pp. 635-644)

    Toward a Science of Propaganda
    Brett Silverstein - Political Psychology Vol. 8, No. 1 (Mar., 1987) (pp. 49-59)

    Research for Psychological Warfare
    John W. Riley, Jr. and Leonard S. Cottrell, Jr. - The Public Opinion Quarterly Vol. 21, No. 1, Anniversary Issue Devoted to Twenty Years of Public Opinion Research (Spring, 1957) (pp. 147-158)

    Social Research and Psychological Warfare
    Leonard S. Cottrell, Jr. - Sociometry Vol. 23, No. 2 (Jun., 1960) (pp. 103-119)

    The Contributions of Opinion Research to the Evaluation of Psychological Warfare
    Joseph T. Klapper and Leo Lowenthal - The Public Opinion Quarterly Vol. 15, No. 4 (Winter, 1951-1952) (pp. 651-662)

    Authoritarianism, Social Dominance, and Other Roots of Generalized Prejudice
    Sam McFarland - Political Psychology Vol. 31, No. 3 (June 2010) (pp. 453-477)


    Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda
    Leonard W. Doob - The Public Opinion Quarterly Vol. 14, No. 3 (Autumn, 1950) (pp. 419-442)

    Some Psychological Lessons From Leaflet Propaganda in World War II
    Martin F. Herz - The Public Opinion Quarterly Vol. 13, No. 3 (Autumn, 1949) (pp. 471-486)

    The United States and “Psychological Warfare” in Italy, 1948-1955
    Mario Del Pero - The Journal of American History Vol. 87, No. 4 (Mar., 2001) (pp. 1304-1334)

    Psychological Warfare in Vietnam
    James O. Whittaker - Political Psychology Vol. 18, No. 1 (Mar., 1997) (pp. 165-179)

  • 11. Thirtyseven on Jan 20, 2013 at 4:53 PM permalink

    Via: Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf - extended reviews of each title @ link.

    The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English, by Joseph C. Goulden.

    Black Ops Vietnam: The Operational History of MACVSOG, by Robert M. Gillespie.

    Classical Spies: American Archaeologists with the OSS in World War II Greece, by Susan Heuck Allen.

    Dealing With the Devil: Anglo-Soviet Intelligence Cooperation During the Second World War, by Dónal O’Sullivan.

    Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, by Ben Macintyre

    Enemies: A History of the FBI, by Tim Weiner.

    Franco’s Friends: How British Intelligence Helped Bring Franco To Power In Spain, by Peter Day.

    Gentleman Spymaster: How Lt. Col. Tommy ‘Tar’ Robertson Double-crossed the Nazis, by Geoffrey Elliott.

    The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War, by Joshua Kurlantzick.

    Joe Rochefort’s War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway, by Elliot Carlson, with a foreword by RAdm. Donald “Mac” Showers, USN (Ret.).

    Malayan Spymaster: Memoirs of a Rubber Planter Bandit Fighter and Spy, by Boris Hembry.

    Intelligence Abroad
    Historical Dictionary of Chinese Intelligence, by I.C. Smith and Nigel West.

    Israel’s Silent Defender: An Inside Look at Sixty Years of Israeli Intelligence, by Amos Gilboa and Ephraim Lapid (eds.).

    Learning from the Secret Past: Cases in British Intelligence History, by Robert Dover and Michael S. Goodman (eds.).

    Main Intelligence Outfits of Pakistan, by P.C. Joshi.

    The Politics of Counterterrorism in India: Strategic Intelligence and National Security in South Asia, by Prem Mahadevan.

    Stalin’s Man in Canada: Fred Rose and Soviet Espionage, by David Levy.

    Stasi Decorations and Memorabilia: Volume II, by Ralph Pickard, with a foreword by Ambassador Hugh Montgomery.

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