Black Propaganda

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Microphones-2-.jpg This article is part of the Propaganda Portal project of Spinwatch.

Black Propaganda is a form of information that is spread by one source, and is produced to look as if it has come from another source. The whole idea behind Black Propaganda is that it is convincing enough to be accepted as something other than what it really is[1]. Black Propaganda differs from White Propaganda, where the source of the information is clear, and Grey Propaganda, where the source of the information is not identifiable. Its defining feature is that it intends to subvert and deceive its audience in regard to its origins. The moment that Black Propaganda is recognised to be fake, it ceases to be effective as Black Propaganda. Being defined by its subversive nature, the information given in Black Propaganda does not necessarily have to be fabricated, it can be true or false [2].

It has been argued that the best wartime Black Propaganda was often based on truth. The truth it told may have only been partial, but it could still relate to a disturbing fact that the audience’s Government would rather they did not know [3]. Black Propaganda was utilised heavily during both the First World War [4] and the Second World War, with the purpose of disrupting the enemy side’s will to carry on fighting [5].

It is argued that this kind of Propaganda is notoriously hard to create convincingly, requiring a great knowledge and cultural understanding of the source which it is mimicking. When creating material in another language, for example, a single grammatical error or unusual use of language can reveal that the author is not a native speaker, and cast the Black Propaganda into doubt [1].

Post Second World War Black Propaganda is often prepared by intelligence or secret services, reducing the risk of a damaging backlash to the respective Governments if it is ever uncovered. Modern Black Propaganda initiatives can include underground newspapers, forged official documents and falsely attributed rumours. This type of Black Propaganda is often intended to be provocative to the target audience and cause damages to the credibility of the alleged creator[6].

Black Propaganda in wartime situations is often associated with clandestine Psychological Warfare and Psychological Operations [7].

Reported Examples of Black propaganda

First World War

The War Propaganda Bureau

David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister established the War Propaganda Bureau as a means of promoting Britain’s interests and viewpoints during the war. Famous writers, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy and H. G. Wells, agreed to secretly author publications that would then go on to be distributed under the guise of a commercial printing company. One such piece was the Report on Alleged German Outrages, created to back up the idea that German soldiers systematically tortured Belgian civilians [4].

Second World War

Operation Himmler

During the lead-up to the Second World War, Nazi Germany engaged in a Black Propaganda initiative called Operation Himmler. This False Flag initiative involved a variety of acts of violence and aggression being carried out or sponsored by German operatives, under the guise of the Polish forces. As part of the Operation, German operatives ransacked a radio station in Gleiwitz, broadcasting a message in Polish encouraging Polish nationals in Silesia to attack Germans. In order to add to the legitimacy of the Black Propaganda, Polish prisoners of war were dressed up in German Army uniforms, killed at the scene of the 'crime', and presented to the media as evidence of Polish aggression against Germany [8].

The Political Warfare Executive

An organisation called the Political Warfare Executive was set up by the British Government, with the sole aim of producing Black Propaganda to demoralise Axis troops and citizens. Throughout the 1940s, this organisation created postcards which would be airdropped or mailed directly to German citizens. These postcards were created to mimic misdirected German communications, and detailed demoralising reports, like how German officers were frequently enjoying lavish banquets whilst the rest of the population starved under rationing [2].

Counterfeit Ration Cards

Allied printed black propaganda efforts even extended to the forgery of German food ration cards, delivered by the millions into Germany through RAF air drops. The intention was that German civilians could easily acquire additional food rations, stressing domestic food supplies and rationing capabilities in Germany [1].

Black Broadcasting

As part of Britain’s Black Broadcasting efforts, numerous covert radio stations were broadcasting on medium or short wavelengths across Axis-occupied Europe. One of these stations, Soldatensender Calais, reportedly had a larger audience than official German radio stations, and was considered an accurate news source. Radio stations like Soldatensender Calais reported both real German news and fabricated propaganda. Describing the content of such black broadcasters, Sefton Delmer, the head of black operations, says that their motto was “cover, dirt, cover, cover, dirt, cover, dirt” [1].

Vietnam War

The Phoenix Program

During the Vietnam War, the United States Government carried out a systematic campaign of Black Propaganda against the opposing Government forces, the Viet Cong, between 1965 and 1968. This campaign was called the Phoenix Program, and aimed to 'neutralise' civilians that were sympathetic towards the Viet Cong, using a mixture of kidnap, jailing, interrogation, torture and assassination as part of a False Flag operation. These violent acts were carried out by United States sponsored troops dressed as Viet Cong operatives, and aimed to erode support among civilians for the Viet Cong so that they would no longer help them against United States forces. Common practice was for the US sponsored troops to publicly kidnap and murder key figures in villages, leave their bodies in plain view, with signs attached attributing the deaths to the Viet Cong. As part of the Phoenix Program, it is estimated that US sponsored troops in the guise of Viet Cong forces 'neutralised' between 20,000 to 40,000 Vietnamese citizens [9].

Modern Politics and Media

Australian 2007 Federal Election

Australian media reported that in the run-up to the 2007 Australian Federal Election, a group of Liberal Party politicians were allegedly behind the distribution of fake fliers under the guise of a non-existent organisation called the Islamic Australia Federation. The distributed fliers praised a rival political party, the Australian Labour Party, for supporting Islamic extremism and terrorism in Australia. Whilst the Australian Labour Party lodged complaints with the Electoral Commission, media attention was directed to the outrage of the Australian Islamic community and its criticism of the Liberal Party members allegedly involved [10].

MI6 Information Operations

An article in the Sunday Telegraph of November 1995 that was falsely attributed to a "British Banking Official", accused Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's son of being involved in a currency counterfeiting scheme. This article, however, had been planted in the newspaper for the British MI6 by the paper's foreign correspondent, Con Coughlin, in an attempt to publicly undermine the Gaddafi regime.

In 1994, two articles appeared in the Spectator composed by Kenneth Roberts, a supposed UN advisor in Bosnia. This was in fact a black propaganda effort by the MI6 officer Keith Robert Craig, who argued for British troops to withdraw from Bosnia and their peacekeeping obligations. The first article, published on 5 February suggested a UN withdrawal from Bosnia, because both sides of the Bosnia/Serbia conflict were committing atrocities. The second article criticised the passionate reporting of British journalists in Bosnia at the time as warped and inaccurate. [11].



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences, Black Propaganda, Dedman College of Humanities & Social Sciences Department of Physics website, accessed 11 march 2015
  2. 2.0 2.1 Debra Kelly, The Difference Between Gray, White And Black Propaganda, KnowledgeNuts website, 12 February 2014, accessed 11 March 2015
  3. Lee Richards (2010), ‘‘The Black Art: British Clandestine Psychological Warfare against the Third Reich’’, Psywar: Peacehaven
  4. 4.0 4.1 John Simkin, Black Propaganda, Spartacus Educational website, September 1997 (updated August 2014), accessed 11 March 2015
  5. National Library of Scotland, Second World War black propaganda, National Library of Scotland website, accessed 11 March 2015
  6. Kenneth Osgood (2002), Propaganda, Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, accessed 11 March 2015
  7. William Levinson (1999), An Introduction to Propaganda, The Stentorian website, accessed 12 March 2015
  8. 9-11 Review, Operation Himmler, 9-11 Review website, accessed 11 March 2015
  9. Truda Gray and Brian Martin (2007), Backfires: white, black and grey, Journal of Information Warfare, Vol. 7, Issue 1, pp. 7-16, accessed 11 March 2015
  10. Greg Ansley, Fake flyers derail Howard, The New Zealand Herald website, 23 November 2007, accessed 11 March 2015
  11. David Leigh, Tinker, tailor, soldier, journalist, The Guardian website, 12 June 2000, accessed 11 March 2015