[...] The first rule of the New Age: When it doubt, it comes from the Vedas. Viewed by many as an extremely useful tool, organizations such as Scotland Yard and the French police currently use palmistry and the study of hands for detecting criminals. [...]
Intelligence agencies do a lot of this crazy stuff!
The rationale appears to be that fear is a weapon just a rifle or a tank is; if you frighten your enemy enough, you may defeat him without having to fight. In full-fledged wars and quiet covert operations around the world, U.S. military and intelligence specialists have long practiced intimidation through propaganda. Some of the most productive (and some of the most fanciful) psywar operations have sought to exploit ideas about the supernatural.
Many early U.S. psywar operations were conceived by a famous clandestine commander, Air Force Brigadier General Edward G. Lansdale (1909-1987). A firm believer in the efficacy of "psychological operations" (or PSYOP, for short -- the military's term for propaganda), Lansdale was a pioneering psywarrior. Lansdale believed that the key asset of the psychological combatant is a thorough understanding of the target audience's beliefs and values. The mores and myths that shape a society's culture, he argued, must be exploited if a psywar campaign is to be effective. Lansdale applied his strategy ruthlessly in the Philippines, where he served as the CIA's chief operative during the early 1950s counterinsurgency campaign against the country's Huk rebels.
"To the superstitious, the Huk battleground was a haunted place filled with ghosts and eerie creatures," Lansdale later wrote. One of his favorite psywar stunts "played upon the popular dread of asuang, or vampire" to drive the guerrillas from Huk-held territory. "A combat psywar squad was brought in. It planted stories among town residents of an asuang living on the hill where the Huks were based. Two nights later, after giving the stories time to make their way up to the hill camp, the psywar squad set up an ambush along the trail used by the Huks. When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol, their move unseen in the dark night. They punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the asuang had got him and that one of them would be next if they remained on that hill. When daylight came, the whole Huk squadron moved out of the vicinity."
Another of Lansdale's spooky counterinsurgency tricks was what he called the "eye of God technique," wherein government troops, using information gathered from counterintelligence efforts, called out the names of Huk guerrillas over loudspeakers and threatened the rebels with death if they did not surrender. Lansdale devised a related scheme to intimidate civilians, using "all-seeing eye" graffiti to threaten constant surveillance. He later wrote: "[the method] was especially useful in towns where some of the inhabitants were known to be helping the Huks secretly. The army would warn these people that they were under suspicion. At night, when the town was asleep, a psywar team would creep into town and paint an eye on a wall facing the house of each suspect. The mysterious presence of these malevolent eyes the next morning had a sharply sobering effect."
After helping suppress rebellion in the Philippines, in 1954 Lansdale was sent to Vietnam, where he directed covert operations for the Saigon Military Mission (SMM), a small team of U.S. military and intelligence operatives. In 1955, the SMM hired North Vietnamese astrologers "to write predictions about coming disasters to certain Vietminh leaders and undertakings, and to predict unity in the south," according to Lansdale. This operation, he reported, was "based on our concept of the use of astrology for psywar in Southeast Asia." Because of his work in the Philippines and Vietnam, Lansdale was regarded as the government's chief expert on suppressing incipient revolutions. In 1962, President Kennedy tasked Lansdale with designing Operation Mongoose, a secret campaign to undermine Cuba's firmly established revolutionary government.
Lansdale made extensive provisions for anti-Castro propaganda in his Mongoose plans; his top secret planning documents, now declassified, detail the use of "all media" in the campaign. Many of Lansdale's propaganda initiatives relied on the tried-and-true techniques of clandestine radio warfare, but some of his more grandiose psywar schemes approached the surreal. For instance, he proposed a campaign to convince Cubans that Fidel Castro was in fact the anti-Christ, and to then spark a revolt by staging Jesus' return from the heavens. Lansdale's plan, which his colleagues dubbed "elimination by illumination," was to simulate the holy event by firing phosphorous shells into the sky above Havana. Though the anti-Castro/anti-Christ plan never came to fruition, the fact that it was considered at all by a U.S. military official is another indication of the important role supernatural themes can take in covert operations.
Another foreign hotspot that caught the attention of U.S. national security planners during the 1960s was the Republic of the Congo. The CIA and Defense Department deemed the country a test case for modern counterinsurgency methods, and financed numerous studies of Congolese society to probe the psychological strengths and weaknesses of the rebels. In 1964, the U.S. Army commissioned one of the most extraordinary strategy papers ever produced in the history of unconventional warfare. Titled "Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magic, and Other Psychological Phenomena, and Their Implications on Military and Paramilitary Operations in the Congo," the report is a treatise on paranormal combat, discussing "counter-magic" tactics to suppress rebels who are backed by witch-doctors, charms, and magic potions.
The supernatural warfare report was authored by James R. Price and Paul Jureidini, two analysts at the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) at American University in Washington, D.C. As a center for military-sponsored research on the human dimension of counterinsurgency, SORO cranked out reports profiling the politics and other social forces at play in countries that concerned the Pentagon. In 1964 SORO also designed the infamous Project Camelot, a planned effort to scientifically measure the social factors that work to stabilize and destabilize developing countries. When news about Project Camelot seeped into countries that were proposed as targets for study, international protests erupted and the project was shut down. Critics called Project Camelot an egregious case of "sociological snooping," and SORO's report on supernatural subversives in the Congo merits the same classification.