a CIA propaganda and disinformation specialist
who oversaw President Reagan's "perception management"
and psyops projects at the National Security Council.
Raymond is partially obscured by President Reagan
and is sitting next to National Security Adviser John Poindexter.
credit: Reagan presidential library)
obsesses over Russian "propaganda"
yet the U.S. government created
a "psyops" bureaucracy three decades ago
to flood the world with dubious information,
reports Robert Parry.
From the tens of
thousands of photographs from meetings at Reagan's White House, I
found only a couple showing Raymond - and he is seated in groups,
partially concealed by other officials.
In his NSC files, I found a doodle of an organizational chart that had Raymond at the top holding what looks like the crossed handles used by puppeteers to control the puppets below them.
Although it's impossible
to know exactly what the doodler had in mind, the drawing fits the
reality of Raymond as the behind-the-curtains operative who was
controlling the various inter-agency task forces that were
responsible for implementing various propaganda and psyops
A classic case was Gen. Edward Lansdale - considered the father of modern psyops - draining the blood from a dead Filipino rebel in such a way so the dead rebel's superstitious comrades would think that a vampire-like creature was on the prowl.
In Vietnam, Lansdale's
psyops team supplied fake and dire astrological predictions for the
fate of North Vietnamese and Vietcong leaders.
But the challenges facing
the Reagan administration in the 1980s led to its determination that
peacetime psyops were also needed and that the target populations
had to include the American public.
This so-called "Vietnam
Syndrome" produced profound skepticism from regular American
citizens as well as journalists and politicians when President
Reagan tried to sell his plans for intervention in the civil wars
then underway in Central America, Africa and elsewhere.
Reagan and his advisers
realized that they had to turn those perceptions around if they
hoped to get sustained funding for the militaries of El Salvador,
Guatemala and Honduras as well as for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels,
the CIA-organized paramilitary force marauding around leftist-ruled
As Col. Alfred R. Paddock Jr. wrote in an influential November 1983 paper, entitled "Military Psychological Operations and US Strategy,"
President Ronald Reagan
leading a meeting on terrorism on Jan. 26, 1981,
with National Security Advisor Richard Allen,
Secretary of State Alexander Haig,
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger
and White House counselor Edwin Meese.
(photo credit: Reagan library)
Some of Raymond's recently available handwritten notes show a focus on El Salvador with the implementation of "Nation wide multi-media psyops" spread through rallies and electronic media.
Though Raymond's crimped handwriting is often hard to decipher, the notes make clear that psyops programs also were directed at,
One declassified "top secret" document in Raymond's file - dated Feb. 4, 1985, from Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger - urged the fuller implementation of President Reagan's National Security Decision Directive 130, which was signed on March 6, 1984, and which authorized peacetime psyops by expanding psyops beyond its traditional boundaries of active military operations into peacetime situations in which the U.S. government could claim some threat to national interests.
This broader commitment to psyops led to the creation of a Psychological Operations Committee (POC) that was to be chaired by a representative of Reagan's National Security Council with a vice chairman from the Pentagon and with representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department and the U.S. Information Agency.
The Psychological Operations Committee took formal shape with a "secret" memo from Reagan's National Security Advisor John Poindexter on July 31, 1986.
Its first meeting was called on Sept. 2, 1986, with an agenda that focused on Central America and,
The POC was also tasked with,
Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush
with CIA Director William Casey
at the White House on Feb. 11, 1981.
(Photo credit: Reagan Library)
Raymond was named a co-chair of the POC along with CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, who was then Deputy Director for Intelligence Programs on the NSC staff, according to a "secret" memo from Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Craig Alderman Jr.
The memo also noted that future POC meetings would be briefed on psyops projects for the Philippines and Nicaragua, with the latter project codenamed "Niagara Falls."
The memo also references a "Project Touchstone," but it is unclear where that psyops program was targeted.
Another "secret" memo dated Oct. 1, 1986, co-authored by Raymond, reported on the POC's first meeting on Sept. 10, 1986, and noted that
The POC's second meeting on Oct. 24, 1986, concentrated on the Philippines, according to a Nov. 4, 1986 memo also co-authored by Raymond.
Earlier in 1986, the Philippines had undergone the so-called "People Power Revolution," which drove longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos into exile, and the Reagan administration, which belatedly pulled its support from Marcos, was trying to stabilize the political situation to prevent more populist elements from gaining the upper hand.
But the Reagan administration's primary attention continued to go back to Central America, including "Project Niagara Falls," the psyops program aimed at Nicaragua.
A "secret" Pentagon memo from Deputy Under Secretary Alderman on Nov. 20, 1986, outlined the work of the 4th Psychological Operations Group on this psyops plan "to help bring about democratization of Nicaragua," by which the Reagan administration meant a "regime change."
The precise details of "Project Niagara Falls" were not disclosed in the declassified documents but the choice of codename suggested a cascade of psyops.
Other documents from Raymond's NSC file shed light on who other key operatives in the psyops and propaganda programs were.
For instance, in undated notes on efforts to influence the Socialist International, including securing support for U.S. foreign policies from Socialist and Social Democratic parties in Europe, Raymond cited the efforts of "Ledeen, Gershman," a reference to neoconservative operative Michael Ledeen and Carl Gershman, another neocon who has served as president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), from 1983 to the present.
Although NED is technically independent of the U.S. government, it receives the bulk of its funding (now about $100 million a year) from Congress.
Documents from the Reagan archives also make clear that NED was organized as a way to replace some of the CIA's political and propaganda covert operations, which had fallen into disrepute in the 1970s.
Earlier released documents from Raymond's file show CIA Director William Casey pushing for NED's creation and Raymond, Casey's handpicked man on the NSC, giving frequent advice and direction to Gershman.
Another figure in Raymond's constellation of propaganda assets was media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who was viewed as both a key political ally of President Reagan and a valuable source of funding for private groups that were coordinating with White House propaganda operations.
In a Nov. 1, 1985 letter to Raymond, Charles R. Tanguy of the "Committees for a Community of Democracies - USA" asked Raymond to intervene in efforts to secure Murdoch's funding for the group.
Another document, entitled "Project Truth Enhancement," described how $24 million would be spent on upgrading the telecommunications infrastructure to arm,
Project Truth was the overarching name of the Reagan administration's propaganda operation.
For the outside world, the program was billed as "public diplomacy," but administration insiders privately called it "perception management."
The Early Years
The original priority of "Project Truth" was to clean up the images of the Guatemalan and Salvadoran security forces and the Nicaraguan Contras, who were led by ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza's ex-National Guard officers.
To ensure steady military funding for these notorious forces, Reagan's team knew it had to defuse the negative publicity and somehow rally the American people's support.
President Ronald Reagan
meeting with Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt,
who was later charged with genocide
against indigenous populations in Guatemala's highlands.
At first, the effort focused on weeding out American reporters who uncovered facts that undercut the desired public images.
As part of that effort, the administration denounced New York Times correspondent Raymond Bonner for disclosing the Salvadoran regime's massacre of about 800 men, women and children in the village of El Mozote in northeast El Salvador in December 1981.
Accuracy in Media and conservative news organizations, such as The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, joined in pummeling Bonner, who was soon ousted from his job.
But such efforts were largely ad hoc and disorganized.
CIA Director Casey, from his years crisscrossing the interlocking worlds of business and intelligence, had important contacts for creating a more systematic propaganda network. He recognized the value of using established groups known for advocating "human rights," such as Freedom House.
One document from the Reagan library showed senior Freedom House official Leo Cherne running a draft manuscript on political conditions in El Salvador past Casey and promising that Freedom House would make requested editorial "corrections and changes" - and even send over the editor for consultation with whomever Casey assigned to review the paper.
In a "Dear Bill" letter dated June 24, 1981, Cherne, who was chairman of the Freedom House's executive committee, wrote:
By 1982, Casey also was lining up some powerful right-wing ideologues to help fund the "perception management" project both with money and their own media outlets.
Richard Mellon Scaife was the scion of the Mellon banking, oil and aluminum fortune who financed a variety of right-wing family foundations - such as Sarah Scaife and Carthage - that were financial benefactors to right-wing journalists and think tanks.
Scaife also published the Tribune Review in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
A more comprehensive "public diplomacy" operation began to take shape in 1982 when Raymond, a 30-year veteran of CIA clandestine services, was transferred to the NSC.
Raymond became the sparkplug for this high-powered propaganda network, according to an unpublished draft chapter of the congressional Iran-Contra investigation that was suppressed as part of the deal to get three moderate Republican senators to sign on to the final report and give the inquiry a patina of bipartisanship.
Though the draft chapter didn't use Raymond's name in its opening pages, apparently because some of the information came from classified depositions, Raymond's name was used later in the chapter and the earlier citations matched Raymond's known role.
According to the draft report, the CIA officer who was recruited for the NSC job had served as Director of the Covert Action Staff at the CIA from 1978 to 1982 and was a,
Gregg was another senior CIA official who was assigned to the NSC before becoming Vice President George H.W. Bush's national security adviser.
War of Ideas
During his Iran-Contra deposition, Raymond explained the need for this propaganda structure, saying:
meets with publisher Rupert Murdoch,
U.S. Information Agency Director Charles Wick,
lawyers Roy Cohn and Thomas Bolan
in the Oval Office on Jan. 18, 1983.
(Photo credit: Reagan presidential library)
One reason for this shortcoming was that federal law forbade taxpayers' money from being spent on domestic propaganda or grassroots lobbying to pressure congressional representatives.
Of course, every president and his team had vast resources to make their case in public, but by tradition and law, they were restricted to speeches, testimony and one-on-one persuasion of lawmakers.
But President Reagan saw the American public's "Vietnam Syndrome" as an obstacle to his more aggressive policies.
Along with Raymond's government-based organization, there were outside groups eager to cooperate and cash in. Back at Freedom House, Cherne and his associates were angling for financial support.
In an Aug. 9, 1982 letter to Raymond, Freedom House executive director Leonard R. Sussman wrote that,
On Nov. 4, 1982, Raymond, after his transfer from the CIA to the NSC staff but while still a CIA officer, wrote to NSC Advisor Clark about the "Democracy Initiative and Information Programs," stating that,
The importance of the CIA and White House secretly arranging private funds was that these supposedly independent voices would then reinforce and validate the administration's foreign policy arguments with a public that would assume the endorsements were based on the merits of the White House positions, not influenced by money changing hands.
Like snake-oil salesmen who plant a few cohorts in the crowd to whip up excitement for the cure-all elixir, Reagan administration propagandists salted some well-paid "private" individuals around Washington to echo White House propaganda "themes."
The role of the CIA in these initiatives was concealed but never far from the surface.
A Dec. 2, 1982 note addressed to "Bud," a reference to senior NSC official Robert "Bud" McFarlane, described a request from Raymond for a brief meeting.
While Casey pulled the strings on this project, the CIA director instructed White House officials to hide the CIA's hand.
But the formation of the National Endowment for Democracy, with its hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government money, was still months down the road. In the meantime, the Reagan administration would have to line up private donors to advance the propaganda cause.
Despite Casey's and Raymond's success in bringing onboard wealthy conservatives to provide private funding for the propaganda operations, Raymond worried about whether a scandal could erupt over the CIA's involvement.
Raymond formally resigned from the CIA in April 1983, so, he said,
But Raymond continued to act toward the U.S. public much like a CIA officer would in directing a propaganda operation in a hostile foreign country.
Raymond fretted, too, about the legality of Casey's ongoing role. Raymond confided in one memo that it was important,
He then offered the excuse that Casey undertook this apparently illegal interference in domestic politics,
Meanwhile, Reagan began laying out the formal authority for this unprecedented peacetime propaganda bureaucracy.
On Jan. 14, 1983, Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 77, entitled "Management of Public Diplomacy Relative to National Security."
In NSDD-77, Reagan deemed it,
meeting with Charles Wick on March 7, 1986,
in the Oval Office.
Also present: Stephen Rhinesmith, Don Regan, John Poindexter,
George Bush, Jack Matlock and Walter Raymond
(seated next to Regan on the left side of the photo).
(Photo credit: Reagan library)
Reagan ordered the creation of a special planning group within the National Security Council to direct these "public diplomacy" campaigns.
The planning group would be headed by Walter Raymond and one of its principal outposts would be a new Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America, housed at the State Department but under the control of the NSC.
(One of the directors of the Latin American public diplomacy office was neoconservative Robert Kagan, who would later co-found the Project for the New American Century in 1998 and become a chief promoter of President George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq.)
On May 20, 1983, Raymond recounted in a memo that $400,000 had been raised from private donors brought to the White House Situation Room by U.S. Information Agency Director Charles Wick.
According to that memo, the money was divided among several organizations, including Freedom House and Accuracy in Media, a right-wing media attack organization.
When I wrote about that memo in my 1992 book, Fooling America, Freedom House denied receiving any White House money or collaborating with any CIA/NSC propaganda campaign.
In a letter, Freedom House's Sussman called Raymond,
But it made little sense that Raymond would have lied to a superior in an internal memo.
And clearly, Freedom House remained central to the Reagan administration's schemes for aiding groups supportive of its Central American policies, particularly the CIA-organized Contra war against the leftist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.
Plus, White House documents released later revealed that Freedom House kept its hand out for funding.
On Sept. 15, 1984, Bruce McColm - writing from Freedom House's Center for Caribbean and Central American Studies - sent Raymond,
McColm's three-page letter reads much like a book or movie pitch, trying to interest Raymond in financing the project:
McColm proposed a face-to-face meeting with Raymond in Washington and attached a six-page grant proposal seeking $134,100.
According to the grant proposal, the project would include,
The documents that I found at the Reagan library did not indicate what subsequently happened to this specific proposal.
McColm did not respond to an email request for comment about the Nicaraguan Papers plan or the earlier letter from Cherne (who died in 1999) to Casey about editing McComb's manuscript.
Freedom House did emerge as a leading critic of Nicaragua's Sandinista government and also became a major recipient of money from the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy, which was founded in 1983 under the umbrella of the Casey-Raymond project.
The more recently released documents - declassified between 2013 and 2017 - show how these earlier Casey-Raymond efforts merged with the creation of a formal psyop bureaucracy in 1986 also under the control of Raymond's NSC operation.
The combination of the propaganda and psyop programs underscored the powerful capability that the U.S. government developed more than three decades ago for planting slanted, distorted or fake news. (Casey died in 1987; Raymond died in 2003.)
Over those several decades, even as the White House changed hands from Republicans to Democrats to Republicans to Democrats, the momentum created by William Casey and Walter Raymond continued to push these "perception management/psyops" strategies forward.
In more recent years, the wording has changed, giving way to more pleasing euphemisms, like "smart power" and "strategic communications."
But the idea is still the same: how you can use propaganda to sell U.S. government policies abroad and at home.