Document:Psychological Warfare for the West: Interdoc and Youth Politics in the 1960s

From Wikispooks
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A book chapter covering Interdoc's activities in the international student/youth field during the 1960s.

Disclaimer (#3)Document.png book excerpt  by Giles Scott-Smith dated 2011
Subjects: Interdoc, Cultural Cold War, Cold War, Communism, Anticommunism (History), Cold War history, Intelligence History, Psychological warfare, Psyop
Source: Unknown

Originally published in The Establishment Responds: Power and Protest during and after the Cold War, Kathrin Fahlenbrach, Martin Klimke, & Joachim Scharloth (eds.), London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011 (out of print)

★ Start a Discussion about this document

The Establishment Responds: Power and Protest during and after the Cold War

Kathrin Fahlenbrach, Martin Klimke, & Joachim Scharloth (eds.),London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011

Psychological warfare for the West: Interdoc, the West European Intelligence Services, and the International Student Movements of the 1960s


Giles Scott-Smith

Introduction: The Ideological Struggle between East and West

With the onset of the Cold War in the late 1940s Western governments and intelligence services recognized the need to establish and support civilian organizations to engage in the 'battle of ideas' with the Soviet bloc.

Communist front organizations and infiltration in the realms of international labour, student and youth movements, women's groups, and journalism were threatening to dictate the ideological discourse and political affiliation across these fields of activity.

Responding to this situation in 1948, George Kennan, then head of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, had promoted the initiation of political warfare, both overt and covert, across a whole range of activities from economic policy and strategic political alliances to 'black' propaganda and underground resistance movements.

Later the same year, sanctioned by NSC directives 4, 4A, and 10/2, the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) was created to coordinate all manner of covert activities aimed at undermining support for communism abroad.

These foundations soon produced results. In May 1949, the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE) was set up by US business elites to mobilize support for undermining Soviet control in the East, mainly by means of broadcasts via Radio Free Europe.

In June 1950, this was followed by the arrival of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), abody designed to organize, in the name of freedom of thought, support for anti-communism (and anti-neutralism) amongst the (predominantly) European intelligentsia.

The British Foreign Office and MI6 also contributed to these developments, most notably through the formation of the World Assembly of Youth in 1948 and support for the high-brow CCF journal Encounter.

By 1953, a whole series of international fronts and counter-fronts were operating, competing for the allegiance of influential professional communities around the world.

Despite the success of these efforts, during the early 1950s the overall outlook of Western political or psychological warfare was one of 'negative anti-communism.' Taking Western ideals and values for granted, the aim was to highlight the brutal realities of life under communist rule and the concomitant threats posed by communist parties and their allies in the West. Due to the Soviet determination to cause division in the West and split NATO, attempts were made to coordinate these activities transnationally. The most important effort within Western Europe was Paixet Liberté, a French-led international network under the leadership of parliamentary deputy Jean-Paul David which sought to guide an anti-communist propaganda campaign via affiliated groups across Western Europe. During 1952-53, David, with the backing of French Foreign Minister Georges Bidault, attempted (unsuccessfully) to develop Paix et Liberté into the propaganda arm of NATO itself.

However, Paix et Liberté's methods were somewhat simplistic, concentrating on the use of pamphlets, posters and radio broadcasts to discredit the communist peace campaign. The limitations to this approach became increasingly evident following the death of Stalin in March 1953, and David's ambitions were never fully realised.

The organisation's message remained one-dimensional: Communism was a violently repressive ideology, and the Soviet Union, through its proxy organisations in politics, the trade unions, and across society at large, propagated lies to cover this up by presenting itself as promoting peace and freedom. Whereas this had a function in the tense days of 1950-51 when the Korean war broke out, by the mid-1950s the complexities of peaceful coexistence had undermined Paix et Liberté's usefulness and the French government ceased its support in 1956.

However, the organisation was renamed, the French bureau continuing as the Office National pour la Démocratie Française and the international committee as the Comité International d'ActionSociale (CIAS). The remnants of this network would provide one of the foundations for the development of Interdoc in a few years time. Paix et Liberté's national committees functioned as a sort of role of vigilance, of conscience in the war of ideas, but the changing East-West environment demanded a new approach.

This would ultimately involve not only a network separate from NATO and – significantly – US direction, but also an outlook more profound than the negative propaganda of David and his associates, which offered no alternative beyond the need for Western anti-communist solidarity. The Soviet strategy of peaceful coexistence that emerged under Stalin's successors as Soviet head of state (Georgy Malenkov, then Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev) raised many questions about the anti-communist strategy of the West. The Kremlin's portrayal of the Soviet Union as a reformist state searching for a stable accommodation with the West brought pressure to bear on Western governments to justify why they would not accept these overtures.

'Rollback' and 'Liberation', the catch-words of the early 1950s which referred to the determination to undermine and overthrow the Soviet control of Eastern Europe, were effectively null and void well before the Red Army crushed the Hungarian revolution in November 1956.

Despite Eisenhower´s attempt to capitalize on the change of Soviet leadership, it remained difficult for the West to seize the initiative. In these circumstances 'the excesses of American anti-communism (represented most obviously in McCarthyism, 'liberation' and massive retaliation) appeared at times to be the greater threat to international peace and stability.

Soviet strategy also broadened the East-West contest into an explicitly global ideological struggle. In October 1959, Khrushchev outlined his position in no less than Foreign Affairs: In its simplest expression it signifies the repudiation of war as a means of solving controversial issues.

“We say to the leaders of the capitalist states: Let us try out in practice whose system is better, let us compete without war... The main thing is to keep to the positions of ideological struggle, without resorting to arms in order to prove that one is right... We believe that ultimately that system will be victorious on the globe which will offer the nations greater opportunities for improving their material and spiritual life.”
Khrushchev (1959)  [1]

The Eisenhower administration soon recognized the implications of this 'new type of Cold War,' where the powers of persuasion and international public opinion could be decisive. Communist peace overtures were aimed at splitting the Western alliance and garnering support among youth, intellectuals, and other influential groups.

Eisenhower himself, a convinced advocate of psychological warfare, used his 1958 State of the Union address to denounce the USSR's 'total cold war,' which incorporated

"trade, economic development, military power, arts, science, education,the whole world of ideas.' Responding to the challenge, he declared the United States would 'wage total peace' by 'bringing to bear every asset of our personal and national lives."

Yet although the psychological dimension was elevated to a higher level of importance by the Eisenhower administration, the driving impulse remained the same as before: increased efforts on all fronts to declare the truth and display the reality of Western freedoms and good intentions in contrast to Soviet tyranny, duplicity, and lies. Soviet communism itself was still largely regarded as at best a political and psychological aberration and at worst as a veritable evil.

The Formation of Interdoc

The origins of Interdoc lie in the dissatisfaction with this outlook felt by certain sections of the West European intelligence communities.

Above all it was recognized that the potential effects of Soviet strategy on Western morale required some form of integrated response which took the appeal of communism seriously. To this end, in 1957, a series of discussions or 'colloques' was begun by French intelligence officer Antoine Bonnemaison, then head of the Guerre/Action Psychologique section of the Service de Documentation Exterieure et de Contre-Espionage (SDECE). Bonnemaison's role in SDECE was coordinator of a network of psychological warfare organizations - the Cinquième Bureaux - via a public front, the Centre de Recherche du Bien Politique.

The colloques were initially an important form of rapprochement around common security concerns between the French and West German intelligence communities, in the wake of the Federal Republic joining NATO and the Anglo-French debacle of Suez.

Alongside members of the intelligence community, the meetings were attended by invited representatives from the military, politics, business, academia, and the media, and were held once or twice a year. From 1958 onwards, the French and Germans were joined by participants from Britain, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The Dutch were represented by Louis Einthoven, then head of the Binnenlandse Veiligheidsdienst (BVD – the domestic security service), who soon brought in as support the head of the BVD's training division, Cees van den Heuvel.

The broad concern of these meetings was the effect that peaceful coexistence initiatives would have on the outlook and political loyalties of Western populations, and 'to discuss the question of Communist infiltration into industry, scholastic and public life and to determine what steps should be taken to deal with the problem.'

Communist strategy focused on speeding the disintegration of the capitalist West by focusing on three dividing lines: between workers and capitalists, between the West and the Third World, and between the United States and Europe.

In these circumstances the military origins of psychological warfare had to be abandoned in order to emphasize that this was now a matter of everyday concern within every sector of civilian life. Western values, once taken for granted, now needed to be clarified, amplified, and literally ingrained into those sectors of the population whowere most 'vulnerable': businessmen, trade unionists, religious officials, the military and students. As van den Heuvel wrote at the time:

“Psychological warfare has two sides: The build-up of moral strength within one's own side and the undermining of the morale of the opposing side.”
Cees van den Heuvel (1959)  [1]

The Dutch took the initiative to develop an institutional arrangement that could back up the twice-yearly colloques with a permanent base and on 7 February 1963, the official statutes of the International Information and Documentation Center(Interdoc) were signed in a Hague solicitor's office.

The two parties involved were fronts for their respective intelligence services: The German Verein zur Erforschung sozialpolitischer Verhältnisse im Ausland, based in Munich, and the Dutch Stichtingvoor Onderzoek van Ecologische Vraagstukken(SOEV).

Cees van den Heuvel, having left the BVD, was named Director. Although the French had played a crucial role in the formation period, de Gaulle's insistence on an independent foreign policy forced Bonnemaison, much his chagrin, to withdraw as a partner.

The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the German intelligence service, took responsibility for the largest share of the budget.

Interdoc was formed to fulfill three main tasks: study, advice, and coordination. Concerning study, Interdoc would effectively operate as the central exchange point for a network of national institutes, its regular conferences providing ideal meeting-places for communication. The second task, advice, involved firstly making contact with new partners in Europe and then increasingly in the Third World, and secondly, extending the discussions of the colloques and becoming a training center for anti-communist 'cadres' in strategic sectors of democratic society.

The third task, coordination, was meant to overcome the lack of integration of Western efforts to combat communist influence.

The Training Function: The Ost-kolleg in Cologne

Even before the official foundation of Interdoc, Van den Heuvel laid the basis for the transnational network he wanted to build. For the formation of anti-communist 'cadres' he sought quality locations for courses in communism and anti-communism for participants from the media, the military, and the universities.

In 1961-62, the focus for this fell on the Ost-Kolleg of the West German Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, originally Heimatdienst) in Cologne, an institute that fell under the responsibility of the German interior ministry. The Ost-Kolleg had been established in 1957 for the purpose of facilitating and promoting the study and understanding of Soviet communism and East-West relations, and its participants included members of the BND and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz).

Initially, van den Heuvel aimed to establish a similar seminar/training center in the Netherlands, but at the end of January 1962, he secured an arrangement for 16 seminar places for Dutch participants (two places for each eight-week seminar) over the following year as a trial run. Should these visits go well, the intention was to choose participants from information service personnel, political parties, and the BVD itself.

The early seminar visits were undertaken by four SOEV associates in May 1962, and they returned with a very positive report. The quality of the speakers was high, the focus was broader and more useful than just on the 'German question,' and it provided a perfect stimulus for clarifying SOEV thinking on communism.

The trial period having been successfully concluded, in January 1963, 3 weeks before the official opening of Interdoc, van den Heuvel arranged for up to 20 Dutch participants per year, with British and French participants also welcome if he could arrange it.

Broadening the approach, from early 1964 onwards small student groups from Leiden and Utrecht, particularly from the law faculties (a prime site for the Dutch elites), were regularly attending Ost-Kolleg seminars in Cologne. The registration was carried out via the relevant student organizations, in Leiden this being the Leidse Studentenbeweging voor Internationale Betrekkingen (SIB), so that no relation with Interdoc or its affiliates was apparent to the participants. Hans Beuker (October 1962), Pieter Koerts (March 1963), and several other members of the Dutch student circle around van den Heuvel made the trip to Cologne to assess the value of the courses there.

These student training trips continued through to 1972, when the withdrawal of German funding from Interdoc caused a drastic reduction in its activities.

Youth Festivals as an East-West Ideological Battleground

The relevance of youth for international politics during the Cold War, and particularly the impact of an increasing transnational radicalism during the 1960s, has attracted increasing attention in recent years.

Foremost amongst this has been the thesis of Jeremy Suri that a growing 'international language of dissent' and popular dissatisfaction with the static reality of the East-West divide pushed world leaders into the accommodations of Détente.

The approach to student radicalism sketched here will be slightly different. Interdoc represented an attempt firstly to manage Cold War differences and secondly to direct social change down certain paths that would ultimately benefit the West.

While Suri claims that Détente was deeply conservative in outlook, for the Interdoc circle any rapprochement with the East necessarily offerednew opportunities for cross-border engagement and the possibility for fomenting social change.

In this sense the need of the West Germans to adapt to recognizing a permanent German Democratic Republic combined with the Dutch wish to unpack and dismantle communist ideology.

Youth was a prime element within this strategy. From the beginning Interdoc's activities also included planning 'counter-actions', referring to an active engagement with and sabotage of communist-sponsored events, in particular in the youth and student field. The catalyst for this was the gradual development of the large-scale Soviet-sponsored international youth festivals being run by front organizations such as the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) and the International Union of Students (IUS).

Following the first such festival in Prague in 1947, similar events held every two years had attracted an increasing participation from around the world. The sense of momentum gathered by the success of the 1957 Moscow festival led to the decision to go on the offensive and hold the following events outside of the communist bloc: Vienna in 1959, and Helsinki in 1962.

For Vienna a study group consisting of 'about 60 young people from Germany and other European countries' was assembled under German direction for the purpose of participating in and observing the festival.

This was deemed a useful exercise, so that when the Eighth World Youth Festival in Helsinki was announced on August 1962, a similar operation was planned. This time van den Heuvel acted as team leader for a European group consisting of about 30 Dutch, British, French, German and Belgian students. At the core of this group he assembled a three-man Dutch team, two of whom he already knew through either family ties or close friends, to take part in a training program in The Hague some seven or eight months before the Helsinki event opened.

This involved meetings on a Saturday, once a fortnight, where the students were instructed in the workings of communist ideology, the organization and propaganda methods used by communist front organizations, and the realities of life behind the Iron Curtain.

For this purpose van den Heuvel and his colleagues used the same training materials that they had developed for their training courses at the BVD. The aim of this preparation was to ensure that the students would be able to understand, withstand, and literally dismantle the arguments they would encounter from pro-Soviet delegates at the festival.

The students had been well chosen since they already held strong anti-communist views, but this program took them several steps further along the line of Western-style 'indoctrination.' Helsinki was to be 'a case study' for the embryonic Interdoc on how this kind of communist-controlled event functioned (methods of manipulation, use of different media, ways of organizing meetings, and so on) and how it could best be combated.

The group of three signed up for the conference in the early summer of 1962. Since they were not members of the left-leaning student organizations running the trip to Helsinki, they had to be careful not to arouse suspicion that they were working.

The trip by train to Finland included stops in East Berlin (as guests of the Freie Deutsche Jugend), a visit to the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and Brest-Litovsk. Van den Heuvel and his former [[BVD} colleague Herman Mennes traveled separately to Helsinki, where they communicated with the group via other personnel (acting as 'cut-outs') to avoid suspicion.

At some point the decision was taken 'to make a point' and not to just observe, causing one of the three Dutch students, Hans Beuker to register to speak during a festival colloquium on the role of students in solving problems related to the Third World. It seems that the speech he gave was prepared by van den Heuvel and Mennes and passed secretly to Beuker before the session.

When his time came he proceeded to denounce the one-sided focus of the meeting on Western imperialism and instead criticized the Soviet domination of Central Asia, the Baltic States, and Eastern Europe, claiming that in contrast to the decolonization of the Western empires, the continuing forms of Soviet oppression deserved more attention.

As was to be expected, such a statement caused uproar and a series of speakers from the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc came forward to denounce Beuker. Suddenly this orchestrated event, designed to present a united anti-Western anti-capitalist offensive, had been thrown onto the defensive.

To avoid appearing as an agent provocateur, Beuker, after some discussion with his colleagues, decided to return to the Netherlands by train as planned instead of making a swift exit by plane. Surrounded by suspicious and hostile students, Beuker nervously made the three-day trip back to Amsterdam, trusting that the publicity surrounding his statement would protect him. Once back in the Netherlands, Beuker and the others took part in an evaluation of the Helsinki operation, which was regarded by all as highly successful. [END OF EXCERPT]

Many thanks to our Patrons who cover ~2/3 of our hosting bill. Please join them if you can.


  1. a b The Establishment Responds: Power and Protest during and after the Cold War, Kathrin Fahlenbrach, Martin Klimke, & Joachim Scharloth (eds.), London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011