The US on the “Selective Use of Violence for Propagandistic Effects”

During Nicaragua’s civil war in the 1980s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) commissioned a manual for the rebel contras of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), entitled Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare. It was made public in October 1984.

On October 21, 1984, the Washington Post published an article titled: The CIA’s Murder Manual:

THE CIA manual advising Nicaraguan guerrillas how to kidnap, assassinate, blackmail and dupe civilians is an appalling production, and its disclosure has produced a first-class storm.

Two years later [1986], the U.S. would be found guilty by the International Court of Justice of international terrorism and encouraging human rights violations. In reference to the Manual, the court passed the following judgement:

The Court has however found (paragraph 121) that at the relevant time those responsible for the issue of the manual were aware of, at the least, allegations that the behaviour of the contras in the field was not consistent with humanitarian law; it was in fact even claimed by the CIA that the purpose of the manual was to “moderate” such behaviour. The publication and dissemination of a manual in fact containing the advice quoted above must therefore be regarded as an encouragement, which was likely to be effective, to commit acts contrary to general principles of international humanitarian law reflected in treaties.

Let’s take a look at this manual.


This conception of guerrilla warfare as political war turns Psychological Operations into the decisive factor of the results. The target, then, is the minds of the population, all the population: our troops, the enemy troops and the civilian population.

This book is a manual for the training of guerrillas in psychological operations, and its application to the concrete case of the Christian and democratic crusade being waged in Nicaragua by the Freedom Commandos.


Section 4.3: Implicit and Explicit Terror

In a revolution, the individual lives under a constant threat of physical damage. If the government police cannot put an end to the guerrilla activities, the population will lose confidence in the government, which has the inherent mission of guaranteeing the safety of citizens. However, the guerrillas should be careful not to become an explicit terror, because this would result in a loss of popular support.

An armed guerrilla force can occupy an entire town or small city that is neutral or relatively passive in the conflict. In order to conduct the armed propaganda in an effective manner, the following should be carried out simultaneously:

Destroy the military or police installations and remove the survivors to a “public place.”

— Cut all the outside lines of communications: cables, radio, messengers.Set up ambushes in order to delay the reinforcements in all the possible entry routes.

Kidnap all officials or agents of the Sandinista government and replace them in “public Places” with military or civilian persons of trust to our movement

Section 4.4 Guerrilla Weapons Are The Strength of the People over an Illegal Government

If, for example, it should be necessary for one of the advanced posts to have to fire on a citizen who was trying to leave the town or city in which the guerrillas are carrying out armed propaganda or political proselytism, the following is recommended:

— Explain that if that citizen had managed to escape, he would have alerted the enemy that is near the town or city, and they could carry out acts of reprisal such as rapes, pillage, destruction, captures, etc., it this way terrorizing the inhabitants of the place for having given attention and hospitalities to the guerrillas of the town.

If a guerrilla fires at an individual, make the town see that he was an enemy of the people, and that they shot him because the guerrilla recognized as their first duty the protection of citizens.

— The command tried to detain the informant without firing because he, like all Christian guerrillas, espouses nonviolence. Firing at the Sandinista informant, although it is against his own will, was necessary to prevent the repression of the Sandinista government against innocent people.

Make the population see that it was the repressive system of the regime that was the cause of this situation, what really killed the informer, and that the weapon fired was one recovered in combat against the Sandinista regime.

— Make the population see that if the Sandinista regime had ended the repression, the corruption backed by foreign powers, etc., the freedom commandos would not have had to brandish arms against brother Nicaraguans, which goes against our Christian sentiments. If the informant hadn’t tried to escape he would be enjoying life together with the rest of the population, because not have tried to inform the enemy. This death would have been avoided if justice and freedom existed in Nicaragua, which is exactly the objective of the democratic guerrilla.

Section 4.5: Selective Use of Violence for Propagandistic Effects

It is possible to neutralize carefully selected and planned targets, such as court judges, mesta judges, police and State Security officials, CDS chiefs, etc. For psychological purposes it is necessary to gather together the population affected, so that they will be present, take part in the act, and formulate accusations against the oppressor.

Section 5.2: Combination: Political Awareness and Armed Propaganda

The target groups for the Armed Propaganda Teams are not the persons with sophisticated political knowledge, but rather those whose opinion are formed from what they see and hear. The cadres should use persuasion to carry out their mission. Some of the persuasive methods that they can use are the following:

Interior Group/Exterior Group. It is a principle of psychology that we humans have the tendency to form personal associations from “we” and “the others,” or “we” and “they”, “friends” and “enemies,” “fellow countrymen” and “foreigners,” “mestizos” and “gringos.”

The Armed Propaganda Team can use this principle in its activities, so that it is obvious that the “exterior” groups (“false” groups) are those of the Sandinista regime, and that the “interior” groups (“true” groups) that fight for the people are the Freedom Commandos.

We should inculcate this in the people in a subtle manner so that these feelings seem to be born of themselves, spontaneously.

Section 5.4: Psychological Tactics, Maximum Flexibility

As a general rule, the Armed Propaganda teams should avoid participating in combat. However, if this is not possible, they should react as a guerrilla unit with tactics of “hit and run,” causing the enemy the greatest amount of casualties with aggressive assault fire, recovering enemy weapons and withdrawing rapidly.

Section 7.4: Creation of Nuclei

Our cadres will be mobilized in the largest number possible, together with persons who have been affected by the Communist dictatorship, whether their possessions have been stolen from them, they have been incarcerated, or tortured, or suffered from any other type of aggression against them. They will be mobilized toward the areas where the hostile and criminal elements of the FSLN, CDS and others live, with an effort for them to be armed with clubs, iron rods, placards and if possible, small firearms, which they will carry hidden.

If possible, professional criminals will be hired to carry out specific selected “jobs.”

Our agitators will visit the places where the unemployed meet, as well as the unemployment offices, in order to hire them for unspecified “jobs.” The recruitment of these wage earners is necessary because a nucleus is created under absolute orders.

Specific tasks will be assigned to others, in order to create a “martyr” for the cause, taking the demonstrators to a confrontation with the authorities, in order to bring about uprisings or shootings, which will cause the death of one or more persons, who would become the martyrs, a situation that should be made use of immediately against the regime, in order to create greater conflicts.

Section 7.5: Ways to Lead an Uprising at Mass Meetings

Defense Posts. These elements will act as bodyguards in movement, forming a ring of protection for the chief, protecting him from the police and the army, or helping him to escape if it should be necessary. They should be highly disciplined and will react only upon a verbal order from the chief.

In case the chief participates in a religious concentration, a funeral or any other type of activity in which they have to behave in an organized fashion, the bodyguards will remain in the ranks very close to the chief or to the placard or banner carriers in order to give them full protection.

The participants in this mission should be guerrilla combatants in civilian clothes, or hired recruits who are sympathizers in our struggle and who are against the oppressive regime.

These members must have a high discipline and will use violence only on the verbal orders of the one in charge of them.

Thanks for reading,


Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare:

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