- In the shadowy war against communism led by the United States, the Philippines was subjected to a disturbing branch of psychological warfare by the CIA.
- Lt. Col Edward G. Lansdale was sent to end the guerilla Hukbalahap (or the “People’s Army Against Japan” in Tagalog) insurgency against the government. This group remained from World War II in hopes of social and agricultural reform in the Philippines. During his time there he used local mythology and folklore to strike fear and coercion into the Huk rebels and the surrounding population among other methods to pioneer to burgeoning fields of psychological warfare. (Source)
- After the conclusion of his psychological warfare campaign, Lansdale shifted to a political advisory role, and implemented the process for the CIA to control the political landscape of the country. (Source)
When the United States had finally pushed to the Philippines in WWII, the Japanese were already busy fighting the Huk rebels. Simultaneously using the Huks to their advantage against the Japanese while dismantling their networks, the United States began their plan to reinstate their control over the pacific island. The war ended in 1945, the US’ efforts did not. There were US troops kept active in the Philippines, and the US-sponsored government was preparing an army to fight the Huks. (Source)
The shift from conventional operations to psychological and clandestine began mainly once Lt. Col Edward G. Lansdale arrived in 1950. Lansdale worked in the advertising field, then was an officer in the US Air Force prior to joining Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) covert operations in the Philippines. (Source) Through a mix of boots on the ground operations, propaganda, and political measures, Lansdale solidified the field we know as psychological warfare today as a standard tactic by military forces.
Heavenly Words, The Eye of God, and The Asuang
Lansdale arrived in the middle of a civil war against the Huk rebellion in the countryside of the Philippines. He organized a group called the Civil Affairs Office with his team from the CIA. This office was tasked with designing a strategy to bring down a popular guerilla army when force was not enough.
Lansdale organized his team to study the legends and folklore of the people on the surrounding countryside and try to use their beliefs against them. His first move, was a rather simple one. His team waited for a cloudy day, flew over local villages with a loudspeaker attached and projected curses in the native Tagalog language to the unaware villagers. These curses particularly were focused on those who continued to aid the Huk fighters with shelters and supplies. Due to this, Huk fighters in the targeted towns were starved out of their hiding places or revealed by superstitious locals. (Source)
Another operation led by the Lansdale team was a more mysterious one. The group worked to identify Huk sympathizers that were providing any amount of support to the fighters. Once identified, the group would work through the night to paint mysterious eyes on adjacent walls to the target home. These “Eyes of God” were meant to let the sympathizers know that some group knows of their actions, and kept the rest of the population wary to help the Huks. (Source) “The mysterious presence of these malevolent eyes the next morning had a sharply sobering effect,” said Lansdale. (Source)
In studying the folklore of the region, Lansdale’s team made a discovery of a creature that the locals believed to roam the hills known as the Aswang. The Aswang is comparable to a vampire-like creature that drinks its victim’s blood. The Huks would often operate out of the surrounding wooded area of a town and attack government forces, so Lansdale sent a team to where they were operating in an attempt to replicate the Aswang myth. Once they arrived the team kidnapped a fighter, poked holes in their neck, drained their blood, and left their body where it would be found. Once the dead, exsanguinated, body was found by the Huks, the remaining forces quickly left the area. (Source)
Lansdale collaborated with local forces and other advisors on other measures to take in the region, which included propaganda films, sowing dissent among Huk supporters, and even dressing Philippine-government forces as Huk fighters and harassing civilians. (Source)
CIA Faux-Reign Policy
Lansdale also manipulated the political structure of the Philippines to fit the CIA plans for the nation. By befriending the former defence secretary, Ramon Magsaysay, he was able to convince Magsaysay to run for president of the country with the CIA’s backing. Magsaysay was essentially a puppet of Lansdale and the CIA, with reports of Lansdale even physically assaulting him if he did want to comply with their plans. (Source) The CIA’s candidate won in 1953, but not after meticulous meddling by the agency. They drugged his opponents, funnelled in large sums of money to the campaign through the National Movement for Free Elections, and even snuck in weapons to the country in case Magsaysay lost. The Hukbalahap insurgency was quelled in 1954. (Source)
Lansdale, having built the foundations that Magsaysay’s government was built on, effectively facilitated the CIA’s puppeteering of the Philippines for the latter of the 20th century. The CIA wrote Magsaysay’s speeches, his foreign and domestic policy, as well as fed him false reports on their policies popularity with the Philippine people. The CIA even went as far as launching a developed smear campaign against a political rival of Magsaysay. First, they planted rumours that the individual was a Chinese spy, but also disseminated condoms with holes in them that were advertised as supplied by the individual as well. (Source)
The Philippines would prove to be a vital interest in the war against Communism for the United States, and the CIA was able to turn the state into a US-sponsored client. The Philippines would provide troops in the conflict in Korea, as well provide a launching pad for any military operations in Southeast Asia. Lansdale’s innovation in psychological warfare, particularly deep analysis of culture and mythos, sowing dissent in enemy territory, and political influence tactics would go on to influence future Us operations, as well as allies that these tactics were disseminated to. Lt. Col Edward G. Lansdale would go on in history to be the progenitor of US psychological warfare doctrine as well as the CIA’s first vampire.