SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

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A Nationalist Chinese Leaflet Bottle

In the past I have written about propaganda floats in a half dozen articles. My old friend retired Lieutenant Colonel Dave Underhill thought it was time that I do a story just on that subject alone. The main reference document in this article is the 7th PSYOP Group’s publication: The Propaganda Float in Psychological Operations. 500 copies of the booklet were printed. Besides that booklet I have used leaflets and data from my own files and correspondence.

When the United States wants to disseminate propaganda it has several methods. Face-to-face and hand-to-hand is the preferred method, but soldiers cannot hand out propaganda when an enemy controls the ground. Air dissemination of leaflets works well but it does put the aircraft and crew in danger. That may change in the future with the developing use of drones, but at the present the enemy will fire at aircraft dropping leaflets while flying low and slow. And, in some cases the countries that are being leafleted are not at war with the United States so the distribution of the propaganda must be clandestine. Thus, the propaganda float. This is a very low-cost and safe way for one country to send propaganda to another using lakes, streams and rivers. The United States has used such floats in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm.

The ability to present a comprehensive packet of selected gift items and printed media in a single float is the biggest single advantage of floats over other delivery methods. The receipt of a single float permits the operator to place the full story into the hands of the target audience. The best part of the campaign is that anything that floats can be used as a propaganda leaflet carrying device. This includes bottles of all sizes, plastic bags, balloons, tin or plastic boxes and even pieces of wood.

One of the earliest recorded incidents involving the use of floats is that of the famous Vietnamese Generals Le Loi and Nguyen Trai. While leading a war against the Chinese invaders from 1417 to 1427, Nguyen Trai decided to turn popular superstition to his advantage. He used grease (or as some versions have it - honey) to write the phrases Le Loi vi Quan; Nguyen Trai vi Than (Le Loi for King, Nguyen Trai for Minister of State) on the large leaves of the forest trees. Ants ate the grease absorbed in the leaf tissue and left the "prophecy" clearly engraved. Some of the leaves fell upon the waters of streams and were carried to adjoining areas. People living nearby noticed the perforated leaves and interpreted them as a "divine message." Inspired by this, they wholeheartedly supported the war which eventually led to the defeat of the Chinese and the enthronement of Emperor Le Loi.

Waterborne dissemination of propaganda was discussed as early as the American Revolutionary War when Benjamin Franklin wrote to Colonel Thomas McKean and enclosed a number of Congressional resolutions translated into German. Franklin recommended that the documents, along with other small gifts, be conveyed over the water to the Hessian encampment opposite the New Jersey shore in drifting canoes. Since some of the literature was printed on tobacco paper, Franklin recommended that a little tobacco be added to the floats. He was far ahead of his time. In WWII the Allies airdropped cigarettes, matches, seeds, soap, coffee, and even tea bags to keep up the morale of the citizens of the occupied nations.

I heard your letter read in Congress relating to the Disposition of the German Troops; and understanding from Colonel Ross that they are cantoned on the Island opposite to the Jersey Shore. I send you herewith some of the Resolutions of the Congress translated into their Language, as possibly you may find some opportunity of conveying them over the water, to these people. Some of the papers have Tobacco Marks on the back, it being supposed by the Committee, that if a little Tobacco were put in each as the Tobacconists used to do, and a quantity made to fall into the hands of that Soldiery, by being put into a drift canoe among some other little things, it could be divided among them as plunder before the officers could know the contents of the paper and prevent it.

During the Cold War years 1964 to 1968 the United States Air Force leafleted the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in an attempt to influence the citizens and ruling class of that nation. The U.S. Army 7th Psychological Group classified confidential booklet, A Report on Operation Jilli mentions propaganda floats.

This is Operation Jilli. Using giant cargo planes, light military aircraft, balloons, and covert means supplement large scale leaflet delivery…Also, a program to deliver information by inexpensive water floats, using the Korean rivers, tides and ocean currents….

According to The Propaganda Float, there are four standard types of floats:

A relatively heavy, dense package riding low in the water. This package is influenced primarily by water currents.

A relatively lightweight package with about half of the volume exposed to surface winds. This package is influenced by both current and surface winds.

A lightweight package with most of the volume exposed to surface winds. This package is influenced primarily by surface winds.

An anchored float in which there is no movement. This float is positioned for discovery by members of the intended target group.


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Kaiser and Crown Prince

This is a typical WWI French propaganda leaflet that depicts the Kaiser and Crown Prince talking while sitting on the ground with their feet in a ditch. A group of German officers huddles in the background. The Kaiser asks:

What do they say?

The prince answers:

They say we are lost.

In the 1922 French-language book Through Enemy Lines - A three Years Offensive against German Morale, author Jean Jacques Waitz mentioned using propaganda floats during the time he was preparing propaganda for the French in WWI to be used against the Germans. He operated out of neutral Switzerland and says:

Every day parcels of clandestine literature crossed over into Mulhouse and St. Louis in commercial vehicles, in the pockets of workmen with border passes, in the milk bins which the Swiss sent to Mulhouse every day, in the freight trains, etc. Messages were sent down the Rhine in hermetically sealed floating tubes. Messages were sent attached to balloons from friendly houses near the border.


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American Office of Strategic Services Floats

During WWII the Office of Strategic Services Morale Operation Branch in Rome floated miniature copies of the propaganda newspaper Das Neue Deutschland (The New Germany) inside metal cylinders and food tins on various rivers leading into Germany or German occupied territory.

In Switzerland, another group called Team Navig (Navigation?) was responsible for the introduction of leaflets into Germany, via the Rhine river channel, by means of floating tubes 20 centimeters in length and 25 to 35 millimeters in diameter.

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Das Neue Deutschland

These newspapers were regularly printed and disseminated over Germany and its occupied areas to tell the German troops and civilians the true status of the war and forecast the eventual defeat of Germany.


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Examples of leaflet floats
Psychological Operations – FM 33-1 – 1979

FM 33-1 says that seaworthy containers are easy and inexpensive to use as sea floats. Propaganda is placed in a waterproof container and dropped at predetermined locations at sea, in rivers, or streams. However, success to reliable hydrographic data (prevailing wind, tides, and currents) is needed in order to plot projected course accurately…Large-volume dissemination is necessary because a great number of containers will never reach the designated audience.

The Psychological Operations Guide

Illustration from The Psychological Operations Guide

The Psychological Operations Guide of the Headquarters, U.S. Army Pacific, December 1965, adds:

Prevailing winds, tides and currents transport the objects to the target area. Containers can be made of wood, bamboo, glass, plastic or similar materials. In this respect, inexpensive plastic cellophane envelopes can be profitably used for large scale float operations. Access to reliable hydrographic data is necessary to plot projected courses.


(a) May be the only means to reach selected coastal areas.
(b) Provides for the delivery of a "packet" of propaganda to include small gifts.

(c) Enemy countermeasures are difficult.
(d) Inexpensive.


(a) No assurance that floats will reach target
(b) Targets limited to coastal areas.
(c) Preparation of containers is time consuming.

The American waterborne dissemination technique in the Vietnam War was comparatively simple and inexpensive. Propaganda material is placed in buoyant, waterproof containers and dropped from low-flying aircraft, ships, or boats at predetermined locations. Prevailing winds, tides and currents carry the floating containers to the target area along ocean beaches or riverbanks. The containers can be wood, bamboo, plastic, glass or similar materials.

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15th PSYOP Detachment Memorandum

This is something you seldom see, an executive officer of a PSYOP detachment in the 1960s sending a memorandum about what inexpensive items might be placed in the next float mission to North Korea. Notice some of the things he considers: Playing cards, flash cards, bookmarks, marbles (five for a penny) and bars of soap. On the back he continues: gummed stickers with anti-Communist messages, Korean flags, song books, and photographs of places meaningful to Koreans.

During the Vietnam War, psychological operations personnel in IV Corps sent over 250,000 float bags filled with propaganda literature and gift items to farmers and fishermen living along the waterways of the Mekong delta. The entire quarter-million floats were placed in the water in a single day. One helicopter pilot reported sighting a small wooden craft whose entire front end was filled with float packages. The boatman had systematically retrieved every float he encountered as he proceeded up the canal. I assume that he made a nice profit later selling the gifts in the local markets and street stalls.

The top secret MACSOG documentation study – psychological operations, 10 July 1970, mentions the use of floats to disseminate Black material:

There is difficulty in the distribution of all types of black PSYOP material in a credible manner. At present, only wind drift techniques with leaflets and air drop-water float methods with floatable items are possible. Even these methods (by cargo aircraft) are restricted to areas which are not protected by Anti-aircraft fire.

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Banana Stalk Floats

A popular game among young Vietnamese was to place messages in banana stalk floats and send them down a river or stream. During the Vietnam War, the South Vietnamese Culture-Drama Teams would use this same method to send propaganda leaflets to the Communist Viet Cong. The Van Tac Vu (Office of Literary Production) teams did this as part of their “Returnee Propaganda Tasks.” They taught the local children to take part in this returnee program too.

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Two Types of Portable Radio Dropped on or floated into Vietnam

During the long years that the United States of America aided the Republic of Vietnam in the battle to retain its independence, a number of Allied radio stations broadcast to Vietnam. The Ministry of Defense in Saigon operated the Voice of Freedom with transmitters in Hue. The Americans provided financial, technical, and advisory assistance to the Vietnamese broadcasters. Some other stations broadcasting to the Vietnamese were Radio Saigon, the Voice of America, and the British Broadcasting Corporation. To facilitate the listening of the programs, thousands of small transistor radios were dropped over North Vietnam or floated ashore from the Gulf of Tonkin. They were preset to Allied radio stations.

My files from the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa mention the number of miniature propaganda radios disseminated by the United States over certain time periods. For instance, during Operation Field Goal from July 1972 to the cease-fire in January 1973, 12,921 radios were floated into North Vietnam on rafts, 3,192 radios were sent North by balloon, and 14,419 were dropped by B-52 bombers.

During Operation Prairie Lightning (formerly Field Goal), C-130 aircraft dropped 8,280 radios while B-52 bombers dropped 2,016. During the Ho Chi Minh Trail campaign against soldiers coming the trail from North Vietnam and civilians maintaining the trail in late 1972 and early 1973, 6,432 radios were dropped along the Trail by C-130 Hercules. During the Rice River Campaign (directed against North Vietnamese troops in Cambodia), C-130s dropped another 5,496 radios. And during Operation Fountain Pen (directed against North Vietnamese troops in Laos) in December 1972, 6032 radios were dropped by C-130s.

The military booklet: BUILDING BRIDGES: Commander’s Guide to Face-to-Face Communication explains the importance of radio to PSYOP. It says in part: 

The invention of the battery-powered transistor has brought radio broadcasts into most households of developing countries. There are now over 600 million radio sets in the developing world, and the number continues to grow as technology becomes less expensive.

Radio is one of the most effective forms of communication, particularly in developing countries. In Africa for example, people listen to the radio while farming, cooking, or shopping…In addition to local and international radio stations, the U.S. military or coalition forces may have portable stations broadcasting in your local area. Well thought-out and prepared statements can reach distant targets. It is an excellent medium to convey a message to a target audience. Radio is very inexpensive to buy, operate and maintain and is ideal for illiterate audiences. One radio can be listened to by large numbers of people.

Another method for floating a propaganda radio ashore was quite complicated and used both floats and balloons to accomplish the mission. Two J-100 weather balloons were attached by a string to a chemical fuse. The fuse was attached by a string to a piece of wood. The radio was attached above the fuse. The duration of the fuse was measured in hours. The US Navy launched the whole package into the ocean where it was blown to the North Vietnamese shoreline. It would bounce along the beach until the wood was lodged and acted as an anchor. Eventually the fuse would burn through releasing the two balloons with the radio. Released from the wood anchor, the balloon rapidly rose. Eventually, one would burst from expansion, and the other, being incapable of lifting the radio would settle down until the radio came gently to rest on the ground. The following morning, there would be balloons in the sky or all along the populated coastline anchored by the radios. The Vietnamese would be drawn to the balloon out of curiosity and thus find the radio.

The U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division's 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry circulated leaflets by using toy sailboats. The leaflets resembling the Vietnamese national flag were attached to large spikes driven into foot-long pieces of two-by-four wood. They targeted the 516th Main Force Battalion of the Viet Cong. The message encouraged the Viet Cong to lay down their arms and returned to their family and friends.  The biggest modes of transportation in the Kien Hoa Province for the Viet Cong are the small streams and canals that dart throughout the area and that is where the 3rd Battalion decided to use the leaflets. It was hoped that the Viet Cong curiosity would be enough to make them pick up the floating leaflets. The small boats were distributed by infantry patrols.

Members of the U.S. Army 10th PSYOP Battalion dropped soap and candy in the Delta of Vietnam in 8 x 8-inch baggies. The soap was also distributed by hand and by floats set adrift down the river. Some of the items placed in the bag were a toothbrush and tooth paste, a bar of soap; some wrapped hard candy, some small denomination banknotes, and some mixed propaganda leaflets including water and food storage information. The operation was not a success. It soon became clear that the local Communist leaders were telling the peasants that the bags contained poison and should be immediately turned in. The result is that the commissars and the Viet Cong got the soap, candy, and money, and the peasants got nothing. The baggies were flown from Binh Thuy, but tests showed that the air drops were not an efficient way to disseminate the propaganda gifts. One former PSYOP trooper said:

Education was big in our campaign efforts due to the ability to find distinct village populations with roads, canals and surrounding farm lands. We were deadly serious in trying to help the people. We did have some success, but the failure rate of wet baggies plus the poison story by the Viet Cong made the overall mission a failure.

There was another operation where propaganda floats were dropped off the coast of North Vietnam by a United States Navy submarine. The clandestine Studies and Observations Group (SOG) directed that operation.

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A Chieu Hoi Leaflet

This American Chieu Hoi leaflet coded 2530 depicts the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) symbol on the front. The back has a poem from Chairman Ho Chi Minh telling of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army victories, and a counter-poem from a Communist defector telling of the actual terrible defeats suffered by his unit.

The front of the leaflet depicts the Chieu Hoi Symbol. The back is all text and shows Chairman Ho’s greeting, and then goes on to change all of the positive comments into negative ones. The text is:

Counter-poem to Chairman Ho's Tet Greetings Poem

This New Year will be much better than past new years
Victory and good news sweep the nation
South and North vie with one another in fighting the Americans
Advance - total victory will certainly be ours

Spring 1968 - Ho Chi Minh

The defector replies below:

This New Year will be worse than past new years
Defeats and sad news will sweep the nation
The North and South both protest
Future defeat will certainly be ours

This poem was composed by Rallier Truong Dinh Du out of his anger at the actual Communist defeat while "Uncle Ho" still continues to brag about victory.

A Vietnamese read this leaflet and was critical. He said:

The “counter” poem was poorly constructed, mainly by paraphrasing the original one and by replacing positive words with negative ones. This is considered a pitiful style in writing couplets, where words must be skillfully chosen to counter the original verse, but never to repeat.

Robert W. Chandler mentions another Vietnam float project War of ideas, the U. S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam:

The U.S. Marines in the Rung Sat Special Zone in January 1967 combined pacification operations with intensive leaflet, loudspeaker and civic action programs.Marines placed a Chieu Hoi leaflet and a cigarette in plastic bags and floated them up the mouths of rivers during evening tides; similarly, plastic buckets containing a washcloth, a half piece of elephant soap, needles and thread, and a leaflet were drifted into Viet Cong areas.

The Communist North Vietnamese reported the finding of Allied propaganda radios on many occasions. Some of the MACVSOG reports of the discoveries are as follows:

On 2 May 1965, fisherman found large and small boxes floating in the water. The small boxes contained children’s clothing and handkerchiefs. The large boxes were sealed with green tape and wrapped in a nylon bag. When opening the eight large boxes they found radios, about 25cm long and 10cm high. The listeners noted that the radios played Vietnamese music and talk stations. Within every box was a piece of paper that said, “This radio set is donated to the people of North Vietnam. Do not allow anyone to take it from you. Keep it to follow the situation.” Security forces found out and two days later confiscated 23 radio sets within the Tuong Lai commune.

On three occasions near Tet 1965, gift boxes were found drifting in transparent plastic boxes near Liem Lap hamlet. They contained children’s clothes, handkerchiefs, lighters, pencils, pen and pen holders, and fishing lines and hooks. Security agents confiscated the boxes saying that if they were brought home they would explode. In addition, if the finders wore the clothes after 3 months and 10 days their skin be swollen and they would die from poison that the enemy soaked into the cloth.

Underhill told me:

Rather than risk dying by wearing T-shirts that were included in the package, they put the T-shirts on their pigs. The pigs showed no ill effects, so they washed the T-shirts and wore them. When the villagers and the soldiers found leaflets, they usually read them out of curiosity thinking that the leaflets which were disseminated for propaganda purposes might not have been treated with poisonous chemicals.

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Leaflet 10-277-68

200,000 copies of this leaflet were printed by the 10th PSYOP Battalion in 1968 and placed in plastic gift bags as part of a PBR “Float Program.” The text says in part:

This gift which was floated to you on water is from the Government of Vietnam to you and your family as part of the Truong Cong Dinh Campaign of IV Corps Headquarters in the IV Combat Tactical Zone.

Your government wants to keep your waterways free. Support your government and the Truong Cong Dinh Campaign.

Note: The Truong Cong Dinh Campaign was a military operation from 14 March to 20 April 1968. The Allies claimed victory with 3,055 VC killed and 2209 more captured. The legendary hero Truong Cong Dinh defeated the French in the 1800s.

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Special Issue - Mien Nam Tu-Do - No.52 – JUSPAO 3022 - December 1968

In the operational report directly below this section we mention that the propaganda newspaper Tu-Do was sometimes floated into Viet Cong occupied areas. I illustrate a copy of the newspaper here. Stories include President Nguyen Van Thieu taking part in Paris talks, a photograph of Vice-President Ky providing guidance to the Republic of Vietnam delegates to the Paris talks and President Nixon strengthening US-Vietnam ties.

The newspaper Mien Nam Tu-Do was written by the Field Development Division, then printed in the United States Information Agency plant in Manila, with the cost paid for by the U.S. Army (7th PSYOP Group). Each issue was given a regular JUSPAO code number. For instance, mini-newspaper issue 49 of November, 1968 was coded 2984. The newspaper targeted rural areas of Vietnam that were not served by the civilian press. Its purpose was to keep those rural areas informed of national programs in their behalf; publicize Government victories and Communist defeats; developments in the Chieu Hoi program; Free World assistance to the Government of Vietnam; and the anti-Government actions by Hanoi, the NLF and the Viet Cong. The newspaper came in both a regular and a mini-size issue and in different colors. In 1968, 520,000 copies of the mini-issue were distributed to the 44 provinces mostly by hand instead of air drop. The size of the mini-edition is 9.5-inches by 10.5-inches.

The full-size newspaper was 10.5-inches by 16-inches. Full-sized number 10 was dated November, 1968 and coded 2987. In 1968, 2,000,000 copies were printed every other week. Occasionally, special issues were produced. The newspaper was printed in Manila and flown to Vietnam for distribution by the four PSYOP Battalions. 1,300,000 copies were issued to the battalion to be airdropped over Viet Cong areas. The other 700,000 issues were shipped to the 44 provinces. Full-sized issue 10 depicted a photograph of President Nixon on the back and news of his election as President of the United States.

The Operational Report of Lessons Learned for the Quarterly Period ending 31 July 1968 of the 10th PSYOP Battalion may be in regard to the above operation:

During Operation Kon Tiki sealed plastic bags containing the rural magazine “Hong Que,” the newspaper “Tu Do,” propaganda leaflets, a Vietnamese flag, and small miscellaneous gifts were set adrift in Delta waterways leading into VC controlled areas. The objective of the operation was to overcome the measures employed by the VC to limit the effect of leaflet and loudspeaker propaganda. The operation was completed as planned. On 13 May 1968, from 0400 through 0615 hours, 153,000 plastic bags were disseminated. Area of dissemination included 43 points within 11 provinces. A total of 85 Navy PBR’s participated in the operation. Following the distribution phase, aerial and ground observation teams were sent into the target area to determine if the bags were picked up. The observation teams reported no bags sighted.

Civil Operations for Revolutionary Development Support/Psychological Operations reported the operation may have contributed to the increased Chieu Hoi rate which followed the operation and continued for two weeks. A Hoi Chanh from Phong Dinh province, interrogated at the Phong Dinh Sector Chieu Hoi Canter, stated, “I read a directive ordering me to inform the people in my area not to touch the bags because they were poisoned." He further stated he had not seen any of the bags in his area.

Sample Plastic Float bags sent to the 7th PSYOP Group
Sold by the millions and available with different colors

One document in my possession mentions the plastic bags, and states that 40,000 were ordered for use in a float program to support psychological operations. It was found that the bags tend to gather in the water making it easy for a small number of fisherman or security forces to sweep up large numbers of the bags easily and quickly. As a result, a request was made for bags in three different sizes with the idea that the bags would be less likely to stay together.

In January 1968, a study was completed and plans were formulated for a project to reach the population of tightly controlled Viet Cong areas by means of attractive waterproof jackets containing leaflets and brochures along with gifts (soap, thread and needles, tooth brushes, crayons, etc.) floated into the targeted areas by means of numerous canals and waterways of IV Corps. Arrangements were made with the Binh Thay Naval Base S5 (Civil Affairs) to supply the 10th PSYOP Battalion with detailed intelligence of the targeted groups in the river target areas and a means of delivery. A search was made for a source of cellophane bags and a bag sealer.

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Viet Cong Propaganda Float
Naval History and Heritage Command

On 1 September 1967, a Viet Cong float was discovered and seized in the Co Chien River by a U.S. Navy Patrol Boat River (PBR) of river section 523. Propaganda leaflets and a propaganda banner were found on the float.

A Viet Cong Leaflet sent by Propaganda Float

This leaflet is in terrible condition. U.S. Intelligence coded it VCS-994. We know that it was placed on a float, put in a stream, and sent wherever the water took it. It obviously got very wet and as a result the ink was washed away. When found it was given to American Intelligence and a note was made:

Received at provincial town, on a float, drifting from Hoa Thanh, two miles from town, Camau Province, on 11 September 1966. We estimate 2,000 copies onboard.

Somebody, certainly a Vietnamese translator was able to somehow read it. Here is some of what it said, curiously, a poem:


Our village had a long bamboo hedge
Where people lived their calm happy lives.
Who came to destroy and cause pain and mournfulness?
The old bamboo hedge lost.
The calm happy lives became bitter.
Americans are not our people.
Why have you followed them for so long?
Americans gave American guns coming from foreign countries.
With which you killed people and harmed them.
Make your lives as happy as possible,
Kill Americans with American guns, save the people, save yourselves….


Viet Cong File Leaflet 01402

This is a leaflet folded to make four pages. It was also placed on a propaganda float to drift to a nearby town or hamlet. The language is rather difficult, and I just record what the translator said. The explanation says:

Received at provincial town on crafts drifting from Hoa Thanh village in Camau Province on 11 September 1933. We estimate 1,000 copies onboard.

The text is exceedingly long so once again I will just translate the first Paragraph:


The political as well as military failure of American Imperialists and their servants Thieu and Ky is more and more tremendous. That shows Thieu and Ky’s rebellious authority is the American Imperialists’ servants and invaders tools. World and interior opinion, especially all the social classes of the southern town dwellers, is continually struggling to object strongly to the Americans and Thieu and Ky. American Imperialists are still obstinate, willing to maintain their servants Thieu and Ky’s government. To hide their invasion, cheat opinion, decrease people’s struggling movement, they display what is called the “fake national assembly election” in the south, arranging the rebellious government to keep on advancing their dirty invading war…

Another Viet Cong type of leaflet float was mentioned in a January 1968 newspaper story and later in a taped interview:

Viet Cong troops launching rocket attacks on the big Da Nang fighter base are supplementing them now with propaganda leaflets aimed at Negroes. The first of the leaflets calling on “Colored American Servicemen” to surrender turned up Christmas Day. It was attached to a log float sailed down the river near the base camp if the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marine Regiment. The float, picked up Christmas Day, had a wooden cross on it, letters cut out from crepe paper spelling out “Noel” and a North Vietnamese flag designed from crepe paper. Two similar floats were sent down the river but both of these were booby-trapped.

The Marines decided to return the gifts to the Communists. They prepared floats decorated with Chieu Hoi (“Open Arms”) leaflets, Allied flags, rubber balls and paper decorations. Painted on the front of the raft was the word TET (Vietnamese New Year).The Chieu Hoi leaflets emphasized the New Year and pointed out that it would be another year of misery for the enemy. They must endure another year in the jungle away from their families. The leaflets explained how the Chieu Hoi program would allow the enemy members who defected to become citizens of the Republic of South Vietnam and live in safety and freedom

The U.S. Navy also did regular PSYOP campaigns as is told by their Vietnam After-action Monthly Reports:

In 1967, Naval Forces Vietnam had thirteen officers and ten enlisted personnel with psychological operations schooling, all but two of whom were advisors to the Vietnamese Navy. Most psychological operations advisors were co-located with U. S. Navy units and provided guidance and assistance to the U. S. Navy Psychological Operations Program.

In regard to friendly and enemy floats they tell us:

A sandbar fourteen miles southeast of Can Tho in the Bassac River provided the location for significant Viet Cong psychological warfare activity on 27 June 1966. Patrol Boat River (PBR) 38 discovered a beached bamboo float. The float was a replica of a PBR, covered with haze-grey canvas and flying a Viet Cong flag. A sign on board - in Vietnamese - challenged the Americans to fight, and included the phrase “Sat My” (“Kill Americans”). The float was taken under fire by .50 caliber machine guns, damaged and forced into the river. Cautious of possible booby traps, the PBR stayed well clear and allowed it to float away with the current.

On 15 May 1968, PBRs assisted in the execution of Operation KON TIKI. The PBR's deposited plastic packages containing psychological operations material and small gifts, in the rivers and canals leading into the Viet Cong controlled areas, The packages were designed to float allowing the tide to carry them to the targeted areas.

On 18 May 1968, units of River Section 535 came under heavy enemy fire while distributing psychological operation material 5.5 miles northeast of Vinh Long. As the two-boat patrol was dropping the PSYOP packages into the canal, designed to float with the tide into the Viet Cong controlled areas. The PBR's suddenly came under heavy automatic weapons and B-40 rocket fire. Thirty-eight loudspeaker missions were conducted with a total of 18 of the boats drawing hostile fire, It was stated by one PBR sailor that “if you want to draw enemy fire start broadcasting.” In another case the Navy found what they considered one of the Viet Cong's newest PSYOP devices. They found 2-foot by 2-foot float with VC leaflets attached. After close examination, the floats were picked up, and the leaflets were removed and turned over to Intelligence. The favor was then returned as U.S. and Vietnamese leaflets were attached to the same floats which were then returned to the original position and released on the following night.

In 1970, the use of plastic bags to float propaganda came to a temporary end. A letter from Underhill to a friend said:

The float contract here has been officially cancelled. The contractor could not meet the terms of the contract and we finally gave up on him.

On 3 October 1970 Major Underhill wrote to Winzen Research Incorporated of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He said in part:

A contract had been signed for 45,000 polyethylene float bags of three sizes. That contract has been cancelled. The favorable wind season for delivering the floats has passed and the bags aren’t required until mid-March 1971. If your company would be interested in competing and could provide some indication of price range, I will notify our people.

In a second letter he tells Winzen that the sea currents are unfavorable, however, the surface winds can overpower the unfavorable sea currents and they have been able to place inflated polyethylene bags onto the target area shoreline. He then mentions the number of plastic bags he has used during this campaign and I found that quite amazing. He has purchased 480,000 bags in five different sizes. This float operation was a major project.

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A Viet Cong Anti-Election Booklet floated on a Raft

This anti-election leaflet is one sheet of paper folded to make four pages. The text inside is dated 11 September 1966. It was filed by G2 (Intelligence) with number 01402 and the comment “It asks people to boycott the September 1966 election and was floated downstream on a raft.” It seems to have been found in An Xuyen, a province in the Mekong Delta within the old Republic of Vietnam. The full title of this document is:

Statement of the Ca Mau Province National Liberation Front Committee on Boycotting the Phony November 1966 National Assembly Elections Being Held by the Saigon Puppet Government

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A Typical Viet Cong Leaflet – American Servicemen

Viet Cong leaflets were usually hand-written, typed or printed on ancient portable presses in the bush. The paper was usually of poor quality as was the English and grammar. This leaflet accuses the Americans of various war crimes:

American Servicemen

Don’t fire at and spray suffocating gas into our people’s air and cannon shelters. Don’t destroy crop, kill domestic animals and plunder our people’s property. Repression, terrorism, massacre, house burning, woman raping…are not the democratic American’s ideals. Stop spraying noxious chemicals in Vietnam.

The leaflet is signed on the back by the “South Vietnam National Front for Liberation” and has additional text:

Stop the war of aggression in South Vietnam! Bloods of American and Vietnam youth have been shed too much. Peace in South Vietnam and repatriation for all U.S. Troops!

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U.S. Troops Gather Viet Cong Propaganda Leaflets from Water in Mekong Delta – 1969

What do you do if you are Viet Cong and have no Navy and no time to prepare propaganda floats? You simply place the leaflets in the water and let the current take them wherever it goes. Here U.S. troops from the “Brown Water Navy” clear the stream of anti-U.S. and South Vietnam propaganda.


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Cold War Float to North Korea with t-Shirt and Pencils

An example of waterborne dissemination is the float depicted above. This American container was used against North Korea. The float is a plastic jar with a bright red cap to draw attention. There are three items inside. First, a colorful child's shirt with an amusing design, next a pencil strategically broken in half so that it can fit inside the plastic jar and finally, a bright red parachute (possibly to be used if the floats were dropped from aircraft). This same type of float was used against Vietnam, released from offshore submarines.

Lieutenant Colonel Underhill added:

The propaganda leaflet program directed against North Korea was the major focus of our propaganda activities. However, it was augmented with the "propaganda float." The propaganda float was simply a plastic bag with various printed media and gift items placed inside. The bag was then placed in the water where the winds and/or currents would carry it to an area or shore line where it would be discovered by North Koreans.

A water borne package provides tremendous flexibility in terms of items that can be presented to the target audience. Detailed coverage of the float program was published in a twelve chapter, 46 page booklet by the 7th Psychological Operations Group. Five hundred copies were distributed, and some of the material in my memoirs was taken from that booklet.

Underhill added:

The propaganda float operation directed against North Korea was begun in 1965. North Korean officials ignored the operation for a long time. Internally, instructions were passed by various Party officials to deal with the situation. Initially, propaganda floats were systematically prepared on an assembly line basis. This proved to be an error in judgement on my part. If someone attempted to conceal an item, North Korean authorities simply had to located one package intact, inventory it, and then round up all items that were on their inventory list. However, we introduced the technique of systematically placing items in the float package on a spotty basis. The absence of an item would not create undue suspicion when the float package reached security officials because all packages were not the same. In one such instance, on the evening of August 10, 1970, a variety of float packages were inserted into the North Korea offshore waters by the Republic of Korea Navy. The contents of these floats were not identical, which marked the first time the technique was used.

At a later date Dave told me more about his operation:

I was able to establish a float operation off the west coast of North Korea. The current moved from up the coast of China and followed the current down the North Korean west coast. By using pillow sized float bags I was able to move the float bags against the current. I was able to reach a large number of coastal fisherman and residents. The bags contained radios to support our seventeen hours a day, seven days a week VUNC (Voice of the United Nations Command) radio broadcasts. There were also gift items, magazines and propaganda materials. The Navy loved it. One fisherman secreted a gift of cord used in repairing fishnets. He unwound it to its tiny, individual string and made a fishing dip net. He couldn't keep it a secret and neighbors wanted to borrow it. He never loaned it out. He explained to them that if the Communist party found out they would get in trouble.

The Navy loved it. It gave them an actual anti-Communist mission.

The fishing communities ultimately realized that the communist information media were all deceptive.On one ship they actually overpowered the ship's political officer who was also the chief engineer and defected to South Korea.

The Communists responded by shutting down all west coast fishing operations.They removed ALL fishermen, their families, friends and neighbors and everyone that might live close enough to the coast to make their way and defect.The entire coastal population was moved inland. The fishermen lost their extra sea-duty pay.

Dave said that the Communist regime paid a lot of attention to the floats and many defectors who came to South Korea when interrogated mentioned the floats. He gave me some examples. A former North Korean fisherman, who was later recruited as an agent and dispatched to the Republic of Korea immediately surrendered to South Korean authorities upon his arrival in the South:

One morning in May or June, we were fishing for yellow corvina near Mu Island. I was taking a nap after having cast the fishing net, when I was awakened by noise made by other crewmen. I saw the men reading five or six South Korean booklets of different types. The men said that these publications had been packed in a vinyl bag found floating on the water. One of the crewmen had picked it out of the water with a basket-type scoop net.

I had heard many rumors among the fishermen at the Fishery Enterprise Office about other fishermen who, while at sea fishing, had found vinyl bags floating on the water. I heard from crewmen of Boat No. 65, which was assigned to the same Boat Group, and which had been fishing in the same area as our boat, that they had picked up three vinyl bags containing South Korean propaganda material. The vinyl bags contained booklets, T-shirts, and underpants. I heard that a fisherman working for the enterprise had posted on the mirror in his room a color photograph of a nice looking girl which he had cut out of a booklet from a vinyl bag found floating on the water. The fisherman took down the picture a few days later because his neighbors considered that posting such a picture was unusual and immoral and against Communist ethics.

Some fisherman, particularly young men, tried to find such bags while they were at sea. They knew that they had to turn such bags ink but they were curious to look at the bags' contents before they turned them in. The men desired to keep the items themselves, especially small items such as cigarette lighters, cigarette holders and the like which were easily concealable on their persons. A Mr. Choi who was also a fisherman, had a small fishing net made of nylon string which he had obtained while at sea. What Mr. Choi had done had been to take apart the nylon cord into its individual threads and from there he had woven his fishing net. Many fishermen that found nylon cords in vinyl bags and had taken the cords to their homes for use in hanging up laundry to dry.

A Gift Bag for North Korea
Twine for the fishermen and pencils and pens for the children

I have 7th PSYOP Group reports of float operations off the coast of Korea on different dates:

From 26 to 28 May 1970, 3,600 gift bags were floated into North Korea as well as 200 miniature red radios.

One of the Miniature Radios
And of course all of the bags contained propaganda leaflets

From 10 to 11 July 1970, 5,000 bags were floated from the West Sea into North Korea as well as 300 miniature red radios.

From 20 to 22 July 1970, 800 bags were floated onto the north coast of North Korea as well as 500 miniature blue radios.

From 20 to 21 August 1970, 4,000 bags were floated from the West Sea onto North Korea.

Looking at the final totals for gift bag items floated into North Korea I find the following for fiscal 1970:

27,000 Nail clippers, 32,100 Medical plasters, 23,500 rubber balls, 61,700 bars of soap, 32,100 copies of the magazine “Korea Today”, 175,200 leaflets, 26,700 large plastic bags, 32,200 small plastic bags, and 2,100 radios in blue, green, purple and red.

There seems to be some debate about what should go into the gift bags. Although very cheap items were placed in the bags, the expense was still high. One report titled Special Printed Materials for Float Program points out that “an expanded float program precludes use of gifts of even limited cost because of lack of funds.” The report goes on to recommend:

A series of pamphlets of 8, 12 or 16 pages should be prepared on various aspects of South Korea. Items for use in the pamphlets can be taken from past issues of “Freedom” magazine and photographs used on calendars. An example of a pamphlet that should have considerable psychological impact would be a collection of photographs of places of cultural interest in the Republic of Korea with short captions and a text that speaks preservation of the Korean culture and cultural assets.

On the evening of 10 August 1970, a variety of float packages were inserted into the North Korea offshore waters by the Republic of Korea Navy. The North Koreans reacted immediately. At 1200 on 11 August, the following Pyongyang Radio Domestic Service broadcast was monitored:

The US aggressor army carried out another military provocation in the western sector of the front in the Han River area. The US aggressor army floated rubber boats and balloons [These were actually inflated polyethylene gift bags] carrying explosives towards our side of the river from Kanghwa Island and Kimpo peninsula on the night of 10 August, taking advantage of the rising tide. About the time when these rubber boats and balloons arrived at the riverbank, the US aggressor army carried out a heinous provocation by firing hundreds of rounds of heavy arms fire at our people's outposts and the populated district in the area. Our people's army sentinels took an immediate countermeasure and sank all the explosives floated by the US aggressor army, completely foiling the enemy's provocative attempts.

Eight cooperative North Korean defectors and one recently captured espionage agent still in custody made up the panel to critique the gifts to be placed into floats in late 1970. In general, the gifts were all approved and the jigsaw puzzle, writing board, stickers and flash cards were deemed so attractive and useful that children might hide and keep them instead of turning them in. The panel recommended that there should be no writing of any kind on any object that would give its origin away.

The panel recommended that certain items be added to the list. Playing cards are in great demand. They are not produced in Korea and old people play with cards left by the Chinese after the Korean War. North Koreans would be impresses to learn that South Korea could make plastic playing cards. Some other items were mentioned, coloring books, colored paper for folding, a pocket sized comb, and a show-horn.


A fancy Emollient Soap Packaged with a Propaganda Leaflet

A Pair of Fancy women’s Panties with a Propaganda Leaflet

A gift for our Northern Compatriots


A camouflaged bag of rice with propaganda leaflet

Rice for our cherished unification

Skin Medicine

A Toothbrush with Propaganda Leaflet

These items were sent north in the late 1980s or early 1990s.  At that time leaflet operations were run by the Korean Agency for National Planning (NSP), the new name for the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.  It is clear that the South Koreans sent many different types of gifts northward in their sea floats and balloons. Above, we depict some items that were individually packed and then placed inside a larger plastic bag. Other gifts within this particular load were some material that the women could make clothes from and a toothbrush. The South Korean Government stopped balloon and sea float operations when Roh Moo-hyun was elected President in 2003, but defector groups continued sending propaganda and gifts north. At this time the U.S. was not actively engaged in PSYOP against North Korea. But, they were tracking the leaflets and themes. The U.S. was mostly working on contingencies for war.  

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Preparation of Floats

Republic of Korea Navy technicians with U. S. PSYOP specialists prepare float bags to be drifted into North Korean waters and along the shoreline as part of Operation Jilli (Truth).

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A Float Containing a PSYOP Radio

A U. S. - Republic of Korea Cold War float containing a radio in its protective package. The sea currents flow from North to South. The radio has been placed in a pillow-size inflated plastic bag that acts as a sail. The package is moved against the current using south-southwesterly winds where it is picked up by fishermen at sea, or people along the shoreline. Magazines, leaflets, book marks, chopsticks, fishing line and other gift items were sent to North Korea through this method of dissemination.

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A Trail of Floats

As the ship moves forward a trail of “pillow” floats follows. They will eventually be swept by the wind and tide to the North Korean coastline.

The Americans would question North Korean defectors to determine what gifts were most desirable. In 1966 defector stated that the best gifts would be cigarette holders (fishermen’s hands are usually wet); cigarette lighters (The matches tend to get wet); nylon cord; sunglasses; cigarette cases (To keep the cigarettes dry) and ball-point pens (they are very expensive in North Korea).

The same questions were asked again two years later by the the Target Analysis Section of the 7th PSYOP Group that published a weekly newsletter called PSYOP Intelligence Notes. The issue of 21 May 1968 discussed items that might be placed in gift bags for North Korean fishermen as recommended by a North Korean spy who was caught and interrogated. The objects were: electric light bulbs (the fishing boats always needed bulbs and they were scarce; Earmuffs for the cold winter days; Nylon string; Cigarette holders; and brooches for the fishermen’s wife who only have plastic jewelry. If floats were used, they should be thin, not too bulky and the contents should be clearly visible.

Non-fisherman defectors preferred work clothes; winter underwear; socks; undershirts; gloves and cloth among 14 other items that were scarce in the north such as grain, sweets cash and laundry soap.

North Korean soldier defectors wanted fountain pens and radios, but admitted that their officers said they contained explosives. The evil Americans and South Koreans waited for you to wind the watches or change the radio stations and then you were blown up.

The Americans knew the kind of product they wanted to float north. Two examples are bars of soap that contained messages on the wrapper, or inside the soap that would appear as the soap was used. They wanted marbles because they were extremely cheap, and the children were sure to play with them.

A 1 December 1970 7th PSYOP Group report titled School Kits in Psychological Operations said in part:

There should be student’s kits. The student’s kits could contain: pencils, erasers, rulers, protractor, compass, pencil box, crayons, shitajiki (writing board), clipboard, coloring materials, notebooks, coloring books, sketch books, stickers or decals, National flag, National anthem music and words, bookmarkers, and leaflets, pamphlets or booklets.

The 7th PSYOP Group recommended in an article titled The North Korean Defector that in selecting gift items for the float program, the widest variety possible should be obtained. No “standard” float package should be created; rather a variety of packages should be disseminated on each mission, and as far as possible each mission should include a new variety of float packages.

The reasoning behind this recommendation is that if a standard package was created, it would be very easy for North Korean security forces to check the packages found by fishermen and tell if anything had been hidden away. By keeping the contents random, the security forces would never know what had originally been inside the float.

Another North Korean defector recommended various items to be placed in the gift packets floated in plastic bags to Korea by the United States Army 7th PSYOP Group. Although the source had never seen or heard about the use of plastic bags floating on water as a delivery means for leaflets and other materials, he said that type of operation was, in his opinion, excellent and a well-suited PSYOP delivery method to reach the target audience. He recommended as gift items for inclusion in the floating plastic bags the following:

A Pojaji – A square cloth designed to carry articles. An Indan case – A container for carrying a medicine used for sweet-smelling breath. Handkerchiefs, soap containers, shoe horns, combs, a money case, children’s toys, children’s fairytale books and picture books for children.

He recommended that in sending such gift items, the best quality items should be used for greater effectiveness. He said that this would achieve two purposes: (1) show the excellence and high quality of Republic of Kora goods to the target audience, and (2) create in the target audience dissatisfaction with North Korean goods, especially when in actual use the ROK items lasted much longer and were better than North Korean made equivalents. If the aim is to create an immediate impression of excellence of the item, then the brand names of ROK manufacturers or some other indication of ROK origin should be clearly seen. But if the aim is to emphasize the superiority of the item based upon actual long term use, then there should be nothing on the item to indicate origin in the ROK.

The float operation was fairly successful. One fisherman defector stated:

One morning in May or June, we were fishing near Mu Island. I was taking a nap after having cast the fishing net, when I was awakened by noise made by other crewmen. I saw the men reading five or six South Korean booklets of different types. The men said that these publications had been packed in a vinyl bag found floating on the water. One of the crewmen had picked it out of the water with a basket-type scoop net. While the crewmen were reading the material, the chief engineer of the boat, who was also the officer in charge of Party activity on board, confiscated the material and took it to his room. The chief engineer said that this material was from South Korea.

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An “Envelope" float containing leaflets for North Korea

A North Korean military defector's comments on the program:

According to my company leader and the assistant company leader for political affairs, wristwatches, fountain pens, and radio sets sent from South Korea were found in the area north of the Imjin River. They said that these things were fixed with explosives. Dials of the radios are fixed to Republic of Korea broadcasts, and if turned to other stations they explode. Members of my company were told not to pick up such things when found in the company area.

A fisherman who defected to the south said:

The leaflet listing the South Korean radio frequencies was a great help to me in listening to the South Korean radio stations. However, South Korean news program schedules should also have been supplied in the leaflet.

A rather dubious Air Force veteran and retired Foreign Service officer told me about one propaganda float mission that he took part in:

In the 1960s, I went out on a small patrol boat with the South Korean navy and watched them float thousands of Styrofoam-packed transistor radios ashore in North Korea. A friend of mine was the U.S. Army civilian who edited the magazine distributed in South Korea through an arrangement with the Korean National Police---an outrageous waste of my tax dollars. I never saw any evidence that any psychological operation had any impact at all.

Other types of floats used against North Korea were simple plastic bags containing Korean-language publications and/or nylon string that could be used by the fishermen to make nets, hang clothes, and dozens of other uses. In order to get the North Koreans to pick up the floats and hopefully read the leaflets, gifts were often placed inside the floats. The interrogation of North Korean fishermen determined that the gifts they most wanted to find in the floats were; cigarette lighters, cigarette cases, cigarette holders, nylon cord, sunglasses, and ball-point pens. Non-fishermen preferred various articles of clothing and cash. Other recommended items to be placed in the floats were; soap bars, rulers, and marbles for the children.

In 2019 I asked former Lieutenant Colonel Dave Underhill who was involved in propaganda to North Korea about some bookmarks that he printed. He told me that the bookmarks had been used in both North and South Korea. In the North they were delivered on floats. Apparently he floated a number of different bookmarks into North Korea to show them that South Korea still appreciated their culture. He told me something else that seemed amusing in a propaganda war:

I am into bookmarks. I have quite a collection. Libraries like them. If people use bookmarks, they don’t bend over a page to mark where they stopped reading.

So, not only did he want to propagandize North Koreans, but he felt a personal need to protect the books in their libraries. He was quite a guy!

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Bookmark 70-1


There were a number of bookmarks in the Korean language printed by the 7th PSYOP Group Japanese detachment. They were printed on 3 June 1971 and disseminated at a later date. Bookmark 70-1 depicts a primitive Korean mask and a detailed temple roof on the front and a single line of text on the back:

Hahoe Mask

The Hahoe mask is used in traditional masque plays. This wooden mask originated from the Koryo Dynasty.

The beautiful painting of our country’s old architecture.

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Bookmark 70-6

The bookmark has a photograph of the statue of King Sejong on the front and four seals on the back from the Yi Dynasty. Some of the text is:

Here, great King Sejong, an absolute benefactor for our Korean race, who invented the most reasonable alphabet in human history, is promulgating the original 28-letter alphabet (Hangul) with his declaration of independence for national culture.

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Wooden Chop sticks

While on the subject of floating items to North Korean, Dave also mentioned chop sticks. He said that the idea came to him in a PSYOP Conference in Hawaii:

In South Korea, we prepared some good wooden chop sticks and went around getting information about fancy restaurants with names, hours, menu specialties, etc. The idea was to make some good wood ones with many advertisements. We knew the North Koreans could not conceive of the variety of eating establishments in South Korea. North Korea had no forests to cut down and only used plastic chop sticks which were resented by their people. We knew if we floated these upstream into North Korea they would find and use the chopsticks, and every one of them secretly acted as South Korean propaganda.

Some Sample Chopsticks gathered by the 7th PSYOP Group for Evaluation

A letter to Underhill mentions that the concept of chopsticks was tested on a panel of North Korean defectors and they loved the idea. The interesting part about this concept is that it is not the chopsticks that are important. It is the paper wrapping on the outside that would mention all the restaurants in South Korea. The PSYOP occurs when the people see the various ads and realize that South Korea is booming and full of restaurants offering excellent food. Bamboo is imported into North Korea from China and is rare. The people would understand that in South Korea they use them once and throw them away. The panel recommended that there should be many named restaurants, mostly from small towns written in Hangol (the Korean alphabet) and the words daejoong shiktang (restaurant for the rank and file). A telephone number would show that telephones were common in South Korea. Any food mentioned should be Korean dishes and terms like “thank you” and “friendliness and service” should be used. All North Korean restaurants are owned by the state and the help is apathetical toward the customers. The chopsticks should be made of bamboo and they would be saved and later be used by women as knitting needles.

They also thought a small sushi box would be a good PSYOP gift.

There was also a discussion of toys in North Korea. City people can buy poor-quality toys, but folks in the country cannot afford them. One of the panelists said he bought his child a toy helicopter for 12 won and it came apart in less than three days. Since the North Koreans are told that South Korea has nothing but foreign-made items in their stores, sending some well-made South Korean toys north would make a statement. One of the favorite toys of small children are balloons that look like frogs, ducklings, bears, dog, pigs, and the like.

The U.S. military believes the best way to determine if a propaganda campaign is working is to listen for the howls of complaint of the enemy. On 10 August 1970, North Korea’s Radio Pyongyang announced:

The U.S. aggressor army carried out another military provocation in the western sector of the front in the Han River area.

The U.S. aggressor army which has recently carried out armed provocations against the northern half of the republic…floated rubber boats and balloons [actually inflated polyethylene gift bags] carrying explosives towards our side of the river…About the same time when these rubber boats and balloons arrived at the river bank, the U.S. aggressor army carried out a heinous provocation by firing hundreds of rounds of heavy arms fire at our people’s army outposts and the populated district, Our people's army sentinels took an immediate countermeasure and sank all the explosives floated by the US aggressor army, completely foiling the enemy's provocative attempts.

In 2016-2017, the Cold War flared up again between the two Koreas and anti-Communist activists sent propaganda to the North. In an Associated Press article dated 20 August 2017, entitled Fighting North Korea with Balloons, TV Shows and leaflets, author Tim Sullivan said:

Still, every year the activists send hundreds of thousands of leaflets across the border, and thousands of DVDs and thumb drives loaded with everything from Bibles to American sitcoms to South Korean historical dramas. Some are transported by hired smugglers via China. Some are sealed inside 2-liter water bottles tossed into the surf along the South Korean coast, then carried north by the current.


There were also Cold War operations where American-made leaflets were placed in plastic resealable drinking containers and released off the coast of Red China by vessels from the Republic of Korea.

Captain Nahlik of the 7th PSYOP Group told me that he had recommended Submarines as a way to send leaflets into mainland China during the Cold War. The leaflets would be put into the torpedo ports and discharged when in the area where current would be flowing towards the mainland. The method was workable and liked but rejected because it would enable the Chinese to determine where our submarines had been patrolling by doing backward current studies.


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Nationalist Chinese Model Leaflet Boat

U.S. Army Sergeant Fynis Eugene Briddle, writing the Falling Leaf, the Journal of the Psywar Society, mentions being stationed as the non-commissioned officer on Quemoy in 1971. He said in part:

Kinmen (Quemoy) is a small island group, the largest of which is less than five miles off the coast of the People’s Republic of China. While I was there both the Communists and Taiwanese military were still engaged in propaganda shelling on odd nights…There were several other methods of propaganda delivery used. The Nationalists would take hundreds of helium balloons; attach little gift packs such as soap dishes with soap, and propaganda leaflets to them. Another popular method was to put leaflets in beer bottles, seal them and throw them into the ocean when the tides were going out. They would also put the leaflets in little boats and float them to the mainland…

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Chinese balloon Leaflet Floats

These balloon floats were released from Taiwan when the winds were just right to drift north to the Chinese coastal area. It is thought that they probably carried both leaflets and gifts to the people of the mainland.

A Chinese Propaganda Container 


The 7th PSYOP Group aided the Chinese sea operations. The photo above depicts a plastic container with a screw-on top. It could be filled with leaflets, cigarettes, matches or anything that was considered desirable to the mainland Chinese. 


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National Chinese Leaflet

Complacency – Arrogance

This small ROC leaflet depicts Mao first being carried like an Indian maharajah. He wears what is almost a crown with his titles: Head of State, Marshal, Leader, and Chairman. To his right Lin Biao carries Mao’s flag which says Chairman. Over the entire panel is a Chinese character which reads:


In the second panel Mao is standing while others talk behind his back. They are identified as Wang Ming, Zhu De, Liu Shaoqi, and He long. Mao says to himself, I am Number One. Over the entire panel is a Chinese character which reads:


The back is all text:

Combat arrogance and complacency - Who is the target?

We depict a Chinese leaflet bottle at the top of this article. Sergeant Briddle told me:

One day after work we had our Chinese Driver take us to a mine-free section of beach where we could swim in safety. When we arrived there we saw thousands of bottles lying on the beach. Apparently the tide turned and brought the leaflet bottle back to shore instead of towards the Chinese mainland. I brought one back but have never opened it and removed the leaflets.

If you look carefully at the bottle you will see that it contained the leaflet “Complacency – Arrogance.”

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Chinese Glass Propaganda Floats Containing Leaflets

The glass ball appears to be a normal fish-net float with a hole drilled in it through which propaganda is inserted. Then a wooden peg seals the hole.

Irving R. Fang, in an article entitled “The Chinese-Chinese Psywar,” said in 1979 in that both sides send out their propaganda by radio, balloons, artillery shells, sea floats and loudspeakers. Small gifts were sent too; he mentioned underwear, toys and cooking oil.

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A Communist Chinese leaflet-filled Float

Lee Lescaze said in a 1972 Washington Post article entitled “Quemoy: Pop goes the Propaganda”:

Leaflets are exchanged by “air floating” and “sea floating”…The sea floating operation is more aggressive. Speedboats manned by frogmen maneuver as close as is deemed prudent to the Chinese coast and jettison their cargoes of plastic leaflet containers.


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The Gulf War “Marine Wave” Leaflet

The main American proponent of psychological warfare leaflets during Operation Desert Storm was the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne). They produced and printed over 29 million leaflets. The Coalition forces packed M129E1 leaflet bombs with up to 54,000 machine-rolled leaflets, which were dropped over Iraqi concentrations by F-16, F/A-18, B-52, and MC-130 aircraft. Other leaflets were delivered by balloon. Interrogation of Iraqi prisoners revealed that 98% had seen Coalition leaflets. They also did one leaflet float operation, before the actual shooting war started.

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Coalition water bottle float

You can clearly see the “wave” leaflet inside the bottle. This image appears three times in the 1996 US Army Training Film: The Invisible Sword; Psychological Operations

Probably the most famous use of the waterborne dissemination technique was the disinformation campaign used during Operation Desert Storm. Because of the heat, the military had an excess of empty water bottles. In order to convince the Iraqi forces that there would be a Marine invasion by sea, the Central Command printed a safe conduct leaflet with the text “Cease resistance - Be safe,” that depicted the face of a snarling Marine in an ocean wave, holding a bloody Kabar knife. The 4th PSYOP Group booklet Leaflets of the Persian Gulf War states that 12,000 bottles were floated along the Kuwaiti coast by a U.S.-paid smuggler from the United Arabs Emirates. The bottles washed ashore on January 14, one day before the January 15 deadline given to Iraq to withdraw their forces from Kuwait. One PSYOP Sergeant recalls:

We had about 15 people putting leaflets in the bottles, along with pebbles for ballast. Then we tried them out in a bathtub to make sure they would float right. It worked then, so I couldn't think of any reason it wouldn't work in the ocean.

Richard Johnson adds in Seeds of Victory that about the same time, American F-16 aircraft dropped the leaflets in M129E1 fiberglass leaflet bombs on two sorties over Iraqi forces defending the coast. 88,000 leaflets were dropped on 15 January and 120,000 leaflets on 6 February. The plan was a complete success. The Iraqi forces stood firm on the beaches and watched the ocean right up until Coalition forces from the western desert attacked and destroyed them.

This leaflet was originally printed in full color. It was later printed in black and white. I actually got my black and white specimen from a leaflet bomb that was left open as part of an exhibit to show how the leaflets were packed in the bomb. I “sampled” the bomb!

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Original artist concept of the Marine Tidal Wave leaflet.

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Sp4 Time Wallace

This leaflet was drawn by Tim Wallace of the 4th PSYOP Group. The product name of this leaflet is “Tidal Wave,” the product number is 2-U, and the CENTCOM mission number was 60-01-1. The text on the back of the leaflet in Arabic and English is:


To seek refuge safely, the bearer must strictly adhere to the following procedures:

1. Remove the magazine from your weapon.

2. Sling your weapon over your left shoulder, muzzle down.

3. Have both arms raised above your head.

4. Approach the Multi-national forces slowly, with the soldier holding this document above his head.

5. If you do this, you will not die.

The Shield and the Storm, Jostens Inc., 1991, says:

Twenty U. S. amphibious warships with nearly 8000 Marines and 10,000 sailors were on-station in the Gulf of Oman. Before Desert Storm began, the task force enacted elaborate practice landings on Coalition beaches in the Persian Gulf. Five divisions of Iraqi infantry entrenched in Kuwait, some 80,000 men in all, watched and listened with keen interest as U. S. amphibious forces conducted these highly visible exercises, often accompanied by members of the international press corps.

American battleships actually fired on the beaches so that the Iraqis were sure the attack was about to occur. It was a remarkable deception operation.

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The Iraqi Commander plots the Sea-borne Invasion

Did the plan work? The ground war took exactly 100 hours. We will never know for sure what part the Marine invasion leaflet played in Saddam's defeat, but we do know that the Iraqi III Corps commander's 20 x 30-foot intelligence map of Kuwait found on a Kuwait City floor depicted virtually every Coalition avenue of approach from the sea. To the very end, Iraqi troops nervously watched the Persian Gulf for any sign of the dreaded U. S. Marines and their landing craft. They waited in vain.


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North Korean River-borne Leaflets

On 27 July 2016, North Korea sent plastic bags, each carrying about 20 leaflets, down the Han River. The river flows through Seoul, South Korea's capital city. The leaflets contained threats to launch missile attacks, and the North’s revisionist history of the Korean War where they claim that they won a resounding victory. Some of the leaflets contained messages that claim July 27th, Armistice Agreement Day, as the anniversary of North Korea’s victory over South Korea. The North insists it won the war and that the armistice was only reached because the U.N. forces sued for peace.

This is the first time that North Korea used a river to send leaflets and it is probably because the direction of wind isn't favorable in the summer to fly propaganda balloons from north to south.

One leaflet had three-image cartoons describing the North attacking with the Musudan intermediate range ballistic missile because South Korea and the U.S. that have a hostile policy toward the North. North Korean recently warned of unspecified "physical" measures in response to a U.S. plan to deploy an advanced missile defense system in South Korea by the end of next year and recently fired three ballistic missiles into the sea. The leaflet appears to be threatening the U.S. military base in Guam. The leaflet says in part:

North Korea’s new revolutionary weapons Hwasong-10 could completely destroy U.S. strategic assets in the Pacific Ocean.

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Propaganda and gifts in Bottles to North Korea

With a possible peace between North and South Korea on the horizon, the South Korean Government has cracked down on the sending of leaflets by balloon. However, there are still some patriotic and religious organizations using bottles and the ocean tides to deliver their message. In May 2018, hundreds of half-gallon bottles were turned into gift packages, filled with a kilogram of uncooked white rice and a single US dollar bill; goods it would take the average North Korean 40 days to earn. Also inside is medicine to kill parasites, since doctors found worms in the stomach of a North Korean soldier who darted across the DMZ last year to defect. Finally, a USB stick full of videos with information from the outside world.

Park Jung-oh, head of North Korean defector group
Kuensaem, poses with a plastic bottle filled with rice and a COVID-19 face mask
Kim Hong-ji / Reuters

Citing South Korea’s failure to stop the defectors from sending propaganda and gifts north, North Korea blew up the joint liaison office on its side of the border, declared an end to dialogue with South Korea and threatened military action. Denouncing defectors as “mongrel dogs” and “human scum”, North Korea has said their activities are an insult to the dignity of the country’s supreme leader.

Members of the group Kuensaem fill empty plastic bottles with rice and masks
Kim Hong-ji / Reuters

Ignoring the protests from the north, on 18 June 2020, defectors from the Communist North Korean regime floated rice and medicine in large containers north. Hundreds of plastic bottles stuffed with rice, medicine and medical face masks were thrown into the sea to float them north. Gathered at a small park in Seoul, the group filled dozens of two-liter (4.2 pints) bottles with up to 3.3 pounds of rice each, sending up to 1,543 pounds of rice in total. Park Jung-oh said:

We do this as humanitarian aid amongst those who share the same values, so whatever North Korea says, we will continue to help those in hard situations, the elderly, and the victim.

The Rice Bottles

On 16 May 2023, Radio Free Asia reported that Mysterious bottles full of rice, US dollars and memory sticks containing anti-North Korean content showed up in the Han River around the South Korean capital of Seoul. They are the work of local North Korean escapee organizations. The bottles are intended to follow the flow of the river into the sea current, which could potentially deposit them on North Korean west coast beaches. The Ministry of Unification maintains a cautious stance that residents should refrain from sending leaflets and balloons to North Korea for their own safety, but it acknowledges that there are unconstitutional elements of the anti-leaflet law.

Colombia versus the FARC Guerrillas

Colombian President Juan Manual Santos

This photograph published in December 2011 depicts Colombian President Juan Manual Santos placing transparent spheres containing messages urging the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) members to come over to the government side.

Photo by Fredy Builes - Reuters

Propaganda Spheres in the Ortequaza River

The spheres were placed in the Ortequaza River and contain a small internal battery that keeps them lit for up to six days. The orbs contained hand-written notes and rosary beads from family members, in what was called "Operation Rivers of Light". It was reported that between 2007 and 2017, some 20,000 guerrillas left FARC, adding the fact FARC leaders asked for the ad campaigns to be suspended during peace talks is a testament to their effectiveness.

Veritas, the Magazine of the Special Operations forces featured an article on PSYOP in Colombia by Robert W. Jones Jr. Some of his comments were:

For many years U.S. PSYOP had provided support to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota through the auspices of the Overt Peacetime Psychological Operations Program (OP3). U.S PSYOP support was limited to counter-drug operations. By 1992, the main component for U.S. PSYOP was the Military Information Support team (MIST). The Colombians now have their own PSYOP unit, the Groupo Especial de Operaciones Sicologicas (Psychological Operations Special Group). Each Army division headquarters is equipped with a tactical development center with a computer workstation and print Risograph machine.

Starting its operations in 1964, the Colombian terrorist group FARC used violent, criminal methods, such as kidnapping for ransom, extortion, drug trafficking, blackmail, and bombings. The rebel group based in the jungles of Colombia was responsible for more than 6,000 kidnappings alone since the year 2000. Their prisoners were often military personnel.

In 2010, The Colombian Ministry of Defense had commandos put Christmas trees deep in the heart of guerrilla territory. Colombian Special Forces soldiers infiltrated the remote Macarena mountain range to dress an 82-foot-high tree with 2,000 lights. When guerrillas approached the tree, movement sensors made it light up and a banner announced the following message:

If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home. Demobilize. Everything is possible at Christmas

"Rivers of Light" LED illuminated globes

In 2011, the Colombians created a campaign called “Rivers of Light” in which family members put messages and small gifts in 7,000 LED-illuminated capsules sent floating down rivers the guerrillas were known to frequent.

The government also wrote messages promoting peace on soccer balls
and floated them down the river toward the FARC rebel encampments
[in South America]

The Philippines - Joint Task Group Tabang, Joint Task Force Marawi

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Joint Task Force Group Tabang's leaflet drop

In October 2017, The Joint Task Group Tabang's leaflet airdrop was made to support the efforts of the Civil-Military Operations Regiment loudspeaker teams and the assaulting troops in the call for the remaining terrorists to surrender and to give safety tips to the civilians who were held hostage by the terrorists. 1000 water bottles were filled with surrender leaflets and dropped in the last stronghold of the terrorists. Just as the Coalition did in Operation Desert Storm, the Filipinos placed their leaflets in plastic water bottles and dropped them over the water where they would float to shore and be found by the enemy.

This is just a short look at one method of disseminating propaganda leaflets. Leaflet floats are not all that popular because they only affect those living along the coast or those that work on the water. Leaflets from the float will seldom make it inland to more populated areas. They are also easy for the enemy to find and destroy. Readers who would like to discuss this method of distribution further are encouraged to write to the author at .