Obedience and Self-Control under Provocation,

Personnel Selection Tests for the Office of Strategic Services

Near the end of World War II, Ernest Garcia (1928-2008) lied about his age to join the U.S. Army.  After much psychological and physical testing, he was assigned to an army unit under OSS command, where he served as an agent with science-related covert operations in Latin America.   Garcia described psychological-stress selection procedures similar to those described by psychologist Ronald Dippner, as reported to Dippner by his psychology professor Ralph T. Granneberg, who had worked for the OSS during World War II.   (See previous case, “Competence and Self-Control under Psychological Stress, Personnel Selection Tests for the Office of Strategic Services.”)  The following passage has been slightly condensed from the oral history of Ernest Garcia (1995). 

[Marching-with-leg-bell personnel selection test.]

So you enlisted in the Army?

Yes.  I just enlisted to serve as an artillery person.  I just wanted to put in the time, let's put it that way.  I figured, that's mechanical.  I'll go in and from there I'll go--  “Oh, sure, we promise you.  We'll put you in there.”  But when we got into the service, of course it was different

thing.  There was a series of tests and tests and tests.

What kind of tests?  Mental tests?  Physical tests?

Physical tests, mental tests, psychological tests.  Later on I found out that that's what they were.  They tested me in all kind of darn tests which I later found out what kind of tests they were doing.  They first started to work on my mentality and my physical ability, and then from there moved in to what appeared to be a receptiveness of obedience.

What kind of a test was that?

It was probably a pressure type of test, where they would apply pressure and see how you would respond and obey orders that was difficult to obey and so on.  For example, they would keep us in KP [kitchen patrol] day and night for two or three days and things like that.  Later I found out that's what it was.

You would be deprived of sleep?

Oh yes, I would be deprived of sleep but I would still become very obedient and I would do it.

And there were people who wouldn't do it?

Oh, hell, yes, there were people who wouldn't do it.

And what was your thinking about this?

To me, I was preconditioned, because that's the way I was used to being treated [by my father].  And they kept on telling— The military was a joke.  They were going to treat us pretty difficult and so on.  They would purposely put a bell on my leg when I was marching to see how long I would tolerate all this before I would lose my temper.  And I wouldn't lose my temper.  I was madder than shit but I wouldn't let them have it.  Things like that.  They purposely irritated us to see how we could withstand emotional pressures and emotional impositions and so on.

Were the people who were testing you in these situations just slightly higher ranking people or were they psychologists?  Who were they?

...They called them doctors, without question.  We were just submissive to what we thought was an [___?]. 

What was the training period?

The training period was very brief, very, very aggressive, very assertive.  It seems to me like somewhere around three months. We went three months.  They put us out in the field.  And most of the training that we got was how to handle work and be around with these type of people.

What type of people?

The people that would be working with us, scientists and this kind of thing.  Of course, we didn't know at that time what they were conditioning us for.  They talked about this type of operations that we'd be exposed to.  That sometimes we'd be alone--that was the way the war was--and that sometimes we would be with others, and that we would be in very difficult situations, terrains.  That sometimes we would find ourselves in other countries.  But never, never telling us where we was going.  They never did this because a lot of those subjects that they were training, I understand, after starting in training never showed a good possibility.  Never were selected.  They never let them know that they were being trained for this particular [operation]. 


Garcia, Ernest.  (1995, October 21 & 22).  An OSS-CIA covert actions operator.  Oral history

     interview conducted by Jean Maria Arrigo, Albuquerque, NM.  Ethics of Intelligence and

     Weapons Development Oral History Collection.  Bancroft Library, University of California,

     Berkeley, CA.