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A Strategy of Lies: How the White House Fed the Public a Steady Diet of Falsehoods
A Strategy of Lies: How the White House Fed the Public a Steady Diet of Falsehoods
[Gar Smith is Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal, Roving Editor at The-Edge and co-founder of Environmentalists Against War. This commentary was broadly distributed over the internet during November 2003]
Colonel Sam Gardiner (USAF, Ret.) has identified 50 false news stories created and leaked by a secretive White House propaganda apparatus.Bush administration officials are probably having second thoughts about their decision to play hardball with former US Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Joe Wilson is a contender. When you play hardball with Joe, you better be prepared to deal with some serious rebound.
After Wilson wrote a critically timed New York Times essay exposing as false George W. Bush's claim that Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger, high officials in the White House contacted several Washington reporters and leaked the news that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent.
Wilson isn't waiting for George W. Bush to hand over the perp. In mid-October, the former ambassador began passing copies of an embarrassing internal report to reporters across the US. The-Edge has received copies of this document.
The 56-page investigation was assembled by USAF Colonel (Ret.) Sam Gardiner.
"Truth from These Podia: Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception Management, Strategic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological Operations in Gulf II" identifies more than 50 stories about the Iraq war that were faked by government propaganda artists in a covert campaign to "market" the military invasion of Iraq.
Gardiner has credentials. He has taught at the National War College, the Air War College and the Naval Warfare College and was a visiting scholar at the Swedish Defense College.
According to Gardiner, "It was not bad intelligence" that lead to the quagmire in Iraq, "It was an orchestrated effort [that] began before the war" that was designed to mislead the public and the world. Gardiner's research lead him to conclude that the US and Britain had conspired at the highest levels to plant "stories of strategic influence" that were known to be false. The Times of London described the $200-million-plus US operation as a "meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress, and the allies of the need to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein."
The multimillion-dollar propaganda campaign run out of the White House and Defense Department was, in Gardiner's final assessment "irresponsible in parts" and "might have been illegal."
"Washington and London did not trust the peoples of their democracies to come to the right decisions," Gardiner explains. Consequently, "Truth became a casualty. When truth is a casualty, democracy receives collateral damage."
For the first time in US history, "we allowed strategic psychological operations to become part of public affairs... [W]hat has happened is that information warfare, strategic influence, [and] strategic psychological operations pushed their way into the important process of informing the peoples of our two democracies."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced plans to create an Office of Strategic Influence early in 2002. At the same time British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Strategy Director Alastair Campbell was setting up an identical operation in London.
As soon as Pvt. Jessica Lynch was airlifted from her hospital bed, the first call from her "rescue team" went, not to military officials but to Jim Wilkinson, the White House's top propaganda official stationed in Iraq. White House critics were quick to recognize that "strategic influence" was a euphemism for disinformation. Rumsfeld had proposed establishing the country's first Ministry of Propaganda.
The criticism was so severe that the White House backed away from the plan. But on November 18, several months after the furor had died down, Rumsfeld arrogantly announced that he had not been deterred. "If you want to savage this thing, fine: I'll give you the corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done -- and I have."
Gardiner's dogged research identified a long list of stories that passed through Rumsfeld's propaganda mill. According to Gardiner, "there were over 50 stories manufactured or at least engineered that distorted the picture of Gulf II for the American and British people." Those stories include:
The link between terrorism, Iraq and 9/11
Iraqi agents meeting with 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta
Iraq's possession of chemical and biological weapons
Iraq's purchase of nuclear materials from Niger
Saddam Hussein's development of nuclear weapons
Aluminum tubes for nuclear weapons
The existence of Iraqi drones, WMD cluster bombs and Scud missiles
Iraq's threat to target the US with cyber warfare attacks
The rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch
The surrender of a 5,000-man Iraqi brigade
Iraq executing Coalition POWs
Iraqi soldiers dressing in US and UK uniforms to commit atrocities
The exact location of WMD facilities
WMDs moved to Syria
Every one of these stories received extensive publicity and helped form indelible public impressions of the "enemy" and the progress of the invasion. Every one of these stories was false.
"I know what I am suggesting is serious. I did not come to these conclusions lightly," Gardiner admits. "I'm not going to address why they did it. That's something I don't understand even after all the research." But the fact remained that "very bright and even well-intentioned officials found how to control the process of governance in ways never before possible."
A Battle between Good and Evil Gardiner notes that cocked-up stories about Saddam's WMDs "was only a very small part of the strategic influence, information operations and marketing campaign conducted on both sides of the Atlantic." The "major thrust" of the campaign, Gardiner explains, was "to make a conflict with Iraq seem part of a struggle between good and evil. Terrorism is evil... we are the good guys.
"The second thrust is what propaganda theorists would call the 'big lie.' The plan was to connect Iraq with the 9/11 attacks. Make the American people believe that Saddam Hussein was behind those attacks."
The means for pushing the message involved: saturating the media with stories, 24/7; staying on message; staying ahead of the news cycle; managing expectations; and finally, being prepared to "use information to attack and punish critics."
Audition in Afghanistan The techniques that proved so successful in Operation Iraqi Freedom were first tried out during the campaign to build public support for the US attack on Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld hired Rendon Associates, a private PR firm that had been deeply involved in the first Gulf War. Founder John Rendon (who calls himself an "information warrior") proudly boasts that he was the one responsible for providing thousands of US flags for the Kuwaiti people to wave at TV cameras after their "liberation" from Iraqi troops in 1991. The White House Coalition Information Center was set up by Karen Hughes in November 2001. (In January 2003, the CIC was renamed the Office for Global Communications.) The CIC hit on a cynical plan to curry favor for its attack on Afghanistan by highlighting "the plight of women in Afghanistan." CIC's Jim Wilkinson later called the Afghan women campaign "the best thing we've done."
Gardiner is quick with a correction. The campaign "was not about something they did. It was about a story they created... It was not a program with specific steps or funding to improve the conditions of women."
The coordination between the propaganda engines of Washington and London even involved the respective First Wives. On November 17, 2001, Laura Bush issued a shocking statement: "Only the terrorists and the Taliban threaten to pull out women's fingernails for wearing nail polish." Three days later, a horrified Cherie Blaire told the London media, "In Afghanistan, if you wear nail polish, you could have your nails torn out."
Misleading via Innuendo Time and again, US reporters accepted the CIC news leaks without question. Among the many examples that Gardiner documented was the use of the "anthrax scare" to promote the administration's pre-existing plan to attack Iraq.
In both the US and the UK, "intelligence sources" provided a steady diet of unsourced allegations to the media to suggest that Iraq and Al Qaeda terrorists were behind the deadly mailing of anthrax-laden letters.
It wasn't until December 18, that the White House confessed that it was "increasingly looking like" the anthrax came from a US military installation. The news was released as a White House "paper" instead of as a more prominent White House "announcement." As a result, the idea that Iraq or Al Qaeda were behind the anthrax plot continued to persist. Gardiner believes this was an intentional part of the propaganda campaign. "If a story supports policy, even if incorrect, let it stay around."
In a successful propaganda campaign, Gardiner wrote, "We would have expected to see the creation [of] stories to sell the policy; we would have expected to see the same stories used on both sides of the Atlantic. We saw both. The number of engineered or false stories from US and UK stories is long."
The US and Britain: The Axis of Disinformation Before the coalition invasion began on March 20, 2003, Washington and London agreed to call their illegal pre-emptive military aggression an "armed conflict" and to always reference the Iraqi government as the "regime." Strategic communications managers in both capitols issued lists of "guidance" terms to be used in all official statements. London's 15 Psychological Operations Group paralleled Washington's Office of Global Communications.
In a departure from long military tradition, the perception managers even took over the naming of the war. Military code names were originally chosen for reasons of security. In modern US warfare, however, military code names have become "part of the marketing." There was Operation Nobel Eagle, Operation Valiant Strike, Operation Provide Comfort, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Uphold Democracy and, finally, Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The "Rescue" of Jessica Lynch The Pentagon's control over the news surrounding the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch receives a good deal of attention in Gardiner's report. "From the very beginning it was called an 'ambush'," Gardiner noted. But, he pointed out, "If you drive a convoy into enemy lines, turn around and drive back, it's not an ambush. Military officers who are very careful about how they talk about operations would normally not be sloppy about describing this kind of event," Gardiner complained. "This un-military kind of talk is one of the reasons I began doing this research."
One of the things that struck Gardiner as revealing was the fact that, as Newsweek reported: "as soon as Lynch was in the air, [the Joint Operations Center] phoned Jim Wilkinson, the top civilian communications aide to CENTCOM Gen. Tommy Franks."
It struck Gardiner as inexplicable that the first call after Lynch's rescue would go to the Director of Strategic Communications, the White House's top representative on the ground.
On the morning of April 3, the Pentagon began leaking information on Lynch's rescue that sought to establish Lynch as "America's new Rambo." The Washington Post repeated the story it received from the Pentagon: that Lynch "sustained multiple gunshot wounds" and fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldier... firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition."
Lynch's family confused the issue by telling the press that their daughter had not sustained any bullet wounds. Lynch's parents subsequently refused to talk to the press, explaining that they had been "told not to talk about it." (Weeks later, the truth emerged. Lynch was neither stabbed nor shot. She was apparently injured while falling from her vehicle.)
Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers let the story stand during an April 3 press conference although both had been fully briefed on Lynch's true condition.
"Again, we see the pattern," Gardiner observed. "When the story on the street supports the message, it will be left there by a non-answer. The message is more important than the truth. Even Central Command kept the story alive by not giving out details."
Gardiner saw another break with procedure. The information on the rescue that was released to the Post "would have been very highly classified" and should have been closely guarded. Instead, it was used as a tool to market the war. "This was a major pattern from the beginning of the marketing campaign throughout the war," Gardiner wrote. "It was okay to release classified information if it supported the message."
Black Programs and the Future of Propaganda
Gardiner claims that the Pentagon was behind the creation of the "EmpowerPeace" website. Gardiner says the site was pulled because it violated US laws against domestic propaganda but the site can still be found on the Web (www.empowerpeace.org). The-Edge has invited EmpowerPeace to respond to Gardiner's assertions.The bogus "surrender" of Iraq's 51st division raised a "profound question" for Gardiner: "If we would manipulate truth, would we also manipulate evidence? That would be very serious. Is that what the Secretary of Defense meant when he said he was going to be doing strategic influence?"
Milt Bearden, a former CIA manager for clandestine operations has a related question: "It will be important to learn who was behind the fake Niger document [alleging Iraq's attempt to obtain uranium ore] and why and what other information driving American policies might carry their fingerprints."
The falsehoods about Iraq's alleged attempt to purchase African uranium turned out to be based on a forged document. Gardiner wonders why no one in the administration is asking who forged the document? Who stood to gain from this unconscionable act of "creating evidence"? Gardiner believes that the American people have "a need to know."
Another probable "black program" identified by Gardiner involved the planting of a false story that Saddam Hussein had taken refuge in the Russian Embassy in Baghdad. The story served to slime the Russians, who had refused to back Bush's pre-emptive invasion.
In the oddest example of perception management, Pentagon media masters actually created a website to promote world peace. The "EmpowerPeace" website appeared to represent a citizen's anti-war movement. The goal seemed to be to foster the impression that the US people (and especially US children) were essentially peace-loving. "It looked like a grassroots effort," Gardiner recalls. "It seems to have been aimed at the Arab audience set."
The EmpowerPeace website didn't last long. The reason, Gardiner suspects, is that its creation probably violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which bans the domestic dissemination of government propaganda.
Gardiner found another "strange website" called "The Iraq Crisis Bulletin," which offered daily updates and reports from around the world. The site was recommended by the American Press Institute but there was "absolutely no indication of the sponsor of the site." With a little research, Gardiner discovered that "the articles were [written] by Voice of America correspondents."
The problem with this, Gardiner notes, is that "the Voice of America is prohibited from doing communications for the American press. But, during Gulf II, it was getting the message to them." The VOA refused to respond to Gardiner's requests for information on "The Iraq Crisis Bulletin."
Mapping the Ministry of Propaganda, a historic merging of politics, militarism and public "perception management." The Coalition Information Center with offices in the London, Islamabad and the White House started work in mid-2002 (six months before it was officially authorized by an Executive Order). In 2003, the CIC morphed into the Office of Global Communications, staffed by Tucker Eskew, Dan Bartllett, Jeff Jones, Peter Reid. The OGC works closely with the White House Iraq Group, which consists of Karl Rove, Condi Rice, Jim Wilkinson, Stephen Hadley, Scooter Libby, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and Nicholas Callo.
Gardiner wraps up his 56-page investigation with a series of charts that assess several Defense Department press briefings to determine the role played by PSYOPS, false or engineered information, and non-informative responses. His conclusion: "Even if you give them slack for not giving any information, it turns out that more than half the answers were not truth... Maybe a better way to say it would be that if an American (or Brit) were diligent about wanting to understand the war, he could not rely on the statements made by the US Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
Perhaps the penultimate example of the non-responsive response came in an April 7 DOD press briefing when General Myers was asked about the status of the chemical missile unit cited by Secretary Powell during his UN testimony. Powell had told the world that Iraq had outfitted a group of rockets on the outskirts of Baghdad with warheads filled with WMD and was prepared to fire them at a moment's notice.
According to Gardiner, Myers "was very evasive, saying that he did not recall ever having heard about such a unit."
The Future: The OGC, the Roadmap and 'Strategic Fusion' Perception management (the art of propaganda, misdirection and lies, if you will) is no longer discreetly hidden away in some dark wing of the intelligence or defense establishments: It has become firmly enshrined right down the hall from the Oval Office.
The Office of Global Communications (OGC) is centered in the White House. If there is a Ministry of Propaganda in the Bush administration, the OGC is it. As Gardiner notes: "The White House is at the center of the strategic communications process."
The OGC has two components: One committee deals with conducting the perception of the war on terrorism while a second committee concentrates on "more general" propaganda projects.
According to the Times of London, the exact dispensation of the OGC's $200 million operating budget is largely a mystery. It is known that the OGC spent $250,000 on its military pressroom in Doha.
Gardiner discovered that "at times there were as many as three Brits associated with the Office of Global Communications. These assets were networked. To insure the military would be a willing part of the network, three people from the White House Office of Global Communications were sent to work with Central Command. Jim Wilkinson became General Franks' Director of Strategic Communications.
"The war was handled like a political campaign. Everyone in the message business was from the political communications community. In London, there was a parallel organization and a parallel coordination process. They kept the coordination with secure video teleconferences."
The system worked well but, as John Rendon revealed at a London conference on July 3, there was still room for improvement. Rendon told his fellow conferees that the idea of using "embedded journalists" was quite successful and worked just as they hoped it would from tests they had run to gauge how reporters would perform once they bonded with the soldiers in their assigned units.
One of the mistakes, Rendon said, was that while they had taken command of the story, they had "lost control of the context." The problem was the veteran newsmen in the networks: they had "too much control of context," Rendon complained. "That has to be fixed for the next war," Rendon declared.
At the same conference, Captain Gerald Mauer, the Joint Staff Assistant Deputy Director for Information Operations, observed that public diplomacy and public affairs are slowly morphing into a single combined information operation. Mauer envisions a Strategic Fusion Center that "brings everything together." The Pentagon is already hard at work crafting an Information Operations Roadmap.
Mauer also told his fellow perception managers that "We hope to make more use of Hollywood and Madison Avenue in the future." The overall goal remains the same Mauer explained: to allow the men who now control Washington to "disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial... decision-making."
Gardiner finds that the future envisioned by Rendon and Mauer is fundamentally "frightening." The phrase "adversarial... decision-making will be disrupted" reportedly was added by Douglas Feith, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. What it means, Gardiner warns, is that "we will even go after friends if they are against what we are doing or want to do."
Criticism, questioning and debate are now defined as "adversarial" and the new watchword out of Washington is: "If you don't agree with us, you could be the target of an information attack." The new reality is that "punishment of those who disagree is a dimension of the strategy."
"If the democracies of the United States and the United Kingdom are based upon informed, open debate of the issues," Gardiner states, "we've got some fixing to do.
"It's not enough to look at the arguments about weapons of mass destruction before the war," Gardiner argues. "There needs to be an inquiry of the broader question of how spin got to be more important than substance. What roles did information operations and strategic psychological operations play in the war" What controls need to be placed on information operations?"
Solutions Are Needed to Control Information Warfare
Sam Gardiner has become the Paul Revere of our generation. He has raised a cry: It is no longer "The Redcoats are coming!" but "The PSYOPS are coming!"
"We need a major investigation," Gardiner insists. "We need restrictions on which parts of the government can do information operations. We should not do information operations against friends. We have to get this back in control."
One remedy is the Smith-Mundt Act, which was created in the aftermath of WWII with the intent of protecting American citizens from brainwashing by covert government propaganda campaigns. Unfortunately, Gardiner has discovered, the Smith-Mundt Act "no longer works." We became collateral damage, a target group of messages intended for other groups."
Gardiner's findings have not yet received due attention from the US media and with good cause. Gardiner's investigation revealed that the mainstream media not only failed to stand up to the government and insist on the truth, they all too often submitted in complicit cooperation with the government. Even in peacetime, the corporate media is an "embedded" media.
Gardiner has some hard questions for America's press barons:
"How was it that the Washington Post took classified information on the Jessica Lynch story and published it just the way the individual leaking it in the Pentagon wanted?"
"Why did the New York Times let itself be used by 'intelligence officials' on stories?"
"Why did the Washington Times never seem to question a leak they were given?"
"Why were newspapers in the UK better than those in the US in raising questions before and during the war?"
Since releasing his study, Gardiner has had the opportunity to talk with many people in the print media. While many have appeared "quite interested" in his findings, Gardiner admits that he has "not heard any self-criticism from reporters to whom I have talked." In conversations with TV producers and reporters, Gardiner found the prevailing reaction was that "the whole story is just too complex to tell."
Gardiner's most disheartening reaction came during a presentation at "a major Washington think tank." Most of the Washington veterans in the audience kept asking, "So, what's new?" And when Gardiner opined that there was "no passion for truth in those who were taking us to war," he distinctly heard callous laughter breaking out among his listeners.
It is the sound of that brittle laughter that keeps Sam Gardiner going. Things must be changed. The dragons of information warfare must be slain.
As Gardiner says: "I pain for our democratic process when I find individuals not angered at being deceived."
[The complete report written by Sam Gardiner is available online in six PDF files. Mr. Gardiner can be reached by email at SamGard@aol.com]
For more information on the Bush administration's use of propaganda to misinform the public and promote wars of domination, see Weapons of Mass Deception, by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton and visit the website of PRWatch