[A-List] US state: department of disinformation
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Tue Dec 17 02:56:30 MST 2002
Pentagon to target allies with covert propaganda
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
The Independent, 17 December 2002
The Pentagon is considering a plan to establish covert propaganda operations
in countries it considers its allies in order to improve America's image and
discredit hostile factions.
The plan, revealed yesterday by The New York Times, involves efforts to
undermine the influence of mosques and religious schools, perhaps by
establishing moderate Islamic schools with US funding. Other suggestions
being considered include paying journalists to write stories favourable to
the United States and hiring contractors without obvious ties to the
Pentagon to organise rallies and demonstrations in support of US policies.
The proposal has triggered sharp debate across the Bush administration
because of its plan to run such operations in countries considered not only
neutral but friendly to the US. Germany - where many of the 11 September
hijackers lived - was one of the countries mentioned. It was unclear whether
there were proposals to establish such operations in Britain. A spokesman
for the British Embassy in Washington declined to comment on "speculative
Admiral Dennis Blair, a retired commander of US forces in the Pacific, said:
"Running ops against your allies doesn't work very well. I've seen it tried
a few times and it generally is not very effective."
Official sources in Washington said the plans - contained within a
classified policy document entitled 3600.1: Information Operations - were
being pushed by the more hawkish elements of the Pentagon and did not have
the support of the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
Last February Mr Rumsfeld was forced to dismantle the Pentagon's Office of
Strategic Influence (OSI) after it was revealed that there were plans to
provide false stories and "black propaganda" to foreign journalists.
But Mr Rumsfeld suggested last month that while the OSI had been dismantled,
its work was continuing. At a press briefing he said: "I'll give you the
[OSI's] corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep
doing every single thing that needs to be done."
The papers that cried wolf
Brian Whitaker looks at how the American media are softening up public
attitudes to war with Iraq
Monday December 16, 2002
Last week brought yet another terrifying headline from an American
newspaper: "US suspects al-Qaida got nerve agent from Iraqis".
The 1,800-word story in the Washington Post last Thursday got off to a
reasonably promising start by saying: "The Bush administration has received
a credible report that Islamic extremists affiliated with al-Qaida took
possession of a chemical weapon in Iraq last month or late in October,
according to two officials with firsthand knowledge of the report and its
Less promisingly, the second paragraph begins: "If the report proves true
... " The remaining 28 paragraphs offer little to suggest that it actually
is true, and several reasons for thinking it may not be. Paragraph six tells
us: "Like most intelligence, the reported chemical weapon transfer is not
backed by definitive evidence."
Paragraph eight says: "Even authorised spokesmen, with one exception,
addressed the report on the condition of anonymity. They said the principal
source on the chemical transfer was uncorroborated, and that indications it
involved a nerve agent were open to interpretation."
In paragraph 12, we are told that the report may be connected to a warning
message circulated to American forces overseas and an unnamed official is
cited as saying that the message resulted only from an analyst's
As one would expect from the Washington Post, the story is carefully written
and meticulously researched. But it's basically worthless.
The reporter had clearly spoken to a lot of different people but he failed -
not for want of effort - to substantiate the claim that Iraq provided
al-Qaida with nerve gas. Although some officials were happy to describe the
claim as "credible", none appeared willing to stand up and say that they,
personally, believed it.
The sensible course of action at that stage would have been to abandon the
story, or at least file it away in the hope of more evidence coming to
light. That might have happened with any other story, but in the case of
Iraq at present the temptation to publish is hard to resist.
This particular story was more tempting than many because it carried, as the
American military would say, a multiple warhead. It not only suggested that
Iraq - contrary to its recent declaration - does possess chemical weapons
but, additionally, that it has close links with al-Qaida.
The effect, if not the intention, of publishing the story was to give
currency to both these ideas. Stories in the Washington Post are instantly
regurgitated by other news organisations around the world, usually at much
shorter length and without all the cautionary nuances of the original.
Iraq itself helped the story along by issuing a denial which - since it
could produce no evidence by way of rebuttal - simply sounded unconvincing.
The Post's story is also discussed on the BBC website. Under the headline
"Wanted: an Iraqi link to al-Qaida ", Paul Reynolds, the website's world
affairs correspondent, views it as part of a long and unsuccessful effort to
link Iraq with al-Qaida.
"One of the most intriguing questions in the 'war on terrorism'," he writes,
"is whether there are contacts between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Osama
Bin Laden's al-Qaida network. Intelligence agencies are constantly looking
for the 'missing link'."
The quotation marks around "missing link" distance the BBC from the idea
that such a link exists, though the definite article preceding it suggests
otherwise. Why are intelligence agencies looking for "the" missing link and
not "a" missing link?
Journalistically, it's more interesting to talk about a "missing" link than
a "possible" link but even when the tone of discussion is sceptical - as it
was in the BBC's case - there's still a drip effect. The more we mention
missing links, the more people will assume they are out there somewhere,
waiting to be found.
The risk of giving currency to false or questionable claims is now a daily
problem for those of us who try to write about Iraq without turning into
other people's weapons of mass deception.
Even a simple reference to Iraq's weaponry can be problematic. Some readers
object that "weapons of mass destruction" is a tendentious phrase.
"Chemical, biological and nuclear" is accurately descriptive, though it
becomes too much of a mouthful when used repeatedly in a story. Reuters news
agency and others increasingly - and rather emotively - talk about "doomsday
weapons". In practice, "doomsday" is beginning to mean anything nasty
possessed by Iraq, though not by the United States.
Last Wednesday, for example, a Reuters report stated: "The United States
threatened possible nuclear retaliation against Iraq if its forces or allies
were attacked with doomsday weapons." Let's see how that looks the other way
round: "The United States threatened retaliation with doomsday weapons
against Iraq if its forces or allies were attacked with chemicals."
In terms of mass death, it takes 28 Halabjas to make one Hiroshima.
Meanwhile, to the delight of pharmaceutical companies, the United States is
pressing ahead with its smallpox vaccination programme - though the recent
New York Times "scoop" about an Iraqi smallpox threat looks increasingly
shaky. On December 3, Judith Miller, the paper's "bioterrorism expert"
reported an unverified claim that a Russian scientist, who once had access
to the Soviet Union's entire collection of 120 strains of smallpox, may have
visited Iraq in 1990 and may have provided the Iraqis with a version of the
virus that could be resistant to vaccines and could be more easily
transmitted as a biological weapon. (See "Poisoning the Air", World
Dispatch, December 9.)
Since the article was published, colleagues of the now-dead scientist, Nelja
Maltseva, have said that she last visited Iraq in 1971-72 (as part of a
global smallpox eradication effort) and last travelled abroad (to Finland)
Another of Ms Miller's scoops, on November 12, cited "senior Bush
administration officials" as saying that Iraq had ordered a million doses of
atropine, which is an antidote to nerve gas, but also a routine drug for
treating heart patients. This was interpreted as evidence that Iraq not only
possesses nerve gas but intends to use it in a conflict with the United
States - hence the need to protect its own forces from accidental injury.
The US then threatened to block a continuation of Iraq's oil-for-food
programme unless atropine were included in the list of "suspect" items that
Iraq cannot import without permission from the United Nations' sanctions
As I pointed out in world dispatch last week, the sudden horror over
atropine was very strange, given that the US had previously allowed Iraq to
buy large quantities on normal medical grounds, and that UN had lifted all
restrictions on Iraqi purchases of the drug only six months earlier.
This highly relevant information, which Ms Miller had failed to mention,
eventually found its way into the Washington Post and the wires of
Associated Press. The response from the New York Times was to run the
Associated Press report without reference to Ms Miller's flawed scoop.
By no means do all the dubious scare stories about Iraq come from shadowy
intelligence sources or officials who can't be named.
Last September, Turkish police announced the arrest of two men in a taxi who
were apparently smuggling 35lb of weapons-grade uranium to Iraq from
somewhere near the Syrian border. But a few days later it emerged that the
material was harmless, containing only zinc, iron, zirconium and manganese.
Its actual weight was only 5lb but the police, in their excitement, had
weighed the lead container as well.
One day, perhaps, one of these scare stories may turn out to be true - but
don't hold your breath waiting for it. In the meantime, readers are welcome
to send more examples by email, to the address below.
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