[A-List] CIA and media ventriloquism
tal1 at cogeco.ca
Tue Mar 1 16:46:04 MST 2011
----- CIA And Media Ventriloquism
The War Party's Atrocity Porn
By William Norman Grigg
March 01, 2011 "Lew Rockwell" -- "This is a massacre," the frantic Libyan
woman, speaking by telephone while cowering in her apartment in Tripoli,
told CNN's Anderson Cooper.
"I hope you know that people around the world are watching and praying and
wanting to do something," Anderson told her, as if he were a stage prompter
hinting at a performer's next line. Whether or not she had been given a copy
of the script, the caller performed as expected: "[T]he first step [is to]
make Libya a no-fly zone. If you make Libya a no-fly zone, no more
mercenaries can come in.... There needs to be action. How much more waiting,
how much more watching, how much more people dying?"
It's entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that the subject of Cooper's
interview was simply a terrified but resolute woman who risked her life to
describe the violence devouring her country amid the death throes of
Khadaffy's police state.
It's likewise possible that her call for international action to impose a
no-fly zone was a desperate plea from a victim, rather than an act of media
ventriloquism in which an anonymous figure endorsed the first plank of a
military campaign proposed by the same neo-conservative kriegsbund that
manipulated us into Iraq.
Surely it was a coincidence that the "Cry in the Night" from Libya was
echoed on the same network a few nights later by Iraq war architect, former
World Bank president, and accused war criminal Paul Wolfowitz, who several
days prior to Cooper's dramatic broadcast called for a NATO-enforced "no fly
zone" over Libya.
In fact, the day following that interview, an ad hoc group calling itself
the Foreign Policy Initiative, which coalesced from the remnants of the
Project for a New American Century, published an "open letter" to Mr. Obama
demanding military intervention - beginning with a no-fly zone - in Libya.
The neo-con framework for managing the Libyan crisis would create a regional
protectorate administered by NATO on behalf of the "international
community." This would nullify any effort on the part of Libyans, Egyptians,
Tunisians, and others to achieve true independence.
On previous experience with media campaigns on behalf of humanitarian
conquest, my incurable cynicism leads me to hear in Cooper's "Cry in the
Night" a faint but unmistakable echo of the tearful, palpably earnest
testimony of "Nayirah" - the wide-eyed Kuwaiti girl who, using an assumed
name to "protect her family," described what had befallen her country in the
wake of the Iraqi invasion.
Bravely composing herself as she recounted horrors no human eyes should
behold, the precociously self-possessed 15-year-old volunteer nurse related
to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus how Iraqi soldiers stormed into the
al-Addan Hospital, tore newborn infants from incubators, and hurled them to
the floor. A short time later this testimony was "confirmed" by others who
offered similarly anguished testimony before the UN Security Council.
During the three-month build-up to the January 1991 attack on Baghdad, the
image of Kuwaiti "incubator babies" was endlessly recycled as a talking
point in media interviews, presidential speeches, and debates in Congress
and the UN. A post-war opinion survey found that the story of the "incubator
babies" was the single most potent weapon deployed by the Bush
administration in its campaign to build public support for the attack on
This atrocity account was particularly effective in overcoming the
skepticism of people espousing a progressive point of view.
"A pacifist by nature, my brother was not in a peaceful mood that day,"
recalled Christian Science Monitor columnist Tom Regan, describing his
sibling's reaction to "Nayirah's" testimony. "We've got to go and get Saddam
Hussein - now," Regan's brother insisted.
"I completely understood his feelings," Regan pointed out. After all, "who
could countenance such brutality? The news of the slaughter had come at a
key moment in the deliberations about whether the U.S. would invade Iraq.
Those who watched the non-stop debates on TV saw that many of those who had
previously wavered on the issue had been turned into warriors by this
shocking incident. Too bad it never happened."
"Nayirah" was not a traumatized ingénue who had witnessed an act of
barbarism worthy of the Einsatzgruppen; she was actually the daughter of
Saud Nasi al-Sabah, Kuwait's ambassador to the United States (and a member
of the emirate's royal family). Her script had been written by the
Washington-based PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which - under the supervision of
former Bush administration Chief of Staff Craig Fuller - had put together a
campaign to build public support for the impending war.
It wasn't difficult to convince the public that Saddam was a hideous thug.
Selling the idea of a major war in the Middle East was a more daunting
proposition. In late 1990, Hal Steward, a retired Army propaganda officer,
defined the problem for the administration: "If and when the shooting
starts, reporters will begin to wonder why American soldiers are dying for
oil-rich sheiks. The U.S. military had better get cracking to come up with a
public relations plan that will supply the answers the public can accept."
The image of newborn Kuwaiti infants being ripped from incubators was an
updated riff on a classic war propaganda theme performed by British
intelligence - and its American fellow travelers - in their efforts to
provoke U.S. intervention in World War I.
The WWI-era equivalent of the Kuwaiti "incubator babies" were the Belgian
infants who were supposedly spitted on bayonets by hairy-knuckled Huns in
Pickelhaube helmets. German soldiers did this to amuse themselves once they
could no longer sate their prurient interests by raping Belgian women and
then amputating their breasts. So the American public was told, in all
seriousness, by people working on behalf of a secretive British propaganda
committee headed by Charles Masterman.
In 1915, an official Commission headed by Viscount James Bryce, a notable
British historian, "verified" those atrocity stories without naming a
specific witness or victim. This didn't satisfy Clarence Darrow, who offered
a reward of $1,000 to anyone who could produce a Belgian or French victim
who had been mutilated by German troops. That bounty went unclaimed.
"After the war," recounts Thomas Fleming in his book Illusion of Victory,
"historians who sought to examine the documentation for Bryce's stories were
told that the files had mysteriously disappeared. This blatant evasion
prompted most historians to dismiss 99 percent of Bryce's atrocities as
War emancipates every base and repulsive impulse to which fallen man is
susceptible. So it's certain that some German troops (like their French,
Belgian, British, and American counterparts) exploited opportunities to
commit individual acts of depraved cruelty. But the purpose of the war
propaganda peddled by the Anglo-American elite, as Fleming observes, was to
create a widespread public image of Germans as "monsters capable of
appalling sadism" - thereby coating an appeal to murderous collective hatred
with a lacquer of sanctimony.
I've described agitprop of this variety as "atrocity porn." It is designed
to appeal to prurient interests and manipulate a dangerous appetite - in
this case, what Augustine calls the libido domimandi, or the lust to rule
The trick is to leave the target audience at once shivering in horror at a
spectacle of sub-human depravity, panting with a visceral desire for
vengeance, and rapturously self-righteous about the purity of its humane
motives. People who succumb to it are easily subsumed into a hive mind of
officially sanctioned hatred, and prepared to perpetrate crimes even more
hideous than those that they believe typify the enemy.
Rhetoric of that kind abounded during the French Revolution, particularly
the Jacobin regime's war to annihilate the rebellious Vendee. It also
figured prominently in the Lincoln regime's war to conquer the newly
independent southern states. However, it's difficult to find a better
expression of that mindset than the one offered in an editorial published in
1920 by Krasni Mech (The Red Sword), a publication of the Soviet Cheka
"Our morality has no precedent, and our humanity is absolute, because it
rests on a new ideal. Our aim is to destroy all forms of oppression and
violence. To us, everything is permitted, for we are the first to raise the
sword not to oppress races and reduce them to slavery, but to liberate
humanity from its shackles ... Blood? Let blood flow like water ... for only
through the death of the old world can we liberate ourselves forever."
In pursuing his Grand Crusade for Democracy, Woodrow Wilson was squarely in
that tradition, extolling the supposed virtue of "Force without stint or
limit ... the righteous and triumphant Force which shall make Right the law
of the world and cast every selfish dominion in the dust." To fortify the
American "war will" through a steady diet of atrocity porn, the Wilson
administration created a Department of Public Information that liaised with
its British equivalent, as well as quasi-private British propaganda fronts
such as the Navy League. That organization, Fleming points out, included
"dozens of major bankers and corporate executives, from J.P. Morgan Jr. to
Through absolutely no fault of his own, Anderson Cooper is a
great-great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Of considerably greater
interest is the fact that as a student at Yale, Cooper spent two summers as
an intern at Langley in a CIA program designed to cultivate future
When asked about Cooper's background with the CIA, a CNN spokeswoman
insisted that he chose not to pursue a job with the Agency after graduating
from Yale. The same can be said, however, of many of the CIA's most valuable
As Carl Bernstein documented decades ago, the CIA "ran a formal training
program in the 1950s to teach its agents to be journalists. Intelligence
officers were 'taught how to make noises like reporters,' explained a high
CIA official, and were then placed in major news organizations with help
from management. 'These were the guys who went through the ranks and were
told, 'You're going to be a journalist,' the CIA official said. Relatively
few of the 400-some [media] relationships described in Agency files followed
that pattern, however; most involved persons who were already bona fide
journalists when they began undertaking tasks for the Agency."
By way of an initiative called "Operation Mockingbird," the CIA built a
large seraglio of paid media courtesans. This was carried out through the
Office of Policy Coordination, which was created by Allen Dulles and Frank
Wisner - the latter being the official who went on to organize coups (and
the attendant propaganda campaigns) against governments in Iran and
Guatemala. (Wisner's son and namesake, incidentally, was a vice chairman at
AIG - the CIA's favorite global insurance conglomerate - until 2009; more
recently he was tapped by the Obama administration to serve as a
back-channel contact with Hosni Mubarak and Omar Suleiman.)
The tendrils of "Operation Mockingbird" extended through every significant
national media organ, from the Washington Post and Newsweek to the Time-Life
conglomerate, from the New York Times to CBS. As a result, according to
former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, the Fourth Estate "has been captured by
government and corporations, the military-industrial complex, the
intelligence apparatus." It is, in everything but name, an appendage of the
Regime. This is clearly seen every time the Regime decides the time has come
to mount another campaign of humanitarian bloodshed abroad.
Having "learned nothing from the horrors that they cheer-led like excitable
teenage girls over the past 15 years, these bohemian bombers, these
latte-sipping lieutenants, these iPad imperialists are back," sighs a
wearily disgusted Brendan O'Neill in the London Telegraph. "This time
they're demanding the invasion of Libya."
On O'Neill's side of the Atlantic, the Fleet Street Samurai are peddling
"rumors of systematic male rape" in Libya. Others insist that the
prospective war in Libya would in no way resemble "the foolishness of the
Iraq invasion" - just as similar self-appointed sages promised that the
ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, each of which has lasted at least as
long as the Vietnam War, would not be "another Vietnam."
For some reason, this brings to mind the image of Bullwinkle repeatedly
trying to pull a rabbit from his hat, blithely batting aside Rocky's
complaint that the trick "never works" by exclaiming, "This time for sure!"
This time, we're supposed to believe - or at least, pretend to believe -
that the atrocity accounts are true, that military action sanctified by the
"international community" is a moral obligation, that warlust and hatred are
virtuous, and that the impending bloodshed will be a cleansing stream.
As is the case, one supposes, with any other variety, war pornography is
nothing if not predictable. However, unlike Bullwinkle's inept, war porn is
a trick that seems to work every time.
William Norman Grigg [send him mail] publishes the Pro Libertate blog and
hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.
Copyright © 2011 William Norman Grigg
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