America's Ministry of Propaganda -- Part Three
By Gar Smith / The-Edge
November 7, 2003
Targeting Critics, Spreading Lies, and PSYOPS
The tools of strategic influence were not only wielded against Saddam Hussein, they were also turned against foreign allies and domestic critics who dared to question Bush's agenda. The French were among the first to feel the sting of these attacks.
| Protesters in Baghdad lie down in the path of US armored vehicles. The White House Office of Global Communication is not interested in distributing photos of ordinary Iraqi citizens nonviolently demonstration against the US occupation.|
Sam Gardiner's report notes that the French were clearly "the focus of punishment in the strategic influence campaign." He has identified "at least eight times when false stories or engineered stories were aimed at them, the majority appearing after their lack of support in the UN for US and UK actions."
In September, government sources informed the New York Times that the French and German governments had provided Iraq with precision switches that could be used to produce nuclear weapons. The Times ran the story before discovering that the France and Germany had both, in fact, refused to provide the switches.
"American intelligence sources" told the Washington Postthat the French possessed illegal strains of smallpox virus. Again, the story was false.
The Washington Times received a tip from "US intelligence sources" that two companies in France had sold equipment to Saddam. The companies denied the charge and no evidence was ever provided to sustain the charge.
On April 9, Brig. Gen. Brooks told the media that his troops had discovered "an underground storage facility containing... Roland-type air defense missiles." Lt. Greg Holmes, an army intelligence officer, told Newsweek that US soldiers had found "51 Roland-2 missiles, made by a partnership of French and German arms manufacturers." Holmes also stated that at least one of the Roland missiles "was manufactured last year."
The story served to further defame the irascible French but, Gardiner writes with a touch of sarcasm, the story "was not very well put together" since it turned out that "the production line for the Roland-2 was shut down in 1993."
Punishing the French
For the French, the War of the Leaks was just beginning. On May 6, "US intelligence officials" were quoted as telling the Washington Times that "an unknown number of Iraqis who worked for Saddam Hussein's government were given passports by French officials in Syria." The story was kept alive by a succession of press leaks attributed to "State Department and intelligence officials," and a bevy of "Administration officials."
On May 6, Fox News reported that "Paris had been colluding with Baghdad before and during the coalition invasion." On May 7, the Washington Times, citing reports from "US officials," claimed that "officials of the Saddam Hussein government... fled Iraq with French passports."
The French government angrily denied the allegations and accused Washington of running a "smear campaign." But when the press confronted Rumsfeld about these accusations, he "followed pattern." Instead of confirming or denying the charges against the French, he simply smiled and said, "I have nothing to add."
As Gardiner sees it, the intended effect of that kind of non-answer was that "he wanted people to believe the stories."
This campaign of Francophobe fibbing eventually contaminated the White House press briefings. On May 14, a reporter asked White House press officer Scott McClellan about the stories accusing the French of selling Iraq arms and issuing passports to fleeing Iraqi officials. "Are those charges valid?" the reporter asked.
McClellan's response: "Well, I think that those are questions you can address to France."
Reporter: On that point, Scott, do you have any information that the French did, in fact, issue passports to people so that...."
McClellan: I think -- no, I think that's a question you need to address to France."
Reporter: Well, no. It's information the US claims to have.
McClellan: I don't have anything for you.
"The Secretary of Defense told us before the war he was going to do strategic influence," Gardiner notes wryly. "It appears as if the French were a target."
Targeting Domestic Critics: The Galloway Forgeries
In Britain, Labor Member of Parliament George Galloway became an open skeptic of Tony Blair's rhetoric. In a bold attempt to avoid war, Galloway had gone to Iraq to interview Saddam Hussein in hopes of promoting a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
| The White House claimed that these aluminum tubes were proof that Iraq was attempting to produce nuclear weapons. US intelligence agents knew the truth: the tubes were useless for nuclear processing.|
Galloway's skepticism began to gnaw away at Bush-and-Blair's broad-brush claims that Hussein was only months away from building a nuclear bomb or that he was capable of launching a WMD attack within 45 minutes.
Galloway soon found himself under attack. Government officials leaked a packet of supposedly "classified documents" to the Daily Telegraph. The papers, which were represented as having been seized from Iraq's Foreign Ministry, suggested MP Galloway had accepted "payoffs" from the Iraqi government.
At he same time, in the US, a "retired general" contacted the Christian Science Monitoron April 25, with similar documents showing that Hussein had given Galloway $10 million.
Galloway's reputation was seriously sullied. It wasn't until June 20, that the Monitor disclosed that the "general's" incriminating documents were forged. The documents released in Britain also turned out to be forgeries.
The White Flag Incidents
On March 24, Pentagon briefing officer Tori Clarke told reporters that "the Iraqi regime is engaged in other deadly deceptions. They are sending forces out carrying white surrender flags... The most serious violations of the laws of war."
There were only two alleged incidents cited to support this story. One appeared engineered and Gardiner now believes that the other incident was "fabricated to cover a very serious friendly-fire event."
On March 23, a Marine unit came under artillery fire near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq soon after some Iraqi soldiers had surrendered. Gen. Abizaid, the Deputy Commander of CENTCOM called the surrender "a ruse" to draw the Marines into an ambush. Gardiner finds this difficult to believe since it was well known that "the Iraqi Army had trouble coordinating artillery fire at all."
The other "White Flag" incident was a widely reported tragedy in which Iraqi soldiers shot civilians who were trying to flee to safety under a white flag. But the Iraqi soldiers were also killed, Gardiner notes.
Other white flag incidents were not mentioned by the Pentagon or Messrs. Bush and Blair. Gardiner recalls one "memorable picture of the war" that showed "British troops standing over two dead Iraqis in a foxhole: they had been holding up a white flag."
George W. Bush repeated the white flag story on April 5. By then, Bush should have been aware of the real cause of those Marine deaths. Gardiner reports that, according to the surviving Marines, nine of those killed "may have been killed by an A-10 [a US military aircraft] that made repeated passes attacking their position."
A report released in October indicates that these deaths were being investigated as a "friendly fire accident." At least one of the young Marines caught in the supposed Iraqi "ruse" was, in fact, killed by a round fired from an A-10 gun that hit him directly in the chest.
The Execution of Prisoners
At a joint news conference with Mr. Bush at Camp David on March 27, British PM Tony Blair informed the media that the Iraqis had executed two British prisoners. "If anyone needs any further evidence of the depravity" of Hussein's reign, Blair suggested, this was it.
Unfortunately, further evidence was exactly what Blair lacked. The very next day the sister of one of the dead soldiers told the Daily Mirrorthat her brother's colonel "told us he was not executed. We just can't understand why people are lying."
Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke also told reporters that the Iraqis had killed "Americans who had either surrendered or were attempting to surrender." This report turned out to be "unconfirmed."
A week after the British press had attacked the "executions" story as a total fabrication, and Blair's press spokesperson had been forced to admit that there was no "absolute evidence" to support the story, George W. Bush told the American Forces Press Service: "They have executed prisoners of war." Bush repeated the falsehood on April 5 and Rumsfeld echoed the lie on April 7.
The US press attempted to catch up to their British counterparts by questioning Rumsfeld on April 7. As usual, Rumsfeld's defense was the non-answer.
Reporter: Mr. Secretary, you stated flatly that American POWs have been executed. On what basis do you make that statement?
Rumsfeld: I think I said they have executed prisoners of war.
Reporter: Are you saying that there have not been American prisoners executed then?
Rumsfeld: I'm not saying that either. There may very well have been, but I'm not announcing that, if that's what you're asking... We do know that they executed a lot of prisoners of war over the years."
The Shula District Bombing
On March 29, an explosion in an open-air market in Baghdad's Shula District killed more than 50 Iraqi civilians. The Iraqi government condemned the attack and blamed it on coalition bombers. US military spokespersons tried to turn the blame back on Iraq, suggesting that the civilians were killed by Iraqi artillery or anti-aircraft rockets that went awry.
British journalist Robert Fisk reachned the site soon after the massacre and uncovered a 30-centimeter shard of shrapnel that showed the serial number of the weapon that caused the massacre. It was a HARM missile built by the US military contractor Raytheon.
On April 3, CENTCOM issued a new story claiming to have received "reliable information" that the Hussein regime was planning to bomb Shiite Muslim neighborhoods in Baghdad so that it could blame the damage on the US-UK coalition.
"The CENTCOM cover story came from Jim Wilkinson," Gardiner discovered. The British, however, refused to support this argument. They continued to claim (rightly, it now appeared) that no British bombs had caused the death and devastation in the Shula District.
PSYOPS -- The Darkest Face of Deception
"Strategic influence is aimed at international audiences (and maybe domestic audiences)," Gardiner explains, while PSYOPS (Psychological Operations) "are targeted at the bad guys."
The disturbing thing about this war, Gardiner found, was that "PSYOPS became a major part of the relationship between the governments of the US and the UK and the free press."
The record reveals how the Pentagon, State Department and White House all relied on PSYOPS techniques to manipulate the media as a psychological weapon against the Iraqis.
When Rumsfeld declared that "The days of Saddam Hussein are numbered," that the "regime is starting to lose control of their country," and that "The outcome is clear. The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone. It's over," he was really using the US media to send a message to the people in Iraq.
On March 24, British Air Marshall Brian Burridge told the press that the old regime was "crumbling" and encouraged Saddam's opponents to "develop greater levels of courage" and rise up against the dictator.
There was no better example of PSYOPS "distorting the free press with false information," Gardiner claims, than the alleged surrender of Iraq's 51st Division.
On March 21, Reuters (citing "defense officials, who asked not to be identified") reported the stunning news that an entire Iraqi division had surrendered en mass to US Marines in southern Iraq.
CBS News followed with a report the next day claiming that "an entire division of the Iraqi army, numbering 8,000 soldiers, surrendered to coalition forces." CBS's source: unnamed "Pentagon officials."
The surrender of the 51st became a major news story that truly seemed to confirm the Pentagon's predictions of a quick and easy victory. "It was told as if it were a truth," Gardiner writes. "It was told on both sides of the Atlantic. It had been coordinated. It was not true."
The story was intended to break the fighting will of the Iraqi army. On March 23, reporters from Agence France-Presse and Al-Jazeera TV managed to reach Col. Khaled al-Hashemi, the commander of the 51st. He replied in no uncertain terms that he not only had not surrendered but he would remain in Basrah and "continue to defend the people."
The surrender of an entire division would have been a powerful blow to the will of the Iraqi army. The perception managers knew this. It is clear to Gardiner that this story "was not an intelligence failure. You would know if you have an entire division" suddenly surrendering. The story was a PSYOPS hoax.
Other PSYOPS hoaxes were to follow. Stories were leaked that Hussein had made secret plans to spirit his family out of Iraq to safety. It was rumored that Hussein had deposited $3.5 billion in Libyan banks.
Gar Smith is Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal, Roving Editor at The-Edge (www.the-edge.org) and co-founder of Environmentalists Against War (www.envirosagainstwar.org).
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