America’s plans for a propaganda war: more of the same by another name

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Waseem Shehzad

Dhu al-Hijjah 16, 1422 2002-03-01

Special Reports

by Waseem Shehzad (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 1, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1422)

Flushed with their success in controlling news at home about the ‘war’ in Afghanistan, some Pentagon planners want to extend such manipulation to other parts of the world. The name of the game is deception: planting lies in newspapers, and on radio and television channels around the world, in such a way that they will not be traced to American sources. The idea, according to the architects of this proposal, is to win the “hearts and minds” of other people. Apparently it has not occurred to them that people hate America not because of what it claims to be but because of its policies.

Last October Bush expressed surprise that people hate America: “I don’t understand why people hate America; I know Americans are good people.” Obviously Bush does not understand — that people hate America’s hypocrisy and overbearing arrogance. Demands like “you are either with us or with the terrorists” and the horrible treatment of prisoners, while claiming that they are being treated well, are examples of American double standards.

The proposal to tell lies is nothing new; all governments lie, some more than others. Before the ‘demise of communism’, this seemed to be the forte of old-style communists, whose propaganda was rather crude. The West is more sophisticated; even today the BBC does its best, but the Americans are getting desperate. As with their military ‘success’ in Afghanistan, they feel that in the propaganda field, too, they can browbeat others into submission, In fact, it is often difficult to tell whether CNN is giving out Israeli or American propaganda.

Soon after September 11 the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) was set up, headed by air force brigadier Simon Worden. At first his mandate was limited to managing news about the ‘war’ in Afghanistan and the fallout from the September 11 incidents. He obviously did a good job; American reporters were kept on a tight leash. Immediately after September 11, everyone was called upon to rally round the president; to question the government’s motives or policies was simply unpatriotic. Pentagon press briefings became the standard staple of American journalists who suspended their critical faculties, which was most of them.

A few brave souls dared to defy this conformity. Among the loudest, clearest voices challenging and criticising US policy were those of people like professors Noam Chomsky and Francis Boyle, and former attorney general Ramsey Clark. As a result of their independence of mind they were deliberately shut out of the mainstream media. Instead, conformist diatribes dressed in patriotic garb were (and continue to be) palmed off on the gullible public. The most obvious question from the September 11 attacks, namely the motives that might be behind them, has not been addressed at all. Even a third-rate cop, investigating a murder, would first look for likely motives; not so America’s top investigators, who have vented anger about the great “crime” but not said a single word about motive.

It needs to be borne in mind that there are many inconsistencies in the US’s official version of September 11. The most glaring unanswered question is: why were US air force jet-fighters not scrambled to intercept the hijacked planes, although it was known within 10 minutes of the first plane hijacking that it had been hijacked. When American Flight 11 hit the World Trade Centre, it was understood even by the most naive that this was no simple hijacking, that something much more serious was afoot. Despite this, a second plane crashed into the WTC, and then one managed to plough into the Pentagon, without fighters being sent to intercept them.

On September 17, when US vice president Dick Cheney was asked on television why US air force planes had not been scrambled to “intercept” the hijacked planes, his reply was revealing. He said that permission to “shoot down the planes” could only come from the president, who at the time was out of Washington. One immediately notices the difference between “interception” and “shooting down”; we are also asked to believe that the president of the world’s ‘only superpower’ is unreachable when he is away from Washington! Cheney also went on to say that by the time jet-fighters were scrambled from Otis airbase (185 miles from New York) and Langley air force base (130 miles from Washington DC), the hijacked planes had all crashed into their targets.

A number of inconsistencies are apparent in these responses. First, there is standard US air force and national guard policy about intercepting any plane as soon as it strays off its assigned flight path. This is what the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) immediately orders the air force to do. The order is nothing to do with hijacking specifically; the sky over the US is so crowded that a plane straying off course could easily collide with another. In 1999, when a small Gulf Stream jet went off course, air force planes reached it within 40 minutes to find out why. The September 11 planes were in the air for more than two hours but no planes were scrambled to intercept them, according to the official version. One wonders why, and also why no media ‘experts’ have asked these obvious questions.

More critically, why were planes not scrambled from Andrews air force base, which is only 10 miles from Washington DC, where two squadrons of F-15s and F-16s are on standby all the time? After all, it is their task to protect the US capital. The website Emperors Clothes ( has revealed that a deliberate attempt is being made to obfuscate the truth, and that the mainstream US media is party to this conspiracy. Consider the lead story by Dan Rather on CBS Evening News on September 14. He alleged that air force fighters had been scrambled from Langley air force base but reached the target too late. According to Emperor’s Clothes’ research, they “found 31 references to Langley in the entire [i.e. worldwide] English-speaking mass media [newspapers and TV] between September 11th and 14th, prior to the CBS 6:00 News. Not one of these news reports mentioned Dan Rather’s excellent new fact! How wonderful that fighter jets could be scrambled from Langley without a single military or administrative spokesperson having to be bothered! And how happy they all must have been to hear the news on CBS.” The same website story reveals that “Four days later, without a word of explanation for the change, NORAD [North American Air Defence, which includes the US and Canada] incorporated the CBS report in their official timeline [i.e. official version of events]”. Until September 13, the official US position was that no fighter planes had been put in the air “until after the Pentagon was hit”; after the CBS story it changed to “we put planes up before the first World Trade Centre attack.”

While there has been criticism in the US media of the new propaganda plan, attempts are afoot to give the impression that it is merely a suggestion. In a CNN interview on February 19, Richard Perle, the former assistant defence secretary, who is currently on the Pentagon advisory board, tried to rubbish the idea of the OSI. When he was reminded that it not only existed but that the government had already admitted to using disinformation in other countries as part of its propaganda campaign, Perle took refuge in the excuse that in war one must mislead the enemy. Lawrence Korb, also a former assistant defence secretary and currently with the Council on Foreign Relations, again reminded Perle that he was misrepresenting facts. Undeterred, Perle insisted that it was all right to mislead the enemy.

In the New York Times on February 20, Maureen Dowd lashed out at the proposal: “If the Bush inner circle had a higher regard for journalism, and for the role of truth in public affairs, it would understand how repellent it is for the American government to hide the truth, delay the facts or peddle phony stories to news organizations overseas.” This would have sounded more credible had the editorial in the same issue not also read: “The war against global terrorism is fought not just in the military arena but also in the international exchange of news and information. Osama bin Laden and his allies ... have spread a welter of malicious misinformation throughout the Muslim world. The White House understandably would like to ... get its own message out ... to foreign audiences. But this must be done in a sensible, sophisticated and honorable way rather than the duplicitous fashion the Pentagon has in mind.”

Urging the US to “get its own message out” cannot mean anything but the propagation of an American version of events: which in the last few months has been falsehoods, omissions and half-truths. Bearing in mind the lack of American casualty figures from Afghanistan, and of news of when Afghan civilians are murdered in cold blood and American officials lie to the television cameras (Donald Rumsfeld et. al.), there seems little reason to believe that elsewhere the US government will behave any better.

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