Confronting America’s Weaponization of Information
by William Skink
There was an interesting hearing last month in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Ed Royce (R-Calif.) who had this to say about Putin in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed:
“Vladimir Putin has a secret army. It’s an army of thousands of ‘trolls,’ TV anchors and others who work day and night spreading anti-American propaganda on the Internet, airwaves and newspapers throughout Russia and the world. Mr. Putin uses these misinformation warriors to destabilize his neighbors and control parts of Ukraine. This force may be more dangerous than any military, because no artillery can stop their lies from spreading and undermining U.S. security interests in Europe.”
The hearing was titled “Confronting Russia’s Weaponization of Information” which I interpret to imply …because our weaponized information isn’t working in Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, etc.. Perhaps the ease in which Americans are fed bullshit and believe it to be an accurate representation of what constitutes “news” has made the professional bullshitters a bit lazy in the products they create for public consumption. But never mind us because THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!!!!
The Committee heard from three witnesses: Elizabeth Wahl, former anchor for the news agency Russia Today (RT) who gained her moment of fame by resigning on camera in March 2014; Peter Pomerantsev, Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute (a right-wing UK think-tank); and Helle C. Dale, Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy at The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing U.S. think-tank.  The Foreign Affairs Committee website contains video clips of the first two witnesses – well worth watching if you enjoy Orwellian rhetoric passionately delivered.
In her formal (printed) submission, Ms. Wahl referred to the Internet’s “population of paranoid skeptics” and wrote: “The paranoia extends to believing that Western media is not only complicit, but instrumental in ensuring Western dominance.”
Helle C. Dale warned of “a new kind of propaganda, aimed at sowing doubt about anything having to do with the U.S. and the West, and in a number of countries, unsophisticated audiences are eating it up.”
Peter Pomerantsev claimed that Russia’s goal is “to trash the information space with so much disinformation so that a conversation based on actual facts would become impossible.” He added, “Throughout Europe conspiracy theories are on the rise and in the US trust in the media has declined. The Kremlin may not always have initiated these phenomena, but it is fanning them…Democracies are singularly ill equipped to deal with this type of warfare. For all of its military might, NATO cannot fight an information war. The openness of democracies, the very quality that is meant to make them more competitive than authoritarian models, becomes a vulnerability.”
Is Western media instrumental in ensuring Western dominance? As a paranoid skeptic how can I say this delicately? Fuck yeah Western media has been instrumental in ensuring Western dominance. But after the invasion and occupation of Iraq based on lies peddled by the NYT and other publications, it might be slightly more accurate to say Western media has ensured Western dominance won’t be able to stop the new, multi-polar world from emerging.
Unless we go full berserker Dr. Strangelove, which is entirely possible.
The historical context of Saigon falling on April 30th, 1975 adds another layer to the present insanity unfolding. It’s been forty years since the senseless mayhem in Vietnam ended. Thinking back on that time period can be painful for lots of people. Ray McGovern revisits those tumultuous times with considerable pain because he was in the unique position of potentially leaking information that would have shown, early on, the resistance US troops were up against numbered twice as much as what the Army was saying.
Here is a lengthly excerpt detailing McGovern’s interaction with a fellow CIA analyst:
Many of my Junior Officer Trainee Program colleagues at CIA came to Washington in the early Sixties inspired by President John Kennedy’s Inaugural speech in which he asked us to ask ourselves what we might do for our country. (Sounds corny nowadays, I suppose; I guess I’ll just have to ask you to take it on faith. It may not have been Camelot exactly, but the spirit and ambience were fresh — and good.)
Among those who found Kennedy’s summons compelling was Sam Adams, a young former naval officer out of Harvard College. After the Navy, Sam tried Harvard Law School, but found it boring. Instead, he decided to go to Washington, join the CIA as an officer trainee, and do something more adventurous. He got more than his share of adventure.
Sam was one of the brightest and most dedicated among us. Quite early in his career, he acquired a very lively and important account — that of assessing Vietnamese Communist strength early in the war. He took to the task with uncommon resourcefulness and quickly proved himself the consummate analyst.
Relying largely on captured documents, buttressed by reporting from all manner of other sources, Adams concluded in 1967 that there were twice as many Communists (about 600,000) under arms in South Vietnam as the U.S. military there would admit.
Dissembling in Saigon
Visiting Saigon during 1967, Adams learned from Army analysts that their commanding general, William Westmoreland, had placed an artificial cap on the official Army count rather than risk questions regarding “progress” in the war (sound familiar?).
It was a clash of cultures; with Army intelligence analysts saluting generals following politically dictated orders, and Sam Adams aghast at the dishonesty — consequential dishonesty. From time to time I would have lunch with Sam and learn of the formidable opposition he encountered in trying to get out the truth.
Commiserating with Sam over lunch one day in late August 1967, I asked what could possibly be Gen. Westmoreland’s incentive to make the enemy strength appear to be half what it actually was. Sam gave me the answer he had from the horse’s mouth in Saigon.
Adams told me that in a cable dated Aug. 20, 1967, Westmoreland’s deputy, Gen. Creighton Abrams, set forth the rationale for the deception. Abrams wrote that the new, higher numbers (reflecting Sam’s count, which was supported by all intelligence agencies except Army intelligence, which reflected the “command position”) “were in sharp contrast to the current overall strength figure of about 299,000 given to the press.”
Abrams emphasized, “We have been projecting an image of success over recent months” and cautioned that if the higher figures became public, “all available caveats and explanations will not prevent the press from drawing an erroneous and gloomy conclusion.”
No further proof was needed that the most senior U.S. Army commanders were lying, so that they could continue to feign “progress” in the war. Equally unfortunate, the crassness and callousness of Abrams’s cable notwithstanding, it had become increasingly clear that rather than stand up for Sam, his superiors would probably acquiesce in the Army’s bogus figures. Sadly, that’s what they did.
When the media finally started reporting—and showing Americans images on their televisions—of what was really happening in Vietnam, it got more difficult to send off young Americans to kill and die. The response? Blame the media for losing the war in Vietnam.
Now, 40 years later, the only lesson learned appears to be better control of the message. Yet once again it’s getting more difficult to sell Americans more wars. Even with a more articulate Democrat as President, and the repackaging of wars as “humanitarian interventions”, it’s just not going to fly with a populace that has the lived experiences of definitely NOT recovering from the Wall Street Casino blowing up 7 years ago.
Also, this pie chart:
Over half the pie for the military is insane. And what has it gotten us? New havens in Iraq, Syria and Libya for jihadists, radicalized survivors of drone strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen, and an integration of Russia and China that will shape the 21st century.
Good job, America.