The UK's Independent newspaper has an excerpt today from Nick Davies new book "Flat Earth News", in which he "argues that shadowy intelligence agencies are pumping out black propaganda to manipulate public opinion – and that the media simply swallow it wholesale". It's well worth a read.
Davies points to the way in which one minor terror figure - Abu Musab al Zarqawi - was hyped by propaganda which suceeded in turning him into the very thing they said he was, increasing Al Qaeda's influence in Iraq and endangering US troops in the process. Powell mentioned him in his 2003 address to the UN and every statement about Zarqawi turned out to be false. Letters from him appeared and were widely pushed by the Pentagon and media stenographers - even though those letters were fakes. And then:
the US campaign on Zarqawi eventually succeeded in creating its own reality. By elevating him from his position as one fighter among a mass of conflicting groups, the US campaign to "villainise Zarqawi" glamorised him with its enemy audience, making it easier for him to raise funds, to attract "unsponsored" foreign fighters, to make alliances with Sunni Iraqis and to score huge impact with his own media manoeuvres. Finally, in December 2004, Osama bin Laden gave in to this constructed reality, buried his differences with the Jordanian and declared him the leader of al-Q'aida's resistance to the American occupation.But he also writes about the wider black propaganda war:
For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.There's no actual law to prevent British intelligence producing such propaganda. And in the U.S., the Pentagon and CIA have made it clear that they follow the Bush administration's claim that Constitutional rights stop at the border. If the Pentagon produces black propaganda in Iraq or gives it to a UK newspaper, then that isn't illegal. If US media stenographers then pick up on those reports and import them wholesale and unexamined back to the U.S., then that's the media's lookout as far as they are concerned. But despite the Bush administration and its intelligence producers saying this clearly, the mainstream media continues to churn and repeat their overseas press releases as gospel.
...This material is being generated, in part, by intelligence agencies who continue to work without effective oversight; and also by a new and essentially benign structure of "strategic communications" which was originally designed by doves in the Pentagon and Nato who wanted to use subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism but whose efforts are poorly regulated and badly supervised with the result that some of its practitioners are breaking loose and engaging in the black arts of propaganda.
...So, who exactly is producing fiction for the media? Who wrote the Zarqawi letters? Who created the fantasy story about Osama bin Laden using a network of subterranean bases in Afghanistan, complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems? Who fed the media with tales of the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationery cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine? Who came up with the idea that Iranian ayatollahs have been encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine?
Some of this comes from freelance political agitators. It was an Iranian opposition group [the MeK - C], for example, which was behind the story that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. And notoriously it was Iraqi exiles who supplied the global media with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.
But clearly a great deal of this carries the fingerprints of officialdom. The Pentagon has now designated "information operations" as its fifth "core competency" alongside land, sea, air and special forces. Since October 2006, every brigade, division and corps in the US military has had its own "psyop" element producing output for local media. This military activity is linked to the State Department's campaign of "public diplomacy" which includes funding radio stations and news websites. In Britain, the Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defence works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defence Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.