“We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.” – William Casey, CIA Director, 1981
In 1933, Joseph Goebbels, following closely the recommendations of Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, created some of the most effective propaganda the world has ever seen. Bernays’ prescription demanded the complete domination of communications media to stamp out any opposing view, the participation of artisans, celebrities, academic authorities and community leaders to influence popular opinion at a group level, and a Freudian appeal to base instincts – the need for food and shelter, community and leadership, and the influence of entertainment and fashion – to promote conformity among the German populace.
By now we are all familiar with the idea of German propaganda. In the West it is known by a more polite euphemism, public relations. PR is a lucrative business, with scores of non-government organisations competing for their share of generous funding. Once the province of legacy media such as Voice Of America, Radio Liberty, Radio Free Iraq, Radio Free Afghanistan, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Worldnet Television and Radio/TV Marti, today it comprises think tanks, print media, arts and entertainment, the humanitarian-industrial complex, as well as new technology platforms such as Google, Facebook and Wikipedia, and a plethora of so-called independent media outlets and ‘fact checking’ sites and apps.
The emergence of strategic communications as a soft power option combines psychological operations, propaganda and public affairs under a single umbrella. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), working in cooperation with George Soros’ False Flag Factories Open Societies, currently has a budget of US$40m to provide aid to so called ‘independent media organisations’ in 30 countries, including trouble spots such as Syria and Ukraine. The National Endowment for Democracy, set up by former CIA director William Casey under the Reagan Administration to help finance “perception management”, also receives tens of millions in federal funding, as do various “humanitarian NGOs” such as Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières, and AVAAZ, who control Syria’s White Helmets.
Douglas Valentine, author of The Phoenix Program describes the CIA as “the organized crime branch of the US government, [which] functions like the Mafia through its old boy network of complicit media hacks.” “When it comes to the CIA and the press,” he writes, “one hand washes the other. To have access to informed officials, reporters frequently suppress or distort stories. In return, CIA officials leak stories to reporters to whom they owe favors.”
Less talked about is the agency’s relationship with Madison Avenue and Hollywood. From Animal Farm to Three Days of the Condor, from the thinly veiled torture advertisement Zero Dark Thirty to glamorised fictions like JJ Abrams abysmal Alias, it has often sought to influence popular opinion and whitewash its own reputation through popular media. Orwell’s Ministry of Truth is all around us, even if most of us fail to see it in a present day context. For a better understanding of how we have been bamboozled however, we need only look into the recent past.
The Office of Strategic Services, forerunner to the CIA, was responsible for running psychological operations in the European theatre during WWII. Its network of journalists, editors, book publishers and stringers was carried over to the new agency under the oversight of Frank Wisner in 1948. The 1975 Church Committee congressional hearing revealed that the CIA maintained a network of several hundred individuals around the world who provided intelligence to the agency and sought to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda, while domestically it spent the equivalent of $1bn a year in today’s money in under-the-table bribes to major American news outlets to act as government gatekeepers. Chief among these were the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, Newsweek, the New York Herald Tribune, and Time Magazine. In his autobiography, convicted Watergate co-conspirator and former CIA officer E Howard Hunt also identifies ABC, NBC, the Associated Press, UPI, Reuters, Hearst Newspapers, and Scripps-Howard as key players.
The close relationship between the CIA and the news media is examined in detail in former Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein’s 1977 Rolling Stone cover story entitled The CIA and the Media – How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up. Of particular interest is the close relationship between then NYT director Arthur Hays Sulzberger and CIA director Allen Dulles. While many of the CIA’s relationships with the press were informal, Sulzberger actually signed secrecy agreements with the agency. Given this history it is little wonder that there has never been an article in the Times questioning the Warren Report and clandestine operations such as Mockingbird, Gladio and Condor, or casting doubt on the official story of 9/11.
While maintaining the appearance of objectivity, news outlets such as Washington Post and the New York Times have been crucial in establishing consensus where military intervention has been desired. The Post was the first to report that Iraq was hiding WMD in 2002-2003, a claim which has since been revealed as a complete fabrication. The previous Iraq war as it happens was also based on a lie, specifically the testimony of a young woman who went only by the name Nayira, who claimed she had been a volunteer at Kuwait’s al-Adan hospital and had seen Iraqi troops pull babies from incubators, leaving them to die on the floor. It was later revealed that Nayira was the daughter of a Kuwaiti official who had been coached in her lines by New York PR firm Hill & Knowlton. Sadly, the story was swallowed hook line and sinker by the corporate press, resulting in the massacre of 130,000 retreating Iraqi soldiers by US and British forces on the infamous Highway of Death.
Recent history is full of examples of such official conspiracies, from the Gulf of Tonkin to the USS Liberty, from CIA black sites to mass surveillance. Indeed the very term “conspiracy theory” was first adopted by the CIA to discredit public skepticism around the obvious cover up of the Kennedy assassination by the Warren Commission. Today, as “official versions” lose traction with an increasingly cynical public, the intelligence community are becoming more desperate in their attempts to discredit truth seekers. Most recently, and quite ironically, any dissent from official US government positions as reported by its corporate media gatekeepers has been labelled as “fake news” or “weaponised information”.
Just as they did with the Warren Commission, the intelligence community are now using a pejorative label to discredit anyone who dares challenge their crimes and cover-ups. As part of a broader psychological operation aimed at silencing dissident voices, US Congress and the European Parliament are introducing bills to combat, among other things, “Russian propaganda”. At the same time newly formed anonymous group PropOrNot has recently published a McCarthyist black list of 200 ‘fake news’ websites including many well established and reputable journals such as WikiLeaks, CounterPunch, Truth-Out, Truth-dig, Consortium News, South Front, Black Agenda Report, Films For Action, New Eastern Outlook, Global Research and others. At a time when doublethink, cognitive dissonance, conformity, and groupthink have replaced healthy skepticism, this move toward internet censorship sets a dangerous and sinister precedent.
Despite almost complete control of mainstream media, evidence which disproves and discredits official conspiracies is plentiful. Anyone who has seen the Zapruda film knows that Kennedy was not shot from behind, disproving the lone gunman theory. And yet the crime was covered up in plain view, and those responsible never prosecuted. Similarly the collapse of WTC 7 into a pile of fine dust puts the lie to the argument that 9/11 was anything but a planned demolition using explosives. Despite the refusal of many to accept proven facts surrounding the events of 9/11, it is inarguable that these attacks were used as a pretext to launch a war which has upturned the Muslim world and justifiably set entire populations against the West; which has created more acts of terror than it ever purported to avenge; and from which nobody has benefited except arms manufacturers and oil companies.
And now the same intelligence community have the unmitigated gall to tell us that Vladimir Putin sought to influence the outcome of the US presidential election through a network of dissident news sites and that this has the potential to undermine faith in democracy in the West. If this claim is not ridiculous enough, we’re also invited to believe that Putin is actively promoting white supremacist neo-nazis in Hungary and France. Need we be reminded how well things worked out for Russia the last time white supremacists came to power in Europe?
So the agency which has a proven record of lying about just about everything now wants to censor our newsfeeds to keep us safe from false and misleading information. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. As best as one can make out, the authority to label as “fake news” anything which doesn’t fit the approved mainstream narrative seems to derive from the moral right to be obeyed – the “because I said so” argument, or the “argument from authority”. The whole thing would be hilarious if it wasn’t so dangerous. The argument from authority can be easily countered with sound reasoning based on agreed facts, but what happens in a post-fact internet space where truth is defined as anything which suits the purposes of US government, NATO and other Western interests, and everything else is picked up by our spam filters?
Obviously any determination as to what is fake or real must be based in methodology rather than ideology. The “because I said so” argument may work on small children, but it rather begs the question – official news channels are eminently qualified to report the news, in virtue of being official news channels! Fortunately it is possible to assess factual claims based on a number of criteria other than questioning the authority of the source (attacking the messenger.) Does it match with our own observations? Is it consistent with other known facts? Can it be independently verified? Is it simply an opinion or editorial piece masquerading as news? Arguments of the form “small government is good for the economy” are obviously not based in observable fact and therefore cannot be proven or disproven. Arguments such as “Regime barrel bombs kill dozens in Aleppo hospital strike”, on the other hand, are ‘factual’ claims which require serious interrogation and critical thinking, faculties which have fallen conspicuously out of fashion among modern consumers of mass media.