Skirmishes in the Information Wars
There are only two weapons in the imperial tool chest: force and deception. The brutal colonial occupation of Iraq has provided us with a lavish example of the former, but the twin axel of deception is more abstruse and difficult to pin down. Sure, there’s the flagrant propaganda that floods right-wing radio and political talk shows, but that tells us little about the state-sponsored disinformation programs that permeate every area of American life.
We now know that the Bush administration authorized massive illegal spying operations and is actively engaged in planting pro-American stories in the foreign press. These suggest that the administration’s overall theory of information management is much more extensive then originally imagined. In fact, news and information manipulation is at the forefront of Bush’s war on terror, a comprehensive strategy to control of every bit of information a citizen hears, sees or reads from cradle to grave. It is information warfare on a scale that would make George Orwell cringe.
It is only in this context that we can see that the threats made by George Bush to bomb Al Jazeera are completely consistent with the administration’s overall approach. Controlling information is seen as a military necessity and those who fashion an alternative narrative are Washington’s sworn enemies. In this respect, we can understand how Al Jazeera would have to be destroyed to pave the way for greater democracy.
When we observe the isolated incidents of the Bush information strategy it seems disjointed and incoherent. How does the killing of journalists in Iraq connect to the “Swift-boating” of Dan Rather or Richard Clarke in the American press?
How does Condi Rice’s new Edward R. Murrow Journalism Program for aspiring American propagandists relate to blowing up of Al Jazeera facilities in Kabul and Baghdad? How does the dissemination of false stories in the foreign press connect to the massive surveillance operations being carried out home and abroad?
Until we are able to combine the many disparate parts of the Bush information strategy, we are at risk of seeing these illegal activities as mere aberrations and not as vital cogs in the machinery of the police state.
There is nothing arbitrary about the massive cloud of secrecy that has settled on the Bush administration. The government has built an impervious wall around itself that conceals the venality of the principle characters and avoids the transparency required for a healthy democracy.
Conversely, the administration has defended its use of the various investigative agencies -- including the CIA, the Defense Dept., the NSA, and the FBI -- to probe every area of American life. In fact, the PATRIOT Act’s new provisions (National Security Letters and “lone wolf” clause) completely dispose of the 4th Amendment’s right to privacy (or “probable cause”) allowing the government to spy on anyone it sees fit. The recent revelations that government organizations have been spying on antiwar activists, Quakers and environmentalists, strongly suggests that Bush is now vacuuming up every bit of available information on political enemies real or imagined.
Is anyone really surprised?
The surveillance state is the police state. It manifests itself in the predictable forms of National ID cards, (which will be mandatory in less than two years) increased repression, (PATRIOT Act, Homeland Security Act) deployment of the military within the US, (Northern Command and threats to activate the military in the event of a terrorist attack, flu epidemic or natural disaster) and the formation of a secret police. (Earlier this year Bush formed the NSS; the National Security Service, his own private police force which operates outside of congressional oversight)
The levers of the fascist state have been carefully assembled behind a smokescreen of demagoguery provided by fellow travelers in the corporate media. And, even though support for the war in Iraq has steadily declined, the extent of the media’s success in confounding the public cannot be overstated. A vast number of American’s still believe that Saddam was either working with Al Qaida, had WMD, or contributed to the attacks on 9-11. This is, perhaps, the most shocking example of media manipulation.
The corporate model of media is antithetical to personal freedom. When the marketplace of ideas is reduced to the solitary task of plying soapsuds and tennis shoes for big business, democracy is bound to suffer. Ultimately, commercial media cannot help but become an annex of the political establishment, developing collusive ties with the very people it is supposed to scrutinize. Media as “watchdog of power” is a romantic notion with no real basis in fact. Rather, in its present manifestation, media serves as a junior partner in the “weaponizing” of information; transforming the events of the day into a repetitious mantra extolling the objectives of society’s overlords.
But the role of the media in the fascist paradigm is not limited to simply mobilizing public support for unpopular causes. It is a multi-headed hydra designed to promote the interests of the corporate and financial sectors while obfuscating the economic and political facts that are necessary for a strong democracy. This explains why the critical stories of the day rarely appear on America’s network or cable TV news programs. The Downing Street Memo, Iran’s compliance with the IAEA, the fraudulent Ohio presidential election results, and the firebombing of Falluja are just a few of the important stories which have been ignored or drastically underplayed in the mainstream. The point is, that “omission” of real news is used more frequently than its soul mate, propaganda. By excluding the stories that are essential to shape public consciousness, the media makes warmongering and economic exploitation inevitable.
The recent Iraqi elections are a stunning example of this. Every TV news program covered the elections in Iraq the very same way: implying that they were a historic milestone on the road to democracy. None of the major media provided an alternative view that might reflect the 62% of Americans who now believe that the war was “a mistake.” Those views were scrupulously avoided in the coverage. If the media chieftains wanted balance, they could have simply inserted the widespread view that the conflict has nothing to do with either democracy or sovereignty, but is a savage colonial war facilitated by fanatics to control Iraq’s prodigious oil reserves. Despite the media’s impressive efforts to change that conclusion, the vast majority of people now accept it as fact.
The media is just one part of a culture of deception that permeates every part of the Bush administration. The recent revelations that the Pentagon was planting “good news” stories in foreign newspapers, shows us how tenacious the administration can be in its defense of disinformation. Rather than admit its guilt and apologize, right-wing pundits defended the action as “justifiable during wartime.”
This demonstrates the level of ideological commitment to lying among members of the political establishment. It is the best example of the “end justifies the means” mentality that animates the current regime.
The French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre said, “The essence of the lie implies, in fact, that the liar is actually in complete possession of the truth which he is hiding.”
Sartre’s comment points to the inherent narcissism of lying. This is especially true of an administration that believes that the facts should be limited to a particular class of people who are destined to rule society. Their efforts are an attempt to “privatize” the truth and limit the circulation of real news to an uber-class of global plutocrats: Bush and his cadres. Everyone else is expected to lap up the muddled fables that fill the airwaves or flash from the headlines of America’s leading newspapers.
The newly minted “Department of Strategic Information” is an attempt to institutionalize lying as a basic function of government. It conflates perfectly with administration theories on propaganda, deception and perception-management. The department is allegedly involved in penetrating every area of public interaction including web pages, chat-rooms, radio talk shows, e-mail, foreign newspapers etc. Wherever the free expression of ideas takes place is a potential battleground in the information war, a war that is directed against the American people as much as it is against any foreign power. This new division of the Pentagon, which performs many of the duties of the former TIA, (Total Information Awareness) is designed to insinuate itself into every area of American life looking for better ways to control the citizenry. It is another giant step towards a rapid approaching tyranny.
We should never mistake the administration’s obfuscations, omissions, and propaganda as unintentional. Lying is policy and accepting that fact precedes any meaningful understanding of the Bush administration.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: email@example.com.
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