The Pentagon’s Lie Machine
read time: 8 min
The publication of Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis’s piece in the Armed Forces Journal, followed up by an interview in the New York Times and the posting of a longer piece [.pdf] by Rolling Stone, is a remarkable event in the sense that rarely has a more comprehensive debunking of official lies been written by an insider. Col. Davis has served in both the Iraq and Afghan campaigns, and recently was on a tour that took him to a number of Afghan outposts. His reports relate, in numbing detail, the complete disparity between the official pronouncements of our military spokespersons and the grim truth of what he saw on the ground in Afghanistan.
As our generals testify before Congress [.pdf] that our efforts in Afghanistan are bearing fruit, that the “surge” worked both in Iraq and Afghanistan, that our training the Afghan security forces is succeeding, and that we are on the road to “victory,” Col. Davis turns this Panglossian scenario on its head. The reality, he says, is that the “surge,” in both cases, failed – in Iraq, because the additional troops had nothing to do with the internal split in the insurgency that caused it to temporarily abate, and in Afghanistan because casualties went up in direct proportion to the increase in troops – without any corresponding gain on the battlefield. As for the vaunted Afghan security forces, which are being hailed as reliable guarantors and legatees of a hard-won US “victory,” Col. Davis draws a portrait of them as invariably having their backs to the enemy – that is, when they aren’t collaborating with them, calling “mini-truces” via radio while US soldiers take the brunt of the fighting.
Davis’s charge: that the military high command, in conjunction with our political leaders, engaged in a campaign of systematic deception designed to depict our failed attempts to conquer and colonize Iraq and Afghanistan as glorious victories, when, in reality, the exact opposite is the case. He gives a series of stunning examples, debunking lie after lie, finally asking:
“One of the key questions most readers must be asking about this point in the report, is how could such an extensive, pervasive, and long-running series of deceptive statements have gone unnoticed by virtually the entire country?”
Glad you asked. The reason is simple: the media has become an adjunct to the military’s “information operations,” i.e. psychological and propaganda operations, which are not just directed at the foreign “enemy,” but also at the enemy on the home front, i.e. the American people, who, if they knew the truth, would pull the plug on the whole operation. Col. Davis puts it more politely:
“There are a number of reasons, but perhaps none bigger than the role played by the major media in this country. This is not an issue where “the liberal media” of the major networks failed, or ‘the right-wing conservatives’ of Fox News, nor any other specific network. Rather, it was a cumulative failure of our nation’s major media in every category: network news, cable news, magazines and major newspapers.”
Davis reports that journalists who fail to follow the Pentagon line are simply excluded from having any access. In order to report what is actually occurring on the battlefield – and compete in the news business – reporters must interact with military leaders, but that interaction, relates Col. Davis, comes at a price – the integration of the media into the Pentagon’s lie machine. He illustrates his point with the report issued by the Department of Defense Inspector General on Donald Rumsfeld’s clearly illegal project to use retired officers as propagandists to build support for the Iraq war. The Pentagon coordinated the effort with the “mainstream” news media, planting their agents on all the major news outlets. The media portrayed these infiltrators as “experts,” treated them like real journalists, and gave them a platform from which to pontificate as if they were objective observers. As Davis puts it:
“A Pentagon media outreach program – ostensibly to ‘educate’ the public – only uses spokesmen who are willing to speak the bullet points provided by the Secretary of Defense, and if those spokesmen don’t act as ‘team players’ and say what the Pentagon wants, they are dropped. For their part, the networks only want men and women to speak as experts if they have that top-level access. All of this begs the question: what sort of objectivity and honest analysis did the American public get from watching the major media outlets during this period?”
The answer is that the American public got what they will continue to get: a completely false picture of our various wars of conquest [.pdf]. In spite of the Inspector General’s detailed narrative of a consistent attempt by the Pentagon to commandeer the American media and wield it as a weapon of war, the Inspector General nonetheless concluded these activities “complied with regulations and directives” and were therefore okay. Move along, nothing to see here….
How could our media have missed what is arguably the most important story of the decade – the utter failure of our best efforts to subjugate the Iraqi and Afghan peoples? Col. Davis indicts the American news media for its passive complicity in a campaign of systematic deception:
“So long as our country’s top TV and print media continue to avoid challenging power for fear of losing access, there is every reason to expect many senior Defense Department leaders will continue to play this game of denial of access in order to effect compliant reports. As I’ve shown throughout this report, there is ample open source information and reports all over the internet that would allow any individual – or reporter – to find the truth and report it. But heretofore few have.”
It’s significant that he counterposes the internet to the “mainstream” media: there can be little doubt we’ve been doing a far better job of reporting the Iraq and Afghan wars than our corporate competitors in the world of Dead Tree Journalism and televised talking bobble-heads. That aside, however, the question arises: is the military deliberately lying to us, or are the generals just so close to the battlefield – and so self-interested – that they can’t be objective and somehow saw a glorious victory where there was only historic defeat?
As a libertarian, I assume the former, but I can see why the rest of you might need a bit more empirical evidence, which Col. Davis helpfully provides.
In the modern parlance of war, “information operations” are on the same level as strictly military operations, and this brings into focus the ominous implications of the precedent set by Rumsfeld’s media blitz. Davis cites an Army manual [.pdf] on information operations (IO):
“’IO becomes a core competency. The importance of dominating the information spectrum explains the objective of transforming IO into a core military competency on a par with air, ground, maritime and special operations.’ It is a remarkable development to suggest that using information in combat is on par with ground and air forces. Three years later the Department of Defense published an unclassified doctrinal manual that provided further clarity on Secretary Rumsfeld’s information focus.”
That unclassified document emphasizes the “integrated employment of electronic warfare (EW), computer network operations (CNO), psychological operations (PSYOP), military deception (MILDEC), and operations security (OPSEC), in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own.”
The new counterinsurgency doctrine of the Pentagon dictates that “Information Operations” must be a part of every military campaign, as essential as having a supply of ammunition. They aim to win “hearts and minds” – but whose hearts and whose minds?
“Since it is so crucial for the Joint Force to ‘fully integrate” IO into every aspect of military operations,” Davis continues, “it is important to understand what some of these inputs specifically require. Two are of particular import: military deception and psychological operations:
“Military Deception is defined as ‘(JP 3-14.3) being those actions executed to deliberately mislead adversary decision makers as to friendly military capabilities, intentions, and operations, thereby causing the adversary to take specific actions (or inactions) that will contribute to the accomplishment of the friendly mission’ and PSYOP as ‘(JP3-53) planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.”
The clear implication of Rumsfeld’s media infiltration program is that these “adversary decision makers” aren’t necessarily foreign enemy combatants, either Iraqi insurgents or Taliban fighters. Davis quotes from an article [.pdf] by Col. Richard B. Leap in a compendium of essays by Public Affairs (PA) officers that points to the real identity of these unnamed “adversaries”:
“Many PA practitioners believe their only role is to inform the domestic and international publics with accurate, truthful information and provide access to government and military officials and operations to confirm what is reported. All should agree that PA must always present truthful, credible information, however, if Public Diplomacy and open PSYOP only target foreign audiences, then who besides PA can counter the enemy’s or the media’s shaping of US domestic opinion?”
It is strictly illegal for the US military to aim its propaganda arm at the American public, but in this age of a truly globalized media the line between foreign and domestic is easily blurred. Technology has rendered that prohibition irrelevant and entirely nonfunctional. The Smith-Mundt Act is apparently just as much a dead letter as our Constitution.
Col. Leap bemoans the dramatic drop in US support for the Iraq war, noting that Pew polled support at 61 percent in 2003 “compared with only 13 percent” three years later. His solution:
“Public Affairs organizations must devise new means and methods to better ‘frame’ issues for domestic and international audiences on policy successes while countering enemy disinformation in order to reverse these trends.
“Further, the US Government must clarify the roles, responsibilities, authorities and relationships between Public Affairs, Public Diplomacy and Information Operations to not only influence foreign target audiences, but to safeguard US national will. A failure to do so may result in strategic defeats in the future.”
In Col. Leap’s opinion, the goal of the Public Affairs officer in the service of the US military is not to defend the country – it’s to safeguard the National Will. The will to do what? Why, whatever the Pentagon and the political leadership desires. These are the movers and shapers of the National Will: the rest of us, including the media, are mere instruments in their capable hands.
As for those of us who are not, we’re presumably disseminators of “enemy disinformation,” different from the Taliban only in that we operate on the domestic scene and not in the mountains of Afghanistan. No wonder Antiwar.com has the FBI breathing down our necks.
Reading Col. Davis’s paper, I was struck with the enormity of what we here at Antiwar.com are up against: a US government-financed and coordinated propaganda campaign with effectively limitless resources. I knew this in theory, but seeing it right there on the printed page, especially Col. Leap’s definition of his job description, is sobering. How can we possibly succeed, I thought, when we have to fight this?
The answer was apparent as soon as I had formulated the question: they need all their resources just to keep the truth from the American people. We, on the other hand, only need our voice – and the means to make it heard.
There’s just one way to make sure that voice is never stilled, and that’s by becoming a financial contributor: the War Party has the US Treasury at its disposal, but we only have you. They have your tax dollars, but we only have our readers and supporters who voluntarily donate to make sure there’s a counterpoint to the war propaganda spouted by government officials and their media shills. Sure, we’re outgunned and out-manned, but we don’t need to equal or even approach their level of expenditure. We just need a bare-bones operation that “lives off the land,” so to speak, like a classic guerrilla operation – because we have the truth on our side.
This is the biggest weapon in our arsenal, but we need some kind of platform on which to launch it: and that’s what Antiwar.com is all about. For sixteen years, we’ve presented a vital counterpoint to the Pentagon’s media sock-puppets on a daily basis, debunking the lies of the War Party as soon as they’re uttered. We can’t continue to do it, however, unless we start seeing some better results from our current fundraising campaign. We don’t need a lot: we have a very small staff, and they do the work of twice their number. Yet we do need a bare minimum in order to survive as a viable, frequently-updated (at least daily) alternative to the badly-compromised “mainstream” media in the increasingly important realm of international affairs.