7 June 2004
The George Tenet affair illustrates the ‘wheels within wheels’ strategy of the propaganda war being waged over the abject failure that is the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And it’s a failure on two fronts: the failure of the invasion itself to establish a secure beachhead in the Middle East and the imperium’s failure to convince the world that ‘pre-emptive’ war has any justification.
But the biggest failure has been that of the Left to recognise the significance of the defeat suffered by capital over the Iraq ‘adventure’. And although the USUK alliance was able to convince the world (and significant sections of the ‘left’) into accepting the dismemberment of Yugoslavia (itself another ‘dry-run’ for Gulf War III), Iraq was the first fully articulated expression of imperialism in the post-Soviet world. A world supposedly unfettered by any kind of real opposition to what, on the surface at least, was a reinvigorated imperialism.
The end of the Cold War was not only the creation of what was meant to be a ‘level playing field’ for the West but was also meant to be an empty one. And yet the imperium failed in the most abject manner, indeed it’s an embarrassment given the lack of opposition except – and this is most important – from the world’s population but one that sadly lacked any kind coherent leadership that was able to connect the drive for war to the ideology and objectives of imperialism. In the UK for example, we had the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ that deliberately took the ‘UN position’. What would the Coalition have done if the UN had actually condoned the invasion?
Even though we failed to stop the war, the global opposition was itself an expression that has no historical precedent. For myself, marching with people from the Liberal Democrats on February 2003 was a real eye opener, for it signalled a sea change in political life that was probably echoed around the developed world. For the first time, in my life anyway, capital was on the defensive but without any focused political opposition.
At first sight, these appear to be paradoxical events. Closer examination however, reveals something far deeper at work – the failure of the left to understand firstly, the economics of unrestrained capitalism and second, the left’s failure to comprehend the relevance of the entirely misnamed anti-globalisation movement and the real history of the West and its relationship to the rest of the world.
It is within this context that the well-documented history, fabricated though it all was, reveals the roots of the disinformation campaign, a campaign that was inextricably linked to and the culmination of, twelve years of sanctions designed to destroy the economy and the state of Iraq before moving in for the coup de gráce. But what underlies this orchestrated campaign of demonisation?
“This is bullshit”
“Meanwhile, back in the US, things are going from bad to worse. The meeting between foreign secretary Jack Straw and secretary of state Colin Powell that was leaked by a British official showed that even Powell was “apprehensive” about the ‘evidence’.
“And US News reported that “during a rehearsal of Powell’s presentation [for the UN] at…(CIA) headquarters on February 1, [Powell] at one point “tossed several pages in the air. ‘I’m not reading this’, he declared. ‘This is bullshit’.”
“Newsweek [reported] that when the US Central Command (CENTCOM) asked the CIA for specific WMD targets that should be destroyed in the first stages of the invasion, the agency only complied reluctantly. But what it provided “was crap”, a CENTCOM planner told the magazine.”
“Go for the Jugular” 05/06/03
The elements of Powell’s snow job (the ‘mobile lab’, the ‘intercepted conversations’, the ‘nukes’, the blurred photographs of nothing in particular) were accepted at face value by the corporate press in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. One had to look elsewhere for a real analysis of events.
A Forensic Examination
The roots of the West’s propaganda war rests on the alleged ‘moral superiority’ of democracy and of Western ‘civilisation’, a myth that has its roots in the colonial empires of Europe, and the centrality of racist ideology with its roots in the imperialist pseudo-science of the 19th century.
It should come as no surprise then that when we unpack the propaganda, running through it is an unspoken but implicit message that the poor countries of the world are essentially barbaric and that without our intervention they are not only doomed but crucially, they are hellbent on destroying us.
As I’ve alluded to before, there are plenty of examples of how the imperialism of the 19th century has come back to haunt us whether it’s the ‘double-standard’ theory of former Foreign Office theoretician Robert Cooper, one of the architect’s of Blair’s foreign policy or revisionist historian Niall Ferguson, both of whom find their reflection in the corporate media’s coverage of the war and subsequent occupation.
In the US, supplying the rationale for empire has fallen to academics drawing on the writings of people like Daniel Pipes, Robert Kagan and even going as far back as Plato. The common thread is the moral and intellectual superiority of Western ‘civilisation’ without which, the world will be overrun by the barbarian (read pagan) hordes of the East. This also explains the role of Israel in rationalising the onslaught, for although the underlying objective is both economic and strategic, the propaganda message is clearly a Judeo-Christian one (and laughable, given the role of anti-semitism in the West but it is yet another illustration of the hypocrisy of the imperium).
The media for its part, is divided roughly in two, the rabid and overtly right wing press and the so-called liberal press but regardless of the language, they both peddle the same message.
Going back through the past eighteen months of media coverage of the war and its run-up, the most striking aspect is the consistent obliteration of the past and its relevance to the present. Instead, the history of imperialism’s global machinations was replaced by the fiction of the ‘war on terror’, a blanket laid over almost the entire history of the 20th century and beyond.
The state of course, supplied the ideological basis for the media’s complicity in the process but unlike the period we call the Cold War, the ‘enemy’ has proved difficult to sell to a public that had just been convinced that with the end of the Cold War, the world would be a better (and safer) place. The problem for capitalism then, has been how to sell the continuation of policies that had for the better part of a century been predicated on defeating an enemy bent on destroying ‘our way of life’.
In the UK, the media has taken its cue from two complimentary messages, the ‘humanitarian’ and the ‘threat’ to ‘our’ way of life.
Hence we have Blair’s constant peddling of medical metaphors (”viruses”, “inoculation” and so forth) coupled to Blunkett’s appeals to defend the ‘English’ way of life and references to being ‘overrun’ and “swamped’ by aliens of one kind or another and although the ‘liberal’ press creates the appearance of denouncing such extremist messages, the very fact that it devotes acres of ‘analysis’ to the subject, in doing so, it distorts its importance by lending credence to views that essentially use the ideology of racism to convey a message of fear.
In August of 2003 I wrote a piece that in part dealt with the methodology of reporting lies:
“Two reporters, one story: Campbell sexed up the story,” we read that on the one hand, Andrew Gilligan, defence reporter for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme stood by his story that Alistair Campbell, chief propagandist for the government had been responsible for the “transformation” of the dossier. Meanwhile, his colleague on the BBC TV’s ‘Newsnight’ programme, Susan Watts, felt that Dr David Kelly’s comments were not “particularly controversial.” Indeed, she thought it to be “a glib statement,” and moreover, “not newsworthy.”
“So, we have these two reporters, giving us mutually conflicting interpretations of what Kelly told them. Of course, the fact that independent of Kelly’s obviously deliberate planting of vague almost accusations, we have the indisputable fact that there is no substance whatsoever to both allegations contained in the September dossier (the Niger yellowcake and the 45 minute fiasco).
“The Independent’s front-page story contains not a single word about the lies used to justify the invasion. Instead, we have the merry-go-round of who said what to whom and what to make of it all. And the ‘evidence’ submitted by the two BBC reporters’ reveals yet another layer of dissembling on the part of the state’s media disinformation campaign through its mouthpiece, the BBC.
“Inside the Independent, we have further obsfucation of the issues. In a piece on BBC reporter Susan Watts headed, “”Reporter believed Kelly’s disclosure was a ‘gossipy aside’”, raises fundamental questions about the role of the BBC’s journalists in this entire affair as channels of disinformation in their own right. After all, you don’t get a job with the Beeb as a journalist unless you are absolutely ‘trustworthy’, or if you prefer the BBC’s newspeak, ‘impartial.’ In other words, Watts is a loyal member of the establishment news Mafia as indeed, is Gilligan.
The story reveals glaring contradictions and deliberate confusion on the part of Watts that takes some serious unpacking in order to reveal the sub-text of Watts’ so-called reporting. Watts tells us that she didn’t think the ‘revelation’ of Alistair Campbell’s involvement in doctoring the dossier “newsworthy”. Am I hearing right? Not newsworthy? – “Discovered! Shoal of Giant Red Herrings” (13/08/03)
Her notes are even more confusing:
“[A] mistake to put in, Alistair Campbell seeing something in there, single source, but not corroborated, sounded good.”
Is she saying that it was a mistake to use Campbell’s name? Is the reference to a single source about Campbell or the lies in the dossier? And what sounded good? The story about Campbell or the lies?
Yet later on, under questioning, she says, “[W]ith hindsight” Kelly’s comments proved how well informed he was.”
Now let’s contextualize all this. Ms Watts’ connections to Kelly go back to August 2002 when someone put her in touch with Kelly from the Foreign Office. She made several calls to Kelly and had “many conversations” with him prior to her first meeting (apparently of three) in November 2002. All of her enquiries were connected to the issue of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq.
Is it really credible to accept Watts’ statement about “in hindsight” how well informed he was given her conversations with Kelly spanning several months? Why do I think this woman is lying? Could it be the fact that she was quite prepared to accept the veracity of information on a number of stories she did on Iraq and its alleged WMDs, but when it came to issue of the government’s outright lies being exposed, she suddenly felt he lacked credibility? Collusion or self-censorship? Does it matter?
In a reference to the 45-minute claim, Ms Watts says:
“He wasn’t suggesting it was necessarily false but I think he was suggesting to me that it might not necessarily have had only one interpretation.”
“What else could it be? Either it was false or it wasn’t. What did Ms Watts believe it to be? Answer; with ‘hindsight’, the 45-minute claim was false, although to cover her dissembling self, she doesn’t actually commit herself on this score.”
Later (12/09/03) the Independent’s editorial opened with the following amazing and totally incredulous statement:
“It should be a relief to all to accept that the infamous Government dossier on Saddam’s Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction was not sexed up. It was a crass and foolish phrase.”
“Flawed, selective, distorted and mistaken” (13/09/03)
So what’s important is not the issue of the pretext for war but the language used to justify it. So it’s with a sigh of relief that the Independent doesn’t have to go through the contortions of explaining away the contradictions of the state’s attempts at justifying why it went to war. And the process of rationalising the government’s position is never-ending. Take the following example from the Independent (28/08/03) with the headline:
“E-mails, memos and misinformation: an unflattering picture of government” by Andrew Grice. Grice starts out by saying that in a previous column he had,
“[L]ikened reporting politics to “observing an iceberg”, saying that political journalists uncover only one eighth of what is happening. The Hutton inquiry made me think I had overstated the media’s ability to ferret out what really is going on behind Whitehall’s closed doors.”
“A marriage made in hell” (23/08/03)
I went on to say:
“Is Grice trying to say that in the acres of reporting prior to the Hutton inquiry, that the media thought it had actually uncovered the truth? And that only now, we were seeing the ‘real’ story revealed with the comments uncovered such as “the game of chicken” played with the BBC or that Dr Kelly’s questioning by the MoD was “brutal”? Rather than revealing the existence of an iceberg, it seems that the journalists’ job is more akin to skating on thin ice.
And if indeed, as Grice says, political journalists do only uncover the ‘tip of the iceberg’, whose fault is that? Well it’s not the journalist because he says,
“I was assured there was “no witch-hunt” to find the source of the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan’s report that No 10 had “sexed up” a government’s dossier on Iraqi weapons.“
“The irony is that Mr Kelly and his fellow spokesman Godric Smith have tried to help the Government kick [the ‘spin’] habit. That is why, as neutral civil servants, they were brought in to take over the day-to-day briefing of journalists from Mr Campbell.”
“So Grice is telling us that now ‘neutral’ civil servants have taken over the role from the professional propagandists, we will be told the truth. This is simply journalistic spin based on the myth of ‘neutral’ civil servants. And what is this assertion based upon? Grice offers not a single piece of evidence in his article to justify this claim other than the assumption, ingrained by the dominant political class over the decades that the civil service sits ‘outside’ the state. Where exactly, we are not told, perhaps on Mount Olympus along with the gods who, looking down, laugh at the affairs of us, mere mortals?
“A marriage made in hell”
‘Neutral and objective’, is a line pushed consistently throughout the Hutton ‘inquiry’ and is deeply embedded in the mythology of the dominant culture’s control of ideas about how things work. Yet occasionally, the media lets slip the reality. The Independent let the cat out of the bag, when Nigel Morris, the ‘paper’s political correspondent, told us that John Scarlett, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee and responsible for the September dossier is:
“[O]ne of the…most influential figures in the establishment”
And as I pointed out in the article, being a member of the establishment has very specific meanings none of which have anything to do with being either neutral or objective.
Exploding the myth of faulty intelligence gathering
So after everything else failed it was the turn of “Faulty intelligence gathering”, the mantra that’s being wheeled out both by Bush and Blair and parroted by a complicit media as it attempts yet more damage control. A look at the timeline starting with Blair’s September 2003 ‘dossier’, the February ’04 fake, Powell’s UN fabrication and finally of course, the failure to find the fabled WMD reveals the nature of the beast, and they handed it to us on a plate, not merely once but over and over again, yet we allowed them to escape.
Central to propagating the myth has been the role of the media in turning a blind eye at every step of the way as the lies unravelled. There are two elements at work here: the first is the role of emphasis in pumping up any aspect no matter how tenuous, that reinforces the myth and second, playing down, ridiculing or diminishing anything that interrupts the orderly flow of the propaganda stream.
An example of this was the way the media covered Colin Powell’s piece of pure theatre at the UN. The Independent for example presented us with a front page that pumped Powell’s presentation but buried away in another story also on the same front page was a reference to the UN’s dissing of the Niger yellowcake fake, a story that should by rights have occupied the headline position given its centrality to the September dossier. The same could have been said of the 45 minute claim, sourced even then to a certain Khidir Hamza, who is according to the former Iraqi minister of defence:
“…a professional liar. He worked with us, but he was useless and was always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything. Yes, his original name is Khidir, but we called him Hazem. He went to Baghdad University then left Iraq. He is very bad.”
Gen. Hussein Kamal, “Hamza’s War” (18/10/03)
The connection between ‘faulty intelligence’ and the reasons for war only became important when the basic propaganda campaign had collapsed. The media of course went along with the entire masqurade. The headline in the Independent (4/6/04) “Scapegoat?” sums up the collusion between the state and the media. The story continued on P.4 with the assertion that Tenet is the “fall guy” but for what?
Going back once more into the unfolding farce, we find that “fall guy” rests on the assumption that the CIA got it all ‘wrong’ or were ‘misled’ but the facts are that Bush along with Blair instructed their intelligence agencies to come up with a ‘smoking gun’. The CIA after all, serves the strategic interests of government, not the other way around.
When viewed in this context, ‘getting it all wrong’ and the false view of the neutrality of the state’s servants are part and parcel of the process of propaganda. Moreover, the emphasis is shifted from objectives to process (the process becomes the accepted ‘fact’).
A Miller’s Tale
The Miller tale has, to some degree been told elsewhere [see Further Reading below] but the fact that it has taken the media something like two years to acknowledge the ‘special relationship’ Judith Miller had with Ahmed Chalabi (let alone her incestuous relationship with the military establishment) speaks reams about the role of the journalist even when it comes to challenging the disinformation.
Many are the mea culpas that have been written in the past weeks by the mouthpieces of capital, mostly along the lines of ‘where did we go wrong?’ or ‘how could we have not have seen the obvious?’ All are worth looking at in detail for what they reveal about workings of the professional elites and their relationship to the political class.
Looking at the Chalabi/Hamza/CIA flow of disinformation, we find an identical process at work as the one operating within the establishment but now the propaganda flow is mediated directly by the journalist. Hence Miller gets the inside dope that in turn is fed to intelligence who in turn put it out as ‘intelligence’. The circle of deceit is complete.
As the story unfolds causes and objectives get buried under successive layers of disinformation. The process takes on all the appearance of an archeological excavation. So instead of presenting objectives to the public, it’s like CSI ‘forensic’ examination but one that has no victim, apparently no motive but plenty of opportunity.
After all, why did ‘intel’ get it ‘all wrong’? Enter another layer, ‘humint’ or so-called human intelligence on the ground as they say. And once more the media goes along with the fable. Is it conceivable (aside from the historical record of weapons and intelligence supplied to Saddam by the West) that Iraq, that has been under intense scrutiny from the air, from space and on the ground since 1991 is not entirely an open book?
Why for example, did ‘intel’ decide that Chalabi/Hamza’s et al ‘intel’ was reliable but the UN’s wasn’t? Does the media pose the question? No it doesn’t. The media decides, just like Bush/Blair to ignore anything that doesn’t fit the objectives. Under these circumstances, it’s vital to keep an eye on the ball, a ball that has been kicked out of play by a colluding press.
The ball in this case is USUK strategic objectives, long stated (1992 being the first post-Soviet articulation) of achieving global supremacy. This is not rocket science, it doesn’t require a global conspiracy, nor a forensic examination or an archeological dig. Documents like the NSS or the PNAC as well as a slew of public statements make it quite plain and although the media occasionally refer to them it is always tangentially and always outside the context of the ‘war on terror’.
The media and collusion with the state
A Conspiracy of Silence by William Bowles (14/07/03)
Blair into Blah Doesn’t Go: Anatomy of a con by William Bowles 16/07/03)
Discovered! Shoal of Giant Red Herrings by William Bowles 13/08/03)
Flawed, selective, distorted and mistaken? Selling the big lie by William Bowles 13/09/03
David Kay and the CIA by William Bowles (06/10/03)
Collective-selective amnesia by William Bowles (20/12/03)
The Judith Miller/Ahmed Chalabi/CIA relationship is well documented. Here are just a few sources for your delectation.
The Media on the Media on Miller
Leak of the Week: Madame Smallpox By Jack Shafer
Newspaper reporters in row over Chalabi By Howard Kurtz
Judith Miller, warhawk reporter by Paul Sperry
Miller and the CIA
The Price of Cooking the CIA Books Joe Trento’s Column
Pentagon Accused of Disinformation By Pascal Riche
Miller on Islam