• How much of what you see on the Internet is true? How much is propaganda?
By Victor Thorn
The power elites in Washington are barreling headlong toward legitimizing the use of propaganda, disinformation and misinformation in order to smear Washington’s critics and shape Americans’ views on such issues as the warfare state.
Relying on dirty tricks and sweeping surveillance tactics, the Obama administration, with the approval of Congress, has compiled an official “kill list” for enemies of the state and built the legal infrastructure to arrest and detain U.S. citizens indefinitely without trial. But suspects in the U.S. war on terror aren’t the only ones being targeted. It is much broader than that, evidenced by Obama legal advisor Cass Sunstein’s academic paper in 2008 that argued the federal government should employ cyber-plumbers to infiltrate and attack what he labeled “hardcore extremist [groups] who supply conspiracy theories.”
Sunstein cited the John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, the 1969 alleged moon landing, TWA Flight 800 and the Trilateral Commission as examples of dangerous conspiratorial beliefs. In regard to the president, Sunstein sought to quell “right wing rumors” such as those pertaining to global warming, Obama’s ties to Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers and the birth certificate controversy.
Basically, Obama cronies like Sunstein argued that government agents should secretly take to the airwaves and the Internet to attack critics of the military-industrial-banking complex and to feed information to the public in support of the war on terrorism, among other things.
Recently two U.S. journalists came under fire after they uncovered what seemed to be an official program that authorized the U.S. military to use the Internet to sow government propaganda.
On Feb. 28, two USA Today reporters—Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker—revealed that nefarious characters involved in an information-operations program had waged a propaganda campaign against them. By creating phony online accounts and dummy websites, the journalists were smeared in a variety of ways, including accusations that they had even aligned themselves with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Ironically, the reason Brook and Locker entered the Obama administration’s cross-hairs was due to their investigation of the Pentagon’s so-called “infocrafting.” Voice of America (VOA) radio show host Doug Bernard, in a May 1 article posted to the Internet, described this practice as “the transmission of information, factual or not, with the specific goal of changing beliefs.”
Brook and Locker reported in fiscal year 2011 the Pentagon spent $173M on infocrafting issues related to Iraq, much of which went to a shadowy outfit known as Leonie Industries.
On April 20, John Cook of the news website Gawker quoted a source claiming that Leonie Industries was the company responsible for initiating the fake online war against Brook and Locker.
VOA’s Bernard illustrated how tactics used on American enemies have been directed domestically toward our own citizens. “What began as a story about the questionable effectiveness of propaganda overseas is turning now into questions about its use at home,” wrote Bernard.
Congress is certainly not providing a much-needed check and balance to the White House.
On May 18, under amendment 114 of the National Defense Authorization Act, the House passed a bill that would allow the State Department and the Defense Department to utilize psychological operations within U.S. borders.
As part of a bipartisan effort co-sponsored by Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), this legislation would green light the manipulation of newspapers, radio, TV, websites and Internet media to overtly shape public opinion in America. AMERICAN FREE PRESS readers realize that such practices have already been used under Operation Mockingbird and assorted COINTEL programs.
Indeed, the once invisible government has now fully emerged into the open. As a result, Internet journalist Michael Hastings wrote on May 18, “There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information [being peddled under the guise of national security] is accurate, partially accurate or entirely false.” Unlimited in its scope, Hastings noted that the Pentagon has already mobilized high-tech software to eavesdrop on developments in the Bradley Manning case.
On May 31, this writer interviewed Alex Trujillo, a computer programmer and web developer, who has looked into the government’s Internet programs. “Today, with social media, everyone is so connected information-wise that propaganda has an ever-more potent effect on society,” he said.
Providing an example of how the government or superPACS may hoodwink activists, Trujillo told AFP, “Astroturfing is a process of creating false grassroots movements. They make these sites look as if many people are behind them, but in reality the accounts are fake. Rather than actually being at an event, such as a march on the Mall in Washington, D.C., they’ll use stock photos or touched-up pictures that are more show than substance.”
When asked what people can do to combat these tactics, Trujillo offered the following advice.
“One problem is the lack of critical thinking in trusting what’s written on a computer screen,” he said. “Disinformation is easily spread on websites such as Facebook. Those behind these efforts have so much money that they can abuse the entire system and affect a lot of things.”
Former Chicago and Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, who in 2009 was appointed by President Barack Obama to direct an important executive branch office, had in 2008 co-authored an article containing a plan for the government to prevent the spread of anti-government “conspiracy theories.” Arguing that such theories are believed only by groups suffering from “informational isolation,” he advocated the use of anonymous government agents to engage in “cognitive infiltration” of these groups in order to introduce “cognitive diversity,” with the aim of breaking them up. Noting that Sunstein’s proposal has evoked condemnations from across the political spectrum–not least because it, being similar to the FBI’s COINTELPRO of the 1960s, would be illegal–David Ray Griffin focuses on the fact that Sunstein’s primary target is the conspiracy theory advocated by the 9/11 Truth Movement. Examining Sunstein’s charge that this theory is both “harmful” and “demonstrably false,” Griffin uses both satire and overwhelming evidence to show that this twofold charge applies instead to what Sunstein calls “the true conspiracy theory” about 9/11-namely, the “theory that Al-Qaeda was responsible for 9/11.”
Softcover, 196 pages.
Victor Thorn is a hard-hitting researcher, journalist and the author of over 30 books.