America’s Ministry of Propaganda — Part Two:
Gar Smith / The-Edge
Iraq’s ‘Terrorist Death Squads’
To Gardiner, the “most serious transformation of language” involved Washington’s directive to refer to Iraq’s irregular troops as “terrorist death squads.” The order apparently came down on March 25.
Renaming the Iraqi defenders “terrorists” appears to have been part of the strategic influence campaign since it served to connect the Iraqi fighters with “one of the major themes of Gulf II – Iraq = terrorist = 9/11.”
Gardiner stressed the role repetition plays in the “effective implementation of… creating memory in a population” and observed that “this theme was successful by US opinion polls” that show a majority of US citizens now believe, in the absence of evidence, that Iraq “was connected” to 9/11.
The propaganda artists selected a small Kurdish splinter group called Ansar al-Salam and elevated it into an organized group of Al Qaeda “terrorists” who were “said to be” controlled by Saddam Hussein and “believed to be” producing ricin, a deadly biotoxin.
Since Ansar al-Salam was formed shortly after 9/11, “it was tied to bin Laden.” Because a single source claimed to have seen Republican Guard officers in the region, “it was tied to Saddam Hussein.”
“This was part of the ‘big lie’ to tie Iraq to 9/11,” Gardiner wrote. “The ‘terrorist’ connection took many other forms, many forms but the truth. I don’t see evidenced they cherished the truth.”
In the first days of the invasion, a US Marine Corps spokesman made a prophetic statement: “The first image of the war will define the conflict.”
The attempts to control those “first images” were of overriding interest to the coalition’s ministries of propaganda. Because it was believed that the city of Basrah would quickly fall to the coalition troops, the “Battle of Basrah” was heavily scripted long before the first soldiers even entered Iraq.
Marines were given food packets to hand out to Basrah children. Journalists were to be bused to the newly captured city and TV crews were to be flown in to film the “liberated” citizens welcoming coalition soldiers with smiles and flowers. The UK had expected to lead the attack on Basrah but, over Blair’s objections, the US insisted on giving this plum assignment to the US Marines. Gardiner’s sources in Britain told him that the sole reason was that the US “wanted to have their forces lead the victory into Basrah.”
When the residents of Basrah refused to be “liberated,” the carefully planned media event evaporated in a hail of gunfire.
“It was about image,” Gardiner marvels. “So much effort and money on image.”
In a widely publicized September 12, 2002 briefing paper entitled, “Decade of Deception,” the White House described “a highly secret terrorist training facility in Iraq known as Salman Pak, where both Iraqis and non-Iraqi Arabs receive training on hijacking planes and trains, planting explosives in cities, sabotage, and assassinations.”
“This facility became a major part of the strategic influence marketing effort,” Gardiner writes. Yet, in the invasions aftermath, the Pentgon offered no “compelling evidence” that such a site existed.
In his February 3 presentation to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell flashed a photo of an Ansar al-Salam “poison factory” in northern Iraq. In September 3, seven months after Powell’s presentation, an Los Angeles Times reporter managed to reach the “poison factory,” which he described as “a small cinderblock building bearing brown granules and ammonia-like scents.” When the Times had the material tested, the granules turned out to be a commercial rat poison.
US Lied about Attacks on Iraq’s Power Grid
When the capital city of Baghdad was blacked out by a power failure during the April bombardment, Pentagon spokesperson Victoria “Tori” Clarke rushed to assure the world that “We did not have the power grid as a target. That was not us.”
The facts would subsequently show that the US had targeted portions of the power grid. In the North, a special operations team staged an attack on the Hadithah Dam on April 1 or 2. Human Rights Watch documented at least two attacks on the power grid south of Baghdad “along Highway 6 [that] included a Tomahawk [missile] strike using carbon fibers.”
The use of a sophisticated carbon-fiber weapons is significant since the deployment of these specialized devices required prior approval from Washington.
Iraq’s “Dirty Bomb”
In June 2002, an Iraqi expatriate named Khidhir Manza told the Wall Street Journal that the situation was “ideal for countries like Iraq to train and support a terrorist operation using radiation weapons.” Manza’s interview with the Journal was arranged by the Iraqi National Congress, a group of Iraqi exiles that was set up by the Rendon Group and supported financially by agencies of the US government. (See Weapons of Mass Deception, by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton.)
Helping to make Manza’s charges more credible, unnamed intelligence officials earlier had told the International Herald Tribune that “they are kept awake at night by the prospect of a dirty bomb.” Astute readers will note that these anonymous sources never actually said Iraq had a dirty bomb. It was all managed through suggestion and innuendo.
American’s Heroic Hostage
In an episode that recalled the creation of the “Old Shoe, the fictitious hero concocted by Robert deNiro’s ace “perception manager” in the film “Wag the Dog,” Washington’s propaganda artists literally brought someone back from the dead.
Lt. Commander Scott Speicher had been shot down during the first Gulf War in 1991. In an attempt to generate sympathy and support for Bush’s pre-emptive war, “intelligence sources” began circulating a bizarre new story to the US media. In what Gardiner called “a pattern typical of created stories,” these unnamed sources started a rumor that Commander Speicher had not only survived but that he had somehow spent the past decade trapped in an Iraqi prison.
Iraqi officials vehemently denied that they were holding Speicher or, for that matter, any Americans. When asked about the Iraqi denial at a press conference, Rumsfeld’s response was calculatingly oblique. “I don’t believe much the regime puts out,” Rumsfeld stated.
In Gardiner’s estimation, Rumsfeld’s answer “was too clever not to have been formulated to leave the impression that [Speicher] was alive.”
Gardiner was troubled by Rumsfeld’s apparent disinterest in the truth but, as a former military officer, there was another question that bothered Gardiner even more. “Why didn’t [Rumsfeld] consider what he was doing to Speicher’s family?”
On January 11, 2001, Speicher’s status was changed from KIA (Killed in Action) to MIA (Missing in Action). As the invasion forces gathered in the Middle East, Speicher’s status was changed once more, to “captured.” Navy officials who contacted ABC News reported that they had been pressured to make this change.
In January, “intelligence officials” continued to leak information to the media that suggested Speicher was still alive. In April, the secretive ministry of propaganda leaked a report that his initials had been found on the wall of a cell in Iraq. Gardiner found this leak particularly strange since “Military POW recovery personnel are very careful about releasing information that would cause false hope in families.” The release of such information would also, obviously, endanger the captives.
Long after Baghdad fell and the media’s attention had been drawn to the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction, a reporter thought to ask Rumsfeld about America’s lost hero. The secretary replied vaguely that there was “nothing turned up thus far that I could elaborate on that would be appropriate.” On July 16, a Washington Times investigation belatedly concluded that there was “no evidence” Speicher had survived or had been held captive in Iraq.
Chemical Cluster Bombs
On March 10, administration officials attempted to discredit Hans Blix and UNMOVIC, the UN weapons inspection program. Administration officials told the Boston Globe that “Blix did not give details… of the possible existence of a cluster bomb that could deliver deadly poisons.”
Presidential spokesperson Ari Fleischer claimed that the US was “aware of UNMOVIC’s discovery of Iraqi production of munitions capable of dispensing both chemical and biological weapons.” Videotape was released allegedly showing the Iraqis testing a cluster bomb for dispersing chemical weapons.
“The chemical cluster bomb story certainly didn’t linger,” Gardiner wrote. “It was around only a couple of days, but it still served its purpose at the time.”
Few newspaper readers or TV watchers realized that there was never any evidence that Iraq had such technologically complex weapons. Indeed, the Pentagon had dismissed the possibility of Iraq ever developing these weapons during the first Gulf War.
Iraq’s Planned Computer Attack on America
An alarming White House paper presented by Paul Wolfowitz before a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations warned that Iraqi engineers were preparing a vast attack on the country’s computer networks.
The warning came from a single source who claimed that Iraq’s Intelligence Service was working with the Babylon Software Company to break into US computers, steal documents and spread viruses. There were no such attacks. There was no such program.
Iraqi Troops in US Uniforms
On March 7, White House Deputy Director of Communications Jim Wilkinson, described as “a senior US official,” released a story about Iraq’s alleged acquisition of US and UK military uniforms “identical down to the last detail.” Wilkinson claimed Iraqis in US camouflage were planning to commit battlefield atrocities to cast discredit on coalition troops.
On March 26, Pentagon spokesperson Victoria “Tori” Clarke embellished the story. Clarke told reporters that “we knew they were acquiring uniforms that looked like US and UK uniforms. And the reporting was … [that Saddam Hussein would] give them to the thugs, as I call them, to go out, carry out reprisals against the Iraqi people, and try to blame it on coalition forces.”
Two days later, Rumsfeld added a new twist, claiming that Saddam Hussein’s troops planned to don UK an US uniforms “to try to fool regular Iraqi soldiers into surrendering to them and then execute them as an example for others.”
There were never any reports of Iraq attempting such stunts. In his report, Gardiner concludes: “The way it was put by Jim Wilkinson (a name that keeps appearing in these questionable stories), it seems to fit a pattern of pre-blaming Iraq. It has the feel of being a created story.”
Iraq’s Scud Missiles
In the lead-up to the war, the British and American people were told repeatedly that Iraq had Scud missiles capable of striking Israel. When the invasion began, Iraq began to fire what the Pentagon called “Scud-type missiles.” As Gardiner discovered, these rockets “were not Scuds and we have found no Scuds, but for three days they kept the story alive.”
In October 2002, a CIA report determined that evidence for the existence of Iraqi Scuds was inconclusive. Nonetheless, by the time Colin Powell stepped up to the plate at the UN, the missiles had become an accepted fact as far as Washington, London and Tel Aviv were concerned.
During the invasion, “American officials” told the New York Times that “the sheer tenacity of the Iraqi fight” near a compound at Al Qa’im had led them to believe that “the Iraqis might be defending Scud missiles” hidden at the site. Gardiner notes laconically: “No Scuds or WMDs were found at Al Qa’im.”
Saddam’s Remote-Controlled Drones
The CIA’s October report also claimed that Iraq had converted some J-29 jet fighters to deliver chemical and biological weapons. George W. Bush quickly seized on this specter for a speech in Cincinnati, where he told the astonished crowd that Saddam’s poison-laden aircraft were capable of hitting US soil.
By the time Powell testified before the UN, the threat had been measurably pared down — the fighter jets had become smaller, remotely piloted drones. Mr. Bush went public with the extraordinary claimed that these tiny drones could strike the US.
On June 15, an Air Force team in Iraq finally seized the drones. The Los Angeles Times described them as “five burned and blackened 9-foot-wings.” The Air Force captain in charge of the inspection concluded that the drones could have been “a student project or maybe a model.”
A subsequent investigation by the USAF determined that the drones’ only possible mission was to take pictures.
Gar Smith is Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal, Roving Editor at The-Edge (www.the-edge.org) and co-founder of Environmentalists Against War (www.envirosagainstwar.org).