American Propaganda

news stationsDid you know that the FBI creates broadcasts that mimic news reports, and disseminates them via ABC news, itunes, and other internet media? According to the Daily Signal, these reports often do not clearly identify the broadcast as a government issued broadcast, that has been made with tax dollars, and paints the FBI in a positive light. The reports are surrounded by similar sounding segments that are not U.S. government made propaganda.

With public agencies in the quasi-news business, should their products also carry a disclosure to avoid the same confusion? Should they clearly tell listeners that the message is generated using their tax dollars?

“The only thing we’re promoting is public awareness so, no, I don’t think there is a need for a label,” the FBI’s McKee told me. “Within each program the narrator clearly identifies herself as an FBI employee and the programs are found on official FBI sites/pages.”

In fact, in the Aug. 15 story on “FBI This Week,” the narrator doesn’t clearly identify herself as an FBI employee. The segment follows a typical news format where the reporter signs off with the location of the assignment and the title of the feature. But to those who are listening closely, the positive message is the clue that there’s a government sponsor.

So it got me thinking, if this is the propaganda we know about, what are we hearing from “non-government sources” that is actually indeed, just propaganda? The fact that the U.S. government feeds U.S. citizens bulk lies is not controversial. Operation Mockingbird is a documented government program that had thousands of mainstream journalists on U.S. government pay since 1953 and included publications like the Washington Post, Time Magazine, People Magazine, and Newsweek to name a few. And just recently documents show that the U.S. government currently seeks to influence public opinion via social media, with paid “trolls” to comment on news articles, and insert their ideas or misinformation or just confusion into Facebook and twitter. To what extent are we influenced by lies, useful for and propagated by the U.S. government?

What if the propaganda was so bad that “facts” about countries like North Korea, Iran, and Cuba were not really facts? I don’t actually think it goes that deep, but it does make me wonder. With so little travel to the three countries by Americans, it is conceivable that certain misconceptions could be easily construed by our own government, posing as media. But as always, the bottom line is: never trust the government.

State Media: Post and Times Keep Drone Base Secret

On Monday I posted about a CIA program started in the 1950’s called Operation Mockingbird. In the post, I explained that the CIA operation paid reporters, editors, and other media personal to write and cover favorable stories about pro-CIA politicians, to exclude stories that would embarrass or bring scrutiny on the CIA, and influence public opinion about any number of things by including or excluding certain stories in the media. Although the program was “officially” ended in 1976, the emerging news about an American drone base in Saudi Arabia, and the fact that the media kept this quiet for a year, caught my eye.

The reason I linked this suppression of news to the CIA operation, is because one article specifically mentioned that The Washington Post, and The New York Times knew about the drone base, but decided not to publish anything on it, because of “pressure from the Obama administration”, and “national security concerns”. The Washington Post and New York Times were two of the first papers to be included in the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird when it began. Could their ties still exist today, just under more secrecy than Operation Mockingbird originally afforded?

Experts and the public essentially agree that the drone base in Saudi Arabia was not a national security concern–in fact Obama’s own release of information, and the timing of the release, on the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden was more of a national security failure than the American public finding out about the drone base. In reality Obama probably wanted to keep the base under wraps to shelter himself from criticism over his drone program. Dr. Jack Lule, who is a professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, said:

We have two partners’ participation in the secrecy of the drone programme: the government and the news media. If we are looking to open it up to scrutiny, where do we go?

It happened at the top ranks of the media, too. We look to digital media, but they do not have the contacts and the resources to look at this. They should have been leading the pack in calling for less secrecy. For them to give up that post is terrible.

All the more concerning about the complicity of the media and government in keeping facts hidden from the public, is that Obama’s National Security Adviser, John Brennan, has been tapped to become the next head of the CIA. Some disconcerting things that Brennan has said in the past, include that he is “in favor of some degree of government censorship”. So now we can put some puzzle pieces together. The New York Time and Washington Post, who at one time had a number of reporters and editors on the CIA payroll under Operation Mockingbird to influence public opinion, did not publish anything about the Saudi Arabia drone base, because of supposed national security concerns. Obama’s National Security Adviser, John Brennan, will likely become the head of the CIA; the CIA, of course, having initiated Operation Mockingbird for the purposes of spreading propaganda across America, and throughout the world. John Brennan has stated in the past that he agrees with some amount of government censorship.

According to Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, commenting on the secrecy of the drone base:

To public perception, it begins to appear that those decisions were made not for national security reasons but to provide cover for the administration. That is the tightrope that news organisations walk in these situations.

The whole brouhaha has become so complex over what the implications are for John Brennan, and whether the Post has done this for political reasons.

We have people in the White House and other government agencies that are opposed to transparency, and hostile to independent media. There should be no doubt that the mainstream media in this country is utterly untrustworthy. If they are taking their directions from the government, then we might as well just have government media. At least then, we would know it was coming from the government, but under current circumstances many people are still led to believe that the media is reporting independently. In fact many media outlets simply pour government propaganda into the public sphere, although that is becoming harder with the internet. No doubt the internet is on the list of things to censor; for “national security” purposes of course. Red flags should be going up in all of our minds about the government working with the media to influence public opinion about drone strikes, and limit public information regarding drone strikes. Already we have seen the DOJ under Obama, coordinate with Media Matters to attack specific people critical of the administration and DOJ’s handling of “Operation Fast and Furious”.

If the public is not allowed to have the proper information, than we can not have a proper debate, and make proper decisions about whether or not the drone program, and the practice of targeting individuals for assassination, should be allowed and continue. Shame on The Washington Post and New York Times for keeping facts hidden from the public, and shame on the Obama administration for putting pressure on news sources to keep his policies out of the public realm. So much for “the most transparent administration in history”.

Operation Mockingbird: CIA’s Propaganda Machine

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The Central Intelligence Agency in the United States is widely known by the public to have had roles in various secret operations at home and abroad. People may debate whether or not the CIA has had an overall positive or negative role in terms of influencing American security, but what we can agree on is that the government agency is one of the most secretive. Some would say their very nature as an effective intelligence agency requires certain amounts of secrecy, while others point to evidence of the CIA’s abuse of power at home or abroad. Some sketchy operations and practices of the CIA have even been officially recognized as existing or having existed. One such operation was designed to inundate the public with propaganda, while maintaining the facade of an independent media.

Operation Mockingbird began in the 1950’s a with the official purpose of producing, “propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.” The Wikipedia entry on Operation Mockingbird compiles information from a number of books written about the CIA and this particular subdivision, including a book called American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate, and Beyond which was written by E. Howard Hunt, one of the convicted “Watergate” architects who spent time in prison over the scandal. The operation was meant to influence foreign and domestic media in order to control the dissemination of information according to the CIA’s standards.

Frank Wisner was appointed to direct the Office of Policy Coordination within the CIA, which would run the propaganda operations later named Mockingbird. The first person Wisner recruited to run the industry side of the project was Phil Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post. Respected employees of the New York Times, CBS, Newsweek and other media outlets were reportedly “owned” by Wisner and his Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) by the early 1950’s. Operation Mockingbird appeared to recruit mainly reporters and editors who dealt with foreign affairs, and international news, but the information was also officially acknowledged to have influenced the American public increasingly as time went on.

In 1977, a year after “Congressional hearings in 1976 proved the CIA had been paying off editors and reporters in most mainstream media outlets”, People Magazine ran an article detailing how imbedded Operation Mockingbird already was in America.

[O]ne of the most important journalists under the control of Operation Mockingbird was Joseph Alsop, whose foreign affairs articles appeared in over 300 different newspapers. Other journalists alleged by People Magazine to have been willing to promote the views of the CIA included Stewart Alsop who headed the international bureau of the New York Herald Tribune, Ben Bradlee, the foreign affairs correspondent for Newsweek, James Reston for the international section of the New York Times, Charles Douglas Jackson, the foreign photo-journalist for Time Magazine, and international correspondents such as Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, Charles Bartlett of the Chattanooga Times and William C. Baggs and Herb Gold of The Miami News.[7] According to Nina Burleigh (A Very Private Woman), these journalists sometimes wrote articles that were commissioned by Frank Wisner. The CIA also provided them with classified information to help them with their work.[8]

The way the CIA operated under this operation, was to develop reports based on intelligence, and then disseminate those reports to “witting or unwitting reporters”. In the 1950’s Operation Mockingbird had about 3,000 salaried or contract employees working on the project, and had extreme influence over at least 25 print and wire media outlets. With this type of control established, the CIA was not only able to place stories in the media, but prevent others from being released; such as CIA plans to overthrow the government of Iran. There was reportedly no limit to the money that was allowed to be spent by the CIA, or the activities the CIA was allowed to engage in, in order to influence foreign and domestic media. This included bribes and payoffs, with no accountability to Congress or the American public.

When FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover became jealous of the CIA’s growing power, he looked into their past revealing ties to left wing and progressive politics of the 1930’s. This information was relayed to Senator Joseph McCarthy, who started his famous quest to root out communists and security threats within the CIA, which many referred to as a “witch hunt”. With the knowledge of the existence of Operation Mockingbird, Senator McCarthy’s accusations become more legitimate, as Hollywood and the media had indeed been infiltrated by propaganda masters–even though it was the CIA instead of Soviet Russia. Given that McCarthy considered the CIA to be a “sinkhole of communists”, he may have considered their influence exerted over the media to be on par with the Soviets.

McCarthy began targeting members of the Office of Public Coordination with information about their past ties and sympathies. Frank Wisner and another early employee of the OPC, Cord Meyer, were early targets of McCarthy’s investigations. What happened next with Operation Mockingbird may well explain the views most American’s currently hold on McCarthyism and his supposed “witch hunt”.

Contrary to statutory and legal limitations, once the network in authority in the CIA saw its interests threatened, Wisner was directed to unleash Mockingbird on McCarthy. Drew Pearson, Joe Alsop, Jack Anderson, Walter Lippmann and Ed Murrow all engaged in intensely negative coverage of McCarthy, whose political reputation was permanently damaged by the press coverage orchestrated by Wisner.[15]

Once Operation Mockingbird took out the main opposition, Senator McCarthy, the potential of this propaganda machine had been demonstrated. President Eisenhower was later skeptical of the CIA’s covert activities’ importance and legality, and commissioned a report. The report argued that the CIA’s covert operations were

“responsible in great measure for stirring up the turmoil and raising the doubts about us that exists in many countries in the world today.” Bruce [the author] was also highly critical of Mockingbird. He argued: “what right have we to go barging around in other countries buying newspapers and handing money to opposition parties or supporting a candidate for this, that, or the other office.”[17]

By the 1960’s some books and documentaries began to emerge, detailing the CIA’s propaganda crusade and linking it to such operations as the Bay of Pigs, and covert operations in Vietnam. The CIA had a hard time containing these reports, however with Operation Mockingbird at their disposal, they continued to plant editorials about pro-CIA politicians, and run articles such as I’m glad the CIA is ‘Immoral’, defending their secret activity as important for American security. The author, Thomas Braden, justified the illegal activities of the CIA by saying that they were necessary for protecting America in the early days of the cold war, when congress would never have dreamed of approving some of their CIA schemes. Of course, there is a reason why organizations such as the CIA need congressional approval, to avoid abuses of power such as Operation Mockingbird. In 1972 Cord Meyer, who worked for the OPC, was exposed as trying to suppress the publication of a book critical of the CIA.

In 1975 and 1976 the Church Committee investigation fully exposed the CIA operation to influence media, and a congressional report stated the following:

The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.

The propaganda efforts of the CIA were estimated at the time to cost taxpayers $265 million annually. George H. W. Bush who was the recently appointed CIA director in 1976, said that effective immediately, the CIA would no longer pay or enter into contracts with reporters or the media, but would continue to “‘welcome’ the voluntary unpaid cooperation of journalists”. Case closed, right? Obviously something this widespread would not be as easily ended as this. Bush’s words were an act of cooling out the public, so that the CIA could lay low, and continue its campaign of propaganda on the American people. Maybe they changed the name of the Operation, but we can be sure the framework and existence of the CIA propaganda machine continues to this day, under a similar design to the original Operation Mockingbird.

And that is much of what we know about Operation Mockingbird. This brings new meaning to the phrase, “biased media”. I hope this will make people realize that our government has in the past, and almost certainly still does, directly influence the media that we see on television, on the internet, and in newspapers. The relationship that politicians have to the media should be disconcerting, for example the vast number of reporters scooped up into the Obama Administration as a reward for positive coverage during the 2008 election. Or the recent coordination between the Department of Justice and Media Matters to attack anyone critical of the DOJ. Also, take a look at some of the comments made by John Brennan, nominee for CIA Chief, about censorship. Clearly with this type of government-media relationship we cannot hope to get unbiased, accurate news from the typical sources, which is why we must meet all news with scrutiny, and logically assess whether it is likely to be accurate.

The internet is helping the public to figure out which information is true, and which is lies, but the line is easily blurred. That is why we must remain vigilant, and never allow ourselves to be whipped into a frenzy by media hysteria. Whether it is justifying a new war, outlawing guns, or supporting corrupt politicians, state media can be seen through the cracks of many media outlets, attempting to shape public opinion on particular issues. I just hope this shines light on the fact that our government has, and still does engage in producing and disseminating propaganda to the American people, in order to carry out their ulterior motives.