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"Bad Intelligence" - The Subject is Subjectivity

By Arash Norouzi 
Americans, it would seem, are the ideal audience for propagandists, precisely because they don't believe they are being propagandized. We have just seen the U.S. government cry wolf, then admit there was no wolf, and still maintain its credibility. How is that possible? 
When a subject is selectively reported, misrepresented, or contextualized with biased phrases, keywords, and images, well, that's the definition of propaganda. The undisputed masters of this tyranny of the mind are the media and the government. Working in tandem and armed with a public trust, these forces derail the train of truthful thought in society and oil the machinery of war and prejudice. Whether politically or commercially motivated, fight provoking displaces thought provoking; condemnation precludes diplomacy; and media distortion, like human subjectivity itself, is constant. 

The most effective means of state propaganda is a mixture of fear and constant repetition. Once you've established yourself as the good guys, you can sell almost any idea and justify virtually any action. For years the U.S. government has managed to manipulate Middle East policy with misinformation and glaring omissions of fact. Take "allegedly", a word conspicuously absent from discussion of the weapons capability of Iraq or the nuclear complicity of Iran. It doesn't take a nuclear physicist to figure out that the double standards toward Iran and Iraq (rather than a known imminent threat like North Korea) exist because they are old enemies sitting on a lot of oil. 
For over a quarter century, Americans have been programmed to fear and despise Iran, so when the day comes that the U.S. decides to attack, there will be little resistance. That time may have come.
                    "..Fool me once, shame on-shame on you. Fool me-you can't get fooled again."
                                            - President George W. Bush, September 2002
In the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush and senior White House officials including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell made decisive statements about their absolute certainty that Iraq not only harbored weapons of mass destruction, but intended to use them against Americans. They did so in plain, unmistakable language on numerous occasions.
While Bush and Cheney made sweeping allegations about the threat of Iraqi WMDs, former Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice conjured the frightening image of mushroom clouds looming over the homeland. In early 2003, Colin Powell testified before the U.N. Security Council and offered visual "proof" in the form of satellite photos of alleged Iraqi chemical weapons facilities. "Indeed, the facts and Iraq's behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction", said Powell.
With mountains of post-9/11 political capital to burn, the government succeeded beautifully in (mis)leading Americans to a preemptive war based on false pretenses, but have failed miserably in their efforts to find the weapons of mass destruction which were the rationale for war to begin with. We can thank them for creating a war that has caused the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal, the beheadings of innocent men and women, the violent deaths of over 1,500 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, thousands of people maimed and handicapped, and a record high federal budget deficit. Having gotten away with it once, the Bush administration is clearly not above giving a repeat performance.
"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."
                                                   - Dick Cheney, Aug. 26, 2002
The United States invaded Iraq in March of 2003. Months went by and the body count grew higher, but no Iraqi WMDs turned up. In June 2003, President Bush remarked, "I am absolutely convinced with time we'll find out that they did have a weapons program." Bush's phrasing is an inadvertent admission that the existence of Iraq's weapons program was not certain - you can't "find out" what you already know!  
"I'm absolutely sure that there are weapons of mass destruction there and the evidence will be forthcoming. We're just getting it just now."
                                                    - Colin Powell, May 4, 2003
After more than a year in Iraq, Colin Powell, who had so emphatically and arrogantly lectured the entire world for not recognizing the obvious Iraqi threat- finally admitted in April 2004 that his February 5, 2003 presentation before the United Nations was based on dubious intelligence which he could no longer stand by. 
In July 2004, with no WMD's found whatsoever, Bush continued to defend the still unfounded claims about Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons stockpile. "We won't be proven wrong," he said. "I believe that we will find the truth. And the truth is he was developing a program for weapons of mass destruction." Just three months later, Bush would eat those words.
On October 7th, 2004, with thousands of American and Iraqi lives lost and billions of dollars squandered on a preemptive attack on Iraq, President George W. Bush finally conceded that Iraq did not possess the weapons of mass destruction once "known" to exist. "Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there", admitted Bush.

While Americans and Iraqis continue to die by the day in Iraq, the Bush administration is now unashamedly focusing the same accusations against Iran. In eerily similar rhetoric, the United States, still the only nation to have ever actually launched a nuclear attack on an enemy, insists that Iran is manufacturing nuclear weapons. At this point, there is no hard evidence to back this up, and Iran, a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, maintains that its nuclear program is peaceful and for energy purposes only. According to Iran's Foreign Minister, "Iran has been always pushing for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Basically this means that it is forbidden based on our ideology, based on our Islamic thinking it is forbidden to produce and use nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction."
As a gesture of goodwill, Iran has temporarily suspended its uranium enrichment capability and recently opened a major nuclear facility to the international media. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has conducted inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities, but their findings did not satisfy the Bush regime; which tapped the phone of respected IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei (who had questioned U.S. suspicions of Iraq and Iran) in an attempt to oust him from office.

The issue of the rights of Iran, a country surrounded by U.S. military presence and a hostile nuclear armed Israel, to nuclear technology is not even entertained for a moment in the U.S. media. The United States and Israel's tantrums over Iran's nuclear program can be dumbed down to the following: We Can Have a Bomb, But You Can't. However, whether they are building nuclear weapons or not is still speculation, not fact. The judicial system operates on fact. Science depends on fact. Why not the government? 

"Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror - pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve."
                                   - George Bush: State of the Union, February 2, 2005
The discussion of Iranian nuclear capability in the media is a textbook example of how preemptive conclusions can lead to preemptive wars. As with Iraq, the U.S. media lazily regurgitated White House allegations against Iran without offering context or counterpoint. Reporting the unsubstantiated as fact, Patrick McGrath of WTTG FOX News DC stated in a February 14 TV broadcast, "The U.S. is worried about Iran's recent efforts to build a nuclear weapon." Wow! Are you sure?
During a February 6th FOX News channel's report on Iran, the screen headline asked, "IS A BATTLE WITH IRAN INEVITABLE?" A February 13th Chicago Sun-Times headline blares "North Korea Says It Has Nukes -- Can World Stop Iran?"
                     "You have a country there [Iran] that seems bent on having a nuclear weapon."
                               "...But intelligence has been wrong before on things like that."
                          - Donald Rumsfeld, CBS News' Face the Nation, February 6, 2005

Mass media in the 21st century is a witch's brew of corporate and state propaganda, commercialism, lawyertalk, and tabloid-style celebrity journalism. This gradual mind-numbing softens Americans' resistance with the tenacity of a telemarketering sales pitch. As advertisers know, branding and marketing can make consumers choose one identical product over the other. It's called the 'power of suggestion'. 
Witness the findings of a December 2004 Gallup Poll: "A recent Gallup survey asking respondents to assess the threat posed each by Iran and North Korea found significantly different results depending on which country was mentioned first." Asked in February 2005 to name the world's greatest enemy of the United States, Gallup respondents named the following top three: Iraq, North Korea and Iran. President Bush's "Axis of Exil" maxim has worked like a charm.
                                 "Iran and Iraq have a history.. and it's not a very good history."
                              - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, February 17, 2005
Propagandists are masters of linking their enemy with a negative in order to bring about its demise. In 1953, the West justified its violent coup against Iran by labelling its democratic Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh as a communist and a dictator. In the 1960's, the FBI led by J. Edgar Hoover attempted to brand civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. as a communist. In our era, terrorism is the new communism, the proverbial scarlet letter which brands the accused as a pariah. With this in mind, Bush and his cabinet made sure to speak of September 11th and Iraq in the same breath at every opportunity. The technique appears to have worked. A September 2003 poll by The Washington Post found that nearly 70% of Americans believed that Iraq was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
                      "Every one of us [politicians] does a lot of propaganda on lots of things every day." 
                                         - Senator John Irvine - Republican, California
The distinction between church, state and media in America gets blurrier all the time. In a move worthy of the Soviet era, the White House was recently exposed for having bribed political columnists such as Armstrong Williams to promote administration policies -- an action so indefensible that even Williams himself openly conceded that it was professionally and ethically wrong. More recently, another scandal erupted when it was discovered that a pseudonymous Internet writer with dubious credentials was given White House press corps access and repeatedly called on to ask comfortable questions. And that's just the condensed version of the story. From using taxpayer money to produce pre-packaged faux "news" segments to suppressing information about American war casualties, the Bush administration is increasingly resembling the fundamentalist, repressive governments it condemns.
In response, Congress is now proposing the Federal Propaganda Prohibition Act of 2005 to prevent what they have termed "covert propaganda campaigns." The legislation is intended to prohibit "(1) covert propaganda that does not identify the government as the source, (2) information intended for "self-aggrandizement" or "puffery," and (3) materials that serve a solely partisan purpose." Yet even if passed, the bill could not even begin to erase the decades of anti-Iranian and anti-Islamic sentiment engrained in the American culture. In a society imbued with such deeply held attitudes about the Middle East, most people wouldn't even recognize bias if they saw it.
                                                      "KILL ALL IRANIANS. Kill them."
  -Radio personality Howard Stern, 1992
To illustrate this point, let's analyze the media coverage of a recent news item. The subject of Iran's nuclear program came up during the the January 28th, 2005 World Economic Forum in Switzerland, where U.S. Senator Joseph Biden and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met to discuss relations. The Associated Press article headlined the meeting "Sen. Biden, Iran Minister Clash Over Nukes". Although the exchange centered on differences in policy, judging from the quotes cited, the dialogue could be described as civil, reasonable, lucid.. but not combative. However, the headline clearly frames the talks as a contentious exchange between two bitter enemies, USA and Iran.    
This might reflect the bias (if not the carelessness) of the writer; fanning the flames of already escalated tensions between two nations who could very well be teetering on the brink of an armed conflict. In that 7 word headline, the writer has tainted the entire article with a misleading premise. And it's that headline, and not necesarily the body of the article, which sticks in the brain and skews perspectives.
Feeling clever, Reuters scribe Paul Taylor came up with the headline, "Meal From Hell Whets Appetite For US-Iran Clash". The headline seizes yet another opportunity to conjure images of hell, damnation, Satan and overall evil in association with Iran. The Reuters piece reinforces the West's anti-Iranian agenda by cementing these hackneyed associations in the reader's mind, setting the stage for conflict with a headline that literally suggests the probability of the U.S. bombing Iran. Other than citing the same quotes, the article barely resembles the AP piece, instead focusing on the series of "diplomatic and gastronomic blunders" that took place that evening. In Reuter's report, the awkward faux paus of the night were as much "the story" as the frank dialogue between Biden and Kharrazi. 
When FOX News republished the AP piece, they changed the headline (is that kosher?) to "Biden Hints At War In Warning To Iran". The closest thing to a "warning" from Senator Biden is his tactful comment "We are on the course of unintended consequences" - hardly a threat of military action. Yet FOX instigates anyway.
From the Iranian media: "Senior US senator Joseph Biden meets Iranian FM Kamal Kharrazi in Davos". The article is based on reports from the IRNA (Islamic Republic News Agency), the Iranian Foreign Ministry's official press bureau. The opening paragraph states: "Senior US Senator Joseph Biden criticized the American government's policies on Iran during a meeting with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi...". If this were the case, no such statements from Biden were cited. Most likely, they were referring to Biden's comments quoted in the U.S. press about the need for both America and Iran to "grow up" and "be smarter about this." If so, the selective description of the comments is obvious. The article does at least give context to the meeting, indicating that it was held in an adjacent lounge in full view of reporters- not at a dinner or on a panel, as the other reports imply.
The only other objective, uninflammatory headline I could find was penned by a female Iranian-born journalist for Radio Free Europe titled "Washington, Tehran Hold Rare Talks on Sidelines Of Davos". The differences are obvious. In the last couple examples, the two statesmen merely 'met' and 'talked'. In the rest, they "clashed". There is not even a mention of the meeting in the World Economic Forum's archives. 
               "This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous."
                                                              ...(pregnant pause)...
                                           "Having said that, all options are on the table." 
                                                -George W. Bush, February 22, 2005

In March 2005, a presidential investigatory committee (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction) reported that the intelligence community was "dead wrong" about Iraq and called for "dramatic change" in the intelligence gathering process. "We still know disturbingly little about the weapons programs and even less about the intentions of many of our most dangerous adversaries", says the report. Although Bush concurred with the scathing criticism, he and his cabinet still claim to "know" the capabilities and intentions of the sovereign nation of Iran... just like they "knew" there were WMDs in Iraq. Are you buying it?
The way to counter propaganda is to objectively analyze and verify information. It's not always as involved as it sounds, though. Sometimes the truth is plain as day. The lies of the Bush administration with regard to Iraq are so blatant that even the White House itself cannot stand by its own proclamations. Remember when they had "no doubt" and were "absolutely sure" of Iraqi WMDs? Remember "Mission Accomplished"? The world can't afford such blunders. The stakes are too high and the consequences too grave to treat international relations with such flippancy. Human casualties are nothing to take casually, and "Bad Intelligence", if swallowed, can be fatal.
About the author:
Arash Norouzi is an artist, cat (gorbeh) lover and co-founder of The Mossadegh Project.

... Payvand News - 4/27/05 ... --

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