Monday, June 16, 2014

Manipulating the Message: What the Pentagon learned from Viet Nam

Chelsea Manning exploded into the consciousness of America with the ferocity of a  US drone strike on an officers only stag party ........
And like that imagined drone strike, caught Pentagon prevaricators and White House manipulators off guard, pants down and dicks in hand.

That's an image, don't ya think?  But its an image that is becoming very familiar in the years since the first videos, photographs and reports of American  21st century hubris - in the form of military bullying and war crimes - began reaching YouTube, Twitter, and internet information sites.  It's no wonder why the US government has tried so hard to shut free speech as well as internet access and neutrality down - But I digress.

Chelsea Manning released truth - something the US government has tried so very hard to hide even from itself.

5th April 2010 10:44 EST WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting three airstrikes from a US Apache helicopter on July 12, 2007 in New Baghdad, Iraq. At least eighteen people were killed in the airstrikes, including two journalists working for Reuters, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen.
The video was recorded by the gunsight camera on the Apache helicopter, identified as Crazyhorse 18, and is accompanied by the radio communications of the helicopter gunmen as they communicate with their commanders and troops on the ground.
When the video begins, the helicopter is circling above the city. It then focuses in on a group of men walking in the street, including the Reuters journalists. The soldiers in the helicopter state that they see members of the group carrying weapons, ask their commanding officers for permission to engage (fire), and fire upon the group with 30mm rounds.The camera then follows Chmagh as he crawls along the road, and the soldiers can be heard urging him to pick up a weapon. A van, which was later learned to be carrying two children to school along with their father, arrives and several men pick Chmagh up and begin to carry him toward the van. The helicopter requests and is given permission to fire upon the van as it tries to leave. They fire upon the van with 30mm rounds.
The video then shows ground troops arriving at the area. A soldier can be seen running as he carries one of the children wounded in the attack on the van.
In the third attack depicted in the video, the Apache helicopter fires upon a building with Hellfire missiles. The video shows several armed and unarmed people entering the building, which is described as abandoned or under construction. The building was later learned to be occupied by three families. The helicopter requests and receives permission to fire upon the building, and shoots three Hellfire missiles. A man can be seen walking in front of the building as the first missile is shot, and several people helping the wounded are visible around the building as the second and third missiles hit.
After the incidents, Reuters filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the video, without success. Several scenes from this video were described by the Washington Post reporter David Finkel in his book "The Good Soldiers". The Washington Post later stated that they never had the video.

A video of US military personnel slaughtering innocents without regard for what we think is the US "moral compass:" (whatever that is) and those servicemen seemed to enjoy doing it. Slaughter and blood lust justified by telling themselves they were insurgents.  After all, who would carry a gun when walking with a group of people in a war zone?

It wasn't just the fact that these servicemen committed a horrendous crime against humanity - one of so very many during the siege of Iraq and Afghanistan - but that it was not caught or reported by anyone.  The media of the world slept - and not just journalists, but all social media - eye witnesses, neighbors, families of victims, anyone in Iraq, Afghanistan or neighboring countries that had access to a cell phone, video camera, keyboard, or just word of mouth leading to a cell phone, keyboard and ultimately, the internet.  Humanity being the gossips, up in everyone's business but our own, that we are, never got the word out to be churned and burned into the electronic memory of the Noosphere.

It should have made all the papers.  It did not - Well, not until Chelsea Manning exploded into consciousness like a US drone strike on an officer's only stag party.

It should have been investigated - it was not.  Instead it was covered up.

Stories of Abu Ghraib, torture videos and pictures, the IRC, AI, Reprieve, Wikileaks, and other organizations, spent a lot of time reporting the horrors of US led atrocities down to the men, women and children raped, tortured, and murdered for blood lust's sake; men, women and children kidnapped and taken to Black Sites around the world (no, it wasn't "just Guantanamo");  illegal occupations, use of chemical warfare in Fallujah.  The list is endless, it seems, and the information shocked Americans with every new word, but that act of military horror on Iraqi (and Reuters) innocents was well hidden from view.  Covered up and spun like a new wool blanket pulled over our eyes.

The US government and it's attack dog, the Pentagon, appeared to learn a thing or two since Viet Nam - maybe the only thing they learned from Viet Nam - but what they learned was not for the benefit of the people of the planet or even of the US people to whom they owe their very existence.

They could have learned that "pacification" (Pacification turned into destroying a place and killing everything living), and propaganda didn't work; they could have learned that sending young, poor and middle class men -many disenfranchised, many just plain naive, and all poorly trained to deal with a true guerrilla war in a hostile jungle -  to be killed, maimed and turned inside out as those men slaughtered innocent men, women and children (as well as anything that moved), didn't work; lying to the American people as they covered up "errors in judgment" - including horrendous abuses committed by the chain of command to include drug dealing, prostitution, theft and other crimes - didn't work; that torture didn't work; that spying on American citizens, infiltrating activist organizations and sending agent provocateurs to infiltrate those organizations didn't work; And that propping up corrupt kleptocrats against their people they abused, didn't work.

But no, the US government and it's attack dog, the Pentagon, both long suffering from ingrained sociopathy and entitled exceptionalism, took only one thing from the bloody, criminal and expensive failure in SE Asia, - that the media, allowed access "in country" and on the ground during Viet Nam - reporting the death and destruction on camera, bringing it into the living rooms of America every night - could make or break the War's support at home.  They learned that as long as the media and journalists were allowed access to the real war, then the messaging of that war could not be controlled enough to assure continued support at home.

Chelsea Manning from, "The Fog Machine of War," published in the New York Times, Sunday, June 15, 2014:

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — WHEN I chose to disclose classified information in 2010, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others. I’m now serving a sentence of 35 years in prison for these unauthorized disclosures. I understand that my actions violated the law.
However, the concerns that motivated me have not been resolved. As Iraq erupts in civil war and America again contemplates intervention, that unfinished business should give new urgency to the question of how the United States military controlled the media coverage of its long involvement there and in Afghanistan. I believe that the current limits on press freedom and excessive government secrecy make it impossible for Americans to grasp fully what is happening in the wars we finance.
If you were following the news during the March 2010 elections in Iraq, you might remember that the American press was flooded with stories declaring the elections a success, complete with upbeat anecdotes and photographs of Iraqi women proudly displaying their ink-stained fingers. The subtext was that United States military operations had succeeded in creating a stable and democratic Iraq.
Those of us stationed there were acutely aware of a more complicated reality.
Military and diplomatic reports coming across my desk detailed a brutal crackdown against political dissidents by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and federal police, on behalf of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Detainees were often tortured, or even killed.
Early that year, I received orders to investigate 15 individuals whom the federal police had arrested on suspicion of printing “anti-Iraqi literature.” I learned that these individuals had absolutely no ties to terrorism; they were publishing a scholarly critique of Mr. Maliki’s administration. I forwarded this finding to the officer in command in eastern Baghdad. He responded that he didn’t need this information; instead, I should assist the federal police in locating more “anti-Iraqi” print shops.
I was shocked by our military’s complicity in the corruption of that election. Yet these deeply troubling details flew under the American media’s radar.
It was not the first (or the last) time I felt compelled to question the way we conducted our mission in Iraq. We intelligence analysts, and the officers to whom we reported, had access to a comprehensive overview of the war that few others had. How could top-level decision makers say that the American public, or even Congress, supported the conflict when they didn’t have half the story?
Among the many daily reports I received via email while working in Iraq in 2009 and 2010 was an internal public affairs briefing that listed recently published news articles about the American mission in Iraq. One of my regular tasks was to provide, for the public affairs summary read by the command in eastern Baghdad, a single-sentence description of each issue covered, complementing our analysis with local intelligence.
The more I made these daily comparisons between the news back in the States and the military and diplomatic reports available to me as an analyst, the more aware I became of the disparity. In contrast to the solid, nuanced briefings we created on the ground, the news available to the public was flooded with foggy speculation and simplifications.
One clue to this disjunction lay in the public affairs reports. Near the top of each briefing was the number of embedded journalists attached to American military units in a combat zone. Throughout my deployment, I never saw that tally go above 12. In other words, in all of Iraq, which contained 31 million people and 117,000 United States troops, no more than a dozen American journalists were covering military operations.
The process of limiting press access to a conflict begins when a reporter applies for embed status. All reporters are carefully vetted by military public affairs officials. This system is far from unbiased. Unsurprisingly, reporters who have established relationships with the military are more likely to be granted access.
Less well known is that journalists whom military contractors rate as likely to produce “favorable” coverage, based on their past reporting, also get preference. This outsourced “favorability” rating assigned to each applicant is used to screen out those judged likely to produce critical coverage.

Reporters who succeeded in obtaining embed status in Iraq were then required to sign a media “ground rules” agreement. Army public affairs officials said this was to protect operational security, but it also allowed them to terminate a reporter’s embed without appeal.
There have been numerous cases of reporters’ having their access terminated following controversial reporting. In 2010, the late Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings had his access pulled after reporting criticism of the Obama administration by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and his staff in Afghanistan. A Pentagon spokesman said, “Embeds are a privilege, not a right.”
If a reporter’s embed status is terminated, typically she or he is blacklisted. This program of limiting press access was challenged in court in 2013 by a freelance reporter, Wayne Anderson, who claimed to have followed his agreement but to have been terminated after publishing adverse reports about the conflict in Afghanistan. The ruling on his case upheld the military’s position that there was no constitutionally protected right to be an embedded journalist.
The embedded reporter program, which continues in Afghanistan and wherever the United States sends troops, is deeply informed by the military’s experience of how media coverage shifted public opinion during the Vietnam War. The gatekeepers in public affairs have too much power: Reporters naturally fear having their access terminated, so they tend to avoid controversial reporting that could raise red flags.
The existing program forces journalists to compete against one another for “special access” to vital matters of foreign and domestic policy. Too often, this creates reporting that flatters senior decision makers. A result is that the American public’s access to the facts is gutted, which leaves them with no way to evaluate the conduct of American officials.
Journalists have an important role to play in calling for reforms to the embedding system. The favorability of a journalist’s previous reporting should not be a factor. Transparency, guaranteed by a body not under the control of public affairs officials, should govern the credentialing process. An independent board made up of military staff members, veterans, Pentagon civilians and journalists could balance the public’s need for information with the military’s need for operational security.

Reporters should have timely access to information. The military could do far more to enable the rapid declassification of information that does not jeopardize military missions. The military’s Significant Activity Reports, for example, provide quick overviews of events like attacks and casualties. Often classified by default, these could help journalists report the facts accurately.
Opinion polls indicate that Americans’ confidence in their elected representatives is at a record low. Improving media access to this crucial aspect of our national life — where America has committed the men and women of its armed services — would be a powerful step toward re-establishing trust between voters and officials.
Chelsea Manning is a former United States Army intelligence analyst.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on June 15, 2014, on page SR4 of the New York edition with the headline: The Fog Machine of War. 

Chelsea Manning saw, first hand,  the Viet Nam lesson on messaging applied to the Wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.  The manipulation of the messaging by tight control over who and how many journalists were embedded, making sure that only those who were the most willing to "report" from the most flattering perspective, skewing all stories  to portray the US military in only the most heroic of light while ignoring and/or manipulating the information to keep that which was unflattering away from the public eye.

But this is not the only way US government officials keep the messaging under their control.

Open attacks on whistleblowers to include threats, arrest and prosecution as well as creating an echo chamber for character assassination to keep information from the people of the US and the world.

Under, both, GW Bush and Barack Obama, there has been a protracted war on whistleblowers who release information on the abuses of government agencies, officials and bodies.  From Marsha Coleman-Adebayo's revelations about the EPA to Jesselyn Radack, formerly an attorney for the  DOJ, who disclosed the illegal actions of that DOJ in the John Walker Lindh case; from William Binney  and J. Kirke Wiebe to Thomas Drake and their revelations about NSA's "Trailblazer"program; from Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI agent, reporting cover ups, abuse and fraud in the FBI, to Joseph Wilson, former ambassador, who reported on the Bush Administration's manipulation of intelligence in order to go to war on Iraq; and more recently, Edward Snowden, former CIA and NSA contractor who blew the door open on the secret world of spying on everyone at the full knowledge and behest of the Pentagon, the White House and others - every one of these whistleblowers has been attacked, threatened, some prosecuted, and all lost their jobs (some losing everything to include their country) because they dared to speak truth to the American people.......

........A truth that exposed the continued manipulation of the message - an on-going covert war on transparency and accountability waged by those men and women elected, appointed and charged with protecting our rights and freedom.

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