This is the part of the column that is not made up -- or in Defense
Department-speak, it is "white" information:
The Pentagon has created (and is funding with millions of taxpayers' bucks)
the Office of Strategic Influence whose mission it is to crank out extra
special U.S. war propaganda. As the New York Times, which broke this story
Tuesday, described it, the office plans to expand its scope to "provide news
items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations as part of a
new effort to influence public sentiment and policymakers in both friendly and
unfriendly countries . . ."
The Office of Strategic Influence is headed by Brig. Gen. Simon Worden, an
astrophysicist and 27-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
War-words wars -- or propaganda -- are nothing new. From Voice of America
broadcasts to the carpet-bombing-by-pamphlet of Afghanistan, the United States
has recognized a key military tenet: information, true or fabricated, can be a
powerful part of a fight. For the past 30 years, however, we've pretty much
confined the dissemination of untrue verbiage -- "black" information in DOD-
speak -- to our enemies.
Why? Well, believe it or not, it's actually illegal for such entities as
the CIA and the Pentagon to propagandize in the United States. But technology
has turned the planet into a global village, so it's no longer possible to
keep a false story that's been fed to some foreign news agency or government
official from being picked up and used by U.S. news outlets. Care must be
If the Bush administration OKs the expansion plans of the Office of
Strategic Influence (and who imagines it won't?), distinctions disappear.
"Friendlies" as well as "unfriendlies" (more DOD-speak) will be fair game for
true or false info.
Already the Pentagon has hired a private ad firm that specializes in
propaganda for the Middle East. According to Pentagon officials quoted in the
N.Y. Times, the OSI also would hire other companies to "help develop
information programs and evaluate their effectiveness using the same
techniques as American political campaigns, including scientific polling and
focus groups . . ."
So, this is the part of the column that (so far) is made up:
"Good morning, Gen. Worden. You wanted to see me?"
Yes, lieutenant. I'm not too happy with your brief on our latest campaign.
"Which part, sir? The Afghan focus group, the fake news story in Iraq or
the polling in Somalia?"
All three. Take this focus group feedback: "I really don't like it when
your bombs accidentally wipe out half my village." Or, "Could someone please
explain again the difference between collateral damage and just plain
killing?" Didn't anybody have anything positive to say?
"Well, they all liked the free food, sir. Especially the sushi."
(Expletive.) Never mind. What's the problem in Iraq?
"It looks like nobody's buying that e-mail blitz we did as the 'Concerned
Citizens for a Saddam-less Iraq.' Not one radio station or newspaper picked up
on it. Two guys from a Dutch cable channel showed up at the Baghdad protest
rally, but it turns out they were making a travelogue."
And the polling in Somalia? What's the excuse there?
"We're doing the best we can, sir, to see how limited air strikes might be
received. But, as you may recall, about 80 percent of Somalis have no phones,
so we can't exactly get to them during dinner. We're sending teams door-to-
door but, again, given all the wars, a lot of Somalis don't have doors either."
This is ridiculous. We've got to call in the experts or we'll lose this
propaganda war for sure. Find out right now who does those ads for Mercedes-
Benz and get them on the payroll.
Yes, lieutenant, they speak our language: Perception is not always reality.
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle