On March 19, newspapers, television stations and Web sites were buzzing with behind the scenes talk that Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz had defected to Kurdistan and was being protected by CIA agents.
The rumor popped up in a number of places, with well-regarded Israeli intelligence website debka.com reporting the news from “sources in Kurdistan,” and Junior Foreign Office minister Mike O’Brien announcing in the British House
of Commons that “a Bulgarian source” reported Aziz’s defection.
However, Mr. Aziz was in Baghdad the whole time.
MSNBC reported that: “Rumors of Saddam’s death and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz’s defection, leaks about high-level surrender talks with Republican Guard units, 17 million leaflets dumped over Iraqi lines that warned Iraqi soldiers of certain death if they fight all fed into a broad psychological warfare campaign.”
While American troops are battling across Iraq, the CIA is working overtime to fight a second war.
Less bloody, but far more interesting, this battle is taking place in the media to spread disinformation.
Ari Fleischer prematurely announcing the death of Saddam Hussein?
That was part of it.
The Washington Post quoting Turkish sources (who didn’t exist) that American troops would be granted access to Turkey? Pure propaganda, baby.
Disinformation in the media is nothing new. In 1982, the CIA admitted that it had been using reporters for American magazines as case officers to agents in the field.
The Cold War was full of murky tales of planted articles in newspapers to scare the other side.
Even today, American reporters covering military actions in Iraq are subject to a condition that “they will not disclose sensitive operational details.”
Even though the request makes sense, it also means that if a officer fatally blunders an operation, costing American lives, or if American troops commit war crimes, word of it could easily be banned as a “sensitive operational detail.”
War reporting should include the shameful as well as the glorious.
Propaganda and disinformation in the media cut both ways.
My personal favorite was when, in the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein appeared on television with western prisoners in Kuwait.
Attempting to pat the shoulder of a young English boy, the child reacted with horror and drew back.
Hussein’s attempt to prove to his own people, and to the rest of the world, that he was treating his hostages humanely utterly backfired, thanks to a child who treated Hussein with all the contempt he deserved.
I am curious what will happen if our own propaganda backfires.
As I write this, the media is full of questions about whether Turkey has actually entered northern Iraq, and how the Iraqi military has failed to use any of its “weapons of mass destruction.”
The further you delve, the more acute the paranoia gets.
Those forged documents saying Iraq bought weapons of mass destruction?
Who forged them?
Did the U.S. government know they were forged?
Did the U.S. plant bugs over the phones of European Union representatives at the United Nations as they claim?
Did Saddam Hussein really die in the missile strikes at the beginning of the war?
How many Americans are really prisoner?
Can any newspaper or Web site be trusted to give an accurate representation of what is going on in our war with Iraq?
Even Press Secretary Ari Fleischer admitted in a recent news conference that what we in America are seeing is not the full war, just “slices of the war.”
Between the CIA’s manipulation of the media, and the Bush administration’s well-known love of secrecy, even those slices are suspect.
All we can do is hope we can sift through the media to find the truth about what is happening to our friends and relatives fighting overseas.
After all, we have a right to know.
Neal Ungerleider can be reached at N_terminal@yahoo.com.