Warriors of Disinformation

On the one hand, a so-called ‘Olympic Truce‘ has been activated for the duration of the 2010 Olympic Games. On the other, simultaneously, the largest NATO counterinsurgency offensive since the illegal 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, commenced. The NATO ‘surge’ into Marja, Helmand Province, dubbed Operation Mushtarak ("together") was preceded by what CanWest calls "weeks of [NATO's] public propaganda about when and where it was going to take place."  The operation is premised on "protecting the population," and seeking to ‘clear hold, and build’ within the captured territory, followed by what General Stanley McChrystal calls the roll-out of "government-in-a-box." The public (both in Afghanistan, and in NATO countries) can anticipate massive amounts of propaganda in the days to come, not only in relation to this operation, but a similarly-styled offensive that is planned, this time reportedly under Canadian leadership, for Kandahar Province. 


As Derrick O’Keefe wrote over at Rabble.ca:


"It’s now fair to speculate that the [Olympic] Games have been used even more cynically — as cover for a massive new NATO offensive in Afghanistan that has already claimed many Afghan civilians’ lives. Operation Moshtarak, with Canadian Forces participation, was launched in the southern province of Helmand on Feb. 12, the day of the Opening Ceremonies in Vancouver."


It’s been widely reported that upwards of twenty civilians have been killed in the offensive thus far.  The above is a follow up to an important piece O’Keefe wrote last week, ‘1980 Summer Olympics boycott echoes today‘:


"The 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow were boycotted in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Then–U.S. president Jimmy Carter announced the boycott in February 1980, and Canada and dozens of other countries soon followed suit…Part of the price the U.S. and its allies imposed was the Olympic boycott, which was explained as a protest in support of Afghanistan’s right to self-determination and independence, which the Soviets had egregiously violated when their tanks rolled across the border in December 1979…Of course, the U.S. was not a neutral observer in that conflict. According to a 1998 interview with French newsmagazine the Nouvel Observateur, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was then Carter’s national security adviser, boasted that they helped lure the Soviets into invading."


What few people will be aware of is that Canada, too, was not a neutral observer in the covert war against the Soviets. Not only did they provide symbolic support by joining in the Olympic boycott, they provided funding to the massive propaganda effort that was waged by the CIA and U.S. Information Agency (USIA) with the mujahideen


A little-known fact about Canadian support for the CIA/USIA-led war appears in Warriors of Disinformation: American Propaganda, Soviet Lies, and the Winning of the Cold War, by Alvin A. Snyder, former director of Worldnet, a division of USIA, the former U.S. foreign propaganda arm.


The Afghan Media Resource Center (AMRC) was established in the mid-1980s by the United States Information Agency (USIA). According to Snyder, the USIA "was on the front lines of some of the agency’s pitched battles against its Soviet counterpart  to win hearts and minds." Indeed, in his ‘insider’s account’ of the period, Snyder aimed to highlight "the credit that disinformation’s warriors deserve for helping to bring an end to the cold war." 


"It was the first war in which both AK-47′s and video minicams were standard infantry issue…It was a public relations nightmare for Moscow; for Washington it was a public relations dream come true." As Snyder noted, "The problem for American propagandists was that the conflict was getting scant media coverage." 


It was Snyder’s idea to ‘arm’ the mujahideen with cameras. In a memo to USIA director Charlie Wick, himself a former Hollywood mogul and long-time associate of Ronald Reagan, he wrote, "The Agency should purchase a few hundred small mini-cams (cost: approximately $1,500) with tape and supply them to the Afghan freedom fighters. Imagine the pictures they will be able to get! Imagine the publicity! Imagine the Soviet reaction!" The USIA program required, and would receive, National Security Council approval. Subsequently, "Congress passed legislation directing the USIA ‘to promote an independent Afghan media service,’ and to ‘train Afghans in media and media-related activities.’"


The seven mujahideen "resistance sects" selected someone to head the AMRC out of Peshawar, Pakistan. Boston University won the bid to run the training program, although a cable to Washington "urg[ed] that the Afghans must at least appear to be in charge." Over 600 ‘journalists’ were trained in six months. " Each crew was assigned to a Mujahideen commander and equipped with walkie-talkies that covered some 150 miles." 


Snyder describes one instance of mainstream media complicity in the program (far from the only accusation that Dan Rather aided and abetted the covert operations):


"One CBS News contract producer in Peshawar was also on our USIA payroll, and he provided glowing accounts of the Mujahideen’s exploits on the CBS "Evening News with Dan Rather."


In sum, Snyder described how:


"The AMRC presented images of the Afghan war to the world’s media, and heightened everyone’s awareness of the war. U.S. authorities felt that the center contributed to the ‘monumental achievement of reversing the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan."


Canada enters the scene by way of a whopper of a footnote. Along with USIA, Canada helped subsidize mujahideen propaganda, "In 1988, the government of Canada contributed $83,000 to the Afghan Media Training Center."[1]


Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this program is the reliance on ‘embedded’ journalists – in this case, CIA-backed Afghan extremists "armed" with video cameras. Fast-forwarding some twenty years, the embedded media programs are more sophisticated but essentially serve the same, if inverted, purpose: to "provide glowing accounts of the [Western occupation forces] exploits," to "present images of the Afghan war to the world’s media, and [to] heighten everyone’s awareness of the war."  In both cases, it is an awareness of the perspective of those with whom those holding the cameras are embedded that is to be heightened; similarly, as well, they are, in effect, "warriors of disinformation."[1] This is not only interesting for historical purposes. Following the Soviet withdrawal and the shift in U.S. foreign policy and programming from covert to overt aid in the form of the newly created ‘democracy’ promotion organizations, the AMRC continued to exist and obtain funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). This funding continues to this day, as does support from Canadian NGO’s such as Alternatives. (This final point is not intended to contribute to the current assault that the QUANGO is under from the Conservative government. However, like Rights & Democracy - also under threat from Canada’s extreme, pro-Israel right - Alternatives has in many cases chosen to operate alongside strange bedfellows in the NED and its affiliates. This lends legitimacy to an historically reactionary and anti-democratic tool of the U.S. national security state (likewise, in the case of their support for the 2004 coup in Haiti, became de facto reactionary, anti-democratic tools of the Canadian national security state), while undermining their own claims to being neutral or progressive organizations).

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