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“Weaponizing Information”

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In mid-April, hundreds of U.S. paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade arrived in western Ukraine to provide training for government troops. The UK had already started its troop-training mission there, sending 75 troops to Kiev in March. [1] On April 14, the Canadian government announced that Canada will send 200 soldiers to Kiev, contributing to a military build-up on Russia’s doorstep while a fragile truce is in place in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian Embassy in Ottawa called the decision “counterproductive and deplorable,” stating that the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine have “called for enhanced intra-Ukrainian political dialogue,” as agreed upon in the Minsk-2 accords in February, and that it would be “much more reasonable to concentrate on diplomacy…” [2]

That viewpoint is shared by many, especially in Europe where few are eager for a “hot” war in the region. Nor are most people enamoured of the fact that more billions are being spent on a new arms-race, while “austerity” is preached by the 1 Per Cent.

But in the Anglo-American corridors of power (also called the Atlantic Alliance), such views are seen to be the result of diabolical propaganda spread through the Internet by Russia’s “secret army.” On April 15, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Ed Royce (R-Calif.), held a hearing entitled “Confronting Russia’s Weaponization of Information,” with Royce claiming that Russian propaganda threatens “to destabilize NATO members, impacting our security commitments.” [3]

The Committee heard from three witnesses: Elizabeth Wahl, former anchor for the news agency Russia Today (RT) who gained her moment of fame by resigning on camera in March 2014; Peter Pomerantsev, Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute (a right-wing UK think-tank); and Helle C. Dale, Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy at The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing U.S. think-tank. [4] The Foreign Affairs Committee website contains video clips of the first two witnesses – well worth watching if you enjoy Orwellian rhetoric passionately delivered.

The day before the hearing, in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Royce wrote, “Vladimir Putin has a secret army. It’s an army of thousands of ‘trolls,’ TV anchors and others who work day and night spreading anti-American propaganda on the Internet, airwaves and newspapers throughout Russia and the world. Mr. Putin uses these misinformation warriors to destabilize his neighbors and control parts of Ukraine. This force may be more dangerous than any military, because no artillery can stop their lies from spreading and undermining U.S. security interests in Europe.” [5]

In her formal (printed) submission, Ms. Wahl referred to the Internet’s “population of paranoid skeptics” and wrote: “The paranoia extends to believing that Western media is not only complicit, but instrumental in ensuring Western dominance.”

Helle C. Dale warned of “a new kind of propaganda, aimed at sowing doubt about anything having to do with the U.S. and the West, and in a number of countries, unsophisticated audiences are eating it up.”

Peter Pomerantsev claimed that Russia’s goal is “to trash the information space with so much disinformation so that a conversation based on actual facts would become impossible.” He added, “Throughout Europe conspiracy theories are on the rise and in the US trust in the media has declined. The Kremlin may not always have initiated these phenomena, but it is fanning them…Democracies are singularly ill equipped to deal with this type of warfare. For all of its military might, NATO cannot fight an information war. The openness of democracies, the very quality that is meant to make them more competitive than authoritarian models, becomes a vulnerability.”

Chairman Royce called for “clarifying” the mission of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the U.S. federal agency whose networks include Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti). [6]

The BBG is apparently in disarray. According to Helle Dale’s submission, on March 4, 2015, Andrew Lack, the newly hired CEO of BBG’s International Broadcasting, left the position after only six weeks on the job. On April 7, the Director of Voice of America, David Ensor, announced that he was leaving.

Andrew Lack was formerly the president of NBC News. As Paul Craig Roberts has recently noted, Lack’s first official statement as CEO of the BBG “compared RT, Russia Today, the Russian-based news agency, with the Islamic State and Boko Haram. In other words, Mr. Lack brands RT as a terrorist organization. The purpose of Andrew Lack’s absurd comparison is to strike fear at RT that the news organization will be expelled from US media markets. Andrew Lack’s message to RT is: ‘lie for us or we are going to expel you from our air waves.’ The British already did this to Iran’s Press TV. In the United States the attack on Internet independent media is proceeding on several fronts.” [7]

Ironically, however, it’s likely that one of the biggest threats (especially in Europe) to Anglo-American media credibility about Ukraine and other issues is coming from a very old-fashioned medium – a book.
Udo Ulfkotte’s bestseller Bought Journalists has been a sensation in Germany since its publication last autumn. The journalist and former editor of one of Germany’s largest newspapers, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, revealed that he was for years secretly on the payroll of the CIA and was spinning the news to favour U.S. interests. Moreover he alleges that some major media are nothing more than propaganda outlets for international think-tanks, intelligence agencies, and corporate high-finance. “We’re talking about puppets on a string,” he says, “journalists who write or say whatever their masters tell them to say or write. If you see how the mainstream media is reporting about the Ukraine conflict and if you know what’s really going on, you get the picture. The masters in the background are pushing for war with Russia and western journalists are putting on their helmets.” [8]

In another interview, Ulfkotte said: “The German and American media tries to bring war to the people in Europe, to bring war to Russia. This is a point of no return, and I am going to stand up and say…it is not right what I have done in the past, to manipulate people, to make propaganda against Russia, and it is not right what my colleagues do, and have done in the past, because they are bribed to betray the people not only in Germany, all over Europe.” [9]

With the credibility of the corporate media tanking, Eric Zuesse recently wrote, “Since Germany is central to the Western Alliance – and especially to the American aristocracy’s control over the European Union, over the IMF, over the World Bank, and over NATO – such a turn away from the American Government [narrative] threatens the dominance of America’s aristocrats (who control our Government). A breakup of America’s [Atlantic] ‘Alliance’ might be in the offing, if Germans continue to turn away from being just America’s richest ‘banana republic’.” [10]

No wonder the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on April 15 had such urgent rhetoric, especially from Peter Pomerantsev, Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute – a London-based international think-tank whose motto is “Prosperity Through Revitalizing Capitalism and Democracy” and whose stated mission is “promoting prosperity through individual liberty, free enterprise and entrepreneurship, character and values.”

At the end of March, Conservative London mayor Boris Johnson (named as a potential successor to David Cameron) helped launch the Legatum Institute’s “Vision of Capitalism” speakers’ series, whose rallying cry is “It’s time for friends of capitalism to fight back.” [11] The sponsor of the event was the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (BVCA), whose membership comprises “more than 500 influential firms, including over 230 private equity and venture capital houses, as well as institutional investors, professional advisers, service providers and international associations.” It is not clear whether the BVCA is also sponsoring the Legatum Institute’s “Vision of Capitalism” series.

The Legatum Institute was founded by billionaire Christopher Chandler’s Legatum Ltd. – a private investment firm headquartered in Dubai. According to The Legatum Institute’s website, its executives and fellows write for an impressive number of major media outlets, including the Washington Post, Slate, the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, New Republic, the Daily Telegraph, The Times, the London Review of Books, the Atlantic, and the Financial Times.

Nonetheless, the Legatum Institute’s Peter Pomeranzev told the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs that “Russia has launched an information war against the West – and we are losing.”
Chairperson Ed Royce noted during the hearing that if certain things are repeated over and over, a “conspiracy theory” takes on momentum and a life of its own.

Pomeranzev said the Kremlin is “pushing out more conspiracy” and he explained, “What is conspiracy – sort of a linguistic sabotage on the infrastructure of reason. I mean you can’t have a reality-based discussion when everything becomes conspiracy. In Russia, the whole discourse is conspiracy. Everything is conspiracy.” He added, “Our global order is based on reality-based politics. If that reality base is destroyed, then you can’t have international institutions, international dialogue.” Lying, he said, “makes a reality-based politics impossible” and he called it “a very insidious trend.”

Apparently, Pomeranzev has forgotten that important October 2004 article by Ron Suskind published in the New York Times Magazine during the second war in Iraq (which, like the first, was based on a widely disseminated lie). Suskind quoted one of George W. Bush’s aides (probably Karl Rove): “The aide said that guys like me [journalists, writers, historians] were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality…That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’.” [12]

It’s a rather succinct description of Orwellian spin and secrecy in a media-saturated Empire, where discerning the truth becomes ever more difficult.

That is why people believe someone like Udo Ulfkotte, who is physically ill, says he has only a few years left to live, and told an interviewer, “I am very fearful of a new war in Europe, and I don’t like to have this situation again, because war is never coming from itself, there is always people who push for war, and this is not only politicians, it is journalists too…We have betrayed our readers, just to push for war…I don’t want this anymore, I’m fed up with this propaganda. We live in a banana republic and not in a democratic country where we have press freedom…” [13]

Recently, as Mike Whitney has pointed out in CounterPunch (March 10), Germany’s newsmagazine Der Spiegel dared to challenge the fabrications of NATO’s top commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, for spreading “dangerous propaganda” that is misleading the public about Russian “troop advances” and making “flat-out inaccurate statements” about Russian aggression.

Whitney asks, “Why this sudden willingness to share the truth? It’s because they no longer support Washington’s policy, that’s why. No one in Europe wants the US to arm and train the Ukrainian army. No wants them to deploy 600 paratroopers to Kiev and increase U.S. logistical support. No one wants further escalation, because no wants a war with Russia. It’s that simple.” [14] Whitney argued that “the real purpose of the Spiegel piece is to warn Washington that EU leaders will not support a policy of military confrontation with Moscow.”

So now we know the reason for the timing of the April 15 U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, “Confronting Russia’s Weaponization of Information.” Literally while U.S. paratroopers were en route to Kiev, the hawks in Washington (and London) knew it was time to crank up the rhetoric. The three witnesses were most eager to oblige.

Joyce Nelson is an award-winning Canadian freelance writer/researcher and the author of five books.

Notes

[1] “U.S. Military Instructors Deployed to Ukraine to Train Local Forces,” RT.com, April 17, 2015.

[2] Steven Chase, “Russian decries Ukraine training,” The Globe & Mail (April 16, 2015).

[3] http://www.bignewsnetwork.com/index.php/sid/231982691

[4] http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/press-release/chairman-royce-announces-hearing-russia-s…

[5] Ed Royce, “Countering Putin’s Information Weapons of War,” The Wall Street Journal (April 14, 2015).

[6] http://www.bignewsnetwork.com/index.php/sid/231982691

[7] http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/03/16/truth-is-our-country/print

[8] http://russia-insider.com/en/print/531

[9] http://washingtonsblog.com/2014/10/leading-german-journalist-admits-cia-bribed-l…

[10] Ibid.

[11] http://www.li.com/events/boris-johnson-launches-vision-fcapitalism-series

[12] Ron Suskind, “Without a Doubt: Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” The New York Times Magazine (Oct. 17, 2004).

[13] http://washingtonsblog.com/2014/10/leading-german-journalist-admits-cia-bribed-l…

[14] http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/03/10/natio-lies-and-provocations/print

Joyce Nelson is an award-winning Canadian freelance writer/researcher working on her sixth book.

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