Perception Control and the Stage Management of War


What do Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Caraccilo and CIA Director George Tenet now have in common?

Answer: They lied for the same bosses for the same reasons in the same war.

Second Answer: They have both been reduced from professionals to tools by Bush administration to cover up hoaxes.

Caraccilo is a battalion commander with the re-activated 173rd Airborne Brigade, the same unit with which I did my hitch in Vietnam, that was deactivated in August 1971. His battalion, 2nd Battalion/503rd Infantry, is stationed in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Kirkuk, near some of the richest oil fields in the world. While they are certainly living in comparatively austere circumstances, separated from loved ones, with many beginning to question the justifications for this war, they have not undergone the same kind of combat stress as soldiers around Falluja and Tikrit.

Last week, 500 identical letters-to-the-editor were received by hometown newspapers across the United States, all from LTC Caraccilo’s unit, but signed by dozens of his troops, some with apparently forged signatures from troops who were unaware of the letter at all. The letter said, among sundry descriptions of New Eden, “After nearly five months here, the people still come running from their homes, into the 110 degrees heat, waving to us as our troops drive by on daily patrols of the city… There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops and children have returned to school… This is all evidence, that the work we are doing is bettering the lives of Kirkuk’s citizens.”

This letter stunt was pulled, coincidentally, at the same time the Bush administration launched its counteroffensive against critics of the war — and given the progress of the war, a counteroffensive against reality. To kick it off, George W. Mouth was at it again, telling National Gaurd troops in Portsmouth, NH, that “Americans are not the running kind.”

Just when we thought — in the wake of the outrage at his “Bring ’em on” remark — that he might be chastened enough to refrain from talking backlot shit, as if any of those preppy pricks had ever seen a backlot! But what’s interesting is that this time, it seems, the line was crafted by the junta’s weird spin staff, because Paul Wolfowitz said exactly the same thing, in a different venue, on the same day.

George and his cabinet ministers transformed into Taxi Driver Travis Bickles, practicing armed confrontations in the mirror, the post-90s politics of megalomaniacal machismo dressed up as statecraft, like sunglasses on a pig.

The old official masculinity, enduring, quiet, emotionally distant, and unconcerned with its coiffure — illusory and oppressive as it was — now looks almost attractive in the face of the new one — immodest, loud, and fascistic — and one that is played out on stages and in studios, vicariously, by those who have the freedom to indulge l’imaginaire, that habit of consiciousness that Sartre characterised as an escape from social reality.

There’s sure a lot they need to escape from. And escape is exactly what this public relations counteroffensive was all about. Escape from accountability.

That’s also why George Tenet was forced to march into Congress and eat a pile of shit after the Niger uranium story hit the floor and splattered into sixteen embarrassingly malodorous words. At all cost, protect the king. Now LTC Dominic Caraccilo is telling the Stepford press — who seem disinclined to ask the obvious — that he cooked up the letter scam to “share the pride with people back home.”

As part of his confession, he preempts the felony by saying no one was forced to sign the letter (before the question is even asked!), and consistent with the Psyops playbook, the administration is exercising “plausible denial” and hoping this, too, will blow over. They are counting on the US press not to ask how curious it is that this “letter campaign” coincided with the PR counteroffensive of their very own National Command Authority — the same one that has openly declared its intention to manage public perception, even attempting to develop a perception management agency, the Office of Strategic Influence, then Office of Strategic Information (OSI). This puppy died when someone from the Pentagon with a conscience leaked that its purpose was to lie to Americans to gain their acquiescence on Executive Branch schemes. Or did it?

Soldiers from 2/503 Airborne Infantry have already given the lie to the official story that the Pollyanna form letters were seen by all whose names were forwarded to the press, but the story is the Public Affairs Office line: “The intention was good, but the delivery system was probably not a good way to do it.” Caraccilo’s intentions were honorable. Like Tenet, Caraccilo will consign himself to history as a willing pawn and no official action will be taken against him.

The king is safe. The Stepford press is not asking just what in the hell the intention was, even though a child could figure it out. The ruling class can always count on careerism.

I should explain something about the military for readers unfamiliar. No Lieutenant Colonel — a person with around 15 years in the Officer Personnel Management System, one of the most ruthlessly unforgiving bureaucratic ladders in existence, where someone is always waiting for you to fuck up — is unilaterally going to cook up and carry out something this harebrained. He doesn’t have the time under normal circumstances, because running an infantry battalion that is deployed into a hostile fire zone is very time-consuming, and he doesn’t want to commit career suicide five years from his eligibility to draw a pension.

The directive to write those letters came from higher, and at every step up the ladder, where the career competition becomes tighter and more pitiless, the liklihood of this particular brand of stupidity diminishes by orders of magnitude. To my mind, that means the buck stopped past the uniforms, at the suits, that is, worn by the National Command Authority itself. It is a stupidity that is to massive to ascend. It can only descend.

In other words, this kind of stupidity could only have come from the very top, probably with the able assistance of the PR industry.

Enter the Rendon Group.

The Rendon Group has been around through both the Clinton and Shrub administrations. It is not the only PR outfit feeding at the public trough for the purpose of shovelling bullshit at the very public who signs its checks, but Rendon is emblematic. Rendon stage managed much of the runup to the current quagmire in Iraq, to include being largely responsible for the organization of the new Iraqi quisling regime — dubbed by Rendon the “Iraqi National Congress,” complete with the changed regime head and convicted embezzler, Ahmed Chalabi. Said one unnamed State Department official in a moment of anonymous candor, “Were it not for Rendon, the Chalabi group wouldn’t even be on the map.”

Rendon has picked up where Hill & Knowlton, the Gulf War I perception managers, left off. You remember H&K. On contract with the US government, they hatched the Kuwaiti-babies-thrown-from-their-incubators-by-Iraqi-soldier s story that mobilized massive press and public supprot for the Bush I invasion. Of course, the story turned out to be complete horseshit, but it proved so persistent that an HBO movie about Gulf War I this year actually echoed it again as fact. It should not surprise anyone that Torie Clarke, Pentagon spokesperson during the stop-and-start blitz at the beginning of this invasion, is a former Hill & Knowlton staffer.

Rendon Group was founded by the fomrer Democratic Party operator, John Rendon (Anyone is still clinging to lesser-evilism, take note.). Rendon Group worked alongside Hill & Knowlton during Gulf War I, inside Kuwait, where they learned quickly how to mine America’s consumerist witlessness. Rendon even boasted about it to the National Security Council, saying, “”If any of you either participated in the liberation of Kuwait City … or if you watched it on television, you would have seen hundreds of Kuwaitis waving small American flags. Did you ever stop to wonder how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American flags? And for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries? Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs.”

Did you ever stop to wonder…

Well, no. We don’t. That’s why we keep signing checks for dull-witted gangsters pretending to be statesmen. Some of us are even sent to die or be maimed for them. Hill & Knowlton actually published a pack of lies dsguised as a book, called The Rape of Kuwait, that was sent directly to troops prior to launching Desert Storm, presumably to remove their inhibitions and imbue them with the proper fighting spirit by dehumanizing their new enemy.

Retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner recently published a remarkable document on line, < uth.pdf> Truth from These Podia, that I highly recommend. Gardiner is not a left-winger like me who sees war in the very genetic code of imperialism. He is just a retired military guy who studied the stories coming out in the press last year to justify then spin the invasion. He found over 50 systematic and intentional lies that were generated for the express purpose of deceiving not some putative enemy, but the press and the people of the United States and Great Britain. Gardiner is pissed off, and he’s not dropping dimes. He’s dropping manhole covers.

He describes the evolution and structure of the White House’s Office of Global Communications — an office almost run by Rendon people — and how they generate news stories out of CENTCOM and elsewhere faster than the press can keep up in order to push deadlines and competition and inhibit fact-checking, then as the stoires come apart, sometimes in mere days or hours, allowing the fabrications to “linger” without comment. This tactic is combined with language control — explaining why “Americans are not the running kind” can show up in two separate speeches in the same day by different members of the administration — redefining all opposition to US actions as terrorists, and building false associations through repetition; “echoing.” How many times did we hear “September 11”, “terrorists”, and “Saddam Hussein” in the same breath. Gardiner shows how this is a Psyops technique, a method to “construct memory,” and the “target audience” is not the enemy, and not the “indigenous population.” It is us.

When they get caught, they reconfigure the story with elliptical, some would say obtuse, language, then let it linger some more. Weaons of mass destruction become a “weapons program,” a “seeking” of WMD. George Tenet’s CIA “had questions” about the British forgery… er, dossier. Caraccilo just “wanted to share pride with the people back home.” And let the “lingering memory” kick in as the next flurry of stories is released to bury the newly emergent lie. Caraccilo, paradoxically, will take the heat off of Wilson-Plame, and who can remember the Jessica Lynch fable, the stage management of Basra, the yellow-cake uranium, the Iraqi anthrax, the bio-weapons trailer, the Iraqis using American uniforms, the Iraqis who used white flags to lure in their prey, the ten-year-old soldiers, the disappearing Scuds, the Iraqi killer drones, the Iraqi woman hanged by the Fedayeen for waving to an American, and the whole wretched list of fabrications that came and went — what I referred to in my book, Full Spectrum Disorder, as the CENTCOM lie-of-the-day. And will the Stepford press ever admit that they were sucked in no less than 50 times, en masse, like a herd of lemmings on perpetual replay? Nah. Career matters.

Tenet be damned. If you lie down with pigs, you’ll stink, and he willingly climbed the ladder all the way to the big pen. But I confess I feel a bit of shame and empathy for LTC Caraccilo, who was probably just as ingenuous as most of the rest of us, taken in by the whole good and evil thing, the US mytho-history, never asking how often George Washington whipped his slaves, and who probably took pride in being a competent professional with the parachute infantry.

He is as familiar as I am with the old saying in the military when someone insults your intelligence with a transparent lie. Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

Now he has followed orders, and in doing so abandoned his own integrity. He may not even realize it yet, but someday he will. Sins of the past sneak up on you in the middle of the night, sometimes long after their commission. I know.

Maybe he’ll be the one, the someone somewhere forced to humiliate himself for this administration for the last damn time, and decide to reclaim his integrity — as John Dean did in 1973 — then America will look up and see no rain, and look down at its dripping pantleg, and lose its sense of humor.

STAN GOFF is the author of “Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti” (Soft Skull Press, 2000) and of the upcoming book “Full Spectrum Disorder” (Soft Skull Press, 2003). He is a member of the BRING THEM HOME NOW! coordinating committee, a retired Special Forces master sergeant, and the father of an active duty soldier. Email for BRING THEM HOME NOW! is

Goff can be reached at:


Stan Goff retired from the US Army in February 1996. He is a veteran of the US occupation of Vietnam, and seven other conflict areas. His books include Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti (Soft Skull Press), Full Spectrum Disorder: The Military in the New American Century (Soft Skull Books), Borderline: Reflections on War, Sex, and Church (Cascade Books), Mammon’s Ecology: Metaphysic of the Empty Sign (Cascade Books), Tough Gynes: Violent Women in Film as Honorary Men (Cascade Books), and Smitten Gate (a novel about Afghanistan, from Club Orlov Press).