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Shaping the News: The World’s Not the Way it Seems

In Othello, the villainous Iago manipulatively shapes the way people perceive events, ensuring that everyone sees the world, not as it is, but as it suits Iago’s purposes. America is Iago. Shakespeare would shudder.

White House perception shapers and the U.S. media shape the way the public perceives the world by severing events from the causal context that explains and makes sense of them. The event can then be manipulatively woven into the public perception in whatever way suits U.S. purposes, amputated from any context that makes sense of it and allows the public to see the world as it is.

In recent weeks, perception shapers have manipulated the public to see events in Brazil and Iran, not as they are, but as they suit U.S. foreign policy.

Brazil
Regime change in Brazil demanded two steps: the removal of President Dilma Rouseff and the arrest of former President Lula da Silva.

The first was made to look like proper parliamentary procedure. Dilma was charged with “violating fiscal laws by using loans from public banks to cover budget shortfalls, which artificially enhanced the budget surplus” and removed from office. But that accounting manipulation is not uncommon; according to the Brazil’s federal prosecutor, it is also not a crime. The perception shapers not only knew it wasn’t a crime, they knew it was a coup.

How did they know? Because the coup plotters told them so. In a post-coup speech in front of members of multinational corporations and the U.S. policy establishment in New York on September 22, 2016, newly installed president Michel Temer brazenly boasted of his successful coup. Temer clearly told his American audience that elected President Dilma Rousseff was not removed from power for accounting manipulations as the official charge stated. She was – the new, unelected president admitted – removed because of her refusal to implement a right wing economic plan that was inconsistent with the economic platform on which Brazilians elected her.

Rousseff was not on board. So, she was thrown overboard. In the words of Temer’s confession:

“And many months ago, while I was still vice president, we released a document named ‘A Bridge to the Future’ because we knew it would be impossible for the government to continue on that course. We suggested that the government should adopt the theses presented in that document called ‘A Bridge to the Future.’ But, as that did not work out, the plan wasn’t adopted and a process was established which culminated with me being installed as president of the republic.”

And that wasn’t even news because a transcript of a phone call revealed “a national pact” to remove Dilma and install Temer as president. The transcript identifies the opposition, the military and the Supreme Court as coup conspirators.

America’s back yard was escaping: it had to be once again annexed. So, the public wasn’t given the context, and the coup was perceived as proper parliamentary procedure.

But the removal of Dilma Rouseff wasn’t enough because waiting in the wings was her even more popular mentor, former President Lula da Silva. And Lula was poised to win the next election. So, Lula had to go.

America could not allow the return of Lula. He had cooperated with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in his life and eulogized him in his death. Lula had been a powerful force in the gravitational shift that had temporarily pulled Latin America out of the American orbit. His return was impossible, so the script had to be changed. So, Lula was arrested, convicted and barred from running for president in the 2018 election. Lulu was banished to prison over a bribe in which the construction company OAS offered him an apartment in exchange for inflated contracts. But no evidence was ever provided that Lulu accepted the bribe or ever stayed in or rented out the apartment.

In the past few weeks, more details have emerged on what context the perception shapers amputated. It is now clear why it never bothered anyone that there was no evidence against Lula: because the prosecutors did not need evidence. The perception shapers forgot to tell the public that Lula’s prosecutors were conspiring with his judge to frame him with the bribery charges. The Intercept reports that judge and prosecutors illegally collaborated to build the case against Lula, despite serious doubts about the evidence, and to prevent his party from winning the 2018 presidential election.

Absent this historical context, the removal of Dilma and the arrest of Lula look like legal and parliamentary maneuvers. But suturing them back together reveals a coup.

Iran
Iran recently stunned the States by shooting down a $130 million U.S. Global Hawk surveillance drone. U.S. officials called the incident “an unprovoked attack.” But that label requires two acts of historical amputation: one to call it unprovoked and the other to call it an attack.

To paint America as innocent and feign shock at Iran’s unprovoked attack, the recent past—not to mention a longer past going back to the 1953 coup—needs to be erased: the shooting down of the drone needs to be amputated from its historical context.

America has press Iranians down under the weight of unprecedented unilateral sanctions. Adding the word “economic” to the word “attack” doesn’t make it any less of an attack, and it may well constitute an internationally prohibited act of aggression. Iran’s economy is suffering, and its people are being killed.

Just as adding the word “economic” to the word “attack” doesn’t make it any less of an attack, neither does adding the word “cyber.” But the U.S. has admitted to cyber attacks on Iran. The Stuxnet virus infected Iran’s centrifuges and sent them spinning wildly out of control before playing back previously recorded tapes of normal operations which plant operators watched unsuspectingly while the centrifuges literally tore themselves apart. Stuxnet seems to have wiped out about 20% of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. Such an attack on Iranian territory is surely no less an act of war because the weapon used is a cyber weapon.

And Stuxnet, it turns out, was only the beginning. The U.S. also ordered sophisticated attacks on the computers that run Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities. A virus much larger than Stuxnet, known as Flame, attacked Iranian computers. This virus maps and monitors the system of Iranian computers and sends back intelligence that is used to prepare for cyber war campaigns like the one undertaken by Stuxnet. Officials have now confirmed that Flame is one part of a joint project of America’s CIA and NSA and Israel’s secret military unit 8200. A NATO study said that Stuxnet qualified as an “illegal act of force.” So much for unprovoked.

Economic warfare, cyber warfare and assassinations too. Since 2010, there have been at least three assassinations and one attempted assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. Two senior officials in the Obama administration revealed to NBC news that the assassinations were carried out by the MEK. They also confirm that the MEK was being financed, armed and trained by the Israeli Mossad and that the assassinations were carried out with the awareness of the United States. The State, too, has secretly trained and supported the MEK.

And there is yet one more kind of provocation. In The Iran Agenda Today, Reese Erlich discusses America’s long history of supporting dissident groups and even of sponsoring terrorist attacks inside Iran. He and Seymour Hersh both say that the U.S. funded and supported Kurdish guerillas.

Of course the public will perceive an event as unprovoked if the perception shapers’ narrative begins after the provocations.

The Iranian attack isn’t unprovoked. It also isn’t an attack. Iran says it was a defence. They say they were not attacking but defending because they shot down the drone only after it violated Iranian airspace. The U.S. says the drone was in international airspace. But Iran has displayed drone wreckage at a press conference that they claim proves their case. And the Secretary of Russia’s Security Council says that the Russian military has intelligence showing that the U.S. drone was inside Iranian air space when it was shot down.

In the most detailed account of the events leading up to the shooting down of the drone—events that were virtually entirely severed from the perception shapers’ account—Vijay Prashad reattaches the amputated prior context. In fact, the U.S. had been flying surveillance aircraft along the Iranian coastline, testing Iranian radars. Not one, but two aircraft violated Iranian airspace: the often-reported unmanned drone and a manned P-8 spy plane. After Iran air command radioed U.S. forces to report the airspace violation, the P-8 withdrew, but the drone did not. It was only after Iran’s airspace had been violated, they had warned the U.S. and the drone had refused to leave that Iran shot down the drone. In a personal correspondence, Prashad told me that his source for this account of the context was two Gulf state diplomats. Other sources have also reported that there was a second manned aircraft and that, far from attacking, Iran showed restraint by not shooting down the P-8 airplane and the thirty-five people on board.

With the context reattached, the attack was a defence. But the subsequent American cyber attack on computers that control Iran’s rocket and missile launchers, like the previous Stuxnet and Flame cyber attacks, was not a defence, but an attack.

It is only with the amputation of the relevant historical context that Iran’s shooting down of an American drone can be shaped to appear as “an unprovoked attack.” Suturing the event and the context back together reveals, not only provocation, but defensive action.

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Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history. His work has appeared in AntiWar.com, Mondoweiss and others.

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