Today in the superb and lively Digby-hosted FDL Book Salon featuring Harry Reid, the Senate Majority leader was asked:
Senator, are you planning to hold hearings on the illegality of the Pentagon’s propaganda training program of retired military officers that was recently exposed by the New York Times and Glenn Greenwald?
The answer is yes. I have personally spoken to Chairman Levin and he is tremendously concerned as I. And we are proceeding accordingly.
As far as we're able to tell, this is the first time anyone in the Senate leadership has indicated that the Pentagon sock puppetry is being considered a potential subject of congressional hearings. If Reid and Levin genuinely follow through, the resultant attention may be able to finally break what Politico aptly describes as the "media blackout" on this matter. And that, really, is nothing but good news.
Glenn Greenwald has much, much more.
Saturday May 10, 2008 07:48 EDT
How the military analyst program controlled news coverage: in the Pentagon's own words
On the question of whether the Pentagon maintained an illegal covert domestic propaganda program -- and on the broader question of whether the American media's political coverage is largely shaped and controlled by the U.S. Government -- I don't believe it's possible to obtain more conclusive evidence than this:
These are excepts from a memorandum sent on January 14, 2005 -- just before President Bush was to be inaugurated for his second term -- from Capt. Roxie T. Merritt, the Director of DoD Press Operations, to several top Pentagon officials, including Larry Di Rita, the top aide to Donald Rumsfeld (pp. 7815-7816 (.pdf)). It reports on Merritt's conclusions and proposals in the wake of a Pentagon-organized trip to Iraq for their military analysts:
One of the most interesting things coming from this trip to Iraq with the media analysts has been learning how their jobs have been undergoing a metamorphosis. There are several reasons behind the morph . . . with an all voluntary military, no one in the media has current military background. Additionally we have been doing a good job of keeping these guys informed so they have ready answers when the networks come calling.
The key issue here is that more and more, media analysts are having a greater impact on the television media network coverage of military issues. They have now become the go to guys not only for breaking stories, but they influence the views on issues. They also have a huge amount of influence on what stories the network decides to cover proactively with regard to the military. . . .
1.) I recommend we develop a core group from within our media analyst list of those that we can count on to carry our water. They become part of a "hot list" of those that we immediately make calls to or put on an email distro list before we contact or respond to media on hot issues. We can also do more proactive engagement with this list and give them tips on what stories to focus on and give them heads up on issues as they are developing. By providing them with key and valuable information, they become the key go to guys for the networks and it begins to weed out the less reliably friendly analysts by the networks themselves . . . .
3.) Media ops and outreach can work on a plan to maximize use of the analysts and figure out a system by which we keep our most reliably friendly analysts plugged in on everything from crisis response to future plans. This trusted core group will be more than willing to work closely with us because we are their bread and butter and the more they know, the more valuable they are to the networks. . . .
5.) As evidenced by this analyst trip to Iraq, the synergy of outreach shops and media ops working together on these types of projects is enormous and effective. Will continue to exam (sic) ways to improve processes.
The response from Di Rita, in full (ellipses in original):
This is a thoughtful note. . . I think it makes a lot of sense to do as you suggest and I guess I thought we were already doing a lot of this in terms of quick contact, etc. . . We ought to be doing this, though, and we should not make the list too small . . . .
So the Pentagon would maintain a team of "military analysts" who reliably "carry their water" -- yet who were presented as independent analysts by the television and cable networks. By feeding only those pro-Government sources key information and giving them access -- even before responding to the press -- only those handpicked analysts would be valuable to the networks, and that, in turn, would ensure that only pro-Government sources were heard from. Meanwhile, the "less reliably friendly" ones -- frozen out by the Pentagon -- would be "weeded out" by the networks. The pro-Government military analysts would do what they were told because the Pentagon was "their bread and butter." These Pentagon-controlled analysts were used by the networks not only to comment on military matters -- and to do so almost always unchallenged -- but also even to shape and mold the networks' coverage choices
Even a casual review of the DoD's documents leaves no doubt that this is exactly how the program worked. The military analysts most commonly used by MSNBC, CNN, Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC routinely received instructions about what to say in their appearances from the Pentagon. As but one extreme though illustrative example, Dan Senor -- Fox News analyst and husband of CNN's Campbell Brown -- would literally ask Di Rita before his television appearances what he should say (7900, 7920-21), and submitted articles to him, such as one he wrote for The Weekly Standard about how great the war effort was going, and Di Rita would give him editing directions, which he obediently followed.
Among the most active analysts in this program were all three of the most commonly used MSNBC commentators -- Gen. Montgomery Meigs, Gen. Wayne Downing, and Col. Ken Allard. They were frequently summoned by Chris Matthews and (in the case of Downing) by Brian Williams as NBC's resident experts. Matthews referred to them as "HARDBALL's war council" on January 17, 2005, when he had all three of them on together to bash The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh for reporting that the Pentagon was preparing attack plans against Iran -- an article that, like most Hersh articles, infuriated Di Rita and other DoD officials. The next day, Allard proudly wrote to Di Rita:
As you may have seen on MSNBC, I attributed a lot of what [Hersh] said to disgruntled CIA employees who simply should be taken out and shot.
In light of all of this, it is very hard to dispute the excited analysis of an unnamed Lt. Col when, in a March 4, 2005 email to various Pentagon officials (7751), he described the military analyst program as producing a "big payback
." He then went further:
There are about 50 retired military analysts that are part of this group. . . . these are the folks that end up on FOX, CNN, etc. interpreting military happenings. These calls are conducted frequently and offer HUGE payback. . . . these end up being the people who carry the mail on talk shows.
On the Los Angeles Times blog
a couple of weeks ago, Scott Collins opined that the principal reason the military analyst story had "no legs" (meaning that the original NYT
story received so little subsequent coverage in the establishment media) is this:
Many Americans confronted with stories of media manipulation by government officials aren't, at this point, shocked and awed. Instead they've come to expect it. Increasingly, they consider the media simply a mouthpiece for whoever has the most power. You don't have to tell John Q. Public that the fix is in; he takes it for granted. . . .
So, many Americans, confronted with evidence that TV's talking heads are taking orders not just from government officials but also military-contractor clients, can be excused for not being all that surprised.
Clearly, the principal reason the story has received virtually no coverage on the television networks is because the story reflects so poorly on them. But as to his primary point, I don't believe Collins is right. The public has long been inculcated with the notion that we have a "liberal media" that opposes and undermines whatever Republicans do, etc. etc. Yet here is mountains of evidence as conclusive as can be as to how the Government/media cartel actually functions -- media outlets and their corporate parents rely on the Government for all sorts of favors and access and, in return, do nothing to displease them. To the contrary, the Bush administration itself here is proudly touting its ability to control media content and ensure the presence only of pro-Government voices with regard to war and military matters.
It's true that there are plenty of people who understand the core government-amplifying function of the establishment media, but there are also plenty of people -- likely far more -- who don't. That's precisely why the television networks are so eager to suppress and conceal these revelations and the endlessly illuminating evidence which supports them. UPDATE: Each time I've written about this story, someone -- including, once, one of the producers of the show -- writes to point out that PBS' News Hour did broadcast a segment a couple of weeks ago examining the issues underlying the scandal. Indeed they did, and it was quite a good discussion. The transcript for that show can be read, and the show itself viewed, here.
On a different note, from the "for-what-it's-worth" department, Harry Reid was at FDL's Book Salon today to promote his new book, and this was the answer he gave when someone asked about whether he was planning to hold hearings (h/t Lish, who asked the question):
The answer is yes. I have personally spoken to Chairman Levin and he is tremendously concerned as I. And we are proceeding accordingly.
What is worth noting is that that's the first time Senate leadership has said they intend to hold hearings. In its recent article
on the media's "deafening silence" over this story, The Politico
said that if there were Congressional hearings held, then "the networks would be hard-pressed to continue their de facto blackout." I guess we'll find out if that's true.
-- Glenn Greenwald
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Press Services
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fl - March 2, 2006
The widespread use of Web logs, or "blogs," by online writers has proliferated information on topics as varied as the authors.
Blogs, in essence, are online journals or forums for their authors, known as "bloggers."
Public affairs officials here said thousands of blogs are created each day, and they estimate that more than 21 million blogs are posted on the World Wide Web today.
Blogs sometimes include information -- accurate and otherwise -- about the U.S. military's global war on terror. U.S. Central Command officials here took notice and created a team to engage these writers and their electronic information forums.
"The main interest is to drive their readers to our site," Army Reserve Maj. Richard J. McNorton said. McNorton is CENTCOM's chief of engagement operations.
Anyone who wants a virtual voice can create a blog and share information with the online world. The ease with which bloggers spread information is what public affairs officials at CENTCOM saw when they created the blog team.
McNorton said the team contacts bloggers to inform the writers about any given topic that may have been posted on their site. This outreach effort enables the team to offer complete information to bloggers by inviting them to visit CENTCOM's Web site for news releases, data or imagery.
The team engages bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information. They extend a friendly invitation to all bloggers to visit the command's Web site.
Many bloggers appreciate the team's contact, blog team officials said, and most post CENTCOM's Web site as a link on their blog sites. This, McNorton said, has a "viral effect" that drives Internet news consumers to CENTCOM's Web site.
"Now (online readers) have the opportunity to read positive stories. At least the public can go there and see the whole story. The public wants to hear these good stories," he said, adding that the news stories the military generates are "very factual."
From his desk at CENTCOM headquarters here, Army Reserve Spc. Claude Flowers of the 304th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment from Kent, Wash., fights in the global war on terrorism daily in his own way. It is an effort, officials here said, that is making a big difference in the communications arena in the online world.
The team's motto is "Engage," and Flowers and others work with more than 250 bloggers to try to disseminate news about the good work being done by U.S. forces in the global war on terror. The effort, officials here said, has reached more than 17 million online readers.
"We were given the mission to do electronic media engagement," Flowers said. "The idea was put forth that so many people are getting their news from online sources that we would be remiss if we neglected that audience."
Flowers is one of three people who read blogs and try to drive Internet readers to the CENTCOM Web site, where readers can learn more about operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
"We needed to do something to make people aware of the fact that we had this clearinghouse of photos and information," Flowers said. "We can get the whole story out there. We let them know we have a Web site."
Flowers said the Web site is filled with informative facts, figures, imagery, data and information that readers can digest before a third party processes and presents the information for them through other media.
"Certainly anyone is welcome to use the material on the Web site," Flowers said. "So far, the reception has been tremendous."
Team members said they have contacted a full spectrum of bloggers. In one instance, a blogger was writing about the opening of a water treatment plant in Iraq. The writer was presenting the information as a positive milestone for the U.S. military in Iraq, but the information was not complete. The team contacted the writer and offered information via the CENTCOM Web site, and more information was added to the blog to make the article more accurate.
In another blog contact, the team wrote a blogger who had written untrue information about U.S. military tactics. The blogger stated that the U.S. military routinely used children in Iraq and Afghanistan as human shields during their operations by using candy to entice and lure kids near them. The team posted a comment on the writer's blog stating that the U.S. military did not use human shield tactics and explained the full circumstances of the incident where Iraqi children died in 2004 when insurgents attacked U.S. forces in Baghdad.
Most blogs ordinarily have a feature that enables readers to contact the writer or allows readers to post comments. When the team "reaches out" to a blogger, the team members do not conceal their identity. They fully disclose that they are public affairs personnel and identify themselves accordingly. And, McNorton said, they are there to correct information, no more.
"We don't go in there and get into a debate," he said. And officials here are quick to point out that they are not policing Web sites. They are simply offering bloggers the opportunity to get raw information directly from the source.
Flowers said that many military personnel have also become bloggers during their deployments as a way to keep friends and family informed on their activities in the war. Here too, the team members don't police content, but if they do discover an operational security violation, they contact the blogger's command to point out the security violation.
"(Operational security) for a Web site is no different than OPSEC for a letter," Flowers said. "You shouldn't publish anything you don't want everyone to read," he said, adding that the enemy uses open sources of information to wage war on coalition forces.
But, he said, "The power of military blogs is that they're a letter home from servicemen and women that the entire world can read," Flowers said.
All bloggers have their niche audience, Flowers said. Some are faith-based, others are military community members, and yet others are involved in mustering humanitarian aid for people in Iraq or Afghanistan. But while the reasons for their blogs differ, most bloggers consistently offer the same comment to Flowers and his team.
"Repeatedly we hear from people, 'I never would have heard this story in the mainstream media,'" Flowers said. "People really are interested in what soldiers are doing. Blogs are individual statements. They're the voice of individuals. They're a way of understanding this war on a very human level."
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The author wrote a daily blog for hometown online newspaper Orlando Sentinel as part of his official duties during his yearlong deployment to Iraq in 2004-2005. CENTCOM officials said his blog, the first official U.S. military war blog published by a daily newspaper, helped in conceptualizing the blog team.)
DARPA wants Matrix style virtual world for cybergeddon
To feature human 'replicants', time-machine mode
Published Wednesday 7th May 2008 15:42 GMT
The US military's famed scientific wingnut farm, DARPA*, has released full details of its planned "National Cyber Range" - a mighty network which could be configured to simulate the cyberspace battlefields of the future. This would allow America's fighting nerds to train for the net conflicts of tomorrow, mounting attacks on simulated enemies or defending against devastating cyber strikes by the enemies of democracy.
The Cyber Range proposal was trailed last December, but yesterday full details for those wishing to become network killing-house builders were issued (Word file).
Essentially, DARPA seem to be after something not unlike an entire simulated world. The Range must "enable realistic testing of Internet/Global Information Grid (GIG) scale research [and] simulate national or global communications systems".
This virtual world must, of course, contain computers - of pretty much any type:
The NCR must be capable of taking a physical computer and rapidly creating a functionally equivalent, logical instance of that machine that can be replicated repeatedly... Given a never-before-seen physical computing device, [the Range must] create logical instantiations of the physical native machine that accurately replicates, not only the software on the machine, but hardware to the interrupt level, chipset, and peripheral cards and devices...
And that's not all. The Cyber Range must also be populated with simulated human beings to play the parts of users, sysadmins and so forth. DARPA refers to these software sim-people as "replicants".
Replicants must be capable of implementing multiple user roles... Replicant behavior will change as the network environment changes, as the replicated “outside environment” (i.e. DefCon, InfoCon, execution of war plans, etc) changes, and as network activity changes (detected attacks, degradation of services, etc)... Replicants will simulate physical interaction with device peripherals, such as keyboard and mice... Replicants will drive all common applications...
But all this is merely scene-setting. Moving among the swarming virtual machines and people "injected" into DARPA's Matrix-esque warzone will be the network combatants of the USA and its enemies - the OpFor, or opposing forces. The Cyber Range agents of OpFor aren't going to be script kiddies in their underpants operating from bedrooms in their parents' house. They're going to be more like Operation Screaming Fist**, or perhaps Agent Smith.
Realistic, sophisticated, nation-state quality offensive and defensive opposition forces... Capabilities include sophisticated cyber activity, from defending national assets, to computer network attack... cyber adversaries [equipped with] a malware library of offensive tools for use by DARPA-authorized individuals on the range [and] a defensive tools library...
Battling these fearsome enemies amid the hapless simulant hordes will be the cream of America's elite combat geeks, armed with network weapons of fearful potency - or "potentially revolutionary cyber research and development technologies", as DARPA puts it. The Pentagon's network gladiators add that "the range must be capable of testing a variety of technology thrusts [and] classified cyber programs".
Unsurprisingly, with crack Pentagon dorks tooled up with secret cyber thrust packages battling "nation-state quality" opposition packing weapons-grade malware, DARPA expect a lot of virtual devastation and e-blood all over the carpet. Even so, the Range must be able to clean itself up and rebuild instantly - or "sanitize resources securely and rapidly when resources are freed from tests".
It's also important that none of the devastating cyberplagues and self-replicating code pestilences unleashed in the Range get out of control. The builders must "ensure data does not spill across tests and testbeds while on the range or archived... [and] ensure a test does not perform an unintended denial of service on other tests".
And just in case all that wasn't enough, the Range must also be able to function as a time machine.
Time Dilation/Contraction... [Contractors must] develop technologies to accelerate or decelerate test time (relative to reality); to enable new capabilities (for example, to create bandwidths that are not commercially available today)...
The whole business plainly raises quite a few questions, not least the obvious one: will the Replicants know they are only software running in a giant battle simulation? And how can we be sure we aren't in the Range already? ®
*Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency
**From the seminal work Neuromancer. As if you didn't know.
Everyone is already buzzing with early word of tomorrow's New York Times report
about the Pentagon sock puppets who have been posing as "military experts" on the nation's national news and political-talk broadcasts:
To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.
Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.
The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.
It's a thorough and devastating portrait, and every word deserves reading, largely because it lays bare the machinations that went into selling the war to the public. Yet in some ways, none of this is particularly new for anyone with eyes and ears beforehand. Did anyone watch these guys perform on TV and not intuit immediately that they were in the tank for Rumsfeld and Co.?
A crystalline example of this came during what was known as "the Generals' Revolt":
The full dimensions of this mutual embrace were perhaps never clearer than in April 2006, after several of Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals — none of them network military analysts — went public with devastating critiques of his wartime performance. Some called for his resignation.
On Friday, April 14, with what came to be called the “Generals’ Revolt” dominating headlines, Mr. Rumsfeld instructed aides to summon military analysts to a meeting with him early the next week, records show. When an aide urged a short delay to “give our big guys on the West Coast a little more time to buy a ticket and get here,” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office insisted that “the boss” wanted the meeting fast “for impact on the current story.”
That same day, Pentagon officials helped two Fox analysts, General McInerney and General Vallely, write an opinion article for The Wall Street Journal defending Mr. Rumsfeld.
“Starting to write it now,” General Vallely wrote to the Pentagon that afternoon. “Any input for the article,” he added a little later, “will be much appreciated.” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office quickly forwarded talking points and statistics to rebut the notion of a spreading revolt.
“Vallely is going to use the numbers,” a Pentagon official reported that afternoon.
The standard secrecy notwithstanding, plans for this session leaked, producing a front-page story in The Times that Sunday. In damage-control mode, Pentagon officials scrambled to present the meeting as routine and directed that communications with analysts be kept “very formal,” records show. “This is very, very sensitive now,” a Pentagon official warned subordinates.
On Tuesday, April 18, some 17 analysts assembled at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
A transcript of that session, never before disclosed, shows a shared determination to marginalize war critics and revive public support for the war.
“I’m an old intel guy,” said one analyst. (The transcript omits speakers’ names.) “And I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with one word. That is Psyops. Now most people may hear that and they think, ‘Oh my God, they’re trying to brainwash.’ ”
“What are you, some kind of a nut?” Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing laughter. “You don’t believe in the Constitution?”
There was little discussion about the actual criticism pouring forth from Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals. Analysts argued that opposition to the war was rooted in perceptions fed by the news media, not reality. The administration’s overall war strategy, they counseled, was “brilliant” and “very successful.”
Of course, fairly early on in this conflict, there were in fact questions raised about whether the Pentagon was engaging in Psyops tactics, with the American public as the target; some of us even pondered the effects this program might have on democratic discourse.
But then, those concerns were either largely ignored or dismissed as paranoid alarmism. Now it's clear that there were reasons for that. After all, the media were too busy giving airtime to "serious" folks.
Rick Perlstein has more.