Monday, 12 March 2012

Dig, dig, dig...Mind Games

Mind Games ~ By Daniel Schulman

Columbia Journalism Review May/June 2006

The weaponization of information is not original to the war in Iraq, nor is it unique to any military engagement during what has come to be known as the information age. Journalists have always encountered wartime spin, they have been the targets of propaganda and selective leaks, and, on occasion, have been used for purposes of deception (which has resulted, in certain cases, in saving the lives of American soldiers). In The Art of War, which remains an influential text among military strategists though it was written during the sixth century B.C., the Chinese general Sun Tzu writes: "All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe that we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near."

In Iraq then, and indeed in the broader war on terror, it is not the use of information as a weapon that is new, but rather the scale of the strategy and the nature of the targets. Increasingly, the information environment has become the battlefield in a war that knows no boundaries, its offensives directed not just at the insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan, or at regimes that take an adversarial posture to U.S. policy, but at the world at large. Technological advances, meanwhile, have made access to information instantaneous and ubiquitous, erasing longstanding barriers, legal and otherwise, that in the past have protected the American public and press from collateral damage in propaganda campaigns.

In addition, the aggressive manner in which this administration has pursued its information campaigns has in some cases blurred the bright line between two distinct military missions - providing truthful information about the war to the press and public, and waging psychological warfare. This blurring raises questions of credibility not only for the military but also for the press, which has been, on occasion, an unwitting conduit for psychological warfare campaigns. No reporter is immune to this. Nor is any reporter's public. In April, The Washington Post reported that Dexter Filkins of The New York Times had been used as part of a psychological operation intended to play up the role of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda's operations in Iraq, in the insurgency. A story leaked to Filkins in February 2004, according to the Post, was part of a larger effort - aimed mostly at the Iraqi press - to exploit Iraqis' distrust of foreigners by exaggerating the importance of Zarqawi, a Jordanian, and the foreign element he represents. The Post suggests that this effort goes beyond Zarqawi and beyond Filkins, too. Internal military briefings, according to the paper, "indicate that there were direct military efforts to use the U.S. media to affect views of the war."

More than ever, information warfare is a military imperative. The problem is that in the government's haste to sow democratic seeds in the Muslim world, it has at times forsaken the very principles it has sought to proliferate. "They are screwing with democracy," Sam Gardiner told me.

Indeed, after the Lincoln Group's Pentagon-funded propaganda campaign, in which Iraqi media outlets were paid to run stories written by military information operations troops, was uncovered in late November, the Defense Department announced that it would consider whether it must amend its current guidelines on communications and information warfare. In many ways, this could be a turning point.


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