Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ministry of Truth and Peace

It's fitting that as young Mr. Bush exited the world stage, the military pardoned itself for lying about his woebegone wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. A report released on January 16 by the Pentagon's inspector general stated, "we found the evidence insufficient to conclude that RMA (retired military analysts) outreach activities were improper," and concluded that further investigation into the matter "was not warranted."

The RMA program flew under the radar until an April 2008 New York Times article revealed that the Pentagon had recruited media military analysts for a "campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance." The article discomfited the Pentagon I.G. office into launching an investigation of the RMA program—nearly six years after it had been initiated. The I.G. report, posted on the Pentagon's web site the Friday before the inauguration so everyone would be sure to notice it, explained, "the evidence in this case was insufficient to conclude" that RMA activities "violated statutory prohibitions on publicity or propaganda," but conceded that the judgment had been difficult to arrive at because "the definition of propaganda in this context remains unclear."

So it all depends what your definition of "propaganda" is. I feel the I.G.'s pain, don't you?

Rewriting Military History

I first started hearing the expression "we're losing the public affairs war" about the time of Desert Storm, when the Air Force was grabbing the headlines for winning the air battle and Navy carrier participation got piddled into the footnotes.

Time passed. During the 1999 Kosovo War, my ship, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, entertained more members of the foreign press than the number of combat sorties she launched. As a wartime operations officer of a U.S. Navy flagship, my number one concern was to make sure each and every one of those reporters got on and off the ship safely and received a triple dose of gee whiz by watching flight operations from Vulture's Row high atop the ship's island.

What the air wing did over the beach didn't matter; the targets they bombed were mainly plywood decoys. I didn't have to worry about defending the ship, either. Bad Guy's Navy was sinking at the pier. We never did accomplish our original objective, which had something to do with keeping Bad Guy Milosevic from cleansing his ethnics, who were the good guys in this particular war because then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said they were. Milosevic cleansed as many ethnics as he wanted to before he quit and everyone left him alone, a technique the Israelis later exploited to great effect in Lebanon and Gaza. None of our guys got killed in combat. In fact, the biggest friendly casualties of the war were the careers of most of the flag and general officers involved, some of whom retired in disgust, and some who just got caught taking their pants off in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong company, a trait they shared with their commander in chief, who unlike them managed to keep his job for a few more years.

In all, the Kosovo Conflict was a perfect play war to end the 20th century with.

Boondoggle or no, we came home to heroes' welcomes, and our carrier was hailed as a keystone of the greatest naval and air victory ever won under the command of a clueless Army general. The carrier Navy held onto its slab of the defense budget, and lived to play war in a new American century.

Bull Feather Merchants

The Kosovo War was a watershed conflict in that it illustrated—or should have illustrated—that the efficacy of American military power was nearing the terminus of its collision course with a brick wall. No one could really say the Kosovo War had defended America or had protected its interests overseas or had even protected innocents abroad because the good guys in the conflict were no better than the bad guys. At that point in history, the military's full time mission shifted to self-preservation, and the purpose of the relatively new "information warfare" specialty went from supporting armed conflicts to fabricating convincing arguments for having them.

Shortly after 9/11, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld established the Office of Strategic Influence, an information warfare directorate with "a broad mission ranging from 'black' campaigns that use[d] disinformation and other covert activities to 'white' public affairs that rely on truthful news releases," according to its chief, Air Force one star Simon P. Worden. Protests arose when the Pentagon announced that the OSI would "provide news items, possibly even false ones." Rumsfeld shut down OSI to quell the controversy. Well, he sort of shut it down. "You can have the [OSI] name," he said at a press conference, "but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have."

Before it skulked out the servants' door, OSI spawned a number of truth sub-ministries within DoD, one of which was the Retired Military Analyst program.

Part II will analyze RMA as a microcosm of the Pentagon's propaganda campaign to protect and defend the military industrial complex.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. I think your first link has its address wrong. It points to a (great) film of Bill Evans, the Jazz Pianist.

    Thanks for the pointer anyway. It's worth watching.

  2. Thanks for the heads up. Yeah, that's a great film. Amazing mind, the guy had. I'm listening to his "Live at Montreaux" album as I type this.


  3. A man of honor with the guts to tell it like it was, and how it still is.. Thanks from a civi for the candor and truth.

  4. wkmaier3:46 PM

    Hey Jeff,

    Saw this at Al Jaz.

    DIME weapons. Dontcha love how acronyms convey ponies and candy, rather than mutilation?

  5. Yeah, they sound cute, something you might buy for your kids to swallow.


  6. A query, Commander.

    Are these the same guys who went on the tv (the RMA guys) and told us, for months and years how well the Iraq war was going? The same guys, we later found out, all had financial ties to some defense contractor or another?

  7. The exact same guys.


  8. General Quarters9:31 AM

    Great work on psyops/info-ops, a relatively uncommented upon and deliberately obscured aspect of war. I think you are at the tip of the iceberg.


  9. Thanks, GQ, yes, we can only know what we see above the surface, but if we look closely and we also know something of how icebergs are formed, we can make some pretty good conclusions.

    As best I can tell, I'm the only one so far connecting RMA to OSI, and I'm really surprised at that.


  10. The RMA program flew under the radar until an April 2008 New York Times article revealed that the Pentagon had recruited media military analysts for a "campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance."

    The NYT knew that this would prove problematic much earlier than April of '08-----
    Experts May Be Hazardous To Your Newspaper
    Topics: ethics | journalism
    Source: New York Times, October 31, 2004

    AND the NY Times
    has a history.
    News Zero: The New York Times and the Bomb

  11. Great links, Nunya, thanks.


  12. Sure thing, hon :)

  13. I'm going to get way off topic on your propaganda topic.

    Reading the recent headlines:
    We can't close Gitmo because some guy Bush turned loose from there two years ago, who was "re-programmed" by a Saudi "re-program" program --- blew up our embassy in Yemen (maybe) and is now a member of Al Quaeda.

    Also, "Obama's Missiles kill 18 in Pakistan."
    So, the President stood on the front lawn of the White House, and chunked missiles at Pakistan? What? He thought he was shooting three-pointers? (sarcasm off.)

    According to a guest on Rachel Maddow's show last night --- Pakistan is a CIA operation, and Obama was "notified" of the missile strike -- but did not "authorize" it. (That didn't make the headlines.)

    The Senate Republicans continue to slow down the confirmation process, and as long as they do --- the same guys, who were in charge under Bush/Cheney, are in charge of the same sh** as before.

    You can't keep up with the propaganda --- no matter how hard you try, Commander.

    Too bad war profiteering is not on the list of "war crimes" for which people can be prosecuted. Some of those RMA guys --- might make the cut.

    As far as the NYTimes is concerned. They have some good columnists. However, they no longer publish all the news that's fit to print. Judith Miller proved that. They print what sells newspapers to their core constituency, in and around NY -NY.

    I'm afraid the iceberg is wide and deep.

    And, no matter how cynical I get, I can't keep up.

  14. Anonymous10:29 AM

    Did you see David Axe's allegations against Blackfive and Jim "Uncle Jimbo" Hanson?

    Pretty serious and stupid, if true.

  15. In the spirit of the military constantly patting itself on the back, I highly recommend this piece by Tom Engelhardt. Jeff your writing is great. I would like to know what you think of this.

  16. Uncle Dumbo strikes again!

    Thanks, Andy. I'd say Tom's piece is spot on.


  17. Jeff,

    Really enjoyed Bathtub Admirals. Have you ever considered though writing a non-fiction book about the Navy. I found the details about the day to day operations and your insights behind why things are done the way they are fascinating. The PBS series Carrier was good, but it could have used your wry sense of humor and critical analysis. If not, anything you could recommend would be appreciated.

    Thanks again,


    Andrew C Steen

  18. General Quarters3:35 PM

    Hehe. The cyber-sticks are on your six:


    PS Would you be a "rager," "misguided," or merely "an unhappy customer?" :)

  19. Andrew,

    I can't handle the truth. Some things are best said by pretend people. The second I go non-fiction I have to either name names or play silly assed guessing games, something I have no interest in.

    The tecno-details are only interesting to me as they relate to the human conflict. I leave it to the Tom Clancy's of this world to delve into that stuff.


    That settles it; I'm stocking up on chaff and flares.

  20. Just read your article on Bob Gates, published in ???? "The American Conservative."

    Also read Mr. Porter's article on Bob Gates, published both in the Asia Times, and this morning on Huff Post, in the "world" section.

    Obama needs to send him back here to Texas, or let him go to the West Coast.

    Before he screws up any positive foreign policy progress that may be made in the MidEast, or South America. (Iran meddling in South America. ---- that's rich.)

    We have been doing our own meddling down there for decades.

    Surely there has to be somebody, who isn't a Raytheon lobbyist, who can run the Pentagon.

    Chuck Hagel comes to mind.

  21. Jim Webb's at the top of my list. I keep hoping the Gates extension is meant to last only until Tim Keane is done governing Virginia and can get named to take Webb's Senate seat.


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