Friday, January 30, 2009

Ministry of Truth and Peace (Part II)

Part I described how the Pentagon's use of retired military media analysts to funnel propaganda through the mainstream media fit into a larger operation aimed at rewriting history as it happened.

On January 16, the Friday before Barack Obama's inauguration, the Defense Department inspector general released the report of an investigation of the Pentagon's Retired Military Analyst program. The report stated that, "the evidence in this case was insufficient to conclude" that the program had "violated statutory prohibitions on publicity or propaganda," because "the definition of propaganda in this context remains unclear."

Miriam-Webster OnLine defines propaganda as "the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person." In April 2008, an in-depth investigation by the New York Times revealed that the RMA program had employed retired military officers in a "campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance."

So all that really remains unclear in this context is why the I.G. didn't look up the definition of "propaganda." Maybe that was outside the scope of his investigation.

Sock Puppets

"Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand," by David Barstow was a watershed story for the New York Times, the paper that, more than any other mainstream media outlet, had allowed the Bush administration to use it as a conduit for the false propaganda that convinced the country of the need to invade Iraq. Where Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller cited unnamed "officials" nearly 30 times in their September 2002 article that fraudulently asserted Saddam Hussein was pursuing nuclear weapons technology, Barstow's investigative report was an exemplar of cold fact and attributed testimony.

Retired Army colonel Ken Allard, an NBC analyst, called the RMA program a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he told Barstow.

Barstow referenced internal Pentagon documents that "repeatedly refer to the military analysts as 'message force multipliers' or 'surrogates' who could be counted on to deliver administration 'themes and messages' to millions of Americans 'in the form of their own opinions.'"

Don Myer, aide to assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Torie Clarke, told Barstow that a strategic decision was made in 2002 to use the analysts as the main focus of the public relations push to argue the case for war with Iraq. Another Clarke aid, Brent T. Krueger, said the idea was to have the analysts be in effect “writing the op-ed” for the war.

In all, the program recruited more than 75 retired officers, all of them cleared by Donald Rumsfeld, the largest contingent of whom, not surprisingly, worked for FOX News.

“You could see that they were messaging,” Krueger told Barstow. “You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over… You’d look at them and say, ‘This is working.’ ”

The Pentagon "armed its analysts with talking points" and expected to hear them echoed in the media. Former Green Beret and FOX News analyst Robert S. Bevelacqua admitted, “It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’ ”

Ironically, White House spokesmodel Brian Whitman told Barstow it is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department.”

It would have been incredible to think that in another American century, but not in this one. Up until the very end of the Rumsfeld reign, the Pentagon kept its analysts on a short leash the same way it manipulated the rest of the media, by granting access to those who played ball and denying access to those who refused to.

I Cannot Tell a Lie, Unless…

Retired army general and FOX News commentator Paul E. Vallely confessed to Barstow that when the Pentagon flew him and other retired military analysts to Iraq in 2003, he immediately saw that "things were going south." On returning home, however, Vallely told Fox anchor Alan Colmes "You can't believe the progress."

Vallely's mendacity was in part motivated by his belief in the hallucination that the U.S. lost the Vietnam War because of unfavorable press coverage. Vallely and others of his generation have ingrained this mantra on younger military personnel to the point where it is now an indelible part of the American military ethos; it never occurs to any of them that with deployments of up to a half million troops and all the material support a force could possibly want over a span of more than a decade, the country couldn’t have supported the war any more than it did, and that it wasn’t bad press that caused the war to be lost, it was the lost war that caused the bad press.

Delusional as he is, we might grant Vallely virtue points for sincerity. Other analysts, though, were in the game for the money, a lot more money than the per-appearance fees they got from the news networks. Most of them were connected to military contractors and stood to profit from the war they were promoting.

Part III will describe how the Retired Military Analyst program served as a confluence of Big War, Big Message, Big Bucks, Big Brother and the Big Schmooze.

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. War profiteering is a subject to which media never even alludes . I wonder about Cheney in this case. He took a deferred compensation from Haliburton, became vice president, started two wars giving no bid contracts to his former company. He must have made a fortune.

  2. Anonymous8:02 PM

    Most politicos know that war is money; the more the better. Military officers playing news analysts for pay really comes as no surprise. Every so often I return to Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler's book, "War is a Racket", and everything makes sense. Each one involved knows what they are doing and why. They do it for money.

  3. Yep. Money. Root of all mendacity.

    I'll talk about how McCaffrey was in it for both or more.


  4. Anonymous10:16 PM

    I have a different view. They don't do it for the money, in the sense I think most people understand it. Not the important ones. They could never spend the money. They do it for the power. Money is a marker for power. As are your associations. Are you an insider who changes the face of the world, arms fleets, and moves them, or not. Uber power. 'Money' as most understand it confuses the issue. We are not much different from apes. We attempt to dominate, and if we cannot, then to associate with the dominant. Integrity, or lack of it, is not a Darwinian selector. Money is not a Darwinian selector either, except insofar as it marks for power. It is about power, and always has been.

  5. Excellent point. We tend to forget that money to the well off is just a measure of power; all you said about associating with the dominant is spot on, well done.


  6. Anonymous9:49 AM

    I'd like to take a moment to thank you Jeff, for all you do to bring an intelligent discourse to these issues. You have a unique perspective and I enjoy your writing, Bathtub Admirals was a real kick!


  7. General Quarters10:34 AM

    Great points on money v. power dialogue.
    "Full-spectrum dominance" is the name of their game. Money is their force multiplier. A perverse worldview, indeed.


  8. Many thanks, Woody, and I'm glad you liked the book. If you have a chance and are of a mind to, reader reviews are always welcome over at


    Just like you said.


  9. wkmaier10:50 PM


    Sorta OT to this particular subject, but related, the rate of suicides among returned vets.

    Nah, I'd say shameful, if I thought that the word had any meaning to this country. Ya know, it's not even "collateral damage", I think maybe the best analogy is a dust bunny. You either shove it under the bed, or sweep it up and throw it out. Out of sight and all.

    BTW, I have to get the old Life mags out of my mom's attic. There was a photo essay of Nam vets in NYC treated like garbage (same shit different year). I still remember seeing these mags when I was not yet a teenager.

    Anyway, excuse my babbling please.

  10. Thanks for bringing that up, WK. I'm glad to have played a small part in bringing the topic to national attention a few years ago; it's a mess we'll be cleaning up for a long, long time.


  11. Anonymous12:25 AM

    Ah, yes, money and power. Those who have neither often fall victim of the 'Stockholm Syndrome'; they identify with the aggressor. I am inclined to think that this is a reason why the general public are so easily persuaded by the propaganda of the the power seekers. some people subsume a feeling of importance for having voted for a candidate while actually receiving no reward for doing so. Money and power; bread and circuses.

  12. Thanks again Commander Huber for your insights. Your point about "the hallucination that the U.S. lost the Vietnam War because of unfavorable press coverage" now being "an indelible part of the American military ethos" cuts through much obfuscation.

    The Rambo movies (I & II) also support and reinforce alternative "explanations" for failing to "win" in Vietnam. Why in the world "it never occurs to any of them that with deployments of up to a half million troops and all the material support a force could possibly want over a span of more than a decade, the country couldn’t have supported the war any more than it did" seems self evident.

    To suggest that there are limits to what the U.S. military can accomplish is, of course, tantamount to heresy, or worse.

  13. Anon,

    Yep. Why white trash fought for the plantation owners.


    Confess, confess, to the heinous sin...

  14. Anonymous7:52 AM


    saw your recent article in The American Conservative via It was good, though I can see some simmering cons fuming about it.

    Sir, there is a culture of lies that has to stop, your series is underscoring this culture well.

    I think Obama can really start something by attacking the culture that has caused so much damage.

  15. Thanks. I hope Obama does attack the culture, or at least undermine it.


  16. Commander,
    At last, we have a new United States Attorney General. Already a miracle has occurred. Karl Rove says he will cooperate with the Congress, and honor the umpteen subpoenas they have issued on him.

    Gates, Patreaus et al, seem not to be able to change President Obama's mind on his 16 month timetable for getting most of our troops out of Iraq. Last scuttlebutt I read was that they "may take their case to the American people". So, I suspect we can expect more "Retired Military Analysts" spewing more propaganda on the teevee.

    Meanwhile, these folks are so out of touch with the rest of us --- they don't realize how much we hate this damned war. Most of all -- we have begun to realize --- we can't any longer afford this damned war. We can no longer afford to shed the blood, and we cannot afford the billions it is costing us.

    (Even tho' we don't have a FEMA Director -- the National Guard is home where it belongs --- in Kentucky, and other places that have no power due to ice storms -- and they are making sure that people have ---- at minimum ---- some MRE's). Door to door, county by county. (No Katrina repeat.)

  17. El,

    No FEMA director is better than some FEMA directors we've had.


  18. Kerstin8:19 PM

    Anonymous said...
    ...the 'Stockholm Syndrome'; they identify with the aggressor

    This may be a bit off topic, I hope Jeff Huber excuses me for that, but the expression above made me curious. I do understand the sentence, but as a former Stockholmer I would be grateful to be informed about:
    1: Is this a common expression in the USA?
    2: What does it allude to? When did "Stockholm" do this? The history of the expression that is.

    (Whatever, "Stockholm" just now (our government), is demonstrating all signs of that syndrome but I have a feeling this is not the original cause of the expression :-) )

  19. Here's a link, Kerstin:

  20. Kerstin2:34 PM

    Jeff Huber:
    Thankyou for your answer.
    Didn't know that this "drama" was known over there.
    We don't have a word for this "syndrome" in Swedish, but now my husbond informs med that he has heard the English expression used also here in Sweden - which I have never done.

    As I have learnt lately: We live as long as we learn, thereafter we only exist.


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