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U.S. Psychological Operations: Military Uses Networks to Spread Misinformation

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The U.S. military is reportedly distributing misinformation to the media as part of a campaign of psychological operations. The Los Angeles Times uncovered how the military sent spokespersons to major news networks to deliberately lie about military operations in Iraq in an effort to deceive the Iraqi resistance. We speak with retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner. [includes rush transcript]

The U.S. military is reportedly distributing misinformation to the media as part of a campaign of psychological operations. This according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The paper has uncovered incidents where the military has sent spokespersons to major news networks to deliberately lie about military operations in Iraq in an effort to deceive the Iraqi resistance.

In one case, on Oct. 14, a Marine spokesperson appeared on CNN from Fallujah and said “Troops crossed the line of departure.” CNN was soon reporting the battle for Fallujah had begun. In fact it wouldn’t begin for another three weeks.

A senior Pentagon official told CNN that Gilbert’s remarks were “technically true but misleading.” It was an attempt to get CNN “to report something not true,” the official said. The military claimed it wanted to see how Iraqi fighters responded to the so-called news report.

Several top officials told the LA Times that they see a danger of blurring what are supposed to be well-defined lines between the stated mission of military public affairs and psychological and information operations. One senior defense official told the paper “The movement of information has gone from the public affairs world to the psychological operations world. What’s at stake is the credibility of people in uniform.”

  • Col. Sam Gardiner, retired Air Force Colonel. He has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, AirWar College and Naval War College.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined on the phone by Colonel Sam Gardiner. He’s a retired Air Force colonel. He’s taught strategy and military operations at National Air War College and Naval War College. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

SAM GARDINER: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to this latest report?

SAM GARDINER: Well it’s actually more of the same. Interesting to me that people would pick up on this right now because it was so pervasive before and during Gulf 2. This is just a small incident compared to what we have seen before. The real distinction, however, is in the past, most of these falsehoods, psychological operations, strategic communications, themes came from civilians. This is one of the first times when a military officer has actually and visibly crossed the line. And that’s a big deal because the military is the only profession I know where lying is a criminal offense. In the uniform code of military justice, it is a court martial offense for an officer to tell a lie. And frankly, this lieutenant who talked to CNN is subjected himself to potential court martial.

AMY GOODMAN: Last night, watching FOX, the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich basically said whatever it takes to protect our troops.

SAM GARDINER: But Amy, we are supposed to be protecting democracy. The troops have taken an oath to protect democracy. And if we destroy democracy to protect the troops, something’s gone terribly wrong. I think—I couldn’t disagree more with Newt Gingrich. The other part of that, Amy, is as a former officer, this just is sort of goes to my essence. And that’s the notion that an officer’s word is his bond. Whether he is speaking to the troops, to other officers, or in public. When we cross the line, when you begin to not be able to trust the word of an officer, we have begun to destroy the military from within.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain this idea of psy-ops, psychological operations, how it’s used abroad and what’s happening now at home?

SAM GARDINER: Well, Amy, this has a very long tradition in the U.S. Military and in militaries in the world which is the notion that you use bad information or distorted information to target the enemy. Up until probably about 15 years ago, that notion was meant that it would be done on the battlefield. It became a growing idea within the military of a thing called information warfare which was sort of the concept that you would bring it outside the battlefield. And what’s happened, and this is what’s so serious, is that it has now been taken into the public airways and we can’t tell whether or not we are getting the truth from the military or psychological operations. And I have to say frankly, I think, and again I would very strongly disagree with Newt Gingrich, because you don’t have to—let’s say that this is a valid notion, we wanted the bad guys in Fallujah to think we were coming early. That doesn’t have to permeate and distort the worldwide media for that message to get across. That’s the kind of thing that you deliver locally. They aren’t communicating with the world. If you want to do it by attacks, if you want to do it, by leaflets, that’s fine. But don’t put it on CNN for all of us to hear.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think should happen right now about this information? I mean, the military at least in this report, being quite clear about what they are doing. That psychological operations is their new approach here at home and abroad. Or not their new approach, as you have pointed out in your own report on the analysis of stories that came out of Iraq from the military that were simply psy-ops, not true, going right to Jessica Lynch.

SAM GARDINER: I think the U.S. military ought not to be allowed to tell other than the truth to the media. The military has no business being in the strategic communications deception business. Let me just give you an example of what ought not to happen. There is, from the special operations command in Florida, an ad on the web right now for P.R. Firms to come and bid a proposal, do government work, so that they can do media operations that have a psychological dimension that, and I will quote the document, to be broadcast worldwide. Amy, the military ought not to do that. You know, this is the kind of thing that politicians do and in fact that was the way the administration controlled the message in the war was to send politicians down to do it. But when the guys in uniform begin to tell untruths, we have problems.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Sam Gardiner, I want to thank you for being with us. Colonel Sam Gardiner is a retired Air Force colonel. Thank you very much.

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