Posts Tagged ‘Propaganda’

The manufacture of consent… is a revolution in the practice of democracy – Walter Lippman, “Public Opinion”, 1921.

Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent argues about mass media in America and their relation to culture, society and the existing power structure.

[Background]: Hegemony refers to predominance or the preponderant influence of one state over another. A ruling or elite class dominates at the level of ideas, thus undermining any consciousness of change.According to Antonio Gramsci;
hegemony accounts for why people are willing to find a niche in existing society rather than rebel in the manner predicted by Karl Marx.In America, these constraints are inherited in the following:

  1. from social structure, and
  2. in governmental organisation

— and together they discourage alternative strategies of action. In effect, people participate in their own domination. Media provide the information.]The video shows Chomsky’s guiding belief to be that a decent society should maximize human need for creative work — not treat people as cogs in a machine so that the power elite can maintain control, continue private ownership of public resources and increase profits — all the while managing media content (while preserving the myth of a free press).This deprives a community of what Walter Lippmann called;

“the means to detect lies.”

(Recall Postman’s quote in “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” Chapter 7).Real democracy, he believes, would be one in which people participate in the political decision-making and in related economic decisions.

Chomsky asserts that America has a system of indoctrination (including a system of propaganda imposed largely by media).

He believes that the hope lies with ordinary people and in the understanding that all changes in history have come because people build a foundation for change at the grassroots level.

Ordinary people are very capable of understanding the world, yet must work TOGETHER to get beyond the imposed information and strive to act in accordance with their own decent interests and develop independent minds. (Omnia Sunt Communia?)

Concision — Noam Chomsky’s concept describing how mainstream media content is structured so that it forces those with dissenting voices to limit scope of answers to brief thoughts and soundbites that fit easily between two TV ads

Regarding Thought Control in a Democratic Society

Chomsky makes these points:

  1. Propaganda is to democracy, what violence is to a dictatorship.
  2. Ordinary people have remarkable creativity.
  3. People have a fundamental need for creative work, which is not being met in systems where people are like cogs in a machine or, machine coding of a microprocessor.
  4. What would make more sense as a way to govern is a form of rationalist-libertarian socialism — not one that increasingly functions without public input. Chomsky advocates a system where a community and its members run things in a democratic fashion and whose people do not function as some sort of wage slaves.
  5. People need to be able to detect forms of authority and coercion and challenge those that are not legitimate.
  6. The major form of authority that needs challenging is the system of private control over public resources.
  7. The First Amendment means that democracy requires free access to ideas and opinions.
  8. Democracy in America is not functioning in an ideal sense but more in the sense that Lippmann noted in Public Opinion (where a specialised class of about 20 percent of the people — but who are also a target of propaganda — manages democratic functioning) and, in effect, are under control of a power elite, who more or less own the institutions. The masses of people (80 percent) are marginalised, diverted and controlled by what he calls Necessary Illusions.
  9. “Manufacturing consent” is related to the understanding that indoctrination is the essence of propaganda.
    In a “democratic” society indoctrination occurs when the techniques of control of a propaganda model are imposed — which means imposing “Necessary Illusions“.

    Chomsky’s “Propaganda Model” says;
    American media have “filters” — ownership, advertising, news makers, news shapers — which together emphasise institutional memory, limited debate and media content emphasising the interests of those in control.

Chomsky used a CASE STUDY of how American media covered two foreign atrocities, Cambodia and East Timor, to illustrate the propaganda model at work — mainstream media (New York Times was the example used) showed bias in favour of the status quo and power elites and did not covered both atrocities in the same manner, by paying extensive attention to the one (Cambodia 1975-79) and ignoring the other (East Timor 1975-79).

If media were not an instrument of propaganda, they would have covered each equally.When media news coverage of issues is biased in favour of the status quo, these are the results:

  1. ownership of media is held by major corporations with interests and goals similar to power elite elements of society
  2. people with different views, “dissenting voices,” are not heard much
  3. the breadth of debate is limited
  4. the official stance and institutional memory prevail and become history
  5. people’s interest and attention are often diverted away from issues about which they could become concerned

These attributes come to limit a society in part because mainstream mass media play their part by imposing what Chomsky calls Necessary Illusions, which make certain the masses of the populace won’t become curious and involved in the political process and will continue submitting to the “civil rule” of the power elite (maintaining the status quo) — thus,
the masses (80%) are marginalised and diverted while the political class (20% who vote and participate in democracy) are indoctrinated into the status quo.
This system is not a conspiracy but is a HEGEMONIC system of sorts, working with propaganda, wherein people do not get all the important information that may arouse that curiosity and prompt them to get involved and create changes.

Chomsky’s concept of NECESSARY ILLUSIONS is linked to power elites dominating how life happens, with part of the population — about 20% who make up the political class and are expected to participate as cultural managers in a limited fashion — are indoctrinated, and most people — the other 80% of the population — are marginalized, diverted from political awareness and participation in self-governing, and reduced to apathy so they don’t vote or take charge. Media are a tool of society’s power elites and owned and controlled by them and are used to impose those iIllusions that are Necessary to keep people diverted from the political process.
[David Hume asserted hundreds of years ago that the power always rests with the people but that they don’t act because they are oppressed or manipulated]

Thus, indoctrination of the political class and diversion of the masses make up the essence of the democracy practiced in the U.S. (Chomsky notes also that there is no correlation between the internal freedoms in a society and violent external behavior — and that all governments are ruthless to the extent that they are powerful.)

Major media (New York Times, Washington Post, TV networks, AP) shape our perception of the world by serving as Agenda Setters, Chomsky says.

Media allow some dissenting voices but marginalize them via constraints such as CONCISION, Chomsky’s concept saying in mainstream media content, ideas must be stated briefly so it can fill up the TV content between commercials or fit in the print media newshole). Thus, dissenting views are mostly disallowed because they take longer to explain and need more complete evidence.

Chomsky asserts that in order to break free, citizens must take two actions:

  1. They must seek out information from ALTERNATIVE MEDIA (media outside the mainstream and usually having a particular point of view)

  2. they must move toward change by becoming engaged in community action — because people can use their ordinary intelligence to make changes in their lives and communities. Grassroots movements begin there.

People can organize to begin grass roots momentum to bring about wider change — but Chomsky says people must realize soon that the world is not an infinite resource and an infinite garbage can. In these ways, people can fight society’s tendency to isolate them from collective action and activism.

Chomsky says it is “profoundly contemptuous of democracy” when the American political system has stage-managed elections and uses manipulation such as testing phrases to determine their likely effect on audiences.

Chomsky argues that people need to work to develop independent minds — maybe in part by forming COMMUNITY action groups with others with parallel interests and values, not in isolation, which is where the present system tends to keep people.

Chomsky says the present conventional MYTH is that individual material gain is praiseworthy. Instead, people must concern themselves with COMMUNITY INTERESTS [which now suggests the global community] — and that may mean a spiritual transformation to help people to conceive of themselves differently.

Chomsky argues that America and the world are in deep trouble and that
2 POSSIBILITIES EXIST regarding America’s future and the future for a global community held hostage:
1. The general population will take control of its own destiny
2. Or — there will be no destiny to control.

_______________

In Chomsky’s words concluding “Manufacturing Consent”:
“The question, in brief, is whether democracy and freedom are values to be preserved or threats to be avoided [as they have been until now]. In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are … essential to survival.””The driving force of modern industrialized civilization has been individual material gain. It has long been understood that a society based on this principle will destroy itself in time. It can only persist with whatever suffering and injustice it entails as long as it is possible to pretend that the destructive forces humans create are limited, that the world is an infinite resource, [and] is an infinite garbage can.

“At this stage of history, one of two things is possible: Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests guided by values of solidarity and sympathy and concern for others, or alternativ ely there will be no destiny to control.

“As long as some specialized class is in position of authority, it is going to set policy in the special interest it serves. But, the conditions of survival and justice require rational, special planning in the interest of the community of the whole (and by now that means the global community).

“The question is whether privileged elites should dominate mass communication and should use this power as they tell us they must, namely to impose NECESSARY ILLUSIONS to manipulate and deceive [whom THEY believe are] the stupid majority and remove them from the public arena. “The question, in brief, is whether democracy and freedom are values to be preserved or threats to be avoided. In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are more than values to be treasured; they may be essential to survival.”


So, Chomsky says, all states are violent to the extent they are powerful and that there is little correlation between internal “freedoms” in a society and violent external behaviour.The modern American industrial civilisation and the media system (which suggests a propaganda model) work because people don’t have the time to work and carry out the research to get the information necessary to create change.
But, the information is present.Chomsky says, he does not have the answers but we should consider moving toward some sort of libertarian-socialist democracy in which our economic institutions would be run by the people. He suggests this as an anarcho-syndicalist model. In this way, we would end private control over public resources – which are finite.To achieve change AND OVERCOME THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE PROPAGANDA MODEL, Chomsky says, we need to rely in part on activism and alternative media.We must develop means of intellectual self-defense.
We must develop independent minds.
We need to review a wide range of press (or do so in conjunction with others), including alternative media — and work at the community level in organisations that may have different focuses but that have similar values.
We must become human participants in our social and political system and work to make a difference.Given full information, ordinary people acting on their best impulse can govern themselves.


Note: Chomsky’s ideas that touch on solutions such as alternative media sources, collective action, media literacy, and use of the intellect have similarity to solutions offered by Media Education Foundation videos.

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https://archive.fo/1inAb#selection-449.0-481.329 By John Pilger on October 28, 2016.


A silent war continues, led by the west, ignored by the media, writes John Pilger.
The American journalist, Edward Bernays, is often described as the man who invented modern propaganda.
The nephew of Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psycho-analysis, it was Bernays who coined the term “public relations” as a euphemism for spin and its deceptions.
In 1929, he persuaded feminists to promote cigarettes for women by smoking in the New York Easter Parade – behaviour then considered outlandish.
One feminist, Ruth Booth, declared, “Women! Light another torch of freedom! Fight another sex taboo!”
Bernays’ influence extended far beyond advertising. His greatest success was his role in convincing the American public to join the slaughter of the First World War. The secret, he said, was “engineering the consent” of people in order to “control and regiment [them]according to our will without their knowing about it”.
He described this as “the true ruling power in our society” and called it an “invisible government”.
Today, the invisible government has never been more powerful and less understood. In my career as a journalist and film-maker, I have never known propaganda to insinuate our lives as it does now, and to go unchallenged.
Imagine two cities. Both are under siege by the forces of the government of that country. Both cities are occupied by fanatics, who commit terrible atrocities, such as beheading people.
But there is a vital difference. In one siege, the government soldiers are described as liberators by Western reporters embedded with them, who enthusiastically report their battles and air strikes. There are front page pictures of these heroic soldiers giving a V-sign for victory.
There is scant mention of civilian casualties.
(IMAGE: The U.S. Army, Flickr)
(IMAGE: The U.S. Army, Flickr)
In the second city – in another country nearby – almost exactly the same thing is happening. Government forces are laying siege to a city controlled by the same breed of fanatics.
The difference is that these fanatics are supported, supplied and armed by “us” – by the United States and Britain. They even have a media centre that is funded by Britain and America.
Another difference is that the government soldiers laying siege to this city are the bad guys, condemned for assaulting and bombing the city – which is exactly what the good soldiers do in the first city.
Confusing? Not really.
Such is the basic double standard that is the essence of propaganda. I am referring, of course, to the current siege of the city of Mosul by the government forces of Iraq, who are backed by the United States and Britain, and to the siege of Aleppo by the government forces of Syria, backed by Russia.
One is good; the other is bad.
What is seldom reported is that both cities would not be occupied by fanatics and ravaged by war if Britain and the United States had not invaded Iraq in 2003.
That criminal enterprise was launched on lies strikingly similar to the propaganda that now distorts our understanding of the civil war in Syria.
Without this drumbeat of propaganda dressed up as news, the monstrous ISIS and Al-Qaida and al-Nusra and the rest of the jihadist gang might not exist, and the people of Syria might not be fighting for their lives today.
Some may remember in 2003 a succession of BBC reporters turning to the camera and telling us that Blair was “vindicated” for what turned out to be the crime of the century. The US television networks produced the same validation for George W. Bush. Fox News brought on Henry Kissinger to effuse over Colin Powell’s fabrications.
Former US president George W Bush (IMAGE: Peter Stevens, Flickr).
Former US president George W Bush (IMAGE: Peter Stevens, Flickr).
The same year, soon after the invasion, I filmed an interview in Washington with Charles Lewis, the renowned American investigative journalist. I asked him,
“What would have happened if the freest media in the world had seriously challenged what turned out to be crude propaganda?”
He replied that if journalists had done their job, “there is a very, very good chance we would not have gone to war in Iraq”.
It was a shocking statement, and one supported by other famous journalists to whom I put the same question – Dan Rather of CBS, David Rose of the Observer and journalists and producers in the BBC, who wished to remain anonymous.
In other words, had journalists done their job, had they challenged and investigated the propaganda instead of amplifying it, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children would be alive today, and
there would be no ISIS and no siege of Aleppo or Mosul.
There would have been no atrocity on the London Underground on 7th July 2005.
There would have been no flight of millions of refugees;
there would be no miserable camps.
When the terrorist atrocity happened in Paris last November, President Francoise Hollande immediately sent planes to bomb Syria – and more terrorism followed, predictably, the product of Hollande’s bombast about France being “at war” and “showing no mercy”.
That state violence and jihadist violence feed off each other is the truth that no national leader has the courage to speak.
“When the truth is replaced by silence,” said the Soviet dissident Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie.”
The attack on Iraq, the attack on Libya, the attack on Syria happened because the leader in each of these countries was not a puppet of the West. The human rights record of a Saddam or a Gaddafi was irrelevant. They did not obey orders and surrender control of their country.
The same fate awaited Slobodan Milosevic once he had refused to sign an “agreement” that demanded the occupation of Serbia and its conversion to a market economy. His people were bombed, and he was prosecuted in The Hague.
Independence of this kind is intolerable.
Syria-Assad
As WikLeaks has revealed, it was only when the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in 2009 rejected an oil pipeline, running through his country from Qatar to Europe, that he was attacked.
From that moment, the CIA planned to destroy the government of Syria with jihadist fanatics – the same fanatics currently holding the people of Mosul and eastern Aleppo hostage.
Why is this not news? The former British Foreign Office official Carne Ross, who was responsible for operating sanctions against Iraq, told me: “We would feed journalists factoids of sanitised intelligence, or we would freeze them out. That is how it worked.”
The West’s medieval client, Saudi Arabia – to which the US and Britain sell billions of dollars’ worth of arms – is at present destroying Yemen, a country so poor that in the best of times, half the children are malnourished.
Look on YouTube and you will see the kind of massive bombs – “our” bombs – that the Saudis use against dirt-poor villages, and against weddings, and funerals.
The explosions look like small atomic bombs. The bomb aimers in Saudi Arabia work side-by-side with British officers.
This fact is not on the evening news.
Propaganda is most effective when our consent is engineered by those with a fine education – Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Columbia – and with careers on the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post.
These organisations are known as the liberal media.
They present themselves as enlightened, progressive tribunes of the moral zeitgeist.
They are anti-racist, pro-feminist and pro-LGBT.
And they love war.
While they speak up for feminism, they support rapacious wars that deny the rights of countless women, including the right to life.
In 2011, Libya, then a modern state, was destroyed on the pretext that Muammar Gaddafi was about to commit genocide on his own people. That was the incessant news; and there was no evidence. It was a lie.
An anti-Gaddafi rally, Libya 2011. (IMAGE: mojomogwai, Flickr)
An anti-Gaddafi rally, Libya 2011. (IMAGE: mojomogwai, Flickr)
In fact, Britain, Europe and the United States wanted what they like to call “regime change” in Libya, the biggest oil producer in Africa.
Gaddafi’s influence in the continent and, above all, his independence were intolerable.
So he was murdered with a knife in his rear by fanatics, backed by America, Britain and France.
Hillary Clinton cheered his gruesome death for the camera, declaring, “We came, we saw, he died!”
The destruction of Libya was a media triumph.
As the war drums were beaten, Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian: “Though the risks are very real, the case for intervention remains strong.”
Intervention – what a polite, benign, Guardian word, whose real meaning, for Libya, was death and destruction.
According to its own records, Nato launched 9,700 “strike sorties” against Libya, of which more than a third were aimed at civilian targets. They included missiles with uranium warheads.
Look at the photographs of the rubble of Misurata and Sirte, and the mass graves identified by the Red Cross.
The UNICEF report on the children killed says, “most [of them]under the age of 10”.
As a direct consequence, Sirte became the capital of ISIS.
Ukraine is another media triumph. Respectable liberal newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian, and mainstream broadcasters such as the BBC, NBC, CBS, CNN have played a critical role in conditioning their viewers to accept a new and dangerous cold war.
All have misrepresented events in Ukraine as a malign act by Russia when, in fact, the coup in Ukraine in 2014 was the work of the United States, aided by Germany and Nato.
This inversion of reality is so pervasive that Washington’s military intimidation of Russia is not news; it is suppressed behind a smear and scare campaign of the kind I grew up with during the first cold war. Once again, the Ruskies are coming to get us, led by another Stalin, whom The Economist depicts as the devil.
The suppression of the truth about Ukraine is one of the most complete news blackouts I can remember. The fascists who engineered the coup in Kiev are the same breed that backed the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.
Of all the scares about the rise of fascist anti-Semitism in Europe, no leader ever mentions the fascists in Ukraine – except Vladimir Putin, but he does not count.
Russian president Vladimir Putin. (IMAGE: IoSonoUnaFotoCamera, Flickr).
Russian president Vladimir Putin. (IMAGE: IoSonoUnaFotoCamera, Flickr).
Many in the Western media have worked hard to present the ethnic Russian-speaking population of Ukraine as outsiders in their own country, as agents of Moscow, almost never as Ukrainians seeking a federation within Ukraine and as Ukrainian citizens resisting a foreign-orchestrated coup against their elected government.
There is almost the joie d’esprit of a class reunion of warmongers. The drum-beaters of the Washington Post inciting war with Russia are the very same editorial writers who published the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
To most of us, the American presidential campaign is a media freak show, in which Donald Trump is the arch villain.
But Trump is loathed by those with power in the United States for reasons that have little to do with his obnoxious behaviour and opinions. To the invisible government in Washington, the unpredictable Trump is an obstacle to America’s design for the 21stcentury.
This is to maintain the dominance of the United States and to subjugate Russia, and, if possible, China.
To the militarists in Washington, the real problem with Trump is that, in his lucid moments, he seems not to want a war with Russia; he wants to talk with the Russian president, not fight him; he says he wants to talk with the president of China.
In the first debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump promised not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict. He said, “I would certainly not do first strike. Once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over.” That was not news.
Did he really mean it? Who knows? He often contradicts himself. But what is clear is that Trump is considered a serious threat to the status quo maintained by the vast national security machine that runs the United States, regardless of who is in the White House.
The CIA wants him beaten.
The Pentagon wants him beaten.
The media wants him beaten.
Even his own party wants him beaten.
He is a threat to the rulers of the world – unlike Clinton who has left no doubt she is prepared to go to war with nuclear-armed Russia and China.
US Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump. (IMAGE: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)
US Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump. (IMAGE: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)
Clinton has the form, as she often boasts. Indeed, her record is proven. As a senator, she backed the bloodbath in Iraq. When she ran against Obama in 2008, she threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran. As Secretary of State, she colluded in the destruction of governments in Libya and Honduras and set in train the baiting of China.
She has now pledged to support a No Fly Zone in Syria — a direct provocation for war with Russia. Clinton may well become the most dangerous president of the United States in my lifetime –a distinction for which the competition is fierce.
Without a shred of evidence, she has accused Russia of supporting Trump and hacking her emails. Released by WikiLeaks, these emails tell us that what Clinton says in private, in speeches to the rich and powerful, is the opposite of what she says in public.
That is why silencing and threatening Julian Assange is so important. As the editor of WikiLeaks, Assange knows the truth.
And let me assure those who are concerned, he is well, and WikiLeaks is operating on all cylinders.
Today, the greatest build-up of American-led forces since World War Two is under way – in the Caucasus and eastern Europe, on the border with Russia, and in Asia and the Pacific, where China is the target.
Keep that in mind when the presidential election circus reaches its finale on November 8th, If the winner is Clinton, a Greek chorus of witless commentators will celebrate her coronation as a great step forward for women. None will mention Clinton’s victims:
the women of Syria,
the women of Iraq,
the women of Libya.
None will mention the civil defence drills being conducted in Russia. None will recall Edward Bernays’ “torches of freedom”.
Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. (IMAGE: iprimages, Flickr)
Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. (IMAGE: iprimages, Flickr)
George Bush’s press spokesman once called the media “complicit enablers”.
Coming from a senior official in an administration whose lies, enabled by the media, caused such suffering, that description is a warning from history.
In 1946, the Nuremberg Tribunal prosecutor said of the German media:
“Before every major aggression, they initiated a press campaign calculated to weaken their victims and to prepare the German people psychologically for the attack. In the propaganda system, it was the daily press and the radio that were the most important weapons.”

This is adapted from an address to the Sheffield Festival of Words, Sheffield, England.JohnPilger.com – the films and journalism of John Pilger

 

Agnotology is the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favour.

Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University, says.

“Ignorance is not just the not-yet-known, it’s also a political ploy, a deliberate creation by powerful agents who want you ‘not to know’.”

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160105-the-man-who-studies-the-spread-of-ignorance

How do people or companies with vested interests spread ignorance and obfuscate knowledge? Georgina Kenyon finds there is a term which defines this phenomenon. Agnotology.

In 1979, a secret memo from the tobacco industry was revealed to the public.
Called the Smoking and Health Proposal, and written a decade earlier by the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, it revealed many of the tactics employed by big tobacco to counter “anti-cigarette forces”.

In one of the paper’s most revealing sections, it looks at how to market cigarettes to the mass public: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

This revelation piqued the interest of Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University, who started delving into the practices of tobacco firms and how they had spread confusion about whether smoking caused cancer.

Proctor had found that the cigarette industry did not want consumers to know the harms of its product, and it spent billions obscuring the facts of the health effects of smoking. This search led him to create a word for the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance: agnotology.

It comes from agnosis, the neoclassical Greek word for ignorance or ‘not knowing’, and ontology, the branch of metaphysics which deals with the nature of being.

Agnotology is the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favour.

“I was exploring how powerful industries could promote ignorance to sell their wares. Ignorance is power… and agnotology is about the deliberate creation of ignorance.

“In looking into agnotology, I discovered the secret world of classified science, and thought historians should be giving this more attention.”

The 1969 memo and the tactics used by the tobacco industry became the perfect example of agnotology, Proctor says.

“Ignorance is not just the not-yet-known, it’s also a political ploy, a deliberate creation by powerful agents who want you ‘not to know’.”

To help him in his search, Proctor enlisted the help of UC Berkeley linguist Iain Boal, and together they came up with the term – the neologism was coined in 1995, although much of Proctor’s analysis of the phenomenon had occurred in the previous decades.

Balancing act

Agnotology is as important today as it was back when Proctor studied the tobacco industry’s obfuscation of facts about cancer and smoking. For example, politically motivated doubt was sown over US President Barack Obama’s nationality for many months by opponents until he revealed his birth certificate in 2011. In another case, some political commentators in Australia attempted to stoke panic by likening the country’s credit rating to that of Greece, despite readily available public information from ratings agencies showing the two economies are very different.

(Credit: Thinkstock)

The spread of ignorance is as relevant today as it was when Proctor coined his term (Credit: Thinkstock)

Proctor explains that ignorance can often be propagated under the guise of balanced debate. For example, the common idea that there will always be two opposing views does not always result in a rational conclusion. This was behind how tobacco firms used science to make their products look harmless, and is used today by climate change deniers to argue against the scientific evidence.

“This ‘balance routine’ has allowed the cigarette men, or climate deniers today, to claim that there are two sides to every story, that ‘experts disagree’ – creating a false picture of the truth, hence ignorance.”

For example, says Proctor, many of the studies linking carcinogens in tobacco were conducted in mice initially, and the tobacco industry responded by saying that studies into mice did not mean that people were at risk, despite adverse health outcomes in many smokers.

A new era of ignorance

“We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise,” says Proctor. Even though knowledge is ‘accessible’, it does not mean it is accessed, he warns.

“Although for most things this is trivial – like, for example, the boiling point of mercury – but for bigger questions of political and philosophical import, the knowledge people have often comes from faith or tradition, or propaganda, more than anywhere else.”

(Credit: Thinkstock)

When people do not understand a concept or fact, they are prey for special interest groups who work hard to create confusion (Credit: Thinkstock)

Proctor found that ignorance spreads when firstly, many people do not understand a concept or fact and secondly, when special interest groups – like a commercial firm or a political group – then work hard to create confusion about an issue. In the case of ignorance about tobacco and climate change, a scientifically illiterate society will probably be more susceptible to the tactics used by those wishing to confuse and cloud the truth.

Consider climate change as an example. “The fight is not just over the existence of climate change, it’s over whether God has created the Earth for us to exploit, whether government has the right to regulate industry, whether environmentalists should be empowered, and so on. It’s not just about the facts, it’s about what is imagined to flow from and into such facts,” says Proctor.

Making up our own minds

Another academic studying ignorance is David Dunning, from Cornell University. Dunning warns that the internet is helping propagate ignorance – it is a place where everyone has a chance to be their own expert, he says, which makes them prey for powerful interests wishing to deliberately spread ignorance.

“While some smart people will profit from all the information now just a click away, many will be misled into a false sense of expertise. My worry is not that we are losing the ability to make up our own minds, but that it’s becoming too easy to do so. We should consult with others much more than we imagine. Other people may be imperfect as well, but often their opinions go a long way toward correcting our own imperfections, as our own imperfect expertise helps to correct their errors,” warns Dunning.

Dunning and Proctor also warn that the wilful spread of ignorance is rampant throughout the US presidential primaries on both sides of the political spectrum.

“Donald Trump is the obvious current example in the US, suggesting easy solutions to followers that are either unworkable or unconstitutional,” says Dunning.

So while agnotology may have had its origins in the heyday of the tobacco industry, today the need for both a word and the study of human ignorance is as strong as ever.

Wilful acts to spread a narrative and obliterate competing interpretations – something that the social media echo chambers do, too. (But not even then very successfully).

There’s an idea – here demonstrated in a lecture by Adam Curtis – that brainwashing is not really achievable. https://vimeo.com/61089268

I don’t think Agnotology is quite the same as ‘brainwashing’. It’s more the creation of a ‘post-truth’ society, or “hyper-normalisation” as Curtis has titled his newest film.

Welcome to the post-truth world. You know it’s not real, but you accept it as normal.


Defeat device software

https://youtu.be/hOTKIZgppbs – Dan Carder, West Virginia University’s director of the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions, and Bloomberg Intelligence’s Kevin Tynan discuss the exposure of the Volkswagen vehicle-emission cheating scandal with Bloomberg’s Matt Miller and Mark Crumpton on “Bloomberg Markets.”


And yet TODAY – 24th October – there’s this…
Industry Lobbyists have won yet again.

“Petrol cars allowed to exceed pollution limits by 50% under draft EU laws”

https://gu.com/p/58fb4/stw  -Monday 24 October 2016

New European cars with petrol engines will be allowed to overshoot a limit on toxic particulates emissions by 50% under a draft EU regulation backed by the UK and most other EU states.

Campaigners say that a simple €25 (£22) filter could drastically cut the pollution, but the Guardian has learned that car-makers have instead mounted a successful push for loopholes and legislative delay.

Bas Eickhout, a Green MEP on the European parliament’s environment committee and dieselgate inquiry panel, promised action to ensure that the lessons of the VW scandal were learned.

“With this ridiculous proposal, the EU’s member states are again trying to dilute EU laws at a terrible cost to human health. We will call on the European commission to come to the European parliament and explain themselves on this issue,” he said.

Particulate matter (PM) is the largest single contributor to the estimated 600,000 premature deaths across Europe from pollution-related heart and lung diseases each year.

Children and the elderly are worst affected, and the associated health costs could be as high as €1.6 Trillion a year in Europe, according to the World Health Organisation.

Although exhaust fumes from diesel and petrol engines are one of the largest sources of particulates emissions, most EU member states support raising the EU’s pollution standard 50% above the legal limit set down in the Euro 6 regulation.

Behind the scenes, vehicle makers have pushed strongly for a staggering 300% over, according to material seen by the Guardian.

The draft regulation is still being discussed by EU member states and the auto industry has not given up hopes of wrenching further concessions on particulate emissions ahead of a final decision on 7 December.

One Powerpoint slide shown to EU expert groups by the European automobile manufacturers association (Acea) says that a 300% latitude in meeting the letter of the law would be “realistic” because of “measurement uncertainty” in emissions tests.

Florent Grelier, a clean vehicles engineer at the Transport and Environment (T&E) campaign group, told the Guardian he feared that EU attempts to improve air quality were being “bent to the will of the automotive industry”.

“This is a petrolgate scandal in the making,” he said.

“Unless the European commission and governments establish strict test procedures to protect the industry from its own short-sightedness, within a few years we will see continuing high levels of particles killing hundreds of thousands of citizens prematurely.”

Under EU law, car-manufacturers are already obliged to use filters for diesel engines, but not for the rapidly-growing 40% of the petrol engine market which is made up by uncontrolled gasoline direct injection engines.
These release more particulate matter than modern diesel cars.

Gasoline particulate filters could reduce these emissions by a factor of around 100, and would cost manufacturers just €25 per car, according to research by T&E.
But car manufacturers have argued this would violate the principle of technology neutrality.

A spokesman for Acea declined to comment on the issue.

Calls by the auto industry for a delay in implementing the new regulation have been well received by several car-producing EU countries.
Spain and Sweden argued for a one-year legislative delay that would push its introduction back to 2019, in minutes of a technical committee meeting earlier this month seen by the Guardian.

The UK took no formal position on when the new regulation should enter into force but warned of “unintended adverse effects” if pm limits were given a separate starting date to standards for another pollutant, nitrogen oxide (NOx) , which will now begin in 2019.

An EU group of national experts – the technical committee on motor vehicles – is now expected to sign off on the final proposal to amend the Euro 6 regulation for real world driving emissions, in December.

The issue of “conformity factors” – or compensating for uncertainties in emissions tests – last year led the committee to impose a NOx limit 110% higher than the one written into the Euro 6 regulations last year.


http://cumminseuro6.com/what-is-euro-6

Euro 6 is the latest diesel engine emission legislations being driven by the European Commission.

Since 1993, when the very first ‘Euro 1’ legislation was introduced for trucks and buses, the European Commission has regulated the amount of pollutants coming out of the tail-pipe of a diesel engine. In particular, the Commission identified two key constituents within the exhaust stream – Oxides of Nitrogen or ‘NOx’, and ‘Particulate Matter‘ (basically soot particles) – as being harmful, and which needed to be controlled and reduced… etc (see http://cumminseuro6.com/customise/upload/files/20_a.pdf )


Euro 6 regulations in detail

The Euro 6 European exhaust emission regulations have been implemented in two stages. The first, which applied to all ‘new type approval’ vehicles, came into force on 1 January 2013. As at 1 January 2014 all new trucks and buses registered from 1 January 2014 will be equipped with a Euro 6 certified engine.

The Euro 6 regulations see significant reductions in permitted tail-pipe emissions as well as other operational changes including:

  • All NOx emissions reduced to 0.46 grams-perkilowatt-hour (g/KWh)—that’s down by 75% compared to current Euro 5 limits Particulate Matter (PM) reduced to 0.01 gm/kWh – or a further 66% drop compared to Euro 5.
  • However, with the further introduction of a new ‘particle number limit’ as part of the legislation, the actual overall reduction in the permissible levels of PM will be closer to 95%.
  • The introduction of a lower ammonia emission limit – ammonia being a byproduct of the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) exhaust after-treatment process.
  • The inclusion of a crank-case emission limit if a closed system is not used. An enhanced emissions durability requirement for all Euro 6 engines of up to 700,000 km or seven years for the largest vehicles.
  • Further improvements to the engine’s On-Board-Diagnostic (OBD) system performance.
  • The adoption of new, world-wide ‘transient’ and ‘steady-state’ test cycles including cold-start and normal-running temperature components which are designed to more closely reflect what a vehicle does in real-life.

With the introduction of the Euro 6 regulation this is the first time a ‘World Harmonised Test Cycle’ has been used for engine certification.


Volkswagen’s Code of Conduct

highlights the Company’s responsibility for;

“continuous improvement of the environmental tolerability of our products” and for “making ecologically efficient technologies available throughout the world.”23

It is a Group-wide guideline that outlines the strategy for corporate global and local responsibility and for which each individual is equally responsible for compliance.

The Code of Conduct states that to achieve the goal of being number one among the world’s automobile manufacturers, they must:

  • Act responsibly, for the benefit of our customers, shareholders, and employees,
  • Consider compliance with international conventions, laws, and internal rules to be the basis for sustainable and successful economic activities,
  • Act in accordance with our declarations; and
  • Accept responsibility for our actions.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR VOLKSWAGEN?

(The Volkswagen Scandal  – Written by Britt Blackwelder, Katherine Coleman, Sara Colunga-Santoyo, Jeffrey S. Harrison and Danielle Wozniak at the Robins School of Business, University of Richmond. http://scholarship.richmond.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1016&context=robins-case-network)

The “Dieselgate” scandal exposed unethical and deceptive practices at Volkswagen, and hurt its brand image around the world.

New CEO Matthias Muller stated that his “most urgent task is to win back trust for the Volkswagen Group – by leaving no stone unturned and with maximum transparency.” 62

Among efforts to repair relationships with the key stakeholders affected by the scandal, the company has withdrawn its diesel cars from the market and is working through plans for recalling the affected vehicles that are already on the road.

The company has also undertaken a number of initiatives to repair important relationships with customers and dealers.

These attempts include reimbursement to dealers for holding inventory and new dealership incentives connected to sales of gasoline­ powered cars.v”

For customers affected by the scandal, Volkswagen has issued a “Goodwill Package” including gift cards, credits for services or products, and a three-year extension of roadside assistance. Perhaps this is enough.

Volkswagen’s major competitors have also been caught doing socially irresponsible or even reprehensible things in the past, and seem to have weathered their storms fairly well.

  • Should this current crisis, although unfortunate, be allowed to distract the company from other critical issues, such as rapidly advancing technologies?
  • What is the bigger picture with regard to the future of Volkswagen?
  • What should its strategic emphasis be moving forward?
  • And should the company completely abandon diesel technology?
  • In short, how can this highly successful company get back on the path towards becoming the best auto manufacturer in the world?

DEFEAT DEVICE SOFTWARE

Dan Carder, West Virginia University’s director of the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions said his lab first discovered anomalies in test correlations in early spring of 2013.

https://youtu.be/hOTKIZgppbs 

AUDI/VW PR advertising slogan was “Truth in Engineering”

Industry experts said the car industry faced a crisis similar to recent banking scandals.

Professor of Industry at Aston University, David Bailey, said;

“the government, manufacturers and regulators needed to act on the results of the study“.
“I liken this to the Libor crisis in banking. There is a fundamental question of confidence in the industry,” Bailey said.
“Clearly the testing regime needs to more accurately reflect the real world.
That is not happening at the moment, not just in terms of nitrogen oxide but fuel efficiency. There is also an issue of accountability and openness for manufacturers in terms of what they put into public domain.”


My conclusion

Of course emission standards should be as low as possible but they should also reflect economic and technical realities.
Under present standards car manufacturers have been able to exploit glaring loop holes in regulations, no doubt the extremely powerful Automotive lobby is active in ensuring the loop holes exist?
It’s clear that the VW tricks represent only the tip of the ice berg.
Other manufacturers have also exploited the same loop holes, BUT, for some reason they have not been punished by the media and authorities.
For example; the real emissions of many Ford, GM, Land rover, Volvo, Fiat and Renault cars are many times the permitted levels.

The first task therefore HAS to be European Court action and legislation to close all existing loop holes!
The result would be substantial reduction in emissions.

Lowering the emission limits will obviously also help but closing the loop holes will have a bigger impact.

Many (but not all) of the latest Euro 6 specification diesel engines will already meet the proposed emission standards.

The technology is already there but if, by exploiting loop holes, manufacturers can save a few hundred £ or € hand improve market share and a competitive edge – They will DEFINITELY do it. Especially in the EU as they won’t receive US level fines if their caught!

Maybe a big lesson here for US and UK – where corruption in government and business is rife

China’s Antigraft Enforcers Take On a New Role: Policing Loyalty Credit: CHRIS BUCKLEY (NYT, OCT. 22, 2016)

The Communist Party of China’s anticorruption commission has assumed a growing role as political inquisitor, investigating the commitment of cadres to Mr. Xi and his agenda. Credit: Jason Lee/Reuters

BEIJING — The investigators descend on government agencies and corporate boardrooms. They interrogate powerful officials and frequently rebuke them for lacking zeal. Most of all, they demand unflinching loyalty to President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party.

They are the inspectors from the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and the humbling displays they have orchestrated recently in many of China’s most influential government agencies and largest corporations are the most prominent sign of their expanding authority.

Best known as the country’s anticorruption agency, the commission has lately assumed a growing role as political inquisitor, investigating the loyalty and commitment of cadres to Mr. Xi and his agenda, while cementing the commission’s role as his chief political enforcer.

“It’s not just anticorruption, but more powerfully about central control,” said Jeremy L. Wallace, a political scientist at Cornell University who studies Chinese politics.

Mr. Xi will press his demands for top-down obedience at an annual meeting of the party’s Central Committee in Beijing starting Monday. The committee is expected to issue new rules for “comprehensive and strict management” of the party, especially its top ranks, giving the discipline commission even more leverage to police and punish officials.

The move reflects Mr. Xi’s ambitions and fears as he prepares for a second five-year term as national leader, and has confirmed the rise of the commission and its formidable secretary, Wang Qishan, a longtime ally of Mr. Xi now seen by many as the second-most powerful official in China.

But nothing has illustrated the new order as bluntly as the commission’s intimidating inspections, which the commission calls “political health checks.” They have scrutinized prominent agencies like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, the party’sDepartment of Propaganda and the nation’s biggest state companies.

The commission’s investigators have shown a taste for chastening displays of power in what has become a ritual of rebuke and repentance.

At the Ministry of Public Security headquarters in Beijing this month, for instance, hundreds of officers were marched into a cavernous auditorium to listen to investigators excoriate senior ministry officials for lacking “political judgment” and demand greater loyalty to Mr. Xi and the party.

Then their boss, Guo Shengkun, the minister of public security, rose to offer contrition, vowing to make his officers “even more steadfastly and conscientiously” obedient to Mr. Xi and other party leaders. “Loyalty to the party is the top political imperative,” he acknowledged.

Mr. Wang, the commission secretary, has pointedly warned officialsthat under his commission, “being red-faced and sweating will be the norm.”

Another notable target was the Propaganda Department, which the commission censured in June, saying that it “lacked vigor” and that “the political awareness of some leading officials has not been high.”

The criticism of such a powerful arm of the party fueled speculation of a factional rift at the top of Mr. Xi’s government. But dozens of other party and government agencies have faced similar reprimands.

The discipline commission has even taken a role in enforcing Mr. Xi’s economic policies, including efforts to cut back gluts of coal, steel and other industrial products.

But the core of its work is about loyalty to the party and its top leadership, referred to as the party center.

“The entire party must safeguard the authority of the party center,” Mr. Xi said in remarks featured recently on the commission’s website. “There can absolutely be no outwardly shouting that you’re in lock step with the party center while actually you’re not really paying attention.”

Underlying the push for stricter loyalty is fear, the leadership’s nagging nightmare of the Communist Party’s crumbling in a Soviet-style collapse.

“Rebuilding a disciplined hierarchical party organization is about avoiding the collapse Xi and other leaders observed in the Soviet Union,” said Melanie Manion, a political scientist at Duke University. “I think Xi views the stakes for China as very high, but the stakes for Xi as a leader are also high.”

The campaign appears to be timed to reinforce Mr. Xi’s grip on power as the Central Committee is about to set plans in motion to give himanother five-year term as party leader.

Some officials have been publicly swearing to uphold his “absolute authority.”

“Resolutely defend General Secretary Xi Jinping as the leading core of the party’s center,” Li Hongzhong, the party secretary of the port city of Tianjin, vowed at a meeting to respond to criticism of the city by discipline commission inspectors. “Resolutely defend the absolute authority of the leading core.”

For Mr. Xi, the commission has proved a versatile mechanism for fighting corruption, with its ancillary ability to take down or intimidate potential political opponents, and now to enforce loyalty. Its leader, Mr. Wang, is a trusted friend he has known since the 1960s, when the two were sent as youths to labor in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

The commission has long had the power to secretly detain officials without court approval, a contentious and feared tool. But past leaders lacked the authority to take on the corruption and abuses that have flourished since the economic liberalization of the 1990s.

Mr. Wang, with Mr. Xi’s backing, has freed the commission of organizational shackles that once allowed local officials to stymie it, and he has taken to the task with enthusiasm.

Photo

The anticorruption campaign appears to be timed to reinforce Mr. Xi’s grip on power as he anticipates another five-year term as party leader. Credit: Wu Hong/European Pressphoto Agency

“The challenge that worries us most comes from within, from within the People’s Republic of China and from within our own party,” he said in a closed-door speech to his inspectors last year that was leaked on the internet.

He told them that the pressure would not let up. “I’ve said there’ll be no end to this, because if there’s a backlash, there’ll be big problems,” he said.

The dual missions go hand in hand. Mr. Xi and Mr. Wang see corruption as a symptom of a breakdown of control in the party that also spawned disloyal cliques, resistance to policies and disillusionment. They worry that those undercurrents could undermine Mr. Xi and his plans to revive party power.

On a practical level, the anticorruption campaign has deprived thousands of local officials of illicit income, eliciting discontent that the loyalty campaign aims to eradicate.

“The anticorruption campaign has created a lot of resentment and disincentives among public officials,” Ling Li, a lecturer at the University of Vienna who has studied the commission, said in an email. “Political discipline is to repress that resentment and to recreate an incentive for public service.”

So far there have been no signs of public backlash to the campaign. But there are fears that it risks undermining Mr. Xi’s efforts to rejuvenate the economy.

As the discipline commission has taken a role in enforcing economic policies, censuring state-controlled companies and banks, foreign investors have become worried about the effects on their Chinese business partners and clients.

The number of Chinese corporations under investigation by the commission grew to at least 60 last year, from six in 2013, said James M. Zimmerman, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China.

American businesses should not tolerate corruption, he said, but “we are very much concerned about the expanding scope and uncertain duration of C.C.D.I. investigations, which appears to have extended nationwide and to practically every sector of the economy.”

More broadly, the centralization of power, incessant inspections and demands for conformity have sapped the morale of government officials, experts and investors said. China’s past spurts of economic rejuvenation often came from letting officials take risks, but the relentless pressure for loyalty to the top has instilled caution.

Even the state-run news media and some supporters of Mr. Xi have begun to obliquely acknowledge that the pressure on the officials is taking a toll.

“Since last year, our politics have become very anxiety-ridden, and President Xi is facing passive resistance across the country,” Jin Canrong, a political scientist at Renmin University in Beijing, said in arecent speech.

“There is widespread inaction from local elites and local governments,” he said. “Nobody opposes, but nobody does anything.”

 

Posing as a non-political solidarity organization, the Syria Campaign leverages local partners and media contacts to push the U.S. into toppling another Middle Eastern government.

On September 30, demonstrators gathered in city squares across the West for a “weekend of action” to “stop the bombs” raining down from Syrian government and Russian warplanes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

Thousands joined the protests, holding signs that read “Topple Assad” and declaring, “Enough With Assad.” Few participants likely knew that the actions were organised under the auspices of an opposition-funded public relations company called the Syria Campaign.

By partnering with local groups like the Syrian civil defense workers popularly known as the White Helmets, and through a vast network of connections in media and centers of political influence, The Syria Campaign has played a crucial role in disseminating images and stories of the horrors visited this month on eastern Aleppo.

The group is able to operate within the halls of power in Washington and has the power to mobilize thousands of demonstrators into the streets. Despite its outsized role in shaping how the West sees Syria’s civil war, which is now in its sixth year and entering one of its grisliest phases, this outfit remains virtually unknown to the general public.

The Syria Campaign presents itself as an impartial, non-political voice for ordinary Syrian citizens that is dedicated to civilian protection. “We see ourselves as a solidarity organization,” The Syria Campaign strategy director James Sadri told me. “We’re not being paid by anybody to pursue a particular line. We feel like we’ve done a really good job about finding out who the frontline activists, doctors, humanitarians are and trying to get their word out to the international community.”

Yet behind the lofty rhetoric about solidarity and the images of heroic rescuers rushing in to save lives is an agenda that aligns closely with the forces from Riyadh to Washington clamoring for regime change.

Indeed, The Syria Campaign has been pushing for a no-fly zone in Syria that would require at least “70,000 American servicemen” to enforce, according to a Pentagon assessment, along with the destruction of government infrastructure and military installations. There is no record of a no-fly zone being imposed without regime change following — which seems to be exactly what The Syria Campaign and its partners want.

“For us to control all the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia. That’s a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make,” said Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee this month.

While the military brass in Washington seems reluctant to apply the full force of its airpower to enforce a NFZ, The Syria Campaign is capitalizing on the outrage inspired by the bombardment of rebel-held eastern Aleppo this year to intensify the drumbeat for greater U.S. military involvement.

The Syria Campaign has been careful to cloak interventionism in the liberal-friendly language of human rights, casting Western military action as “the best way to support Syrian refugees,” and packaging a no-fly zone — along with so-called safe zones and no bombing zones, which would also require Western military enforcement — as a “way to protect civilians and defeat ISIS.”

Among The Syria Campaign’s most prominent vehicles for promoting military intervention is a self-proclaimed “unarmed and impartial” civil defense group known as the White Helmets.

Footage of the White Helmets saving civilians trapped in the rubble of buildings bombed by the Syrian government and its Russian ally has become ubiquitous in coverage of the crisis. Having claimed to have saved tens of thousands of lives, the group has become a leading resource for journalists and human rights groups seeking information inside the war theater, from casualty figures to details on the kind of bombs that are falling.

But like The Syria Campaign, the White Helmets are anything but impartial. Indeed, the group was founded in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Office of Transitional Initiatives, an explicitly political wing of the agency that has funded efforts at political subversion in Cuba and Venezuela.

USAID is the White Helmets’ principal funder, committing at least $23 million to the group since 2013. This money was part of $339.6 million budgeted by USAID for “supporting activities that pursue a peaceful transition to a democratic and stable Syria” — or establishing a parallel governing structure that could fill the power vacuum once Bashar Al-Assad was removed.

Thanks to an aggressive public relations push by The Syria Campaign, the White Helmets have been nominated for the Nobel Prize, and have already been awarded the “alternative Nobel” known as the Right Livelihood Award. (Previous winners include Amy Goodman, Edward Snowden and Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu.)

At the same time, the White Helmets are pushing for a NFZ in public appearances and on a website created by The Syria Campaign.

The Syria Campaign has garnered endorsements for the White Helmets from a host of Hollywood celebrities including Ben Affleck, Alicia Keyes and Justin Timberlake. And with fundraising and“outreach” performed by The Syria Campaign, the White Helmets have become the stars of a slickly produced Netflix documentary vehicle that has received hype from media outlets across the West.

But making the White Helmets into an international sensation is just one of a series of successes The Syria Campaign has achieved in its drive to oust Syria’s government.

Targeting the UN in Damascus 

When an aid convoy organized by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs came under attack on its way to the rebel-held countryside of West Aleppo in Syria this September 18, the White Helmets pinned blame squarely on the Syrian and Russian governments.

In fact, a White Helmets member was among the first civilians to appear on camera at the scene of the attack, declaring in English that “the regime helicopters targeted this place with four barrel [bombs].”

The White Helmets also produced one of the major pieces of evidence Western journalists have relied on to implicate Russia and the Syrian government in the attack: a photograph supposedly depicting the tail fragment of a Russian-made OFAB 250-270 fragmentation bomb. (This account remains unconfirmed by both the UN and SARC, and no evidence of barrel bombs has been produced).

Ironically, the White Helmets figured prominently in The Syria Campaign’s push to undermine the UN’s humanitarian work inside Syria. For months, The Syria Campaign has painted the UN as a stooge of Bashar Al-Assad for coordinating its aid deliveries with the Syrian government, as it has done with governments in conflict zones around the world. The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen praised a 50-page report by The Syria Campaign attacking the UN’s work in Syria as “damning.”

A subsequent Guardian article cited the report as part of the inspiration for its own “exclusive” investigation slamming the UN’s coordination with the Syrian government.

At a website created by The Syria Campaign to host the report, visitors are greeted by a UN logo drenched in blood.

The Syria Campaign has even taken credit for forcing former UN Resident Coordinator Yacoub El-Hillo out of his job in Damascus, a false claim it was later forced to retract. Among the opposition groups that promoted The Syria Campaign’s anti-UN report was Ahrar Al-Sham, a jihadist rebel faction that has allied with Al Qaeda in a mission to establish an exclusively Islamic state across Syria.

A Westerner who operates a politically neutral humanitarian NGO in Damascus offered me a withering assessment of The Syria Campaign’s attacks on the UN. Speaking on condition of anonymity because NGO workers like them are generally forbidden from speaking to the media, and often face repercussions if they do, the source accused The Syria Campaign of “dividing and polarizing the humanitarian community” along political lines while forcing humanitarian entities to “make decisions based on potential media repercussions instead of focusing on actual needs on the ground.”

The NGO executive went on to accuse The Syria Campaign and its partners in the opposition of “progressively identifying the humanitarian workers operating from Damascus with one party to the conflict,” limiting their ability to negotiate access to rebel-held territory.
“As a humanitarian worker myself,” they explained, “I know that this puts me and my teams in great danger since it legitimizes warring factions treating you as an extension of one party in the conflict.

“The thousands of Syrians that signed up with the UN or humanitarian organizations are civilians,” they continued. “They not only joined to get a salary but in hopes of doing something good for other Syrians. This campaign [by The Syria Campaign] is humiliating all of them, labelling them as supporters of one side and making them lose hope in becoming agents of positive change in their own society.”

This September, days before the aid convoy attack prompted the UN to suspend much of its work inside Syria, The Syria Campaign spurred 73 aid organizations operating in rebel-held territory, including the White Helmets, to suspend their cooperation with the UN aid program. As the Guardian noted in its coverage, “The decision to withdraw from the Whole of Syria programme, in which organisations share information to help the delivery of aid, means in practice the UN will lose sight of what is happening throughout the north of Syria and in opposition-held areas of the country, where the NGOs do most of their work.”

Despite The Syria Campaign’s influence on the international media stage, details on the outfit’s inner workings are difficult to come by. The Syria Campaign is registered in England as a private company called the Voices Project at an address shared by 91 other companies. Aside from Asfari, most of The Syria Campaign’s donors are anonymous.

Looming over this opaque operation are questions about its connections to Avaaz, a global public relations outfit that played an instrumental role in generating support for a no-fly zone in Libya, and The Syria Campaign’s founding by Purpose, another PR firm spun out of Avaaz. James Sadri bristled when I asked about the issue, dismissing it as a “crank conspiracy” ginned up by Russian state media and hardcore Assadist elements.

However, a careful look at the origins and operation of The Syria Campaign raises doubts about the outfit’s image as an authentic voice for Syrian civilians, and should invite serious questions about the agenda of its partner organizations as well.

A creation of international PR firms

Best known for its work on liberal social issues with well-funded progressive clients like the ACLU and the police reform group, Campaign Zero, the New York- and London-based public relations firm Purpose promises to deliver creatively executed campaigns that produce either a “behavior change,” “perception change,” “policy change” or “infrastructure change.” As the Syrian conflict entered its third year, this company was ready to effect a regime change.

On Feb. 3, 2014, Anna Nolan, the senior strategist at Purpose, posted a job listing. According to Nolan’s listing, her firm was seeking “two interns to join the team at Purpose to help launch a new movement for Syria.”

At around the same time, another Purpose staffer named Ali Weiner posted a job listing seeking a paid intern for the PR firm’s new Syrian Voices project. “Together with Syrians in the diaspora and NGO partners,” Weiner wrote, “Purpose is building a movement that will amplify the voices of moderate, non-violent Syrians and mobilize people in the Middle East and around the world to call for specific changes in the political and humanitarian situation in the region.” She explained that the staffer would report “to a Strategist based primarily in London, but will work closely with the Purpose teams in both London and New York.”

On June 16, 2014, Purpose founder Jeremy Heimans drafted articles of association for The Syria Campaign’s parent company. Called the Voices Project, Heimans registered the company at 3 Bull Lane, St. Ives Cambridgeshire, England. It was one of 91 private limited companies listed at the address.

Sadri would not explain why The Syria Campaign had chosen this location or why it was registered as a private company.

Along with Heimans, Purpose Europe director Tim Dixon was appointed to The Syria Campaign’s board of directors. So was John Jackson, a Purpose strategist who previously co-directed the Burma Campaign U.K. that lobbied the EU for sanctions against that country’s ruling regime. (Jackson claimed credit for The Syria Campaign’s successful push to remove Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad’s re-election campaign ads from Facebook.) Anna Nolan became The Syria Campaign’s project director, even as she remained listed as the strategy director at Purpose.

“Purpose is not involved in what we do,” The Syria Campaign’s Sadri told me. When pressed about the presence of several Purpose strategists on The Syria Campaign’s board of directors and staff, Sadri insisted, “We’re not part of Purpose. There’s no financial relationship and we’re independent.”

Sadri dismissed allegations about The Syria Campaign’s origins in Avaaz.

“We have no connection to Avaaz,” he stated, blaming conspiratorial “Russia Today stuff” for linking the two public relations groups.

However, Purpose’s original job listing for its Syrian Voices project boasted that “Purpose grew out of some of the most impactful new models for social change” including “the now 30 million strong action network avaaz.org.” In fact, The Syria Campaign’s founder, Purpose co-founder Jeremy Heimans, was also one of the original founders of Avaaz. As he told Forbes, “I co-founded Avaaz and [the Australian activist group] Get Up, which inspired the creation of Purpose.”

New and improved no-fly zone

The Syria Campaign’s defensiveness about ties to Avaaz is understandable.

Back in 2011, Avaaz introduced a public campaign for a no-fly zone in Libya and delivered a petition with 1,202,940 signatures to the UN supporting Western intervention. John Hilary, the executive director of War On Want, the U.K.’s leading anti-poverty and anti-war charity, warned at the time,

“Little do most of these generally well-meaning activists know, they are strengthening the hands of those western governments desperate to reassert their interests in north Africa… Clearly a no-fly zone makes foreign intervention sound rather humanitarian—putting the emphasis on stopping bombing, even though it could well lead to an escalation of violence.”

John Hilary’s dire warning was fulfilled after the NATO-enforced no-fly zone prompted the ouster of former President Moamar Qaddafi. Months later, Qaddafi was sexually assaulted and beaten to death in the road by a mob of fanatics. The Islamic State and an assortment of militias filled the void left in the Jamahiriya government’s wake. The political catastrophe should have been serious enough to call future interventions of this nature into question.
Yet Libya’s legacy failed to deter Avaaz from introducing a new campaign for another no-fly zone; this time in Syria.

“To some a no-fly zone could conjure up images of George W. Bush’s foreign policy and illegal Western interventions. This is a different thing,” Avaaz insisted in a communique defending its support for a new no-fly zone in Syria.

Sadri portrayed The Syria Campaign’s support for a no-fly zone as the product of a “deep listening process” involving the polling of Syrian civilians in rebel-held territories and refugees outside the country. He claimed his outfit was a “solidarity organization,” not a public relations firm, and was adamant that if and when a no-fly zone is imposed over Syrian skies, it would be different than those seen in past conflicts.

“There also seems to be a critique of a no-fly zone which is slapping on templates from other conflicts and saying this is what will happen in Syria,” Sadri commented. He added, “I’m just trying to encourage us away from a simplistic debate. There’s a kneejerk reaction to Syria to say, ’It’s Iraq or it’s Libya,’ but it’s not. It’s an entirely different conflict.”

Funding a “credible transition”

For the petroleum mogul who provided the funding that launched the Syria Project, the means of military intervention justified an end in which he could return to the country of his birth and participate in its economic life on his own terms.

Though The Syria Campaign claims to “refuse funding from any party to the conflict in Syria,” it was founded and is sustained with generous financial assistance from one of the most influential exile figures of the opposition, Ayman Asfari, the U.K.-based CEO of the British oil and gas supply company Petrofac Limited.

Asfari is worth $1.2 billion and owns about one-fifth of the shares of his company, which boasts 18,000 employees and close to $7 billion in annual revenues.

Through his Asfari Foundation, he has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to The Syria Campaign and has secured a seat for his wife, Sawsan, on its board of directors. He has also been a top financial and political supporter of the Syrian National Coalition, the largest government-in-exile group set up after the Syrian revolt began. The group is dead-set on removing Assad and replacing him with one of its own. Asfari’s support for opposition forces was so pronounced the Syrian government filed a warrant for his arrest, accusing him of supporting “terrorism.”

In London, Asfari has been a major donor to former British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party. This May, Cameron keynoted a fundraiser for the Hands Up for Syria Appeal, a charity heavily supported by Asfari that sponsors education for Syrian children living in refugee camps. The Prime Minister might have seemed like an unusual choice for the event given his staunch resistance to accepting unaccompanied Syrian children who have fled to Europe. However, Asfari has generally supported Cameron’s exclusionary policy.

Grilled about his position during an episode of BBC’s Hardtalk, Asfari explained, “I do not want the country to be emptied. I still have a dream that those guys [refugees] will be able to go back to their homes and they will be able to play a constructive role in putting Syria back together.”

In Washington, Asfari is regarded as an important liaison to the Syrian opposition. He has visited the White House eight times since 2014, meeting with officials like Philip Gordon, the former Middle East coordinator who was an early advocate for arming the insurgency in Syria. Since leaving the administration, however, Gordon has expressed regret over having embraced a policy of regime change. In a lengthy September 2015 editorial for Politico, Gordon slammed the Obama administration’s pursuit of regime change, writing, “There is now virtually no chance that an opposition military ‘victory’ will lead to stable or peaceful governance in Syria in the foreseeable future and near certainty that pursuing one will only lead to many more years of vicious civil war.”

Asfari publicly chastised Gordon days later on Hardtalk. “I have written to [Gordon] an email after I saw that article in Politico and I told him I respectfully disagree,” Asfari remarked. “I think the idea that we are going to have a transition in Syria with Assad in it for an indefinite period is fanciful. Because at the end of the day, what the people want is a credible transition.”

For Asfari, a “credible” post-war transition would require much more than refugee repatriation and the integration of opposition forces into the army: “Will you get the Syrian diaspora, including people like myself, to go back and invest in the country?” he asked on Hardtalk. “…If we do not achieve any of these objectives, what’s the point of having a free Syria?”

The Independent has described Asfari as one among of a pantheon of “super rich” exiles poised to rebuild a post-Assad Syria — and to reap handsome contracts in the process. To reach his goal of returning to Syria in triumph after the downfall of Assad’s government, Asfari not only provided the seed money for The Syria Campaign, he has helped sustain the group with hefty donations.

Just this year, the Asfari Foundation donated $180,000 to the outfit, according to The Syria Campaign’s media lead Laila Kiki. Asfari is not The Syria Campaign’s only donor, however. According to Kiki, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund also contributed $120,000 to the outfit’s $800,000 budget this year. “The rest of the funds come from donors who wish to remain anonymous,” she explained.

Shaping the message

Among The Syria Campaign’s main priorities, for which it has apparently budgeted a substantial amount of resources, is moving Western media in a more interventionist direction.

When The Syria Campaign placed an ad on its website seeking a senior press officer upon its launch in 2014, it emphasized its need for “someone who can land pieces in the U.S., U.K. and European [media] markets in the same week.” The company’s ideal candidate would be able to “maintain strong relationships with print, broadcast, online journalists, editors in order to encourage them to see TSC as a leading voice on Syria.” Prioritizing PR experience over political familiarity, The Syria Campaign reassured applicants, “You don’t need to be an expert on Syria or speak Arabic.” After all, the person would be working in close coordination with an unnamed “Syrian communications officer who will support on story gathering and relationships inside Syria.”

Sadri acknowledged that The Syria Campaign has been involved in shopping editorials to major publications. “There have been op-eds in the past that we’ve helped get published, written by people on the ground. There’s a lot of op-eds going out from people inside Syria,” he told me. But he would not say which ones, who the authors were, or if his company played any role in their authorship.

One recent incident highlighted The Syria Campaign’s skillful handling of press relationships from Aleppo to media markets across the West. It was August 17, and a Syrian or Russian warplane had just hit an apartment building in rebel-held eastern Aleppo. Sophie McNeill, a Middle East correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, received a photo from the Syrian American Medical Society, which maintains a WhatsApp group networking doctors inside rebel territory with international media.

The photo showed a five-year-old boy, Omran Daqneesh, who had been extracted from the building by members of the White Helmets and hoisted into an ambulance, where he was filmed by members of the Aleppo Media Center. The chilling image depicts a dazed little boy, seated upright and staring at nothing, his pudgy cheeks caked in ash and blood. “Video then emerged of Omran as he sat blinking in the back of that ambulance,” McNeill wrote without explaining who provided her with the video. She immediately posted the footage on Twitter.

“Watch this video from Aleppo tonight. And watch it again. And remind yourself that with #Syria #wecantsaywedidntknow,” McNeill declared. Her post was retweeted over 17,000 times and the hashtag she originated, which implied international inaction against the Syrian government made such horrors possible, became a viral sensation as well. (McNeill did not respond to questions sent to her publicly listed email.)

Hours later, the image of Omran appeared on the front page of dozens of international newspapers, from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to the Times of London. CNN’s Kate Bolduan, who had suggested during Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip in 2014 that civilian casualties were, in fact, human shields, broke down in tears during an extended segment detailing the rescue of Omran.

Abu Sulaiman Al-Muhajir, the Australian citizen serving as a top leader and spokesman for Al Qaeda’s Syrian offshoot, Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, took a special interest in the boy. “I cannot get conditioned to seeing injured/murdered children,” Al-Muhajir wrote on Facebook. “Their innocent faces should serve as a reminder of our responsibility.”

Seizing on the opportunity, The Syria Campaign gathered quotes from the photographer who captured the iconic image, Mahmoud Raslan, and furnished them to an array of media organizations. While many outlets published Raslan’s statements, Public Radio International was among the few that noted The Syria Campaign’s role in serving them up, referring to the outfit as “a pro-opposition advocacy group with a network of contacts in Syria.”

On August 20, McNeill took to Facebook with a call to action: “Were you horrified by the footage of little Omran?” she asked her readers. “Can’t stop thinking about him? Well don’t just retweet, be outraged for 24 hours and move on. Hear what two great humanitarians for Syria, Zaher Sahloul & James Sadri, want you to do now.”

Sadri happened to be the director of The Syria Campaign and Sahloul was the Syrian American Medical Society director who partnered with The Syria Campaign. In the article McNeill wrote about Omran’s photo, which was linked in her Facebook post, both Sahloul and Sadri urged Westerners to join their call for a no-fly zone— a policy McNeill tacitly endorsed. (Sahloul was recently promoted by the neoconservative columnist Eli Lake for accusing Obama of having “allowed a genocide in Syria.” This September, Sahloul joined up with the Jewish United Federation of Chicago, a leading opponent of Palestine solidarity organizing, to promote his efforts.)

As the outrage inspired by the image of Omran spread, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (a friend and publisher of Syria Campaign board member Lina Sergie Attar) called for “fir[ing] missiles from outside Syria to crater [Syrian] military runways to make them unusable.” Meanhwile, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough waved around the photo of Omran and indignantlydeclared, “The world will look back. Save your hand-wringing…you can still do something right now. But nothing’s been done.”

As breathless editorials and cable news tirades denounced the Obama administration’s supposed “inaction,” public pressure for a larger-scale Western military campaign was approaching an unprecedented level.

Damage control for opposition extremists

The day after Omran made headlines, the left-wing British news site the Canary publicized another photograph that exposed a grim reality behind the iconic image.

Culled from the Facebook page of Mahmoud Raslan, the activist from the American-operated Aleppo Media Center who took the initial video of Omran, it showed Raslan posing for a triumphant selfie with a group of rebel fighters. The armed men hailed from the Nour Al-Din Al-Zenki faction. At least two of the commanders who appeared in the photo with Raslan had recently beheaded a boy they captured, referring to him in video footage as “child” while they taunted and abused him. The boy has been reported to be a 12-year-old named Abdullah Issa and may have been a member of the Liwa Al-Quds pro-government Palestinian militia.

This was not the only time Raslan had appeared with Al-Zenki fighters or expressed his sympathy. On August 2, he posted a selfie to Facebook depicting himself surrounded by mostly adolescent Al-Zenki fighters dressed in battle fatigues. “With the suicide fighters, from the land of battles and butchery, from Aleppo of the martyrs, we bring you tidings of impending joy, with God’s permission,” Raslan wrote. He sported a headband matching those worn by the “suicide fighters.”

Despite its unsavory tendencies and extremist ideological leanings, Al-Zenki was until 2015 a recipient of extensive American funding, with at least 1000 of its fighters on the CIA payroll. Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute who has said his research on the Syrian opposition was “100% funded by Western govts,” has branded Al-Zenki as “moderate opposition fighters.”

This August, after the video of Al-Zenki members beheading the adolescent boy appeared online, Sam Heller, a fellow for the Washington-based Century Foundation, argued for restoring the rebel group’s CIA funding. Describing Al-Zenki as “a natural, if unpalatable, partner,” Heller contended that “if Washington insists on keeping its hands perfectly clean, there’s probably no Syrian faction—in the opposition, or on any side of the war—that merits support.”

This September 24, Al-Zenki formally joined forces with the jihadist Army of Conquest led by Al Qaeda-established jihadist group, Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham. For its part, The Syria Campaign coordinated the release of a statement with Raslan explaining away his obvious affinity with Al-Zenki. Sophie McNeill, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reporter who was among the first to publish the famous Omran photo, dutifully published Raslan’s statement on Twitter, acknowledging The Syria Campaign as its source.

Curiously describing the beheading victim as a 19-year-old and not the “child” his beheaders claimed he was, Raslan pleaded ignorance about the Al-Zenki fighters’ backgrounds: “It was a busy day with lots of different people and groups on the streets. As a war photographer I take lots of photos with civilians and fighters.”

Mahmoud Raslan may not have been the most effective local partner, but The Syria Campaign could still count on the White Helmets.

Max Blumenthal is a senior editor of the Grayzone Project at AlterNet, and the award-winning author of Goliath and Republican Gomorrah. His most recent book is The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter at @MaxBlumenthal.

CIA propaganda in Iraq

Thatcher era, Conservative party PR firm, Bell Pottinger’s former chairman Lord Tim Bell confirmed to the Sunday Times, which has worked with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on this story, that the PR firm known for representing unsavoury characters, was paid $540Million to make FAKE terrorist videos and “false flag” events.
The PR agency’s staff worked alongside high-ranking U.S. military officers in their Baghdad “Camp Victory” headquarters as the insurgency raged outside.
 

A controversial foreign PR firm known for representing unsavory characters was paid millions by the Pentagon to create fake terrorist videos.

The Pentagon gave a controversial UK PR firm over half a billion dollars to run a top secret propaganda program in Iraq, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal.

Bell Pottinger’s output included short TV segments made in the style of Arabic news networks and fake insurgent videos which could be used to track the people who watched them, according to a former employee.

The agency’s staff worked alongside high-ranking U.S. military officers in their Baghdad Camp Victory headquarters as the insurgency raged outside.

Bell Pottinger’s former chairman Lord Tim Bell confirmed to the Sunday Times, which has worked with the Bureau on this story, that his firm had worked on a “covert” military operation “covered by various secrecy documents.”

Bell Pottinger reported to the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Council on its work in Iraq, he said.

Bell, one of Britain’s most successful public relations executives, is credited with honing Margaret Thatcher’s steely image and helping the Conservative party win three elections. The agency he co-founded has had a roster of clients including repressive regimes and Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian president.

In the first media interview any Bell Pottinger employee has given about the work for the U.S. military in Iraq, video editor Martin Wells told the Bureau his time in Camp Victory was “shocking, eye-opening, life-changing.”

The firm’s output was signed off by former General David Petraeus – then commander of the coalition forces in Iraq – and on occasion by the White House, he said.

Bell Pottinger produced reams of material for the Pentagon, some of it going far beyond standard communications work.

The Bureau traced the firm’s Iraq work through US army contracting censuses, reports by the Defense Department’s Inspector General and federal procurement transaction records, as well as Bell Pottinger’s corporate filings and specialist publications on military propaganda. We interviewed half a dozen former officials and contractors involved in information operations in Iraq.

There were three types of media operations commonly used in Iraq at the time, said a military contractor familiar with Bell Pottinger’s work there.

“White is attributed, it says who produced it on the label,” the contractor said.
“Grey is unattributed and black is falsely attributed.
These types of black ops, used for tracking who is watching a certain thing, were a pretty standard part of the industry toolkit.”

Bell Pottinger’s work in Iraq was a huge media operation which cost over a hundred million dollars a year on average. A document unearthed by the Bureau shows the company was employing almost 300 British and Iraqi staff at one point.

The London-based PR agency was brought into Iraq soon after the U.S. invasion. In March 2004 it was tasked by the country’s temporary administration with the “promotion of democratic elections” – a “high-profile activity” which it trumpeted in its annual report.

The firm soon switched to less high-profile activities, however. The Bureau has identified transactions worth $540 million between the Pentagon and Bell Pottinger for information operations and psychological operations on a series of contracts issued from May 2007 to December 2011. A similar contract at around the same annual rate-$120 million-was in force in 2006, we have been told.

The bulk of the money was for costs such as production and distribution, Lord Bell told the Sunday Times, but the firm would have made around £15m a year in fees.

Martin Wells, the ex-employee, told the Bureau he had no idea what he was getting into when he was interviewed for the Bell Pottinger job in May 2006.

He had been working as a freelance video editor and got a call from his agency suggesting he go to London for an interview for a potential new gig. “You’ll be doing new stuff that’ll be coming out of the Middle East,” he was told.

“I thought ‘That sounds interesting’,” Wells recalled. “So I go along and go into this building, get escorted up to the sixth floor in a lift, come out and there’s guards up there. I thought what on earth is going on here? And it turns out it was a Navy post, basically. So from what I could work out it was a media intelligence gathering unit.”

After a brief chat Wells asked when he would find out about the job, and was surprised by the response.

“You’ve already got it,” he was told. “We’ve already done our background checks into you.”

He would be flying out on Monday, Wells was told. It was Friday afternoon. He asked where he would be going and got a surprising answer: Baghdad.

“So I literally had 48 hours to gather everything I needed to live in a desert,” Wells said.

Days later, Wells’s plane executed a corkscrew landing to avoid insurgent fire at Baghdad airport. He assumed he would be taken to somewhere in the Green Zone, from which coalition officials were administering Iraq. Instead he found himself in Camp Victory, a military base.

It turned out that the British PR firm which had hired him was working at the heart of a U.S. military intelligence operation.

A tide of violence was engulfing the Iraqi capital as Wells began his contract. The same month he arrived there were five suicide bomb attacks in the city, including one a suicide car bomb attack near Camp Victory which killed 14 people and wounded six others.

Describing his first impressions, Wells said he was struck by a working environment very unlike what he was used to. “It was a very secure building,” he recalled, with “signs outside saying ‘Do not come in, it’s a classified area, if you’re not cleared, you can’t come in.’”

Inside were two or three rooms with lots of desks in, said Wells, with one section for Bell Pottinger staff and the other for the US military.

“I made the mistake of walking into one of the [U.S. military] areas, and having a very stern American military guy basically drag me out saying you are not allowed in here under any circumstances, this is highly classified, get out-whilst his hand was on his gun, which was a nice introduction,” said Wells.

It soon became apparent he would be doing much more than just editing news footage.

The work consisted of three types of products.
The first was television commercials portraying al Qaeda in a negative light.
The second was news items which were made to look as if they had been “created by Arabic TV”, Wells said.
“Bell Pottinger would send teams out to film low-definition video of al Qaeda bombings and then edit it like a piece of news footage”. It would be voiced in Arabic and distributed to TV stations across the region, according to Wells.

The American origins of the news items were sometimes kept hidden. Revelations in 2005 that PR contractor the Lincoln Group had helped the Pentagon place articles in Iraqi newspapers, sometimes presented as unbiased news, led to a Department of Defense investigation.

The third and most sensitive program described by Wells was the production of fake al Qaeda propaganda films. He told the Bureau how the videos were made. He was given precise instructions:
“We need to make this style of video and we’ve got to use al Qaeda’s footage,” he was told. “We need it to be 10 minutes long, and it needs to be in this file format, and we need to encode it in this manner.”

US marines would take the CDs on patrol and drop them in the chaos when they raided targets. Wells said: “If they’re raiding a house and they’re going to make a mess of it looking for stuff anyway, they’d just drop an odd CD there.”

The CDs were set up to use Real Player, a popular media streaming application which connects to the internet to run. Wells explained how the team embedded a code into the CDs which linked to a Google Analytics account, giving a list of IP addresses where the CDs had been played.

The tracking account had a very restricted circulation list, according to Wells: the data went to him, a senior member of the Bell Pottinger management team, and one of the U.S. military commanders.

Wells explained their intelligence value. “If one is looked at in the middle of Baghdad…you know there’s a hit there,” he said. “If one, 48 hours or a week later shows up in another part of the world, then that’s the more interesting one, and that’s what they’re looking for more, because that gives you a trail.”

The CDs turned up in some interesting places, Wells recalled, including Iran, Syria, and even America.

“I would do a print-out for the day and, if anything interesting popped up, hand it over to the bosses and then it would be dealt with from there,” he said.

The Pentagon confirmed that Bell Pottinger did work for them as a contractor in Iraq under the Information Operations Task Force (IOTF), producing some material that was openly sourced to coalition forces, and some which was not. They insisted that all material put out by IOTF was “truthful”.

IOTF was not the only mission Bell Pottinger worked on however. Wells said some Bell Pottinger work was carried out under the Joint Psychological Operations Task Force (JPOTF), which a US defense official confirmed.

The official said he could not comment in detail on JPOTF activities, adding “We do not discuss intelligence gathering methods for operations past and present.”

Lord Bell, who stood down as chairman of Bell Pottinger earlier this year, told the Sunday Times that the deployment of tracking devices described by Wells was “perfectly possible”, but he was personally unaware of it.

Bell Pottinger’s output was signed off by the commander of coalition forces in Iraq. Wells recalled: “We’d get the two colonels in to look at the things we’d done that day, they’d be fine with it, it would then go to General Petraeus”.

Some of the projects went even higher up the chain of command. “If [Petraeus] couldn’t sign off on it, it would go on up the line to the White House, and it was signed off up there, and the answer would come back down the line’.

Petraeus went on to become director of the CIA in 2011 before resigning in the wake of an affair with a journalist.

The awarding of such a large contract to a British company created resentment among the American communications firms jostling for Iraq work, according to a former employee of one of Bell Pottinger’s rivals.

“Nobody could work out how a British company could get hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. funding when there were equally capable U.S. companies who could have done it,” said Andrew Garfield, an ex-employee of the Lincoln Group who is now a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “The American companies were pissed.”

Ian Tunnicliffe, a former British soldier, was the head of a three person panel from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)-the transitional government in Iraq following the 2003 invasion-which awarded Bell Pottinger their 2004 contract to promote democratic elections.

According to Tunnicliffe, the contract, which totalled $5.8m, was awarded after the CPA realised its own in-house efforts to make people aware of the transitional legal framework ahead of elections were not working.

“We held a relatively hasty but still competitive bid for communications companies to come in,” recalls Tunnicliffe.

Tunnicliffe said that Bell Pottinger’s consortium was one of three bidders for the contract, and simply put in a more convincing proposal than their rivals.

Iraq was a lucrative opportunity for many communications firms. The Bureau has discovered that between 2006 and 2008 more than 40 companies were being paid for services such as TV and radio placement, video production, billboards, advertising and opinion polls.

These included US companies like Lincoln Group, Leonie Industries and SOS International as well as Iraq-based firms such as Cradle of New Civilization Media, Babylon Media and Iraqi Dream.

But the largest sums the Bureau was able to trace went to Bell Pottinger.

According to Glen Segell, who worked in an information operations task force in Iraq in 2006, contractors were used partly because the military didn’t have the in-house expertise, and partly because they were operating in a legal “grey area”.

In his 2011 article Covert Intelligence Provision in Iraq, Segell notes that U.S. law prevented the government from using propaganda on the domestic population of the U.S. In a globalized media environment, the Iraq operations could theoretically have been seen back home, therefore “it was prudent legally for the military not to undertake all the…activities,” Segell wrote.

Segell maintains that information operations programs did make a difference on the ground in Iraq. Some experts question this however.

A 2015 study by the Rand Corporation, a military think tank, concluded that “generating assessments of efforts to inform, influence, and persuade has proven to be challenging across the government and DoD.”

Bell Pottinger’s operations on behalf of the U.S. government stopped in 2011 as American troops withdrew from Iraq.

Bell Pottinger changed ownership after a management buyout in 2012 and its current structure has no connections with the unit Wells worked for, which closed in 2011. It is understood the key principals who were involved in this unit deny any involvement with tracking software as described by Wells.

Wells left Iraq after less than two years, having had enough of the stress of working in a war zone and having to watch graphic videos of atrocities day after day.

Looking back at his time creating propaganda for the US military, Wells is ambivalent. The aim of Bell Pottinger’s work in Iraq was to highlight al Qaeda’s senseless violence, he said-publicity which at the time he thought must be doing some good. “But then, somewhere in my conscience I wondered whether this was the right thing to do,” he added.

Lord Bell told the Sunday Times he was “proud” of Bell Pottinger’s work in Iraq. “We did a lot to help resolve the situation,” he said. “Not enough. We did not stop the mess which emerged, but it was part of the American propaganda machinery.”

Whether the material achieved its goals, no one would ever really know, said Wells. “I mean if you look at the situation now, it wouldn’t appear to have worked. But at the time, who knows, if it saved one life it [was] a good thing to do.”

Dr Robert J. Lifton is a psychologist who studied and identified the techniques of mass thought control and group think used in propaganda and in cults (of all forms, including political and pseudo-religious).

Dr. Robert J. Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform

  1. Milieu Control.
    This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.
  2. Mystical Manipulation.
    There is manipulation of experiences that appear spontaneous but in fact were planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority or spiritual advancement or some special gift or talent that will then allow the leader to reinterpret events, scripture, and experiences as he or she wishes.
  3. Demand for Purity.
    The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here.
  4. Confession.
    Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group. There is no confidentiality; members’ “sins,” “attitudes,” and “faults” are discussed and exploited by the leaders.
  5. Sacred Science.
    The group’s doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the group. The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism.
  6. Loading the Language.
    The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating clich�s, which serve to alter members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking.
  7. Doctrine over person.
    Member’s personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group.
  8. Dispensing of existence.
    The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group’s ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. Thus, the outside world loses all credibility.
    In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also. (Lifton, 1989)

Resources

Giambalvo, Carol: “What is a Thought Reform Consultant?”
Langone, Michael, Ph.D.: “Cults and Mind Control”
Lifton, Robert J., M.D.: “Cult Formation”
Lifton, Robert J., M.D.: “Cult Formation” – abstract
Lifton, Robert J., M.D.: “Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform”
Lifton, Robert J., M.D.: “Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform”
Lifton, Robert, J. M.D.: “Cult Formation”
Singer, Margaret T., Ph.D.: “Undue Influence and Written Documents: Psychological Aspects”
Singet Margaret, Ph.D.: “Thought Reform Exists: Organized, Programmatic Influence”
Zimbardo, Philip, Ph.D.: “Mind Control: Psychological Reality or Mindless Rhetoric?”
√ Lifton, Robert, J.: “Thought Reform & the Psychology of Totalism”
≈ Cult Information Center – UK
≈ ex-morninglanders.com – link
≈ FactNet – link
≈ InfoCult – link
≈ Religious Groups Awareness Network – REGAIN – link
≈ Skeptic’s Refuge – link

Lifton, Robert J., M.D.: “Cult Formation”
Lifton, Robert J., M.D.: “Cult Formation” – abstract
Lifton, Robert J., M.D.: “Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform”
Lifton, Robert J., M.D.: “Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform”
Lifton, Robert, J. M.D.: “Cult Formation”