Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Pentagon's Dilemma
The NY Times reports that the Pentagon is currently reviewing how far they can move into the murky depths of covert propaganda campaigns aimed at neutral and even allied nations.

"The efforts under consideration risk blurring the traditional lines between public affairs programs in the Pentagon and military branches - whose charters call for giving truthful information to the media and the public - and the world of combat information campaigns or psychological operations.

The question is whether the Pentagon and military should undertake an official program that uses disinformation to shape perceptions abroad. But in a modern world wired by satellite television and the Internet, any misleading information and falsehoods could easily be repeated by American news outlets.

Pentagon and military officials directly involved in the debate say that such a secret propaganda program, for example, could include planting news stories in the foreign press or creating false documents and Web sites translated into Arabic as an effort to discredit and undermine the influence of mosques and religious schools that preach anti-American principles.

Some of those are in the Middle Eastern and South Asian countries like Pakistan, still considered a haven for operatives of Al Qaeda. But such a campaign could reach even to allied countries like Germany, for example, where some mosques have become crucibles for Islamic militancy and anti-Americanism.

Before the invasion of Iraq, the military's vast electronic-warfare arsenal was used to single out certain members of Saddam Hussein's inner circle with e-mail messages and cellphone calls in an effort to sway them to the American cause. Arguments have been made for similar efforts to be mounted at leadership circles in other nations where the United States is not at war."

It's an incredibly slippery slope. Once you start deceiving foreign leaders and foreign populations, how tempting would it be to actively deceive your own population. George Orwell's 1984 perhaps?