Bush Administration Psychological
Warfare Against the U.S.?
An Interview with (ret.) Colonel Sam Gardiner
describes "what propaganda literature would refer to as the big lie."
By Kevin Zeese
06/22/05 "Democracy Rising"
- - Sam Gardiner has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, Air War College and Naval War College.
He was recently a visiting scholar at the Swedish Defence College. During Gulf II he was a regular on the NewsHour with Jim
Lehrer as well as on BBC radio and television, and National Public Radio. He authored "The Enemy is Us" an article describing
how the Bush Administration used disinformation and psychological warfare - weapons usually used against the 'enemy' - against
the American public in order to support the war in Iraq. He has done an extensive analysis of the media coverage before the
war, during the war and during the occupation as well as of the statements of Administration officials. His conclusions are
startling and of great concern. He has put his findings in a report entitled: "Truth from These Podia."
your professional background and expertise.
Gardiner: Sure, Kevin. I'm a retired colonel of the US Air Force.
When I retired, I was teaching strategy at the National War College in Washington, DC. Since I've been retired, I have continued
to teach military strategy. I've taught for the Naval War College. I've taught at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama.
I also spent a period as a visiting scholar at the Swedish Defense College in Stockholm.
In addition, I have
been doing war games. You may have seen descriptions of some of the games I've done. I did one on Iran that was covered in
the December 2004 Atlantic Monthly. More recently, I conducted a game addressing North Korea. It was covered in the July/August
Zeese: What is: "Truth from These Podia"? (Link to report and posted after this article as well) How
did you conduct this media analysis?
Gardiner: It is a paper I published on the web that reflected four months
of heavy research.
I had followed press reports of the war closely as it unfolded because of a job I had. During
the first couple months of Gulf II, I was under contract with the Newshour with Jim Lehrer. With another retired colonel,
we did an almost daily on-air analysis of how the war was going.
As the war unfolded, I became increasingly uneasy
about what was being reported out of the White House, Pentagon and Central Command. I was hearing things that just did not
make sense with what I knew and what my intuition was telling me. I began tracking some of the stories. It was just a matter
of going over what we were told and connecting that with the truth as it emerged later.
One of the first items that
made me uneasy was when I heard we were encountering "terrorist death squads." I was very familiar with the Iraq military
forces. There were no terrorist death squads. It became obvious the Pentagon wanted us to connect Iraq with 9/11. Terrorists
did 9/11. There are terrorists in Iraq. Iraq must have been behind 9/11.
Zeese: Regarding the management
of information about Iraq, I'd like to focus on the build up to the Iraq War initially. There has been growing indications
from a series of memoranda and meeting minutes from Great Britain that U.S. intelligence was "fixed" to support the war. In
your analysis of media management before the war do you see any indication that the United States Congress and public was
manipulated into supporting the invasion of Iraq by misinformation?
Gardiner: Kevin, I find it amazing that
there is now a growing interest in the marketing the war. There is absolutely no question that the White House and the Pentagon
participated in an effort to market the military option. The truth did not make any difference to that campaign. To call it
fixing is to miss the more profound point. It was a campaign to influence. It involved creating false stories; it involved
exaggerating; it involved manipulating the numbers of stories that were released; it involved a major campaign to attack those
who disagreed with the military option. It included all the techniques those who ran the marketing effort had learned in political
Zeese: Can you give some examples of false or exaggerated stories put out by the Bush administration
in the build-up to the war?
Gardiner: In the summer of 2003, we
know from the Downing Street Memo that the Administration was talking about justifying a war by arguing that Iraq was the
nexus of terrorism and WMD.
The terrorism argument was what propaganda literature would refer to as the big lie. The
Administration's objective was to make enough arguments connecting Iraq to terrorism and Bin Laden that the American people
would believe Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks. They used a technique called the excluded middle. Iraq supports terrorists.
The attacks were by terrorists. Iraq must been behind the 9/11 attacks.
We the WMD story fairly well. We know the story
of the uranium from Niger. We know about the aluminum tubes that were not for uranium enrichment. We know the biological labs
Powell showed to the UN did not exist.
Beyond these there are many exaggerations that have gotten very little notice.
Let me mention just a few.
A New York Times reporter was told by the Administration that Iraq was buying excess
quantities of atropine to get ready for chemical warfare. It turns out the quantities were consistent with the Iraq use of
the substance for routing medical purposes.
The President told us in a speech in Ohio that Iraq had drone aircraft
that could possible deliver chemical weapons into the United States. When that facility was found, the officers reported that
it looked more like a school project than a serious military program.
The Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
told the Council on Foreign Relations that Iraq had the capability to attack US computers. They did not.
We were lead
to believe a Navy pilot shot down during the first Gulf War was alive and being held in Baghdad. He was not.
were told on the State Department web sit that Iraq was forming units of children to fight the United States. Iraq did not
We were told the French were supplying air defense missiles to Iraq. That was not ture
There were many
Zeese: How about information during the war? Did the embedded journalists help give the U.S. a more accurate
or less accurate perspective? How did the Pentagon control information?
Gardiner: A number of democratic institutions
failed us during the war. Certainly, the press was among those. I attended a conference in London in July 2003 at which one
of the PR firms that advised the Pentagon talked about lessons learned from the effort. They were pleased that they were able
to dominate the story. That was their objective. The embedded notion had been tested in Afghanistan, and it proved to be effective.
The product was lots of coverage with personal stories of soldiers. That was the Pentagon objective. Keep their story on television.
Keep people talking about Meals Ready to Eat, and they won't criticize the war.
As I mentioned, I had done analysis
during the major offensive operations. One of the things that the head of this PR firm said at that conference was that in
the next war the Pentagon wanted to control context more and not let it be done by retired military people.
You spend a lot of time in your article on the story regarding the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch. Why is that important?
Kevin, the Jessica Lynch story touched me personally, and it became representative of the whole effort to manipulate the truth.
beginning to end, the Lynch story was a press event. It started with the description that the unit was "ambushed." The unit
was not ambushed. It got lost and drove into Iraqi lines, and then it retraced its path back through Iraqi lines.
Pentagon was in such a hurry to get out the story of an individual who had fought off the Iraqi they did so with incomplete
information. All of the heroic stuff was really about a soldier in the unit who was killed, not about Lynch.
of Defense allowed the story to stay around for days despite knowing the truth and despite the family insisting that the information
was not about their daughter.
My father was wounded and captured by the Germans during WW II. He did some heroic things
during the period of his capture. The manipulation of the Lynch story was an insult to his heroism.
And in the occupation phase? What kind of media control occurred as that phase began? Is it continuing today?
There have been major media strategies during the occupation. For the first year, the same pattern continued. We heard exaggeration
and deflection from the press conferences from Baghdad. After the first year, the White House strategy shifted. The idea what
that it wanted the American people to forget about the war. They quit having press conferences in Baghdad. Central Command
quit having press conferences. The military spokesperson from Iraq became junior officers and enlisted people. The Brigadier
The current strategic communications strategy is to make it seem as if there is progress, keep
the number of stories down and certainly to continue to hide casualties. You may know that the United States is the only coalition
country that did not honor its returning dead.
Zeese: Is the media being fooled by the Administration
or is it complicit in this effort to misinform the public?
Gardiner: The media have been fooled. They have been
lazy. They have lost sight of the historic calling of journalism. Journalists have been replaced on television by cheerleaders.
Was any of this illegal?
Gardiner: Some of it may have been illegal. A case was brought against the Secretary
of Defense in a Chicago court by Judicial Watch for violating the law that limits defense money being used for propaganda
inside the United States.
There was another illegal dimension. Most people don't know but the military is the only
profession where it is illegal to lie. It is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for an officer to tell a
lie. There were some officers who violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice as they marketed for the Administration.
You say in "Truth from these Podia:" "In the most basic sense, Washington and London did not trust the peoples of their
democracies to come to right decisions. Truth became a casualty. When truth is a casualty, democracy receives collateral damage."
Does this mean that if the people of Washington and the United States were told the truth they would not have supported the
invasion of Iraq and therefore had to be misled by the Bush administration?
Gardiner: One irony of the whole
mess is that the American people (and the British people) would most likely have supported strong actions against Iraq had
they been told the truth.
The other irony is that if truth had been valued inside the Administration, we probably would
not have gone to war. In very early 2003 I had done an extensive analysis of the likely humanitarian consequences of an invasion
of Iraq. I was able to get quite a few mid-level people to review my briefing. I even briefed my results of the National Security
Council Staff. The bottom line of my presentation was that the United States was not ready to deal with what was coming. That
was clearly not a piece of information anyone wanted.
My efforts and those of others are described in a January
2004 article in the Atlantic Monthly by Jim Fallows, "Blind into Baghdad."
Zeese: How much did this campaign
of misinformation cost?
Gardiner: Tough question, Kevin. I don't think it possible to get a total handle on
the effort. I have read one estimate that put the marketing at $200 million. That cost is trivial, however, to the collateral
damage that has been done to democracy.
Zeese: What do we do to prevent this from occurring in the future?
Wow, I wish I had an answer to this question. Based upon the initial work done after the offensive phase by those involved
in strategic communications, I have to tell you, as I said in my paper, if you think this was bad, wait until the next war.
They will be even better at manipulating the story.
Zeese: You conclude "Truth in these Podia" with the "Last
Chart" and suggest that we need an investigation to determine the extent of information management and legislation to prevent
the people of the United States from being victimized by war propaganda in the future. What type of investigation? What type
Gardiner: We need a commission. This one would not be about intelligence. This would be focused
on strategic communications. I have been able to uncover some of the manipulation that went on before and during the war,
but I think I have only scratched the surface. Some is still classified or buried. For example, who within the US Government
told the press that the French gave Saddam Hussein a passport so he could sneak out of Iraq? Who told the press Saddam Hussein
was hiding in the Russian embassy?
The United States needs a robust public diplomacy effort, but I believe we cannot
allow government officials to insert non-truth into media that will be seen by Americans. We can't allow officials to damage
democracy in the name of extending democracy.
First published at http://democracyrising.us
Information Clearing House
Truth from These Podia
Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception Management, Strategic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological
Operations in Gulf II
By Sam Gardiner1 Colonel, USAF (Retired)
My intent was not to do this myself. The work had to be a combination of the kind of research
I was doing and investigative journalism. I could do the outside part. Someone had to talk to those inside. After my return
from an information warfare conference in London in July, I began looking for interest in one of the major newspapers. I found
that interest in Mark Fineman at the LA Times.
Mark had covered the war and previously had been bureau chief
for the paper in Philippines, India, Cyprus and Mexico City. Although he had covered some of the stories I examined in my
research, he saw very early the point I was making about the implication of their being seen as a whole, the strategic picture.
We continued to exchange e-mails, talk by phone and met four times after our initial session. He shared information he was
uncovering. I shared my developing research.
Mark Fineman died of an apparent heart attack while on assignment
in Baghdad on September 23, 2003.
It was not bad intelligence.
was much more. It was an orchestrated effort. It began before the war, was a major effort during the war and continues
as post-conflict distortions.
The title of this study was difficult for me. When I began I thought it was going
to be an analysis of Pentagon spin. I was going to call it, “Truth from this Podium.” That was to be a play on
promises we were given before the war. The more I did, the more it became clear that it was not just the Pentagon. It was
the White House, and it was Number 10 Downing Street. It was more than spin.
I though about calling it “Apparatus
of Lies,” connecting to a title the White House gave a paper on Iraq’s decade of fabrication, mostly about weapons
of destruction. Although lies were part of the effort, that title would have been off the mark because the story is more about
aversion to truth rather than the open lie.
I also missed on the subject. I thought it was going to be about
spinning the stories of the conflict. I was wrong. The real essence of what I found was a much broader problem. It is a problem
about the future as much as the past. This problem became the story of the study.
This is one way of summarizing the study:
States (and UK) conducted a strategic influence campaign that:
…distorted perceptions of the situation
both before and during the conflict.
…caused misdirection of portions of the military operation.
irresponsible in parts.
…might have been illegal in some ways.
…cost big bucks.
be even more serious in the future.
I know what I am suggesting is serious. I did not come to these
conclusions lightly. Because my plea is for truth in war, I have tried to be very careful not to fall into a trap of describing
exaggerations with exaggeration. I hope I’ve done that. I expect some will believe I have been guilty of the same sins.
As long as we can have some discussion about truth in war, I accept the criticism.
You will see in my analysis
and comments that I do not accept the notion that the first casualty of war is truth. I think we have to have a higher standard.
the most basic sense, Washington and London did not trust the peoples of their democracies to come to right decisions. Truth
became a casualty. When truth is a casualty, democracy receives collateral damage.
My plea is for truth. I believe
we have to find ways to restore truth as currency of government in matters as serious as war. My story would be important
if it were the last chapter of the book. It’s not. There is more to come. As the United States struggles with a post-conflict
Iraq, distortions continue. Probably of more concern, major players in the game are working on ways to do it “better”
in future conflicts.
In other words, it appears as if the issues of this war will become even more important
for future wars. We have reason to be concerned.
Another way to summarize the study:
the assumption of some in the government is the people of the United States and the United Kingdom will come to a wrong decision
if they are the given truth.
We probably have taken “Information Warfare” too far.
allowed strategic psychological operations to. become part of public affairs.
We failed to make adequate distinction
between strategic influence stuff and intelligence.
Message became more important than performance.
concepts of warfare got all mixed up in this war. I’ll come back to this subject later, but what has happened is that
information warfare, strategic influence, strategic psychological operations pushed their way into the important process of
informing the peoples of our two democracies. The United States and the UK got too good at the concepts they had been developing
for future warfare.
The best way to describe my methodology is to use words that came from Admiral Poindexter’s
unfunded project, Total Information Awareness, later known as Terrorism Information Awareness. What I have done is look for
“inconsistencies in open source data with regard to known facts…and goals.”
Again to use the
words from the Terrorism Information Awareness Program, by discovering linkages, it was possible to identify intent, methods
of operations and organizational dynamics.
Through this methodology, it was possible to do what the Pentagon
wanted to do, “to reduce vulnerability to open source information operations.”
purpose…is to reduce vulnerability to open source information operations by developing the ability to detect inconsistencies
in open source data with regard to known facts and…goals.”
“One of the characteristics…is
that their organizational structures are not well understood and are purposefully designed to conceal their connections and
relationships. DARPA’s premise is that by discovering linkages among people, places, things and events…to recognize
patterns of relationships that are representative…, it can help identify…intent, methods of operation, and organizational
Report to Congress Regarding the Terrorism Information Awareness Program, May 20, 2003
definitions are sloppy in this paper. Some would say I don’t know the definition of information warfare. It’s
not because I don’t appreciate the clarity that comes from precise meaning. It’s because almost all of the pre-war
definitions were violated in implementation. I was left with a couple questions, “What was true and who was affected
by the non-truth?
They told us what they were going to do. The Department of Defense created a rather significant
press storm early in 2002 when it was revealed that there were plans to create an office to do strategic influence. Efforts
to create the office were brought to a halt with White House agreement. In November, the Secretary of Defense announced in
a press conference on board an aircraft on the way to South America that he was just kidding when he said he would not do
The White House gave a similar warning. Andrew Card, the President’s Chief of Staff
told us they would do a major campaign to sell the war. Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s just-resigned Strategy (and
communications) Director, was orchestrating the same on the other side of the Atlantic.
The research then was
to discover what they did and how they did what they said they were going to do.
I’m not going to address
why they did it. That’s something I don’t understand even after all the research. I would like to ask them, “Why
do it?” “Didn’t you know there would be consequences?’ It was not necessary. You could have told the
truth. You don’t defend democracy by making light of its most basic elements. The American people would have supported
the war. Why do it?
Announcing the Effort
“And then there was the Office
of Strategic Influence. You may recall that. And ‘oh my goodness gracious isn't that terrible, Henny Penny the sky is
going to fall.’ I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I'll give you the corpse.
There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.”
Rumsfeld, November 18, 2002
From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," White
House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. told the New York Times in September. Card was explaining what the Times characterized
as a "meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress, and the allies of the need to confront the threat
from Saddam Hussein."
It would cost over $200 million. Times of London, 9/17/02
These two chart
are the results of my investigation:
The Stories of Strategic Influence (1)
• • •
• Terrorism and 9/11 Lt. Commander Speicher Drones Mohammad Atta meeting with Iraqi • • • Nuclear
materials from Niger Aluminum tubes Nuclear weapons development
• Ansar al-Salm • Dirty bombs
Chemical and biological weapons – Quantities – Location – Delivery readiness • • • Humanitarian
operations Attacking the power grid Russian punishment
• Weapons labs – Signing long term oil
WMD cluster bombs contracts
• • • Scuds Cutting off ears Cyber war capability – Night-vision
goggles – GPS Jamming equipment – Saddam in embassy
• German punishment
of the 507th
The Stories of Strategic Influence (2)
• Civilian casualties
Iraqi Mechanized Division & • Woman hung for waving commander • French punishment
Basrah – High precision switches
Liberations of Umm Qasr and Basrah
Iraqi white flag incidents
– Smallpox strains
US and UK uniforms to commit – Signing long term oil contracts
– Spare parts for aircraft
Execution of prisoners
– Roland missiles
Pak training facility
Private Lynch rescue – Passport for Iraqi leaders
• British Parliamentarian punishment
Holding the story • WMD location
1000 Vehicle attack from Baghdad – Moved to Syria
The post-conflict enemy
Status of infrastructure repairs
From my research,
the most profound thread is that WMD was only a very small part of the strategic influence, information operations and marketing
campaign conducted on both sides of the Atlantic.
These are the stories on which I ended up doing detailed research.
In each case, I attempted to find when and where the story originated, which officials made statements related to the story
and then look at how it came out. Obviously, I am reporting on those where the outcome differed from the story.
research suggests there were over 50 stories manufactured or at least engineered that distorted the picture of Gulf II for
the American and British people. I’ll cover most in this report. At the end, I will also describe some stories that
seem as if they were part of the strategic influence campaign although the evidence is only circumstantial.
becomes important is not each story taken individually. If that were the case, it would probably seem only more of the same.
If you were to look at them one at a time, you could conclude, “Okay we sort of knew that was happening.” It is
the pattern that becomes important. It’s the summary of everything. To use a phrase often heard during the war, it’s
Recognizing I said I wouldn’t exaggerate, it would not be an exaggeration to say the people
of the United States and UK can find out more about the contents of a can of soup they buy than the contents of the can of
worms they bought with the 2003 war in the Gulf.
view, liberal democracies such as the Weimar Republic are not viable in the long term, since they do not offer their citizens
any religious and moral footings. The practical consequence of this philosophy is fatal. According to its tenets, the elites
have the right and even the obligation to manipulate the truth. Just as Plato recommends, they can take refuge in "pious lies"
and in selective use of the truth.
I’m not writing
about a conspiracy. It is about a well run and networked organization. My basic argument is that very bright and even well
intentioned officials found how to control the process of governance in ways never before possible.
I have no
way of knowing intent. Those who believe the Administration influenced by a small group could point out that manipulating
the truth is an important and even necessary dimension of governance.
Standing back from the details of the stories,
the strategy of strategic influence and marketing emerges.
Gulf II Influence Strategy
is a struggle between good and evil.
Major theme of the war on terrorism as well as Gulf II.
mirror of this is in the Muslim world is when the U.S. is often called the “Great Satan.”
behind the attack on the World Trade center.
The subtle theme throughout Gulf II.
The mirror of
this is the rumor that Israel was behind the World Trade Center bombing to embarrass the Arabs.
The major thrust
was to make a conflict with Iraq seem part of a struggle between good and evil. Terrorism is evil. We are good. The axis is
evil, and we are the good guys.
The second thrust is what propaganda theorists would call the “big lie.”
The plan was to connect Iraq with the 9/11 attacks. Make the American people believe that Saddam Hussein was behind those
attacks. The effort followed the basic framework of effective propaganda.
Gulf II Influence Strategy
News require different techniques
Saturate the media time and space.
Stay on message and stay ahead
of the news cycle.
No matter how bad the story, it tends to level; accelerate
the process as much as possible.
Keep the message consistent daily: Qatar, Pentagon, White House, London
information to attack and punish critics.
Beyond the themes we can see these strategic techniques. One of the
media organizations hired by the Department of Defense, the Rendon Group, was deeply involved in selling the first Gulf War
as well at this one.2 The first two points on this chart came from John Rendon. The last seems to have come from others within
It’s possible to get a sense of how strategic influence and the organization for combat
came together by looking at a pattern from before Gulf II campaign.
In November 2001, the White House Coalition
Information Center initiated an effort to highlight the plight of women in Afghanistan. Jim Wilkinson, who was working with
the Center at the time, called this effort “the best thing we’ve done.”
Source: The White House Coalition Information Center
When he said it was the best
thing they’ve done, it was not about something they did. It was about a story they created. It was about story. It was
story. Story was most
2 Four or five contracted media groups were probably involved in one way or another in
the Gulf II effort. John Rendon call himself an information warrior.
White House Coalition Information Center became the Office of Global Communications officially in January 2003. It was in
full operation, however, by the time the White House began its marketing campaign in September 2002.
saw in the Afghanistan effort were patterns that would continue through Gulf II. It was designed to “build support.”
It was not a program with specific steps or funding to improve the conditions of women.
“Women’s campaign was designed to build support in countries in which there is heavy
skepticism of the antiterrorism coalition.” Washington Post, November 16, 2002
“Only the terrorist
and the Taliban threaten to pull out women’s fingernails for wearing nail polish.” Laura Bush, November 17, 2001
Afghanistan if you wear nail polish, you could have your nails torn out.” Cherie Blair, November 20, 2001
Rights Watch, 2003 report: Situation still bad for women.
The other pattern in the Afghanistan family campaign
that is important is the close coordination between the White House and Number 10 Downing Street. The coordination was so
close that Laura Bush and Cherie Blair used almost the same phrase in speeches only separated by three days. The message was
coordinated in the Afghanistan campaign. It would be coordinated for Gulf II.
Make the humanitarian dimension
of the operation part of marketing, another pattern I’ve done some work with relief organizations. When these professionals
talk about Afghanistan, I very often hear their disdain for the U.S. effort to air drop food packets into Afghanistan. There
was almost no real benefit from that part of the operation, We would have expect the same in Gulf II.
pattern emerged that we would see in the run up to the war. One might even say they followed the concept that if you don’t
know the truth, fill the vacuum with speculation that would support policy. That certainly was true during the period of anthrax
uncertainty; US and UK “intelligence sources” told the press that everything pointed to Iraq.
The author has taught strategy and military operations
at the National War College, Air War College and Naval War College. He was recently a visiting scholar at the Swedish Defence
College. During Gulf II he was a regular on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer as well as on BBC radio and television, and National
The study was not funded by any organization, and the author’s arguments are not meant to
represent those of any organization.
He can be reached at SamGard@aol.com
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