source: Covert Action Quarterly online archive
More on CIA disinformation written during the early Reagan years of 'recovering from' Vietnam, Watergate, and Senate committee hearings on CIA abuses by increasing media manipulation.
Quote excerpted from this article--
"We have learned that propaganda intruded itself into the democratic process long ago.
The most important lesson of history's warnings, however, would be an understanding of what went wrong with information in the past to help people resist the inroads of further deception. The next time the government floats a story, demand in each instance to know why it is propagating this information, whose interests it is serving, and what is being concealed. Then perhaps this country can abandon the process of government by the misinformed."
Disinformation and Mass Deception:Democracy as a Cover Story
By William Preston, Jr. and Ellen Ray
During World War 1, the atrocity story came into its own as an instrument of foreign policy. In those simpler days, governments could turn public opinion against the enemy with tales of individual brutality: the rape of a nun, the bayonetting of a baby, or the execution of a Red Cross nurse. Such propaganda externalized the issues and focused national attention on an appropriate scapegoat. Doubters or dissenters were swept aside in the patriotic fallout, in an emotional downpour that insisted, "Once at war, to reason is treason."
This crude propaganda, however, had a temporary, war-related quality which often foundered on its own exaggerations. The idea of truth in those days had not yet been obliterated by the continuous covert manipulation of information in peacetime just as in war; nor had deception, secrecy, and lying come to be so much a part of the national menu as to be swallowed whole like the junk food that satiates the public appetite. Today there is no better example of the corrupted circumstances that now confront the consumer of news than the undercover campaign of official disinformation about Cuba.
Having failed to restore its hegemony over Cuba in the Bay of Pigs invasion or in the long, secret war waged under the code name "Operation Mongoose," the United States Central Intelligence Agency recently stepped up its 20‑year psychological warfare operations to discredit and destroy the Cuban government and any other Latin American or Caribbean government which stands in ideological unity with them. Propaganda aimed at that small, struggling country intentionally manipulates emotions of horror, revulsion, and fear in the uninformed citizen of the Yankee Colossus. Cuba is falsely pictured by the U.S. as embracing in its foreign policy the contemporary apocalyptic trio: drugs, criminality, and terrorism ‑ a far more terrible spectre than the individual bloodletting of the World War I propaganda. Images of corrupted American youth, gangsterism, and revolutionary violence sent from Cuba throughout Latin America are daily media fare for the American public.
Cuba as scapegoat and Fidel Castro as the implacable enemy of world national security interests have become easy answers for the complex realities of hemispheric change. And the sophisticated techniques with which official information about Cuba is concealed, denied, created, regulated, shaped, and planted seem to have heightened public acceptance of the Big Lie.
While a shoot‑out at credibility gap might not rescue the truth about Cuba from the hands of its abductors, a historical perspective of official U.S. deception operations against its own people might at least innoculate some against further ravages of this advancing affliction.
The Overt Era of Information Abuse, 1898‑1945
No one with any knowledge of governments would ever insist there was a utopian past. Governments have always monitored dissent to impose their version of events on the public consciousness, to control the circulation of hostile opinion, and to manage the news. Secrecy always had a place, as had executive privilege. But the First Amendment guarantees, as well as the separation and checking of powers, seemed designed to limit the U.S. government's inherent tendency to manipulate information for its own interest. But as we shall see, this is not the case.
During and after the Civil War, while not engaging in deliberate deception, the government nevertheless insisted on "codes of press behavior" (the same which we criticize UNESCO and Third World nations for daring to put forth in the New International Information Order) and could classify information as too poisonous to circulate if judged "incendiary," "seditious," "treasonable," "immoral," "indecent," or "obscene."
The buildup of the North American Empire, then, added a new dimension of danger for information. During the Spanish‑American War, the brutal military mop‑up against the "rebels" in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba involved secret planning, undercover operations, and premeditated cover-ups in the face of public and Congressional opposition.
It was the First World War, however, that led the U.S. to move beyond censorship and overt suppression into the heady realm of disinformation itself. In April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson authorized the Committee on Public Information, headed by George Creel, to take an active part in disseminating and propagandizing an official point of view. To unite public opinion behind the war, Creel's CPI conducted "a fight for the mind of mankind." Fake intelligence suggesting that German spies were everywhere generated waves of hatred and hysteria against the "barbaric Huns." In disinformation coups reminiscent of today, the State Department used selective information to "prove" Germany was funding American pacifist organizations.
The capacity for covert conduct also gained ground as U.S. military intelligence expanded its role in domestic surveillance, laying plans in 1920 for a secret, domestic, counter‑insurgency program aimed at radicals‑an authentic progenitor of the COINTELPRO operations of the later Hoover years. Anticipating the CIA mania for cover, U.S. intelligence also dispatched agents to Europe as members of the International Red Cross.
By the end of the war, the country had acquired an institutionalized intelligence system, initiated the classification of sensitive information, and bitten into the apple of deception. The Committee for Public Information left a legacy of experience for later generations of disinformationists to apply, if not to duplicate.
Public Relations Is Born As Disinformation
During two subsequent decades of peace in which the trauma of an economic collapse followed the delirium of a perilous prosperity, a subtle yet significant development shaped the future of information: the rise of public relations and its professional advocates.
Exemplified by Edward Bernays, a man who began his career as consultant to the U.S. delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference which terminated World War I and ended it as a hired hand for United Fruit Company in Latin America, public relations and its covert marketing strategies quickly seeped into the very core of American life. As Bernays cynically stated in a PR manual in 1928, "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country ... it is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically."
The New Deal Thirties witnessed further assaults on the integrity of information. In the U.S., the realities of the depression inspired a militant labor union campaign for recognition and power, one in which the Communists participated as allies. The conservative reaction to this movement was vicious, projecting an image of it as the secret "red" subversion of U.S. society ‑ a mindless image which haunts the public consciousness even today. Imagined threats from front organizations and Fifth Columns brought further waves of tainted information. Thus the stage was set for the massive escalation of mistrust in any information not certified "pure" by the U.S. government. Since it could have the field to itself, all competitors were labeled un-American.
What the government would do with this power was not yet clear, but its existence and potential for abuse could not be denied‑an incredible opportunity for any proponent of the Bernays school of manipulation.
Other trends in the years immediately preceding Pearl Harbor accelerated the information counter‑revolution. The growth of classification expanded the domain of U.S. secrecy and the ability of government officials to conceal or selectively leak information on behalf of their own political agendas. Loyalty oaths and security checks came into being, designed to eliminate disclosure of this same material.
"Subversive activities" and espionage, meanwhile, became top priorities for the U.S. government, justifying generalized surveillance of a population considered suspect. Covert intelligence activity would soon come to serve the information management of successive U.S. Administrations.
World War II and the New Disinformation
On the eve of its second crusade to save the world, the U.S. was also poised on the brink of a new information era. How secret its policies would become, to what extent it would adopt the techniques of deception, and how each of these would affect democratic decision‑making began to emerge as the war progressed. These questions were illuminated in the dramatic struggle for power which occurred between the Office of War Information (OWI), essentially a civilian organization charged with the mission of promoting an understanding of the war to the world at large, and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime predecessor of today's CIA. These two agencies had irreconcilable differences over the nature and purpose of propaganda. The OSS victory in this struggle would foreshadow the growth of an Orwellian Ministry of Truth to be used as a covert instrument of Cold War policies against a new enemy‑the Soviet Union. But all that came later.
Elmer Davis, OWI Director and ex‑newsman, began WWII believing his agency should deal in facts, not opinion, disseminating truths to friend and enemy alike - something the BBC's wartime broadcasts were attempting to accomplish. But neither President Roosevelt nor the Army, Navy, and State Departments believed that the public had a right to know what was really going on. (Documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act even suggest U.S. foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor.) In any case, the war‑related bureaucracy remained adamant about sharing information with the OWI, seriously undermining its mission.
Colonel William J. Donovan, head of the OSS, on the other hand, had an adventurer's enthusiasm for secret operations, dirty tricks, and disinformation of the crudest sort. Psychological warfare dominated the OSS approach to the war, though neither its costs nor its benefits to the American people were evaluated. Nor was truth considered a weapon of any potential.
Psychological warfare thus sold itself to the high command and the OWI was forced to adopt the methods of its competitor, subordinating all information projects to the expedient of winning the war. Interestingly, it was hardly this capitulation which influenced the course of the war, since the same methods of manipulation were carried to the extreme by the enemy‑the Goebbels approach to information.
By the time hostilities ended, the OWI had become a converted exponent of American power, its liberal one-world ideology long since subordinated to the commitment of U.S. involvement in every region of the world. Nowhere, their propaganda now claimed, could the U.S. "renounce its moral and ideological interests ... as a powerful and righteous nation."
In the OSS similar readjustments of priorities took place. Where once psychological warfare had at least been balanced by careful intelligence analysis to secure and interpret information, covert operations with their deceptive components of subverting and transforming facts became the new intelligence obsession.
In sum, a watershed had been reached. Information thereafter became Bernays's reality‑an "unseen mechanism" by which "intelligent minorities" shaped the opinions of the masses by deceiving them.
The Intelligence Era: Information Goes Underground
During the controversy surrounding publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, Leslie Gelb, in charge of producing that voluminous and revealing report for the New York Times, commented on the continuing Cold War dedication to the philosophy of Bernays. "Most of our elected and appointed leaders in the national security establishment," he confirmed, "felt they had the right‑and beyond that the obligation‑to manipulate the American public in the national interest as they defined it." The same notion in abbreviated form slipped out in an exchange between Defense Secretary McNamara's press spokesman and a group of reporters in 1962: "It's inherent in the government's right, if necessary, to lie to save itself," the aide argued.
The right to manipulate and the right to lie have had other post‑war companions: the right to plausibly deny; the right to a cover story; the right to conceal; and the need to know, a standard of classification that created another right, that of privileged access, with its step‑child, the right to selectively leak.
In analyzing the period since the atom bombs leveled the Japanese will to resist, it is as if the intelligence agencies had not yet heard that the war was over, and are still hiding in caves on some Washington atoll. Yet the patterns which have unfolded are a logical outcome of the wartime experience, beginning with the failure to reorganize, control, or totally dismantle the secret coercive machinery which was created for that war. Quite the contrary. Stopping international communism provided the rationale for the even broader mandate for world‑wide conquest‑the neocolonialism and imperialism of the new empire. And to help in those operations, the U.S. intelligence agencies had no qualms about enlisting the support of their former enemies‑the Gehlen intelligence network of Nazi Germany.
Documents of some of the early proposals to set up the central intelligence unit‑the present CIA‑give a flavor of the crisis atmosphere with which they viewed the future struggle against the Soviet Union: "the task of detecting ... any developments which threaten the security of the world;" "to create a system in which every U. S. citizen who travels abroad . . . is a source of political intelligence;" "maintaining a constant check on foreign intelligence and propaganda, including propagandized U.S. citizens;" and "keep ... informed on political trends inside the U.S.... because state legislatures are peculiarly vulnerable to outside influences and would be a logical objective of foreign intelligence services. . . ." It is small wonder that the CIA's fears became self‑fulfilling prophesies.
Early CIA post‑war victories over communism‑such as the Italian elections of 1948, bought and paid for unwittingly by the American people‑brought about unholy alliances as distasteful as those the intelligence agencies had made with the war criminals, dealings with the Mafia and the attendant corruption which comes with sharing a dirty secret with thugs.
Later the Korean War produced an equally important impact on the spy operatives' own psychological outlook. Korea revived the atmosphere of total war, and created an "anything goes" philosophy directed against the "enemy." It meant, as General Maxwell Taylor argued in 1961 with reference to Fidel Castro, there would be a policy of "no long‑term living with ... dangerously effective exponents of communism and anti‑Americanism." Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Vietnam (1954‑1973), Brazil (1962), Indonesia (1965), and Chile (1973) were among the targets of covert operations encouraged by this philosophy.
But the strangest outcome of all in this web of deceit and disinformation was its coming home to roost. The intelligence establishment actually began to eat its own vomit. False propaganda fed into foreign outlets came to be reported back to the U. S. and the government began to make policy decisions based on its own lies.
U.S. Disinformation Today
In spite of the long history of U.S. government propaganda, disinformation, and lying, each succeeding Administration insists it is clean, inventing alternative sources on whom to place the blame for the corruption of communications and dialogue. None of them wants the public to find the pea under the shell in this age‑old con game. President Reagan has naturally accused the Soviets of introducing the practice. The State Department has fostered the myth that disinformation is a Russian word. Dezinformatsiya, according to one of their busy little defectors, Ladislav Bittman, is the province of "Directorate A" of the KGB. Bittman, a Czech who left his country well over ten years ago, only recently began making these widely‑reported pronouncements about disinformation. The au courant darling of the right‑wing press, he conveniently confirms their suspicions about Soviet global intentions, while Reagan warns television audiences about Soviet‑style runways and Cuban‑style army barracks. The danger is that through incessant repetition of the word, disinformation has become synonymous in the minds of the American public with Soviet intelligence operations.
Historical facts, however, point to quite another conclusion as ‑the preceding sections have indicated. Disinformation has clearly been part of the U.S. intelligence, military, and Cold War offensive waged in peacetime since the end of World War 11, an integral part of national security which has no clear relationship to truth or the beliefs of its practitioners. And as the activists of U.S. foreign policy, the CIA is its chief author.
Exposing Media Operations
In 1975, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the Church Committee), in an investigation of CIA wrongdoing, revealed just a tiny portion of the extent of CIA penetration of world media. It was patently obvious to the investigators that only U.S. intelligence agencies could practice the art of disinformation on such a grand scale, given the extraordinary expense of manipulating, influencing, and outright purchasing of news throughout the world. The number of organizations and persons who must be paid off to place fictitious stories across the globe is staggering. Almost ten years ago the Church Committee said it had found evidence of more than 200 wire services, newspapers, magazines, and book publishing complexes owned outright by the CIA. A 1977 New York Times expose uncovered another 50 media outlets run by the CIA, inside and outside the U.S., with more than twelve publishing houses responsible for over 1000 books, some 250 of them in English. Beyond the wholly‑owned proprietaries there were countless agents and friendly insiders working in media operations around the world. These exposures are, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. The mind reels at what remained hidden from Congress and the New York Times and continues so to the present.
Estimates of the portion of the U.S. intelligence budget ‑ kept secret from the American people and Congress ‑devoted to propaganda range from a few to many billions of dollars a year. An extremely conservative guess in the December 1981 Defense Electronics put the overall U.S. intelligence budget for that year at $70 billion, of which about $ 10 billion, they said, went to the CIA. Media specialists have estimated that at least one third of the CIA's budget is devoted each year to the spread of disinformation, conservatively placing CIA covert media manipulation alone for that year at almost three and a half billion dollars. None of this takes into account the myriad of income‑generating proprietaries owned by the CIA, firms which make a profit which is then poured back into more covert operations: CIA banks, holding companies, airlines, investment firms, and the like.
Anyone who has even a casual knowledge of the world hard currency situation knows that the Soviet Union does not have the kind of foreign exchange which billion dollar operations entail. Only the secret U.S. intelligence budget‑taken from unwitting American taxpayers‑can pay for inventing news on such a mammoth scale. And invent they do, as we shall see below in an examination of a few of their hysterical scenarios.
But perhaps the most chilling "overt" propaganda project of the U.S. government to date is the newly unveiled Democracy Institute.
This $85 million‑a‑year panorama of intelligence collection, recruitment, and training complete with a covert operations section, rivals the CIA's most ambitious media plans. It was quietly begun in January after a classified Executive Order was signed by President Reagan. This plan is discussed more fully in the conclusion below.
The second level of media activities of the U.S. government are the covert operations in the traditional sense. In theory, these deception operations‑are directed at influencing foreign, not domestic, opinion. Prior to December 1981, domestic activities were theoretically forbidden by the CIA's charter and by the Executive Orders governing CIA behavior. For all practical purposes, however, the charter was systematically violated. But now under President Reagan's Executive Order 12333, the CIA can operate within the United States so long as what it does is not "intended" to influence public opinion domestically. Who or what determines CIA "intentions" is not specified, leaving a wide open field for more blatant manipulation of U.S. public opinion.
Even operations conducted entirely abroad are liable to cause "blowback," the situation wherein the U.S. media picks up reports from overseas, disseminating them at home, without realizing (or caring) that the reports are false and emanate from U.S. intelligence in the first place. Blowback is very dangerous; in Vietnam there was so much CIA disinformation being spread that U. S. military intelligence reports were often unwittingly based on complete fabrications which had been produced at CIA Headquarters. In other cases, the CIA itself performed as an anti‑intelligence agency in which the covert operators had to supply the information that the policy makers wanted. Government thus became the victim of its own disinformation line, compounding the original damage and leading officials to be twice removed from reality. (Numerous examples of this are documented in Deadly Deceits: My 25 Years in the CIA, a recent book by Ralph W. McGehee [Sheridan Square Publications, New York: 1983].)
One of the most graphic examples of an intentional blowback operation was cited by former CIA officer John Stockwell in his book about Angola, In Search of Enemies. In order to discredit the Cuban troops who were aiding the MPLA government forces in that country's war with South Africa, CIA propagandists in Kinshasa, Zaire, came up with a story about Cuban soldiers raping Angolan women. Using an agent stringer for a wire service, the Agency had the story passed into the world media. Subsequently it was embellished by further spurious reports of the capture of some of the Cubans by the women they had raped, of their trial, and of their execution by their own weapons. The entire series, spread out in the U.S. press over a period of several months, was a complete CIA fabrication.
Some covert media operations have been run on a very grand scale. One of the largest was Forum World Features, ostensibly a global feature‑news service based in London, but in fact a CIA operation from the beginning. When its cover was blown it was forced to suspend operations. Similarly, the CIA owned outright, among other papers, the Rome Daily American, for decades the only English language paper in Italy.
In the third instance of press manipulation, the U.S. disguises its handiwork by engaging in the double whammy: accusing the Soviet Union of disseminating the phony documents it has itself produced. Given the widespread coverage these charges receive, the "proof" is astonishingly contradictory. Last year, for example, a supposedly bogus letter from President Reagan to King Juan Carlos of Spain was publicly denounced by the State Department as a Soviet forgery because it had errors in language and, as one officer noted, "it fits the pattern of known Soviet behavior." The previous year, another document was called a Soviet forgery because it was "so good" it had to be a Soviet product. Periodically the government will call forth one of their stable of "defectors" to confirm that something is a forgery and the U.S. media buy it without much question. Several short‑lived triumphs of the intelligence establishment show, however, that sometimes the people are not fooled, causing the press to reexamine their proffered themes. The State Department "White Paper" on Cuban aid to El Salvador, and the incredible Libyan "hit squad" saga are two examples. The White Paper, an unsuccessful attempt to recreate a Gulf of Tonkin situation, was shown by the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Philip Agee to have been based on government forgeries and mistranslations. The hit squad rumors which made headlines for several days disappeared‑from the country and from the news‑when Jack Anderson finally admitted he had been duped by his "intelligence sources."
Daniel James, Claire Sterling, and Michael Ledeen, among others, seem to pick up disinformation themes almost automatically. In fact, coordination between the development of propaganda and disinformation themes by the covert media assets, the overt propaganda machine, and the bevy of puppet journalists is quite calculated. A theme which is floated on one level ‑ a feature item on VOA about Cuba for example‑will appear within record time as a lead article in Reader's Digest, or a feature in a Heritage Foundation report, or a series of "exposes" by Moss and de Borchgrave or Daniel James in some reactionary tabloid like Human Events or the Washington Times or Inquirer. Then they will all be called to testify by Senator Denton's Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, repeating one another's allegations as "expert witnesses."
After that they are given credibility by the "respectable" Cold War publications like the National Review, Commentary, and the New Republic. And finally, since they have repeated the theme so many times it must be true, they are given the opportunity to write Op Ed pieces for the New York Times or the Washington Post.
These interconnections are by no means fortuitous. There is practically a revolving door policy from organization to organization, from the government, the CIA, to the "private" media, or the reversal of that process. The new director of VOA, Kenneth Tomlinson, for example, was formerly a Reader's Digest editor, who is hosted at blacktie parties by his old friend, McCarthyite Roy Cohn. Arnaud de Borchgrave, who works actively with several governments' security services, has a difficult time keeping his "journalism" and his spying separate. One of the reasons he was fired from Newsweek magazine was that he kept dossiers on the co‑workers whom he suspected of being KGB dupes. Robert Moss has also had a longtime relationship with the CIA, which financed his book on Chile. He too was "let go" from his job as editor of the London Economist's Foreign Report because his intelligence connections gave his columns a taint which could not be ignored. The Spike, a badly written novel by these two unsavory characters, presaged the disinformation era with all its ramifications.
Cuba and the Drug Trade
One of the most insidious of the continually unfolding disinformation themes currently propagated by the U.S. government is the attempt to implicate high Cuban government officials‑including the commander of the Cuban armed forces, Raul Castro‑in international drug trafficking. This campaign was recently escalated by the blatant covert manipulation of the U.S. judicial system on a scale hardly seen since the Rosenberg‑Sobell proceedings.
The creation of this theme can be traced to the highest levels of the Reagan Administration: from a VOA campaign orchestrated by President Reagan's good friend, USIA Director Charles Z. Wick, to a trial in Miami sponsored by the Justice Department. The criminal charges - at least those purporting to show Cuban government involvement ‑ were so ludicrous that at first only the Miami Herald (with deep ties to the Cuban exile community) saw fit to play them up. But in April, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato held "hearings" in New York and got big play in the New York Times and on national TV.
The VOA campaign began in early 1982 with a series of reports in February and March which suggested Cuba's involvement in drug traffic to the U.S. Some reports said that the purpose was to get drug smugglers to run guns to the FMLN in El Salvador or to the M‑19 in Colombia; some said it was to raise money for those guns; and some said it was to drug the American people into a stupor, presumably to facilitate a takeover. None of the reports seemed concerned that one reason was inconsistent with another.
The VOA then broadcast an interview with the Foreign Minister of Colombia, who repeated the charges and speculated that the Cubans were working with the Mafia. This was rather ironic, considering that for more than twenty years the Mafia has worked hand in glove with the CIA trying to assassinate Fidel Castro, out of bitterness for having lost their drug, gambling, and prostitution empires to the revolution in Cuba. The VOA also gave extensive coverage to similar stories from a Colombian newspaper, suggesting that Cuba and the Mafia were cooperating in the drug business. These reports came from the same Colombian news outlets which had spread the scurrilous story that Celia Sanchez, one of the heroines of the Cuban revolution who had long been suffering with cancer, had been killed in a shootout between Raul and Fidel Castro.
In March, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Enders was broadcast by VOA throughout Latin America repeating the Colombian news reports about drugs and Cuba almost verbatim.
While this disinformation was being spread in the hemisphere, a similar campaign was being waged within the U.S. But before analyzing that propaganda geared to domestic consumption, it is well to understand the significance of the campaign abroad. The goal, as with most propaganda directed against Cuba, is to isolate Cuba from the rest of Latin America, to make it appear a foreign ‑ i.e., Soviet‑entity, divorced from other Latin American or Caribbean countries. It is only by so isolating Cuba that the U.S. can encourage active measures against it‑like the breaking of diplomatic relations‑without creating contradictions in its own Monroe Doctrine pronouncements. Moreover, traditionally, both politically and culturally, Cuba has been in the mainstream of Latin American and, more recently, Caribbean thought, with an influence the U.S. has taken great pains to lessen.
During the middle of 1982, the campaign against Cuba was less intensive, because of the hemisphere's preoccupation with the Malvinas crisis. American disregard for Latin American opinion in aiding the U.K. in that war underscored the hypocrisy of the U.S. position. But the VOA's loss was the New York Post's gain. In June, the Post,
Rupert Murdoch's gutter paper, ran a three‑part series entitled "Castro's Secret War," by Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss. The articles by these sleazy fabricators not only repeated the basic charge of Cuban involvement in the drug trade, but also gave minute details‑names and dates and alleged meetings. Not sourced, the "facts" presented were that several middle‑level drug smugglers had had meetings with Raul Castro and Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega. They hinted that this information might have come from a Colombian smuggler named Jaime Guillot.
Indeed Guillot starred in the next chapter of the saga, when, in July, Reader's Digest ran a five‑page article by a Nathan M. Adams based on unnamed "law‑enforcement and intelligence sources." This "expose," even more detailed than the Moss/de Borchgrave tripe, alleged that Guillot met with Rene Rodriguez, a member of the Central Committee of Cuba and the president of the Cuban Friendship Institute, and that Rodriguez "was in charge of coordinating the smuggling." It further claimed that Guillot traveled from Colombia to Cuba to Nicaragua, meeting with Raul Castro and receiving huge sums of money, that he was given $700,000 in Mexico for a flight to France, but that he was arrested by the Mexicans, whereupon he began "talking his head off," providing all the details for the article. What happened to the money - rather a large sum for a trip to France ‑ and why Guillot was never extradited to the U.S. are not explained. Later reports suggest that Guillot was released by the Mexicans and went to Europe.
In August the drug story gained further dubious currency as the Washington Times, Reverend Moon's paper, reprinted the original Post series. By November VOA was picking up the theme again, and just before the U.S. congressional elections Vice‑President Bush made a Republican campaign speech in Miami which reiterated the charges. Hot on his heels, on November 5, 1982, a Miami federal grand jury issued an indictment against Guillot, nine other drug smugglers, mostly Cuban exiles, and‑in an unprecedented move‑four Cuban officials: Rodriguez, an admiral of the Cuban Navy, and two former officials of the Cuban Embassy in Bogota, one of them the Ambassador.
Eight of the nine smugglers were arrested in Miami, and one of them, David Lorenzo Perez, testified against the others. His statements, similar to those attributed to Guillot in the earlier articles, and those of another unindicted dealer, a self‑described reformed Cuban spy, Mario Estevez Gonzalez were the only evidence against the Cuban officials.
In fact, no drugs were actually introduced at the subsequent trial. It was said the drugs were all thrown overboard when the smugglers panicked. The Estevez confession, according to his own testimony, was given in exchange for "an unspecified amount of money and a short jail sentence" in another drug case.
The payment is extraordinary, almost unheard of. Four Cuban officials were indicted on the statement of a man who was paid to make the statement! What, if anything, happened to Guillot is not known; but it was reported that his drug dealing partner, who also "cooperated" with the U.S. Justice Department, got a twenty‑five‑year jail sentence all of which was suspended.
Although the indictment describes in great detail the movements and travels of the exiled drug dealer, the references to the four Cuban officials are extremely vague. It alleges that they agreed to let Cuba be used as a "loading station and source of supplies for ships" transporting drugs. The indictment, eight counts and nineteen pages, says nothing else about the Cuban officials. It does not say when this "agreement" was made, where it was made, who met with whom nor who said what to whom.
In the February 1983 trial, five of the seven hapless defendants were found guilty, on the testimony of the alleged former spy and the indicted smuggler who turned state's evidence. The two told similar tales, of backslapping jovial meetings with the Cuban officials who, they claimed, said things like, "Now we are going to fill Miami with drugs," and , "It is important to fill the United States with drugs." (As if Miami were not already filled with drugs.) The "spy" said that he replied, "Well, if it has to be filled, let's do it."
Evidently this B‑movie dialogue was sufficient to convict five of the defendants, who presumably were involved in some kind of drug trafficking.
The use of this trial by the U.S. government was blatant; there was no concern about Miami's drug problem, only about Cuba. When Lorenzo Perez agreed to plead guilty and testify against the others, the spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that "when you have people pleading guilty, it just disproves' the denials of the Cuban government. And when the five were convicted, the Assistant U.S. Attorney said that the outcome "demonstrates" the involvement of Cuba.
The Cuban government indignantly denied the charges, pointing out in government statements and broadcasts and in an editorial in Granma the idiocy of the charges. The Cubans also stressed a point which had been virtually ignored in the U.S. press‑that for more than ten years, despite all sorts of ideological disputes, Cuban authorities had been cooperating with U.S. officials in tracking and capturing drug smugglers in the Caribbean. At least 36 ships and 21 planes had been taken in this endeavor and more than 230 drug smugglers prosecuted. Because of the insulting and specious indictment the Cuban government announced that it was discontinuing its cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Even Michael Ledeen, another disinformationist, pretended to be puzzled in his rehash of the Guillot story in the February 28, 1983 New Republic. He conceded that "Fidel Castro used to boast of his hatred of drug traffickers; he even cooperated with the United States by arresting some smugglers and turning them over to American authorities."
But, consistent with this season's disinformation theme, Ledeen refers to the current situation as a "turnabout," designed to provide hard currency for the Soviet Union.
There are countless other indications that it is the U.S. which is more interested in propaganda than in actually stopping drug traffic. During the aftermath of the Pope's shooting it was learned that Bulgaria had been cooperating with U.S. narcotics control officials for twelve years, but that the program had been terminated by President Reagan shortly after he took office.
"Project Democracy" and Public Diplomacy: Conclusion
On June 8, 1982 in an address to the British Parliament, President Reagan announced a new ideological offensive to turn the tide against Communism in the battle for the mind of the world's population. Designed to "foster the infrastructure of democracy" in a dozen ways, it clearly enlisted information as its top recruit. Charles Wick said there would be "a new assertive propagandistic role" to "win the war of ideas."
Elsewhere, as the democracy project unfolded, there were references to information as "a vital part of the strategic and tactical arsenal of the United States." Wick again pictured ideas as the only useful weapons that could be shot at an enemy in the absence of hostilities‑such as the Radio Marti venture aimed at Cuba. Other government officials elevated public diplomacy to the status of diplomatic and military policy in serving the needs of national security. But all spokesmen insisted that the United States at all times "must speak the truth, clearly, vigorously and persuasively."
Since truth is the first casualty in war, whether total, limited, or ideological, as Woodrow Wilson put it, how is the Reagan Administration planning to pull off this miracle? They are not planning to, in all probability. What they are doing is building a new Trojan Horse so that the covert programs of deception, fake propaganda, slanted information, and disinformation can move forward without being under the suspect auspices of the CIA, DIA, and others of that ilk. "Project Democracy" and public diplomacy are clearly a rehabilitation process for government propaganda, an attempt to restore information manipulation under new sponsorship. Will it work? Will you believe it? Or are you ready to be fooled?
First of all, the proposal was born with original sin. Conceived in secrecy as a classified executive order, Project Democracy can hardly live up to its claim of democratic openness. A CIA covert feature initially existed in the plan, but was withdrawn, or so we and the Congress are told. Still, National Security Council Decision Directive 77 placed the program under the National Security Assistant's control where it is "to support U.S. policies and interests.." Those chairing the top four committees come from agencies with long‑time commitments to secrecy and the protective cover of classification. But there are more serious problems with this deformed Reagan progeny besides the wartime psychology that gave it birth and the secrecy with which it was raised.
On its face the idea is implausible because American foreign policies and CIA operations have not evidenced any connection with an infrastructure of democratic principles, except as they are manipulated to suit the purposes of the U.S. Democracies have had empires before, from Athens on. Whatever the U.S. may call its overseas political, economic, and cultural mission, its support of client regimes, its overthrow of leftist democratic governments, its active support of "moderately authoritarian" right‑wing allies, its backing of powerful multinational corporations - none of that has ever been analyzed internally for its democratic fallout. The credibility of any government information must inevitably be tested against the deeds as well as the rhetoric of a nation.
What chance would the Democracy Institute have to gain access to the truth it insists it will disseminate? How will it know it is not part of the cover story, the way Adlai Stevenson was used at the U.N. during the Bay of Pigs? The very Administration that is increasing classification, unleashing the spy agencies, and restricting freedom of information now says it will spread the truth to the world to enhance democratic values out there. Tell that to the people of Chile.
Since the new proposals (budgeted at $85 million this year) call for a heavy reliance on non‑governmental institutions, it is interesting to examine what has already been funded. One grant helped "media officials" from rightwing governments‑including El Salvador‑learn how to handle the U.S. press. Ian MacKenzie, a slick ideologue who was a registered agent for Anastasio Somoza is directing the program, at a cost of $170,000 to the taxpayers. (See CAIB Number 12.) Another grant gave Ernest Lefever's Ethics and Public Policy Center almost $200,000 to run four seminars pushing the "ethics of nuclear arms."
As these "democratic" projects went up to Congress, many of them smacked of the CIA's old bag of dirty tricks finally getting laundered. A world‑wide book publishing venture, a center for free enterprise (is business a democratic institution?), a foundation and organizations to promote Latin American "democracy," and academic programs at two foreign universities. The announced objectives such as "leadership training," sound like recruitment for covert futures, as ‑the CIA does routinely with foreign students on American campuses. Project Democracy is the soft core version of hard core deception.
It is time the American people took a good dose of their own history to begin to understand what ails this society. One benefit might be a revival of old‑fashioned American skepticism toward authoritative pronouncements. History has rebutted the argument of disinformation's origin as a KGB plot, and traced its twentieth century development as a hidden partner of the imperial process and national security apparatus. We have learned that propaganda intruded itself into the democratic process long ago.
The most important lesson of history's warnings, however, would be an understanding of what went wrong with information in the past to help people resist the inroads of further deception. The next time the government floats a story, demand in each instance to know why it is propagating this information, whose interests it is serving, and what is being concealed. Then perhaps this country can abandon the process of government by the misinformed.