Watch What You Say

It’s just come out that Paul Harvey was a close friend of J. Edgar Hoover and regularly ran his columns by the FBI for vetting.

That’s nothing new, of course.  The Congress on Cultural Freedom was a CIA front that funded all sorts of think tanks, periodicals and advocacy groups.  As a matter of fact, I think the CIA still owns the movie rights to Orwell’s Animal Farm.  If you’ve noticed the various film versions of Animal Farm seem a lot lamer than the book, and come down almost entirely on the pigs rather than the humans, it’s probably not a coincidence.  In the last Hallmark movie version, Jones was a scandal to all the decent farmers living nearby, and at the end the pigs’ regime collapsed and the farm was taken over by a kindly, Kennedyesque young family man with Fats Domino blasting out the speakers of his convertible.  He didn’t recreate Yeltsin’s seige of Parliament, but I guess that’s for the sequel.

Tom Braden, who ran the CIA’s covert cultural division in the 1950s, argued that “If the other side can use ideas that are camouflaged as being local rather than Soviet-supported or -stimulated, then we ought to be able to use ideas camouflaged as local ideas.”  Uh, yeah, except that, in the civics book version of democracy, the CIA is supposed to be part of a government that takes orders rather than giving them, and the orders the government takes is supposed to come from those “local ideas.”

Lest the reader dismiss this as all a relic of the Cold War, consider the following examples (in no particular order):

Several years back the proposed Total Information Awareness program sparked controversy because one of its missions was to engage in “information warfare,” which included directing misinformation toward the governed population as part of their larger campaign to manipulate the enemy.

In the past, CNN has employed, as interns, military psy-op specialists from Ft. Benning.  It may still do, for all I know.

A few years ago there was a scandal when Wikipedia started tracking the IP addresses logged for edits and found articles on government agencies had been revised by employees of those agencies.

WikiLeaks has been targeted for some time by the national security community for hosting embarrassing government documents.  The site drew serious government ire by posting a leaked CIA document which explicitly celebrated public apathy as a way of allowing the national security state to ignore the will of the supposedly “sovereign” voter.  It referred, specifically, to the ability of European countries to participate in the Afghan war despite the disapproval of overwhelming majorities of the population—and then went on to argue that, since apathy might no longer be enough, Western governments ought to actively manipulate public opinion with disinformation campaigns.  After the posting of that document, the intelligence community began considering covert measures to discredit WikiLeaks.  The campaign of harassment has since been stepped up even more since the posting of a video showing American troops joyfully massacring civilians in Iraq.

An Austin area drug activist couple are facing an investigation by county Child Protection Services—despite their kids being, as the assistant DA said, “healthy, happy and well cared for”—because of what they’re teaching their  kids about the government.   They are accused of child endangerment for teaching their kids, among other things, that “marijuana is good and anti-drug efforts are riddled with lies,” and that “government is out to harm them.”  Not only that, but the dad “doesn’t believe in church.”  As proof that they’ve  been warped and terrified by anti-government propaganda, CPS cites testimony from a police sergeant that the kids were “crying for no  reason” when a bunch of thugs in black uniforms and body armor kicked in the door of their home serving a no-knock warrant.  Imagine that.

On a less threatening but more pervasive level, government constantly lobbies us using our own tax dollars.  The White House Office on Drug Control Policy website hosts propaganda against local  decriminalization and medpot  initiatives.  Local schoolyards are covered with signs encouraging voters to vote for millage increases.  The city posts signs near roadwork announcing “Your street improvement tax at work.”

All these stories add up to a very alarming trend.

If I recall correctly the garbage I was taught in civics class, the general idea is that we have a marketplace of ideas where the public engages in unfettered discussion of the  issues and then instructs the government on its wishes.  You know, the people are the bosses, the government works for  us, and all that.

In reality, far from serving as an instrument of the will of an autonomous public, government sets the range of permissible debate, and acts covertly to guide the debate in order to protect the class interests it really serves.

As Samuel Huntington argued forty years ago in his paper on the crisis of governability, the post-WWII position of the U.S. as “hegemonic power in a system of world order” depended on a “large measure of public apathy,” enabling the President (aided, Huntington said, by an establishment made up of representatives of leading banks, corporations, and think tanks) to make foreign policy with a free hand.  And as Chomsky has pointed out, the American public is treated in functional terms as a domestic enemy whose perceptions must be managed via information warfare, lest it threaten the constellation of class interests that controls the state.

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