Information Operations Roadmap

By Adam Brookes

The operations described in the document include a surprising range of military activities: public affairs officers who brief journalists, psychological operations troops who try to manipulate the thoughts and beliefs of an enemy, computer network attack specialists who seek to destroy enemy networks.

All these are engaged in information operations.


Perhaps the most startling aspect of the roadmap is its acknowledgement that information put out as part of the military's psychological operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and television screens of ordinary Americans.

"Information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and Psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic audience," it reads.

"Psyops messages will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public," it goes on.

The document's authors acknowledge that American news media should not unwittingly broadcast military propaganda. "Specific boundaries should be established," they write. But they don't seem to explain how.


Obama confidant's spine-chilling proposal

By Glenn Greenwald

Cass Sunstein is currently Obama's head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs where, among other things, he is responsible for "overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs." In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-"independent" advocates to "cognitively infiltrate" online groups and websites - as well as other activist groups - which advocate views that Sunstein deems "false conspiracy theories" about the Government. This would be designed to increase citizens' faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists. The paper's abstract can be read, and the full paper downloaded, here.

Sunstein advocates that the Government's stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into "chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups." He also proposes that the Government make secret payments to so-called "independent" credible voices to bolster the Government's messaging (on the ground that those who don't believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government). This program would target those advocating false "conspiracy theories," which they define to mean: "an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role." Sunstein's 2008 paper was flagged by this blogger, and then amplified in an excellent report by Raw Story's Daniel Tencer.

There's no evidence that the Obama administration has actually implemented a program exactly of the type advocated by Sunstein, though in light of this paper and the fact that Sunstein's position would include exactly such policies, that question certainly ought to be asked. Regardless, Sunstein's closeness to the President, as well as the highly influential position he occupies, merits an examination of the mentality behind what he wrote. This isn't an instance where some government official wrote a bizarre paper in college 30 years ago about matters unrelated to his official powers; this was written 18 months ago, at a time when the ascendancy of Sunstein's close friend to the Presidency looked likely, in exactly the area he now oversees. Additionally, the government-controlled messaging that Sunstein desires has been a prominent feature of U.S. Government actions over the last decade, including in some recently revealed practices of the current administration, and the mindset in which it is grounded explains a great deal about our political class. All of that makes Sunstein's paper worth examining in greater detail.


Sunstein's response to these criticisms is easy to find in what he writes, and is as telling as the proposal itself. He acknowledges that some "conspiracy theories" previously dismissed as insane and fringe have turned out to be entirely true... Given that history, how could it possibly be justified for the U.S. Government to institute covert programs designed to undermine anti-government "conspiracy theories," discredit government critics, and increase faith and trust in government pronouncements? Because, says Sunstein, such powers are warranted only when wielded by truly well-intentioned government officials who want to spread The Truth and Do Good

i.e., when used by people like Cass Sunstein and Barack Obama:
Throughout, we assume a well-motivated government that aims to eliminate conspiracy theories, or draw their poison, if and only if social welfare is improved by doing so.

But it's precisely because the Government is so often not "well-motivated" that such powers are so dangerous. Advocating them on the ground that "we will use them well" is every authoritarian's claim. More than anything else, this is the toxic mentality that consumes our political culture: when our side does X, X is Good, because we're Good and are working for Good outcomes. That was what led hordes of Bush followers to endorse the same large-government surveillance programs they long claimed to oppose, and what leads so many Obama supporters now to justify actions that they spent the last eight years opposing.


Sunstein himself - as part of his 2008 paper - explicitly advocates that the Government should pay what he calls "credible independent experts" to advocate on the Government's behalf, a policy he says would be more effective because people don't trust the Government itself and would only listen to people they believe are "independent."


What is most odious and revealing about Sunstein's worldview is his condescending, self-loving belief that "false conspiracy theories" are largely the province of fringe, ignorant Internet masses and the Muslim world. That, he claims, is where these conspiracy theories thrive most vibrantly, and he focuses on various 9/11 theories - both domestically and in Muslim countries - as his prime example.

It's certainly true that one can easily find irrational conspiracy theories in those venues, but some of the most destructive "false conspiracy theories" have emanated from the very entity Sunstein wants to endow with covert propaganda power: namely, the U.S. Government itself, along with its elite media defenders. Moreover, "crazy conspiracy theorist" has long been the favorite epithet of those same parties to discredit people trying to expose elite wrongdoing and corruption.

Who is it who relentlessly spread "false conspiracy theories" of Saddam-engineered anthrax attacks and Iraq-created mushroom clouds and a Ba'athist/Al-Qaeda alliance

the most destructive conspiracy theories of the last generation? And who is it who demonized as "conspiracy-mongers" people who warned that the U.S. Government was illegally spying on its citizens, systematically torturing people, attempting to establish permanent bases in the Middle East, or engineering massive bailout plans to transfer extreme wealth to the industries which own the Government? The most chronic and dangerous purveyors of "conspiracy theory" games are the very people Sunstein thinks should be empowered to control our political debates through deceit and government resources: namely, the Government itself and the Enlightened Elite like him.

It is this history of government deceit and wrongdoing that renders Sunstein's desire to use covert propaganda to "undermine" anti-government speech so repugnant. The reason conspiracy theories resonate so much is precisely that people have learned - rationally - to distrust government actions and statements. Sunstein's proposed covert propaganda scheme is a perfect illustration of why that is. In other words, people don't trust the Government and "conspiracy theories" are so pervasive precisely because government is typically filled with people like Cass Sunstein, who think that systematic deceit and government-sponsored manipulation are justified by their own Goodness and Superior Wisdom.


Just to get a sense for what an extremist Cass Sunstein is (which itself is ironic, given that his paper calls for "cognitive infiltration of extremist groups," as the Abstract puts it), marvel at this paragraph:

So Sunstein isn't calling right now for proposals (1) and (2) - having Government "ban conspiracy theorizing" or "impose some kind of tax on those who" do it - but he says "each will have a place under imaginable conditions." I'd love to know the "conditions" under which the government-enforced banning of conspiracy theories or the imposition of taxes on those who advocate them will "have a place." That would require, at a bare minumum, a repeal of the First Amendment. Anyone who believes this should, for that reason alone, be barred from any meaningful government position.


666 to 1: The US Military, Al-Qaeda and a War of Futility

By Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt

According to U.S. intelligence estimates, there are currently about 100 al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, as well as "several hundred" in Pakistan and, so the latest reports tell us, a similar number in Yemen. Members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Algeria, Mali, and Mauritania) and those based in Somalia undoubtedly fall into the same category at several hundred each. According to authorities from the Iraq Study Group to the U.S. State Department, even at the height of the insurgency and civil war in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia never had more than 1,300-4,000 active fighters. Today, it is believed to consist only of "small, roving cells."


Over the years, and sometimes with good reason, Washington has lumped Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan with al-Qaeda and counted various militant groups, including Somalia's al-Shabab Islamic rebels, as al-Qaeda affiliates. Add such fighters in and you would swell these numbers by many thousands.

Additionally, al-Qaeda has an arsenal of weaponry. Members have access to rocket-propelled grenades, small arms of various sorts, the materials for making deadly roadside bombs, car bombs, and of course underwear bombs.


The active duty U.S. military alone enjoys a 666:1 advantage over the estimated number of al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, and Somalia. Adding in the reserves, the ratio jumps to an embarrassingly-high 1,286:1. Even if you were to factor in those hordes of nonexistent al-Qaeda sleeper agents, 300 each for 195 countries from Australia to Vatican City, the U.S. military would still enjoy a 23:1 advantage (or 45:1 if you included the reserves, now regularly sent into war zones on multiple tours of duty).

In sum, after the better part of a decade of conflict, the United States has spent trillions of taxpayer dollars on bullets and bombs, soldiers and drones. It has waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have yet to end, launched strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, dispatched Special Ops troops to those nations and others, like the Philippines, and built or expanded hundreds of new bases all over the world. Yet Osama bin Laden remains at large and al-Qaeda continues to target and kill Americans.


Al-Qaeda has no tanks, Humvees, nuclear submarines, or aircraft carriers, no fleets of attack helicopters or fighter jets. Al-Qaeda has never launched a spy satellite and isn't developing advanced drone technology (although it may be hacking into U.S. video feeds). Al-Qaeda specializes in low-budget operations ranging from the incredibly deadly to the incredibly ineffectual -- from murderous car bombs and airplanes-used-as-missiles to faulty shoe- and underwear-explosives.

Of course, comparisons of the strengths of the U.S. military and al-Qaeda "at war" would be absurd, if it weren't for the fact that the United States actually went to war against such a group. It was a decision about as effective as firing a machine gun at a swarm of gnats. Some may die, but the process is visibly self-defeating.

In the present War on Terror, called by whatever name (or, as at present, by no name at all), the two "sides" might as well be in different worlds. After all, al-Qaeda today isn't even an organization in the normal sense of the term, no less a fighting bureaucracy. It is a loose collection of ideas and a looser collection of individuals waging open-source warfare.


The Pentagon, with its giant bureaucracy and its miles of offices and corridors, is the headquarters of the U.S. war effort, but there is no central al-Qaeda headquarters, not in Afghanistan or Pakistan

not anywhere. There is probably no longer even an "al-Qaeda central." Osama bin Laden has vanished or, for all we know, may be dead. Think of it, at best, as an open-source organization that is remarkably capable of replicating by a process of self-franchising.

Isn't it time, then, to stop imagining al-Qaeda as a complex organization of terrorist supermen capable of committing super-deeds, or as an organization that bears any resemblance to a traditional enemy military force? With al-Qaeda, the path of war has undoubtedly been the road to perdition -- as we should have discovered by now, more than one trillion dollars later.


It's time to put al-Qaeda back in perspective

a human perspective, which would include its stunning successes, its dismal failures, and its monumental goof-ups, as well as its unrealizable dreams. (No, Virginia, there will never be an al-Qaeda caliphate in or across the Greater Middle East.) The fact is: al-Qaeda is not an apocalyptic threat. Its partisans can cause damage, but only Americans can bring down this country.

The wealthy accumulate wealth

By chlamor

The wealthy accumulate wealth by appropriating the wealth created by those who sell their wealth creating power to the wealthy. Everyone who receives a paycheck enhances the wealth of the wealthy by being paid less than the amount of wealth they produce. If you do not produce excess wealth for the wealthy, or otherwise contribute to the profit of the wealthy, your employment will be terminated.

The wealthy distribute that which they appropriate in a manner that in their judgment best insures their continued accumulation of wealth. Those who best serve the wealthy are best compensated for their successful efforts at accumulation of wealth from the producers of wealth for appropriation by the wealthy.

People commonly understand the wealthy as creators of wealth rather than appropriators of wealth. People desire to serve those whom they see as the the source of wealth for a share of the wealth, misunderstanding that in serving the wealthy they are serving the distributors of wealth, those who are also the appropriators of wealth, but not the producers of wealth.

Wealth production, appropriation, and distribution: this is the means by which the people are incentivized to serve the boards of directors, whether of capitalist enterprises or capitalist governments.

Peoples movements will always be secondary when the first choice available is to serve the wealthy masters. The masters have the power to distribute wealth to those who serve them best; and those who do not sufficiently demonstrate loyalty to the wealthy are cast out of the system and exposed to risks and insecurity of poverty.