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… the British government has significantly stepped up its machinery of ‘information operations’ in recent years, and has ‘comprehensively overhauled’ its internal and external propaganda apparatus', outside of any significant media or parliamentary scrutiny. In 2002, the British army stated that in future conflicts, 'maintaining moral as well as information dominance will rank as important as physical protection'. Two years earlier, armed-forces minister John Spellar had commented that 'we shall depend increasingly, not on simple numerical superiority in firepower, but on information dominance'.
The Foreign Office has rebranded its propaganda work as 'public diplomacy'. Following a review of its activities in this area, it concluded that the government needed an ‘overarching public diplomacy strategy' that would shape 'the core messages that we wish to put across to our target audiences'. Such a strategy is considerably aided by the Foreign Policy Centre, a think tank established by New Labour. Its director Mark Leonard is one of the most passionate intellectual articulators of this new form of propaganda. One of the major threats identified by Leonard, for example, is 'the rise of global NGOs and protest movements' which 'have changed the nature of power and put even greater constraints on the freedom of action of national governments' - have increased, that is, the danger that the public might influence policy.
The Foreign Office's 'public diplomacy' operation now costs £340 million per year for operations based in London alone, excluding those undertaken in embassies around the world. The operation is 'entirely outside of democratic control' and works 'on the basis that anything goes so long as it is calculated that it can be got away with'.
More traditional activities - such as unattributably planting information in the domestic and foreign press - continue under the headings 'grey' and 'black' propaganda operations. These stories then get recycled, and are used by governments as 'proof of otherwise unsubstantiated claims.
Britain's leading analyst ofMl6, Stephen Dorril, has written that 'intelligence agencies continually create alarmist disinformation'. Examples from the past include: the story of 'red mercury', the mysterious substance that was meant to be a'cheap source of cheap nuclear weapons for terrorists; the nuclear artillery shells that supposedly went missing from Soviet southern states; and the 'Islamic bomb' which terrorists were meant to be building to be in use by 1995.
'Since September', Dorril argues, 'the intelligence agencies with the aid of gullible journalists, editors desperate for endless copy and politicians on a crusade have constructed a truly global conspiracy theory'. At the top is Osama bin Laden, a mastermind as in every lan Fleming fantasy, who is meant to control a vast network of thousands of terrorists across the world intent on murdering us in our beds. Numerous scare stories continue to be spread about al Qaeda's supposed plans. The threat from terrorists is real, but as with the 'Soviet threat' throughout the cold war, details are exaggerated and often deliberately fabricated as part of a strategy to achieve domestic and foreign-policy goals.
For example, in April 2004 we were told that the security services had foiled a fiendish plot by international terrorists to detonate a dangerous chemical weapon in London, based on a substance called osmium tetroxide. Brian Jones, former head of the branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff responsible for analysing intelligence on chemical warfare, wrote that he had never heard of this substance. 'It all begins to sound like so much froth', he added: 'at first, it crosses my mind that this information could have entered the public domain as a result of an ill-conceived attempt to boost the reputation of one or other of the hard-pressed intelligence and security agencies'. Or it could have been 'inspired by the Home Office to support their policy initiatives'. Either way, Jones concludes that it is 'frightening' that those leading the counter-terrorism effort 'either do not understand the requirement' or 'are prepared to see the public misled as a short term expedient to achieve policy goals'.
The government has stated that, following Iraq, propaganda will increase. A MoD report entitled Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the future, published in December 2003, says that the future British military strategy ‘will place greater emphasis on information and media operations, which are critical to success’.
The report also notes the success of the strategy of embedding journalists with the US-British military, stating that ‘commercial analysis of the print output they produced during the combat phase shows that 90% of embedded correspondents’ reporting was either positive or neutral.’
Unpeople - Britain’s secret human rights abuses. Mark Curtis.