How much money is spent by our governments to support the noble wars fought in our name?
Michael Hastings is a leading American investigative journalist who likes nothing more than uncovering the lies and spin told by US officials to back conflicts globally.
In a recent interview with US magazine Guernica, he further uncovers these tactics:
Guernica: Your most recent high-profile article revealed that the American military was using psychological operations—psy-ops—on visiting American senators in order to manipulate them into providing more resources for the Afghanistan War. This sounds like something out of a bad spy novel. Tell me about it.
Michael Hastings: An information operations team was sent to Afghanistan to conduct various psychological operations on the Afghans and Taliban. The team was then asked not to focus on the Taliban but on manipulating senators into giving more funds and troops [to the war]. But this unit said no, that’s not right. The military then launched a retaliatory investigation into the guy who had complained. But keep in mind this isn’t Manchurian Candidate. The word psy-ops is spooky. They’ve changed that to MISO, by the way—Military Information Support Operations. What’s incredible about it is that if you look at what psychological operations are, what information operations are, what public affairs are, they’re all trying to influence and manipulate. The key is that the psy-ops guys are allowed to lie. And they’re only supposed to target foreign populations. The way the Pentagon and its defenders have pushed back against this story is to say: “They weren’t doing psychological operations, they were doing information operations and public affairs. They were just helping us spin senators like we normally do [laughs].”
Guernica: What were some of the psy-ops techniques?
Michael Hastings: It’s pretty innocuous stuff. Do a lot of in-depth research on Senator [Al] Franken and find his pressure points. How do we plant ideas in his head, and how do we manipulate these guys? So it wasn’t a Jedi mind trick—and the story never makes that claim. But the frightening aspect is that it’s part of a larger effort from the Pentagon to tear down the wall between between public affairs and propaganda, and essentially say there is no difference between information operations, public affairs and psychological operations. It’s all one and the same. They have a new name for that too, it’s called Information Engagement. What I hope people take away from this story is that it’s a window into a larger phenomenon. After a decade of war you have this Pentagon-military apparatus run amok using resources that they shouldn’t be to try to manipulate U.S. public opinion. Some of the pushback was “Oh, well it’s not a big deal.” But Senator [Carl] Levin, one of the senators targeted, voted in favor of giving $2 billion to General Caldwell a year later. So, obviously there’s informal spinning going on, but when you’re using a unit that is trained to influence and target the Taliban and Afghans, that’s what they’re there for. That’s why we’re spending $6 million on them.
Guernica: That’s $6 million for a five-man unit. Sounds like a lot of taxpayer dollars fund the military spin machine.
Michael Hastings: You have the general’s PR staff of two dozen, which is already costing us close to $28 million in Afghanistan. Plus the PR staff at ISAF headquarters, which costs tens of millions more. Plus the PR guys scattered throughout the country. We’re talking huge amounts of money spent on the spin machine.
Guernica: What other ways does the military spin American citizens and journalists?
Michael Hastings: The U.S. mission that trains Afghans is called NTM-A/CSTC-A, it’s an $11.6 million a year mission and their sole purpose is to train the Afghan army and police. But one of their major initiatives this year was getting all of their officers on Facebook. So the question is, Why are these people who are there to train the Afghans being pressured to be on Facebook? Again, it sounds benign until you realize that the military’s concern isn’t the Afghans, it’s convincing the American people that we should be in Afghanistan.
Guernica: How is being on Facebook supposed to accomplish that?
Michael Hastings: Soldiers can put up pictures and say “See how happy the Afghans are because of our presence here.” It’s a way to directly influence the American people using propaganda. But one of the absurdly comic things… I had this chart that listed the top 100 Facebook users in this one command. Over a two-month period they used ninety-nine days’ worth of Facebook and forty-five gigabytes—so much that the base’s network slowed down. This is all taxpayer-funded. And then you have this new program that they’re developing, which I didn’t get into in my story. A $200 million contract just got awarded to develop software to provide the Department of Defense with all these sock puppets who have fake Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Guernica: Explain that.
Michael Hastings: A new software is being developed so the psychological operations guys and the Pentagon’s strategic communications guys—and we don’t really know who’s running it—but this is all totally out in the open. It’s this new program that will allow them to have like ten fake Twitter accounts and ten Facebook accounts so you can pretend…
Guernica: So you’re saying people at the DOD will be creating phony users on Facebook and Twitter?
Michael Hastings: Exactly. It’s called Operation Earnest Voice. It’s incredible when you think of the power of this. Why not create ten fake Libyan Twitter users and then get one journalist to follow them. But the problem is, of course, it corrupts the entire process. One of the caveats is that [the DOD says] anything they write is going to be in a foreign language so it won’t affect Americans. But that doesn’t make any sense because: A) it can be translated pretty easily, and B) Americans also speak other languages.