Sam Gardiner has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, Air War College, and Naval War College. He was recently a visiting scholar at the Swedish Defense College. During Gulf War II, he was a regular on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, BBC radio and television, and National Public Radio. He authored “The Enemy Is Us,” an article describing how the Bush administration used disinformation and psychological warfare weapons usually used against the enemy against the American public in order to support the war in Iraq. He has done extensive analysis of the media coverage before the war, during the war, and during the occupation, and of the statements of administration officials. His conclusions are startling and of great concern. He has put his findings in a report entitled “Truth From These Podia.”
Zeese: Describe your professional background and expertise.
Gardiner: Sure, Kevin. I’m a retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force. When I retired, I was teaching strategy at the National War College in Washington, D.C. Since I’ve been retired, I have continued to teach military strategy. I’ve taught for the Naval War College. I’ve taught at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. I also spent a period as a visiting scholar at the Swedish Defense College in Stockholm.
In addition, I have been doing war games. You may have seen descriptions of some of the games I’ve done. I did one on Iran that was covered in the December 2004 Atlantic Monthly. More recently, I conducted a game addressing North Korea. It was covered in the July/August Atlantic Monthly.
Zeese: What is “Truth From These Podia“? How did you conduct this media analysis?
Gardiner:It is a paper I published on the Web that reflected four months of heavy research.
I had followed press reports of the war closely as it unfolded because of a job I had. During the first couple months of Gulf II, I was under contract with the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. With another retired colonel, we did an almost daily on-air analysis of how the war was going. As the war unfolded, I became increasingly uneasy about what was being reported out of the White House, Pentagon, and Central Command. I was hearing things that just did not make sense with what I knew and what my intuition was telling me. I began tracking some of the stories. It was just a matter of going over what we were told and connecting that with the truth as it emerged later. One of the first items that made me uneasy was when I heard we were encountering “terrorist death squads.” I was very familiar with the Iraq military forces. There were no terrorist death squads. It became obvious the Pentagon wanted us to connect Iraq with 9/11. Terrorists did 9/11. There are terrorists in Iraq. Iraq must have been behind 9/11.
Zeese: Regarding the management of information about Iraq, I’d like to focus on the buildup to the Iraq war initially. There have been growing indications from a series of memoranda and meeting minutes from Great Britain that U.S. intelligence was “fixed” to support the war. In your analysis of media management before the war, do you see any indication that the United States Congress and public were manipulated into supporting the invasion of Iraq by misinformation?
Gardiner: Kevin, I find it amazing that there is now a growing interest in the marketing of the war. There is absolutely no question that the White House and the Pentagon participated in an effort to market the military option. The truth did not make any difference to that campaign. To call it fixing is to miss the more profound point. It was a campaign to influence. It involved creating false stories; it involved exaggerating; it involved manipulating the numbers of stories that were released; it involved a major campaign to attack those who disagreed with the military option. It included all the techniques those who ran the marketing effort had learned in political campaigns.
Zeese: Can you give some examples of false or exaggerated stories put out by the Bush administration in the buildup to the war?
Gardiner: In the summer of 2003, we know from the Downing Street memo that the administration was talking about justifying a war by arguing that Iraq was the nexus of terrorism and WMD.
The terrorism argument was what propaganda literature would refer to as “the big lie.” The administration’s objective was to make enough arguments connecting Iraq to terrorism and bin Laden that the American people would believe Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks. They used a technique called the excluded middle. Iraq supports terrorists. The attacks were by terrorists. Iraq must been behind the 9/11 attacks.
We know the WMD story fairly well. We know the story of the uranium from Niger. We know about the aluminum tubes that were not for uranium enrichment. We know the biological labs Powell showed to the UN did not exist.
Beyond these, there are many exaggerations that have gotten very little notice. Let me mention just a few.
A New York Times reporter was told by the administration that Iraq was buying excess quantities of atropine to get ready for chemical warfare. It turns out the quantities were consistent with the Iraqi use of the substance for routine medical purposes.
The president told us in a speech in Ohio that Iraq had drone aircraft that could possible deliver chemical weapons into the United States. When that facility was found, the officers reported that it looked more like a school project than a serious military program.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the Council on Foreign Relations that Iraq had the capability to attack U.S. computers. They did not.
We were led to believe a Navy pilot shot down during the first Gulf War was alive and being held in Baghdad. He was not.
We were told on the State Department Web site that Iraq was forming units of children to fight the United States. Iraq did not do that.
We were told the French were supplying air-defense missiles to Iraq. That was not true.
There were many more.
Zeese: How about information during the war? Did the embedded journalists help give the U.S. a more accurate or less accurate perspective? How did the Pentagon control information?
Gardiner: A number of democratic institutions failed us during the war. Certainly, the press was among those. I attended a conference in London in July 2003 at which one of the PR firms that advised the Pentagon talked about lessons learned from the effort. They were pleased that they were able to dominate the story. That was their objective. The embedded notion had been tested in Afghanistan, and it proved to be effective. The product was lots of coverage with personal stories of soldiers. That was the Pentagon objective. Keep their story on television. Keep people talking about meals-ready-to-eat, and they won’t criticize the war.
As I mentioned, I had done analysis during the major offensive operations. One of the things that the head of this PR firm said at that conference was that in the next war, the Pentagon wanted to control context more and not let it be done by retired military people.
Zeese: You spend a lot of time in your article on the story regarding the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch. Why is that important?
Gardiner: Kevin, the Jessica Lynch story touched me personally, and it became representative of the whole effort to manipulate the truth.
From beginning to end, the Lynch story was a press event. It started with the description that the unit was “ambushed.” The unit was not ambushed. It got lost and drove into Iraqi lines, and then it retraced its path back through Iraqi lines.
The Pentagon was in such a hurry to get out the story of an individual who had fought off the Iraqis, they did so with incomplete information. All of the heroic stuff was really about a soldier in the unit who was killed, not about Lynch.
The secretary of defense allowed the story to stay around for days despite knowing the truth and despite the family insisting that the information was not about their daughter.
My father was wounded and captured by the Germans during WWII. He did some heroic things during the period of his capture. The manipulation of the Lynch story was an insult to his heroism.
Zeese: And in the occupation phase? What kind of media control occurred as that phase began? Is it continuing today?
Gardiner: There have been major media strategies during the occupation. For the first year, the same pattern continued. We heard exaggeration and deflection from the press conferences from Baghdad. After the first year, the White House strategy shifted. The idea was that it wanted the American people to forget about the war. They quit having press conferences in Baghdad. Central Command quit having press conferences. The military spokesperson from Iraq became junior officers and enlisted people. The brigadier generals disappeared.
The current strategic communications strategy is to make it seem as if there is progress, keep the number of stories down, and certainly to continue to hide casualties. You may know that the United States is the only coalition country that did not honor its returning dead.
Zeese: Is the media being fooled by the administration, or is it complicit in this effort to misinform the public?
Gardiner: The media have been fooled. They have been lazy. They have lost sight of the historic calling of journalism. Journalists have been replaced on television by cheerleaders.
Zeese: Was any of this illegal?
Gardiner: Some of it may have been illegal. A case was brought against the secretary of defense in a Chicago court by Judicial Watch for violating the law that limits defense money being used for propaganda inside the United States.
There was another illegal dimension. Most people don’t know, but the military is the only profession where it is illegal to lie. It is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for an officer to tell a lie. There were some officers who violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice as they marketed for the administration.
Zeese: You say in “Truth From These Podia,” “In the most basic sense, Washington and London did not trust the peoples of their democracies to come to right decisions. Truth became a casualty. When truth is a casualty, democracy receives collateral damage.” Does this mean that if the people of Washington and the United States were told the truth they would not have supported the invasion of Iraq, and therefore they had to be misled by the Bush administration?
Gardiner: One irony of the whole mess is that the American people, and the British people, would most likely have supported strong actions against Iraq had they been told the truth.
The other irony is that if truth had been valued inside the administration, we probably would not have gone to war. In very early 2003, I had done an extensive analysis of the likely humanitarian consequences of an invasion of Iraq. I was able to get quite a few mid-level people to review my briefing. I even briefed my results to the National Security Council staff. The bottom line of my presentation was that the United States was not ready to deal with what was coming. That was clearly not a piece of information anyone wanted.
My efforts and those of others are described in a January 2004 article in the Atlantic Monthly by Jim Fallows, “Blind Into Baghdad.”
Zeese: How much did this campaign of misinformation cost?
Gardiner: Tough question, Kevin. I don’t think it possible to get a total handle on the effort. I have read one estimate that put the marketing at $200 million. That cost is trivial, however, [compared] to the collateral damage that has been done to democracy.
Zeese: What do we do to prevent this from occurring in the future?
Gardiner: Wow, I wish I had an answer to this question. Based upon the initial work done after the offensive phase by those involved in strategic communications, I have to tell you, as I said in my paper, if you think this was bad, wait until the next war. They will be even better at manipulating the story.
Zeese: You conclude “Truth in These Podia” with the “Last Chart” and suggest that we need an investigation to determine the extent of information management, and legislation to prevent the people of the United States from being victimized by war propaganda in the future. What type of investigation? What type of legislation?
Gardiner: We need a commission. This one would not be about intelligence. This would be focused on strategic communications. I have been able to uncover some of the manipulation that went on before and during the war, but I think I have only scratched the surface. Some is still classified or buried. For example, who within the U.S. government told the press that the French gave Saddam Hussein a passport so he could sneak out of Iraq? Who told the press Saddam Hussein was hiding in the Russian embassy?
The United States needs a robust public diplomacy effort, but I believe we cannot allow government officials to insert non-truth into media that will be seen by Americans. We can’t allow officials to damage democracy in the name of extending democracy.