The independence of the “last to know”
U.S. intelligence services’ methods of manipulating and fabricating news continue as standard practice
Iroel Sánchezjanuary 11, 2021 14:01:23
German journalist Udo Ulfkotte, author of the book Journalists for Hire, died of a suspicious heart attack.
In Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick’s film about Vietnam, there is a scene in which the U.S. officer dealing with the press during the war gives the journalists instructions on how to cover events in the field. The slightest slip-up is unacceptable, including anything from photographing a singer or actress on hand to lift the spirits of the troops, to the exact word for each type of person on the U.S. or enemy side, like those fleeing the war who are to be called “evacuees” or “refugees.” Minute details for every event covered and report are outlined. These war correspondents Kubrick places in Saigon would later be called “embedded journalists” during the Iraq war.
The non-embedded, those independent of the U.S. command who attempted to cover the war beyond the troops, would pay dearly for the privilege. On the first day of the arrival of the U.S. army in Baghdad, in the 2003 war, journalists covering the events from the Palestine Hotel learned this very quickly, a U.S. Army tank fixed its sights on them and two cameramen were killed, among them the Spaniard José Couso. No one was ever held accountable for Couso’s death. First, the right-wing Spanish People’s Party government was part of the coalition that, against the UN’s will, invaded the country, and later, the “left” government of the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) pulled the troops out of Iraq, but the instructions it received from the U.S. State Department, exposed by Wikileaks, make clear that both Spanish Attorney General Cándido Conde-Pumpido, and the Chief Prosecutor of the National Court, Javier Zaragoza, and then Social Democratic Vice President, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, reached an agreement with the U.S. embassy to close the case. Such is the unanimity of a multiparty system when it comes to matters of interest to the empire.
Wikileaks confirmed the persecution and arbitrary moves of a succession of Republican and Democratic administrations against this truly independent journalistic project. Perhaps one should expect philanthropists such as George Soros and his Open Society – who have sponsored media and “think tanks” for Cuba in the name of freedom of information and expression – to have a different attitude, but a former collaborator of Julian Assange, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, tells us in his book Inside Wikileaks, that “Julian (Assange) spoke to a representative of George Soros’ Open Society Institute (OSI), who asked him where we got the money for Wikileaks, and implied that OSI was subsidizing projects like ours. According to Julian, Soros was also interested in our needs, and commented that we should not be modest. As far as I know, we didn’t get anything.” That’s how it is with power, governmental or any other real type, when you don’t say what they don’t want to hear
And what do they want? The soldier in Full Metal Jacket who gives the journalists orders is a U.S. armed forces officer, but according to John Stockwell, the CIA officer in charge of working with the press – who remained in Saigon practically until the last U.S. citizens left their embassy hanging from helicopters, captured in images that have become emblematic – the job of commissioning and positioning stories in major media outlets, publishing houses, and press agencies is one the Agency has always assumed, using paid journalists and writers, or fabricating the stories themselves and requesting only a signature.
In a long interview, soon to be published on the lapupila.cu website, Stockwell, who also led the CIA propaganda operation during the U.S. intervention in Angola’s independence struggle, recalls how he fabricated fake news about Cuban troops there, placing them in a newspaper in neighboring Zambia, where the AFP agency released dispatches based on the stories, which were in turn picked up by European and U.S. media. The former CIA official likewise reports that complete texts along these lines were placed in Time magazine and The Washington Post, and numerous books written on orders from the CIA, that remain in circulation and available in important U.S. libraries, but never identified as paid propaganda.
It could be said that the above facts are dated, that this is no longer the case, that things have changed with the dominance of social networks on the Internet and the increasing concentration of media ownership, making such invasive intervention unnecessary; but it is very difficult to change methods when one is accustomed to acting with such impunity.
More recently, German journalist Udo Ulfkotte, who worked for 17 years at the eminent German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, describes events very similar to those cited by Stockwell, in a 2014 book entitled Journalists for Hire. Ulfkotte writes about the U.S. embassy in Berlin sending payments to the main German media, and reveals a list of U.S. and European “non-governmental” foundations and organizations, and journalists involved with the operations. These include the Marshal’s Fund, Puente Atlántico, American Academy and Aspen Institute, among others. The German reporter notes the topics they were commissioned to cover, particularly press campaigns on Russia, Libya and Ukraine, in which German and U.S. intelligence service officials gave them full texts on which they only added their signatures. In an interview, Ulfkotte explained what could happen to anyone who refused to cooperate, with examples of his colleagues’ work situations. But the most convincing testimony comes from his own life, which ended with a heart attack, at only 56 years of age, after having repeatedly reported death threats and raids of his apartment by security agencies.
We been able to learn very little in the great Western press about the above, nor have we heard much about the repeated attacks to which Cuban artists, journalists and intellectuals have been subjected by media financed from the United States, in an effort to force them concede a certain political position. But we can only imagine what would happen if a case like that of Ulfkotte were to occur in Cuba. The hate campaign unleashed on the Internet against musicians who participated in the video clip “Con Cuba no te metas” is an example of how the censorship machine works: On the one hand, big media is only interested in Cuban artists and intellectuals if they “protest against the government,” ignoring any event of cultural or political value produced by individuals with recognized artistic careers, while the media war machine, especially the anti-Cuba one funded by the United States, disseminates slanders, insults and attacks on them. One of those targeted wrote me regarding the situation: “The attacks that have been made on me lately, organized, coordinated and all saying the same thing, obviously respond to one guiding organization. If I had any doubt about that, they have taken care of clearing it up.”
News, with the exception of natural disasters, is not spontaneous, and even these events are interpreted and covered journalistically with political intentions. It is evident that an agenda is imposed on the world, one which cascades from the elite media (CNN, The New York Times…) to newspapers in small provincial towns. Anyone who seeks to change the agenda must be willing to lose sources of funding and advertisers. If this were not enough, there are legal complaints, lawsuits and smear campaigns. In the Latin American environment, with honorable and very few exceptions, including La Jornada, in Mexico, confirm the rule that dictates the death, announced and executed, of dissident newspapers such as O Diario, in Portugal (spending more than a thousand hours in court facing lawsuits); the Spanish Liberación (economically asphyxiated by banks and distributors), and the Basque Egin (criminalized and closed down at gunpoint by the government of José María Aznar), to cite only three examples of how freedom of expression works for those who seek real independence. Noam Chomsky long ago explained the three filters that decide the content of the media: owners, advertisers and sources. If anyone still doubts this reality, the former director of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo has taken on the task of confirming it in a recent book, with impressive, although not surprising, testimony.
Fidel’s insistence that the people must have broad freedom “to use the media to favor the interests of the cause, to strongly criticize anything that is done poorly,” adding, “I believe that the more criticism there is within socialism, the better it is…” remains an aspiration in our media, not in those the United States pays in an attempt to deny Cubans the ownership of our own country and make it theirs. Is independent journalism possible without an independent country?
With $50 million a year budgeted publicly by the U.S. government for anti-Cuba propaganda, and 12 administrations obsessively persisting in the objective of changing the island’s regime, is it possible to think that the methods Stockwell and Ulfkotte have described are not being used in “informative” coverage of Cuban issues?
Nonetheless, participants in the anti-Cuban financial-propaganda web talk endlessly about their independence. As recently recommended by Argentine philosopher Néstor Kohan, they should read Frances Stonor Saunders’ book The Cultural Cold War. She defines psychological warfare as the planned implementation by a nation of propaganda and non-warlike activities that promote ideas and information aimed at influencing the opinions, attitudes, emotions and behaviors of foreign groups in a way that favors national achievements and objectives. Nothing is more eloquent than when she quotes a CIA official defining the “most effective form of propaganda” as that in which “the individual acts in the expected manner, for reasons he believes to be his own.”
Not everything is as explicit as sending envelopes of money. Ulfkotte states: “They don’t come to you saying: We are the company, do you want to work for us? No, they invite you to discover the United States, they pay all your expenses and you are increasingly corrupted.” People are bought not only with money, but also by financing celebrity with trips, interviews, awards and invitations to events that make them feel important, their “rebellion,” “independence” and “objectivity” are applauded, especially if they are convinced that their country “needs new leaders” and that they can be the prophets of change, the Cuban Vaclav Havels.
During a conference at the Havana Book Fair, Stonor Saunders stated categorically: “There is no point in discussing these definitions, they are based on government documents and provide the main arguments for the cultural cold war strategy.” But some may prefer the red banner with gold lettering that presides over the Full Metal Jacket scene I described at the beginning of this article: “First to go, last to know.”