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From owner-imap@chumbly.math.missouri.edu Fri Aug 16 10:30:11 2002
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002 16:34:42 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Subject: From the archives: The US Office of Domestic Propaganda
Organization: PACH
Article: 143737
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

From: Rich Winkel UMC Math Department (MATHRICH@UMCVMB.MISSOURI.EDU)
Subject: Reagan and reality
Newsgroups: soc.politics
Date: 1989-04-11 10:35:09 PST

Reagan and reality

By Rich Winkel, 11 April 1989

There’s a very interesting article in the Fall 1988 issue of Foreign Policy. The article is Iran-Contra’s Untold Story by Robert Parry (Newsweek national correspondent) and Peter Kornbluh (National Security Archive analyst). Following is a brief summary, followed by excerpts from a followup letter from the next issue, written by several US congressmen.

The congressional investigation into the Iran/Contra affair uncovered a domestic side to the Reagan administration’s efforts to circumvent the law in pursuing its foreign policy aims. The chapter dealing with this aspect of the scandal was deleted from the final public report at the insistence of house and senate republicans. According to anonymous sources on the staff of the investigative comittee (and borne out in the letter in the next issue), the white house detailed a senior CIA propaganda expert to head up a covert domestic operation designed to manipulate congress and the american public. In 1982, William Casey assigned Walter Raymond to the NSC staff to set up a public diplomacy program. Raymond is a veteran of the CIA’s overseas media operations and has been described as the CIA’s leading propaganda expert. Raymond put together an Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (S/LPD) in the State department, which took its orders from, among others, Oliver North and Elliott Abrams.

An (anonymous) NSC official who worked with North and Raymond told the authors that they were trying to manipulate US public opinion, using the tools of Walt Raymond’s trade craft which he learned from his career in the CIA covert operation shop. Another public diplomacy official characterised the effort as a vast psychological warfare operation.

The congressional investigation revealed that they: pressured journalists and news executives into giving a sympathetic portrayal of administration activities WRT latin america, deployed secretly funded private sector surrogates to attack anti-contra legislators in TV and newspaper ads, funded non-profit political organizations to push the contra cause, used the FBI to mount intimidating investigations into groups opposed to reagan’s policies in central america, and manipulated ongoing criminal investigations to protect their domestic operation from exposure.

Seeking to play down the government sponsored slaughter in El Salvador, the reagan administration found itself repeatedly at odds with human rights investigators and honest journalists. Its response was to accuse the human rights groups of bias and to pressure critical reporters to leave. US embassy officials boasted in 1982 that they had forced the New York Times correspondent Raymond Bronner out of El Salvador because of his unfavorable reporting on the Salvadoran government.

As a pretext for the contra war, the administration relied on the myth that the sandinistas had fueled the salvadoran insurgency. In December 1981, Casy misled congressional intelligence oversight commitees by depicting the contras as an arms interdiction force ... thereafter, virtually every component of US policy toward nicaragua was misrepresented to congress and the public, often cynically exploiting concerns and fears of everyday americans.

One deception fashioned by the CIA was described in an interview with former contra director Edgar Chamorro. The administration accused the sandinistas of anti-semitism, using as evidence the fact that much of the jewish community had fled nicaragua after the 1979 revolution. The administration made this allegation repeatedly, even after a secret cable from the US embassy in managua reported that there was no verifiable ground for the accusation, and that the jews who left had been personally associated with Samoza.

The administration’s pollster found in 1983 that many americans were afraid of an influx of refugees from south of the border. Accordingly, in june of that year, reagan began harping on the theme that unless a tough stand was taken, a tidal wave of refugees would be swarming into the US.

To overcome the contra’s military ineffectiveness in 1983 and 84, Casey ordered a series of cia-run costal attacks on nicaragua, including mining its harbors. According to Chamorro, the cia then instructed contra leaders to claim credit for the raids ... [the raids were held to be proof that] the contras were capable of mounting sophisticated military operations, thus justifying continued cia support.

Shaping the administrations thinking was the legacy of vietnam where, many administration ideologes believed, the war had been lost because the north vietnamese and soviets had tricked the american people through clever disinformation.

PROFS message from Poindexter to North, Sept 13, 86: Bill Casey was in this morning and amongst other things he said that he still felt that we needed somebody in the white house full time on central american public affairs. I think what he really has in mind is a political operative that can twist arms and also run a high powered public affairs campaign.

In 1986, as congress debated sending $100 million to the contras, North and Noriega (of panama) arranged to plant a shipment of east-bloc weapons in El Salvador, where it would be intercepted and used as the long missing proof that the sandinistas were supplying arms to the salvadoran resistance, according to congressional testimony by Jose Blandon, Noriega’s former consul. Blandon said the plan went awry after Noriega became angry with US press disclosures of his involvement in drug trafficing and seized the ship carrying the armaments.

The administration drummed up monetary support from private donors and channeled money to several independent organizations to front for their PR campaign. Accuracy in Media, Freedom House and the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty were among groups receiving such funds. A key advantage to using outside groups was the perception that they were more objective than administration officials. Their advice was even sought out at times by congressmen who were unaware of the source of their financial backing. The strategy also circumvented laws against executive branch lobbying and domestic propaganda.

In testimony to a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs in april 1985, Tom Dowling, dressed in the garb of a roman catholic priest, denounced sandinista human rights abuses to counter testimony of other religious figures about contra abuses. Committee members did not discover until later that Dowling had been working for North and was not an ordained roman catholic priest, but belonged instead to an unrecognized sect called the Old Catholic church.

The contras were coached by the cia to prepare for their testimony before congress. They were told to downplay their goal of overthrowing the sandinistas, and instead stress a desire for a negotiated settlement.

[former Contra director Edgar] Chamorro said in his 1987 book Packaging the Contras: A Case of CIA Disinformation that CIA money was channeled to the Nicaraguan exile Humberto Belli to help found the Puebla Institute, which published his book Nicaragua: Christians Under Fire and later printed reports denouncing the Sandinista human rights record. Of course the CIA told us to say that the money for the book and Institute was from private individuals who wanted to remain anonymous, Chamorro wrote. The Puebla Institute denies that it received CIA money or that it has any association with the CIA.

In 1984, North oversaw a sting operation in which a convicted narcotics smuggler, Barry Seal, piloted a shipment of cocaine into Nicaragua and secretly photographed a Nicaraguan official carrying one of the sacks to a second plane, which was then flown to Florida. The story was promptly leaked to the press and became the basis of Reagan’s charge that the Sandinistas were poisoning the youth of America. The Drug Enforcement Agency later acknowledged that it had no evidence of drug running by any other Nicaraguan government official.

After an NPR report on contra abuses, Otto Reich of S/LPD called NPR editors and said he had a special consultant monitoring NPR, and that he considered their report to be biased against US policy in the region. Bill Buzenberg (then NPR foreign affairs correspondent) recalled that Reich said he had made similar visits to other unnamed unewspapers and major television networks and had gotten others to change some of their reporters in the field because of a perceived bias.

Strategic leaking of cooked information was used to manipulate the media. During the 1984 administration-fabricated MIGs crisis, an internal memo (dated 2/8/85) from the S/LPD stated that over 30 briefings were held for media representatives. The story was false, but the public perception of a military threat from nicaragua continued.

Private sector surrogates were also used to target uncooperative congressmen during congressional elections. When Michael Barnes (Dem, Maryland) initiated probes into North’s secret contra supply network, NEPL placed TV and newspaper ads labeling Barnes as a sandinista sympathizer. The night Barnes lost, NEPL head Carl Channel sent North a telegram proclaiming an end to much of the disinformation and unwise effort directed at crippling your foreign policy goals. The anti-Barnes ads, since they were shown on washington area TV, also had the side effect of intimidating other congressmen who might buck the reagan line.

FBI memo, 11/10/83: It is imperative at this time to formulate some plan of attack against CISPES (Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) and specifically, against individuals who defiantly display their contempt for the US government by making speeches and propogandizing their cause.

A disaffected american mercenary named Jack Terrell went public in 1986 with accounts of contra atrocities, corruption and drug trafficking. North assigned a former CIA operative named Glenn Robinette to investigate and discredit him. The FBI also launched an investigation into allegations that Terrell had threatened the president. After a campaign of harrassment culminating in a 2 day polygraph interrogation, the FBI dropped the investigation, but not before Terrell was convinced to lower his public profile. At the same time, North was receiving reports from his field operative, Rob Owen, which corroborated Terrell’s claims.

S/LPD spread rumors questioning the motives of uncooperative reporters. The attacks served two purposes: to intimidate targets into self censorship, and to controversialize them, leading to greater skepticism about their articles.

The list goes on and on ....

The next issue of Foreign Policy contains a letter signed by 7 prominent House leaders, defending the article against a letter from Walter Raymond, who of course denies everything. The congressmen cite an apparently secret executive summary from the Iran-Contra investigation, parts of which are quoted below:

During the period when the administration was denying to congress that it was involved in supporting the contras war effort, it was engaged in a campaign to alter public opinion and change the vote in congress on contra aid. Public funds were used to conduct public relations activities, and certain NSC staff members, using the prestige of the white house and the promise of meetings with the president, helped raise private donations both for media campaigns and for weapons to be used by the contras.

... S/LPD’s activities were coordinated not within the state department, but by an interagency working group established by the NSC. The principal NSC staff officer was a former senior CIA official with experience in covert operations ...

... S/LPD produced and widely disseminated a variety of pro-contra publications and arranged speeches and press conferences. It also disseminated what one official termed white propaganda: pro-contra newspaper articles by paid consultants who did not disclose their connection to the administration.

The letter was signed by Dante Fascell, Jack Brooks, Lewis Stokes, Peter Rodino, Edward Boland, Thomas Foley and Les Aspin.

Sorry for the length of this thing ... I just thought it might be interesting reading.

Rich Winkel