Our rulers are skilled at running information operations (but less so at running America)

Summary:  Elections used to determine public policy in America.  No longer.  More broadly we can now see that information operations determine public policy in America, as our ruling elites realize that they need not engage an increasingly foolish and weak people in serious debate.  Instead factions among them compete using skillful propaganda — more often, active events to shape US public opinion.


  1. The old days
  2. Examples of information operations in America
  3. The next step:  anger (update)
  4. Ask the mineshaft!
  5. For more information

(1)  The old days

Candidates offered choices.  Sometimes the choices were fake.  FDR ran a budget-balancing fiscal conservative in 1932 and promised to keep us out of the war in 1940.  Nixon ran as a conservative in 1968, but was the 2nd or 3rd most liberal president of that century.

Although we’ve slowly evolved towards our new order, this new era began in 2008, where the election allowed us to choose between different candidates with almost identical policies.  That was not obvious to those that voted for Mr. Hope And Change.  Four years experience shows that Obama’s economic and national security policies are almost identical to Bush Jr’s.

(2)  Examples of information operations in America

(a)  Some classics from the past

  • The Tonkin Gulf incident (see Wikipedia for details and links)
  • The prelude to the Iraq invasion and occupation:  alarm over Iraq’s WMDs and alliance with al Qaeda

(b)  Setting the stage for the Senate hearings about global warming

For details see this post about The hidden history of the global warming crusade, an excerpt from an Interview with Timothy Wirth (Senator Colorado 1987-93), Frontline on PBS, broadcast on 17 January 2007:

Believe it or not, we called the Weather Bureau and found out what historically was the hottest day of the summer … so we scheduled the hearing that day, and bingo:  it was the hottest day on record in Washington, or close to it.

… What we did was went in the night before and opened all the windows.  So that the air conditioning wasn’t working inside the room and so when the hearing occurred there was not only bliss, which is television cameras in double figures, but it was really hot. … So Hansen’s giving this testimony, you’ve got these television cameras back there heating up the room, and the air conditioning in the room didn’t work. So it was sort of a perfect collection of events that happened that day, with the wonderful Jim Hansen, who was wiping his brow at the witness table and giving this remarkable testimony. …

Result: fantastic success.

(c) The fake National Guard memos smearing Bush Jr.

With these immortal words, Dan Rather justified the document by which he smeared George Bush Jr as “fake but accurate.”  For details see the Wikipedia (and its collections of links) about the documents and their authenticity.

Result:  success.  They were caught at the fake, but still exposed a larger audience to the controversy.

(d)  The FBI and NYPD set up terrorists, and then catch them

For details see these posts:

Result:  fantastic success, building a climate of fear in America.

(e)  The fake strategy memo of the Heartland Institute

Pacific Institute President Peter Glick released a “strategy memo” whose incendiary phrases smeared the reputation of the Heartland Institute and, by extension, skeptics of the crusade to stop global warming.  It was a pitifully obvious fake (by the evidence, he probably wrote it) but its lies have been eagerly embraced and disseminated by dozens of warmistas.  If you have not followed this fascinating story, see Climate Audit, Judith Curry’s and Anthony Watt’s websites.

Result:  uncertain as yet.  Most probably these lies will continue to circulate, and the Heartland Institute’s reputation will take years to recover.

(3)  The next step — anger  (update)

What is a good reaction to such news?  From Re-envisioning the FM website, becoming soldiers in the war for American’s future:

“Anger is easy. Anger at the right person, at the right time, for the right reason, is difficult.” — Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, book IV, chapter 5 (lightly paraphrased)

“Telemachus, now is the time to be angry.” — Odysseus, when the time came to deal with the Suitors. From the movie The Odyssey (1997)

Anger is a dangerous tool — stoking us to take action, but a bad master.   I believe is the only path to reform, except in the face of disaster.  There is a role for American in our nation other than as consumpers and dupes.

(4)  Ask the mineshaft!

As a new feature on the FM website, we “ask the mineshaft” for more information about the topic of each post.  AKA ”ask the community”, from the German “Gemeinschaft” (see Wikipedia).  Share your answers to these questions.  This idea copied from Brad DeLong.


  • What other information operations have shaped American opinion?
  • What sources of information do you rely on?

(5)  For more information

(a) For all posts about this see the FM Reference Page Information & disinformation, the new media & the old.

(b)  More good news about our leaders:

(c)  Rumors and misinformation (the Internet can make us dumber):

  1. Cable Cut Fever grips the conspiracy-hungry fringes of the web , 7 February 2008
  2. Resolution of the Great Submarine Cable Crisis – and some lessons learned , 8 February 2008
  3. More rumors of war: our naval armada has sailed to Iran!, 9 August 2008 — No, it hasn’t.
  4. Update on the rumored armada sailing to Iran, 13 August 2008
  5. A US naval armada is en route to blockade Iran and start WWIII (the story gets better every day), 14 August 2008
  6. UPI reports on the multi-national armada sailing to Iran, 15 August 2008
  7. Stop the presses: no naval armada has sailed to blockade Iran!, 20 August 2008
  8. Proposed legislation prepares the way for war with Iran!, 25 August 2008
  9. Forensic analysis of propaganda: “Michelle Obama Keeps Socialist Books in the White House”, 19 February 2010
  10. We are ignorant because we enjoy being lied to.  Today we look at lies about the US debt., 8 August 2011
  11. A small incident that tells much about America – a flag gets lowered in a classroom!, 5 September 2011
  12. Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011

15 thoughts on “Our rulers are skilled at running information operations (but less so at running America)”

  1. Other information operations that I’ve personally experienced would be people regurgitating faux American history and faux economics i.e. people acting as shock troopers for plutocrats. The information sources I use to get a clear perspective are this blog, Zenpundit, Foreign Policy, and The American Interest. The only person on MSM I can listen is Dylan Ratigan who rants against all the corruption.

    1. Excellent! Thank you for providing more evidence of my point. When your beliefs are challenged, you lie.

      There are aprox 150 posts on the FM website about climate science. They discuss the warming of the past two centuries in considerable detail, and the debate about its magnitude and the role of the various causes. And, of course, what happens next.

    2. More details, from yesterday’s post:

      We see this on the FM website. What’s the most-common response to posts quoting prominent climate scientists and research from prominent peer-reviewed journals? “You don’t believe the world has warmed.” Rather than debate the issues raised, they manufacture a smear. No matter if the post says the exact opposite. No matter if the data in the post shows the exact opposite. They will repeat the lie, and run away when challenged.

      For an example see the responses to January’s series about climate science. Saying “you don’t believe the Earth has warmed” was a frequent rebuttal to the post Good news! Global temperatures have stabilized, at least for now.. Despite the fact the post said the exact opposite, and the data presented clearly showed a warming Earth.

      The warmistas (greens) cannot deal with the science, or that the skeptics have cogent rebuttals to their exaggerations and misrepresentations of the science. So they lie. For more examples of this see:

  2. FM – please be careful about your wording when discussing global warming.

    In Dickensonian times (during the Little Ice Age) the Thames regularly froze and they held Ice Fairs on top of the river. Henry Knox hauled cannon over frozen waterways to Boston in a decisive move in the American Revolution. These rivers dont freeze today.

    The climate was much colder then. Isn’t the temperature change from then to now warming?

    About 12000 years ago, the Ice Age gripped North America and sheets of ice dipped south to about the Canadian-US border. We know this from radiocarbon dating of conifers felled by ice. Then the ice retreated due to warming. I think that might have been global warming beginning just as the ice began to retreat. Global warming in action.

    In 1990, the volcano Pinatubo erupted, sending clouds of ash and sulfate into the upper atmosphere, blocking some of the Sun’s radiation. Average temperatures dropped about 1 degree F for a few years. Global cooling. Caused by a cargo cult perhaps?

    None of these episodes were influenced by acts of man.

    Recommendation: be very careful to distinguish anthropogenic global warming from natural climate variation.

    1. (1) I suggest you be more careful when discussing other people’s discussions of global warming. I have no idea what point you are attempting to make. In fact, I don’t see a point.

      (2) “Recommendation: be very careful to distinguish anthropogenic global warming from natural climate variation.”

      (2a) The incident cited is a form of information ops, and is so no matter what the climate does. As for global warming and such, there are almost 150 posts discussing climate science on this website, referencing scores of studies.

      (2b) You write as if it is possible to distinguish AGW from natural climate variation. Generally climate scientists can only speculate about the relative effects of both (the past 50 years is just one example of this isue), given the state of the art. Improved analysis, more and better data — it will eventually sort itself out.

      (2) Thames Ice Fair

      That’s a bad example to illustrate climate change; perhaps you should be more careful. While England has grown warmer, changes to the riven have made the Thames much less likely to freeze. From Wikipedia (the original has links you can follow for more information):

      The frost fair of 1814 began on 1 February, and lasted four days. … Old London Bridge was demolished in 1831 and replaced with a new bridge with wider arches, allowing the tide to flow more freely; additionally, the river was embanked in stages during the 19th century, which also made the river less likely to freeze.

  3. You could always point to the Lost Cause as a foundational information op. I’m trying to think of others that happened earlier in our history, but I’m currently blanking. I get my news mostly from this and other blogs that seem to penetrate past appearances. Also drudge and slashdot to make sure the world hasn’t ended and that the internet still functions.

  4. Are we actually seeing more lies?
    Is the number of whoppers being tossed around actually greater than it was 50 years ago or is it pretty much the same with the difference being the number of times it is repeated? Certainly the number of repetitions is greater – that being a function of cable news, twitter, and the blogosphere, all extraordinary amplifiers and multipliers.
    These tools are a propagandists’ wet dream where the opportunities are practically limitless for the corruption of information and the spreading of bunkum… no matter how idiotic.
    Are there more issues to lie about than there were 50 years ago? Maybe.
    Then too there is the morphology – the mutating inherent when this many repetitions are made. Corrupt information has become an evolving life form.

    1. “Are we actually seeing more lies?”

      That’s a powerful point. Of course, we cannot know the relative incidence of blatent lies in the past vs. today. Such evaluations, as usual in the social sciences, are subjective. But really, the lies today are unlike anything I’ve seen in my 30 years of political involvement. These are not the usual lies about what the politican will do once elected, but lies about simple matters of fact.

  5. USA Today: "U.S. 'info ops' programs dubious, costly"

    Correction to my title: they’re good at running info ops on Americas; not so hot at doing so on foreigners (we’ve always been a parochial people). As seen in this: “U.S. ‘info ops’ programs dubious, costly“, USA Today, 1 March 2012 — Opening:

    As the Pentagon has sought to sell wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to often-hostile populations there, it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on poorly tracked marketing and propaganda campaigns that military leaders like to call “information operations,” the modern equivalent of psychological warfare.

    From 2005 to 2009, such spending rose from $9 million to $580 million a year mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon and congressional records show. Last year, spending dropped to $202 million as the Iraq War wrapped up. A USA TODAY investigation, based on dozens of interviews and a series of internal military reports, shows that Pentagon officials have little proof the programs work and they won’t make public where the money goes. In Iraq alone, more than $173 million was paid to what were identified only as “miscellaneous foreign contractors.”

    “What we do as I.O. is almost gimmicky,” says Army Col. Paul Yingling, who served three tours in Iraq between 2003 and 2009, including as an information operations specialist. “Doing posters, fliers or radio ads. These things are unserious.”

    … As to whether the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in Afghanistan and Iraq have been worth the U.S. investment, the USA TODAY investigation found:

    • The Pentagon’s top information operations contractor in Afghanistan, California-based Leonie Industries, was started in 2004 by a brother-and-sister pair with no apparent experience working with the military. Camille Chidiac and Rema Dupont have more than $4 million in liens on their homes and property for failure to pay federal income taxes. Leonie Industries has Army contracts that could surpass $130 million; the Army has already paid them more than $90 million.
    • Contractors like Leonie plant unattributed broadcasts, plaster the countryside in war zones with billboards, stage concerts and drop leaflets with the intent of bending the will of civilians and combatants to U.S. aims. Contracts show that the companies often measure the effects of the propaganda they produce, essentially grading their own work, although the military reviews the metrics.
    • In Afghanistan, the Pentagon continues to create at least 11 hours a day of what it calls “unattributed” radio and television programming. Information operators seek to tell Afghans who their real enemies are, why Taliban propaganda was wrong, what the Afghan government is accomplishing, how non-governmental organizations are helping them, and why they should serve in the security forces. Whether that’s all worthwhile is open to debate.

    Karl Eikenberry, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and a retired Army three-star general who led forces there, wrote the State Department in July 2009 to say that information operations campaigns that “focus predominantly on negative enemy operations may be counterproductive” because they emphasize the Taliban’s success, scare the Afghan people and show that the Afghan government can’t protect them.

  6. NY Review of Books: "Age of Ignorance"

    Age of Ignorance“, Charles Simic, New York Review of Books, 20 March 2012 — Excerpt:

    Widespread ignorance bordering on idiocy is our new national goal. It’s no use pretending otherwise and telling us, as Thomas Friedman did in the Times a few days ago, that educated people are the nation’s most valuable resources. Sure, they are, but do we still want them? It doesn’t look to me as if we do. The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.

    An educated, well-informed population, the kind that a functioning democracy requires, would be difficult to lie to, and could not be led by the nose by the various vested interests running amok in this country. Most of our politicians and their political advisers and lobbyists would find themselves unemployed, and so would the gasbags who pass themselves off as our opinion makers. Luckily for them, nothing so catastrophic, even though perfectly well-deserved and widely-welcome, has a remote chance of occurring any time soon. For starters, there’s more money to be made from the ignorant than the enlightened, and deceiving Americans is one of the few growing home industries we still have in this country. A truly educated populace would be bad, both for politicians and for business.

    It took years of indifference and stupidity to make us as ignorant as we are today. Anyone who has taught college over the last forty years, as I have, can tell you how much less students coming out of high school know every year. At first it was shocking, but it no longer surprises any college instructor that the nice and eager young people enrolled in your classes have no ability to grasp most of the material being taught. Teaching American literature, as I have been doing, has become harder and harder in recent years, since the students read little literature before coming to college and often lack the most basic historical information about the period in which the novel or the poem was written, including what important ideas and issues occupied thinking people at the time.

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