Davies, N. (2008) ‘Flat earth news’ Chatto and Windas: London

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in chapter 6 “The Propaganda Puzzle” (pg 205-256)

Review of book Independent:


In the early months of 2002, newspaper and broadcast coverage of the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi started gain extensive reportage on his supposed activities. By the time of his death in Iraq, from a US air strike in June 2006, his notoriety had become so great that the amount of killings which were accredited to him surpassed even that of Osama Bin Laden.

Strategic Communications: The Zarqawi story is an important example of a group of organisations including “secret nexus of intelligence agencies…military units…government departments”, supplying material to the news for its own benefit.

Nick Davis examines the device and motives of strategic communications in the use of stories about Zarqawi, which grew “rapidly after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 and which is now working busily and generally without public recognition, using the mass media to spread dubious stories on all kinds of subjects, quietly rewriting the rules which once had attempted to restrain it, adding new jeopardy to the function of truth telling journalism.” (206)

4th April 2001: the first apparent story of Zarqawi Associated Press story: “quoted unnamed Jordanian officials…saying that they had two new suspects for a conspiracy to cause explosions in the United states and Israel on Millennium eve: one of the suspects was a Jordanian named Abu al-Zarqawi” (206). However this was a distortion and fabrication of the truth, justified by the motives of the Jordanian authorities:

  • The Jordanian authorities in September 2000 (8 months before the story) had tried twenty eight people for this conspiracy and not one of them were Zarqawi.
  • Zarqawi was a threat to the Jordanian royal family after falling into radical Islam and set about using violence to overthrow them.
  • In June 2000 he was in Afghanistan running a small training camp, to prepare for attacks on Jordan.

Nick Davies says: “the decision to name him this way in the A.P. story, first gave the Jordanian authorities a means of jailing a hostile opponent if ever he returned to their soil, and second allowed them to win favours with their American and Israeli allies”

San Francisco Chronicle 10th January 2002 : named as ‘operational commander’ who had ties to the Taliban and was still active after the invasion by the US. Attributed to ‘US officials’.

New York Times 24th March 2002: identified as a ‘senior al-Qaeda leader’ taking refuge in Iran. Attributed to ‘senior Israeli and American officials’.

News coverage of Zarqawi started to gain momentum, in the following months in prominent US papers. Varying information and facts about Zarqawi included claims that he had links to Hizbollah in Lebanon, to Palestinian bombings in Israel and that he had links to Iran “with defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld complaining that that ‘Iran had served as a haven for some terrorists leaving leaving Afghanistan’ ” (207) . Also in September 2002, he was linked to Iraq tying in conveniently when Rumsfeld publicly linked al- Qaeda to Iraqi administration in the same week. The stories served as a strategic agenda on the part of US officials, to highlight to the world and the US, the threat of supposed adversary hostile states. Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine were all seen as a threat to the US by the Bush administration.

From a televised speech made in Cincinnati by George Bush in October 2002, the LA Times reported: “In a speech on Monday, Bush referred to a senior member of al-Qaeda who received medical treatment in Iraq. US officials said yesterday that was Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian, who lost a leg during the US war in Afghanistan.” (208)

Davies mentions two reporters Robert Collier of the San Francisco Chronicle, and Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, who were starting to question the links expressed in the media, between Iraq, Saddam and al-Qaeda, and the importance of Zarqawi’s role, by forging their own contacts in the intelligence community. However he details how the doubts between the Iraq/al-Qaeda/Zarqawi link was undermined by a “a steady flow of stories in the US media”

“In December 2002…the Jordanians named as leader of an Al-Qaeda cell which had assassinated an American diplomat, Lawrence Foley inn Amman two months earlier” (208)

The depiction of Zarqawi as an al-Qaeda affiliate, with links to Iraq moved up to a new level, after a speech made on 5th February 2003 by secretary of State Colin Powell. The speech was addressed to the UN Security Council to bring forward the case that Iraq must be invaded because of 1] a belief that they were developing weapons of mass destruction, and 2] to break it’s relationship with al-Qaeda. The story of Zarqawi was used as substantiation on the second point.

Colin Powell : “Iraq today harbours a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi” (208-209)

Nick Davies contests this point: “Zarqawi almost certainly took refuge in the wild lands of Northern Iraq where Ansar al-Islam was based, but he was not leading the group and more important, Saddam was not giving it safe haven” (209)

Strong evidence which supports this claim is found in a report published in 2006 by the US Senate Intelligence Committee “which drew on internal Iraqi paperwork and US intelligence interviews with former Iraqi officials…these show that far from harbouring Ansar al-Islam, Saddam’s government had regarded the group as ‘a threat to the regime’ and blamed it for two bombings in Baghdad. At one point, the Jordanians had told the Iraqi regime that they wanted Zarqwi and others handed over, and Iraqi Intelligence had found a special committee to organise their capture.” (209)

“The Senate report concluded with a CIA assessment that before the war the regime did not have a relationship, harbour or turn a blind eye to Zarqawi and his associates” (209)

Powell claimed that the Ansar al-Islam was being used as a camp for poison and explosives training. However Luke Harding of the Observer contradicts this statement after visiting and inspecting the site three days after Colin Powell’s speech. The reporters who came to the site found nothing more than rat poison. Harding commented: “The Terrorist factory was nothing of the kind- more a dilapidated collection of concrete outer buildings at the foot of a grassy, sloping hill. Behind the barbed wire and a courtyard strewn with broken rocket parts, a few empty concrete houses. There is a bakery. There is no sign of chemical weapons anywhere.” He went on to state that Powell’s assertion was “clearly little more than hyperbole” (209). The accusations of Ansar al-Islam as a camp for poison and weapons training, was perhaps spun by the Iraqi-Kurds who had much to benefit from the American invasion because of repeated attacks from the group as both Davies and Harding highlight

Powell claimed Zarqawi was “an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants.” However Davies dismisses this on the basis of a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee from April 2003: “the CIA learned from a senior al-Qaeda detainee that al-Zarqawi had rebuffed several efforts by Bin Laden to recruit him. The detainee claimed that al-Zarqawi had religious differences with bin-Laden and disagreed with bin-Laden’s singular focus on the US”. (210) In addition to this an acquaintance of Zarqawi; Shadi Abdullah went as far to say that Zarqawi and Bin Laden had developed a rivalry between each other.

Jason Burke in the Observer July 2003: “al-Zarqawi was indeed in Iraq but was not, as a thick sheaf of reports of interrogations of his close associates open on my desk make clear, an ally of bin-Laden. His group, al-Tawhid, was actually set up in competition to that of the Saudi. To lump them together is either a wilful misrepresentation or reveals profound ignorance about the nature of modern Islamic militancy. Either way there is no link there. Nor has any evidence for one surfaced since the end of the war” (210)

“Powell said that ‘Zarqawi fought in the Afghan war more than a decade ago’. Reporters who have gone to Zacra in Jordan, where Zarqawi grew up, suggest that this cannot be true, since he did not make his first trip to Afghanistan until the spring of 1989.” (210)`

Amidst all the claims of Zarqawi mentioned in Powell’s speech, there were elements of truth. Zarqawi was an Islamist radical, and had trained and trained fighters in Afghanistan, but however he was not the man portrayed in Powell’s speech. The depiction of Zarqawi by Powell was for the purpose of fulfilling United States Secretary of State’s national agenda.

Davies describes the Zarqawi story as part of a chain reaction of faulty intelligence, in addition to the claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He continues to say: “…overstated official claims and failed journalism which shaped the build up to the invasion of Iraq.” (212) Journalism or the failures of it as Davies has commented on, can have an important effect in shaping and contributing to the news in addition to reporting on it. In the majority of the media’s coverage of events leading up to the US sanctioned invasion, it had failed to investigate or chase up the accuracy of the false statements made by US officials, such as Powell’s speech. Davies continues on this importance of the media in relation to strategic communications: “But the construction of the Zarqawi story moved from the ad hoc teams of neoconservatives in Washington who had wanted to justify the war, into the hands of the new and permanent apparatus of strategic communications” (212)

Following Powell’s speech, of which Davies could not speculate whether Powell knew that the people who briefed him with the information was false, the media transcended to add impetus to Powell’s claims. On the 9th February 2004, a front-page story in The New York Times witten by Baghda correspondent Dexter Filkins

(http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D00E3D6163AF93AA35751C0A9629C8B63 ‘THE STRUGGLE FOR IRAQ: INTELLIGENCE; U.S. Says Files Seek Qaeda Aid In Iraq Conflict’ New York Times 9th February.)

reported that US Officials had found a letter written by Zarqawi to a member of al-Qaeda’s leaders asking about the most efficient way to beat US forces in Iraq in order to ignite a civil war.

The English translated ‘letter’ by Zarqawi link from US Department of State:

In the ‘letter’ ‘Zarqawi’ argued to attack the Shia population of Iraq “It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging tem into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis”

Following the story in The New York Times General Mark Kimmitt at a US Press briefing in Baghdad, expressed his concerns over the validity of the letter: “We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously… It is clearly a plan on the part of the outsiders to come in this country and spark a civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society.” (quoted in Davies 213)

Through Powell’s speech and the alleged Zarqawi letter, the role of al-Qaeda in the Iraqi insurgency gained more weight. In speeches delivered by President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld in the month of February, both men quoted and mentioned the Zarqawi letter. Because of this reporters churned out stories related to Zarqawi, however most of the information used in these stories came from Powell’s faulty speech. “From March, Zarqawi became the central figure in the media coverage of the Iraq insurgency repeatedly named as the man behind bombings, kidnappings beheadings all over the country and as the man who was leading efforts to disrupt stability and the introduction of democracy” (213)

US Strategic Communications:

In April 2006 Tom Ricks the military correspondent for the Washington Post obtained copies of a slide presentation prepared for US General George Casey. The slide indicated valid proof of strategic communications, incorporating within it misleading and false information filtered into the global news sphere for the benefit of the US military in Iraq.

The first slide is titled “Enemy COG attack Example” and lists underneath it a set of bullet points. The first point states: “Offensive strategic communications: Fighting the negative insurgency” with an arrow pointed at Zarqawi’s name. Another point makes reference to the “Zarqawi letter” with important subheadings to accompany it. The first says “Selective leak to Dexter Filkins” The second states “$10 million reward…now $25 million”, which basically acts as an influence in increasing Zarqawi’s notoriety. This is exemplified with the final point “March ‘04 to present-villanize Zarqawi/ leverage xenophobia response through…” where it goes on to list “Media operations, PYSOP [Psychological Operations], Special Ops”

The second slide has the headline of “Result” which indicates the proposed outcome of the strategic communications.

Both slides available for download: http://www.flatearthnews.net/footnotes-book/page-205-zarqawi

“The centre for strategic and International studies similarly found that the US had been feeding the myth that that foreign fighters had been behind the insurgency when in reality they accounted for fewer than 10% of those involved”

“But when the Americans launched their strategic communications plan against him in 2004, he still operating as a small independent rival to Osama bin Laden. His attraction to the American appears to have been that he was a foreigner and who enabled them to play the xenophobia card with their Iraqi audience; and that courtesy of Colin Powell’s speech to the UN he was already an established media character.” (215-216)

How the Zarqawi letter leaked to Dexter Filkins was a fake:

http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/31694.htm and in Filkins article.

The suspicions of the authenticity of the letter lie in the premise that what was written so richly serves American needs. In one passage ‘Zarqawi’ begins “Here is the current situation as I, with my limited vision, see it.” Whereupon he continues to mention enemies of al-Qeada, including Israel, America(“zionized American Administration”), and the Shi’a muslim domination calling them “the most evil of mankind” and mentions their roles in justifying his proposed terrorism campaign. What is extremely peculiar when reading the letter, is why would Zarqawi describe his vision as “limited” given that he was part of an anti-Western fundamentalist organisation that has harbours strong beliefs? The limited vision he refers to would strongly belong from a US perspective rather from someone who is committed to a certain vision.

In Filkin’s article () he discusses the contents of the letter depicting Zarqawi’s aim to start a civil war and sectarian violence: “Yet mounting an attack on Iraq’s Shiite majority could rescue the movement, according to the document. The aim, the document contends, is to prompt a counter attack against the Arab Sunni minority. Such a ”sectarian war” will rally the Sunni Arabs to the religious extremists, the document argues. It says a war against the Shiites must start soon — at ”zero hour” — before the Americans hand over sovereignty to the Iraqis.” Davies comments on the inherent forgery of the letter

“Zarqawi complained that US security was getting stronger by the day; that the creation of Iraqi secsecruity forces were removing his allies; that ordinary Iraqis would not assit him; and that the introduction of democracy would take away his pretext for fighting. It dealt with those who insisted who insisted that Zarqawi was a rival to bin Laden by saying ‘We do not consider ourselves as people who compete against you.’ It even slipped in a good word for intelligence agencies: ‘Our enemy grows stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By God this is suffocation! As General Kimmit himself put it to reporters the day of the New York Times Story: ‘This document does in fact, demonstrate what we have been assessing all along'” (216)

“General Peter Pace, vice chairman of the US Joint Cheifs of Staff, told CNN’s Larry King Live Show that Iraqi troops resisting the US invasion in March 2003 had shot US prisoners of war, used civilians as human shields, stored weapons in schools, set up command posts in hospitals and pretended to surrender only to open fire. And in a line which made media stories around the world, he added the c hilling story of an Iraqi woman who he said had been hanged simply because she waved to coalition forces.” (218)

Sam Gardiner in reference to his paper “Truth from these podia” spent four months checking media reports on a run up to the invasion. He belived that many of the stories fed to the media was a result of what Davies called “a politicized attempt to maintain a link to the Iraqi regime and Islamist terrorism”

Davies laments that Gardiner logged stories about:

  • “Iraqis using children to fight US forces
  • Iraqi troops waving white flags and then attacking US troops when they stepped out to talk to them
  • Iraqis wearing US uniforms to commit atrocities which would be blamed on the Americans
  • Iraqi’s ambushing US marines on the road to Bagdad (he had found that the marines had been attacked repeatedly a US plane)
  • Iraqi’s shooting prisoners of war
  • Iraqi artillery hitting a Baghdad street market

Davies goes on to say: “In each of these cases, Gardiner tracked back and found that the falsehood had been fed into the media by ‘official sources’ of one kind or another.” (219)

**************research and read Gardiner’s report then take notes.

“The storyline about Zarqawi is part of a larger storyline about al-Qaeda which is part of a global story line about terrorism which, in turn, is part of a larger storyline about US foreign policy and it’s opponents.” (220)

Other psychological media operations campaign:

John Mac Arthur (in book ‘Second Front’) describes how reporters on the ground were required to sign contracts , agreeing to be escorted at all times and to have every story and every photo read and approved before being filed; how reporters who tried to break out of these restrictions were obstructed, harassed and even arrested… Dick Cheney, who later explained his view of the media during the war: ‘rankly I looked at them as a problem to be managed. The information function was extraordinarily important. I did not have a lot of confidence that I could leave that to the press.'” (221)
(Talking about the first Gulf War and the media strategy to expel Saddam’s troops from Kuwait.)

This battlefield media strategy followed a $12 million campaign orchestrated by PR specialists from Hill & Knowlton, which used misinformation from Kuwaiti exiles to provide a series of fabricated stories…The high point of this campaign was a notorious incident when Hill & Knowlton presented the story of a fifteen-year old Kuwaiti girl, Nayirah , who was said to be so frightened of reprisals against her family that she could not give her full name and who described how she had seen Iraqi troops pulling premature babies out of incubators in a hospital in Kuwait City and hurling them to their death. Much later, the story was exposed as a falsehood, and Nayriah was revealed to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington DC. (222)

“Web surfers will find blogs which claim to be from genuine US troops, attacking media reports on the troubles in Iraq and explaining, for example , ‘That the Iraqi people want us here…Business is really picking up in the city, they are cleaning the streets, rebuilding the shops, and free enterprise is beginning to catch on'” (223)

(fabrication and fake blogs and stories on the web)

The intelligence agencies are working by subterfudge. In other words, the reporter who takes a ‘strategic communications’ story may well not realise that it is false, but at least he or she knows its origin. The CIA ‘S hand however, is usually hidden. (225)

The Pike Committee (US investigation of the CIA) found from the limited information which it was given, that 29% of the CIA’s covert operations were for ‘media and propaganda’ (226)

In practical terms the CIA had the power to fabricate news wherever it wanted, without its hand being seen. If there was trouble in Japan, it could feed stories into the Okinawa Morning Star (it owned a substantial chunk), or the Tokyo Evening News (it owned the whole thing) or the Japan Times (it had agents in the paper) (226)

CIA kept no agents in Reuters, simply because it was British owned, and the CIA recognised that it was MI6 territory. However, when the need arose, the CIA used the MI6 agents in Reuters to place its own stories, and Pike concluded that the agency had done this frequently. ‘Because Reuters is British , it is considered fair game,’ according to Pike’s final report. Alongside these mainstream news agencies, the CIA created it’s own, Forum World Features, which provided stories to 140 newspapers around he world. (227)

“An internal CIA assessment of the campaign against Salvador Allende(Chilean President), for example, noted that fabricated stories had been appearing in the New York Times and Washington Post and simply commented ‘Propaganda activities continue to generate good coverage of Chilean developments along our theme guidance'” (227)

There was a notorious controversy about this system at work after the attempt to kill Pope John Paul II in Rome in May 1981. Over the following two years, global media started to report that the would-be assassin, a Turk named Mehmet Ali Agca, had been working for Bulgarian intelligence and therefore, ultimately for the Soviet Union. This was a politically powerful story in the context of the US looking for international supporting its arms negotiations with the Soviet Union, and the Pope’s identification with the Solidarnosc rebellion against Soviet influence in Poland. Agca’s trial, in March 1986, provided no compelling evidence at all to support this theory, but, by that time, reporters all over the world had repeated it. (229)

It may be significant that it was originally promoted by two writers working together: Claire Sterling, a neoconservative journalist, who had a history of running CIA black propaganda; and Paul Heinze, who was a former CIA station chief in Turkey. They published the first detailed account in September 1982, in Readers Digest. The story was then picked up and recycled by several prominent media outlets including CBS and NBC television, the New York Times, and Newsweek and Time magazines. In the absence of evidence, the story was kept alive by the Italian intelligence agency SISMI, closely allied to the CIA, which leaked an internal report claiming that Agca was trained in the Soviet Union and then an alleged confession from Agca that he had been working for Bulgarian intelligence. Both were later denounced as fabrication (229)

Certainly, this concealed apparatus made a plaything of the media, to be taken down from the shelf and used in whatever political game plan suited the administration of the moment. There is a rare confirmed glimpse of the scale of this work behind a story that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 25th August 1986. The Journal told its readers that the Reagan administration was on a collision course with Libya after finding new evidence of its involvement in terrorism. The story was picked up by other US media Three months later, documents which were leaked to Bob Woodward at the Washington Post revealed that this story was fiction and that it was merely one part of a complex strategy of psychological warfare, designed to destabilise the Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi.
Woodward revealed that two weeks before the Wall Street Journal published its story, the then head of the National Security Council, Admiral John Poindexter, had written to President Reagan to outline the strategy. ‘One of the key elements,’ Poindexter wrote, ‘is that it combines real and illusionary events through a disinformation program, with the basic goal of making Gaddafi think that there is a high degree of internal opposition to him in Libya, that his key trusted aides are disloyal, that the US is about to move against him militarily…as Poindexter wrote:’ Any alternative leadership to Gaddafi would be better for US interests and International order.’ (229-230)

Scott Ritter (Former UN Arms inspector) describes in his book, Iraq Confidential: “He was first approached to help Mass Appeal (an MI6 psychological warfare effort) in December 1997 when the MI6 station chief in New York asked him to dig out unused intelligence material which MI6 could feed into the media of nations who were failing to support the programme of weapons inspections in Iraq.” (231-232)

“…with Butler’s (Ritter’s boss) consent, {he} later retrieved two unused reports, both of which had been supplied by Israeli intelligence. One dealt with French chemical processing equipment being sent out to Iraq in 1993/4; the other dealt with Polish pesticide equipment that had been sold to Iraq in the late summer of 1995. The significance of both reports was that they were unused because they were unconfirmed and were quite possibly misleading in implying that the French and the Poles had some role in assisting a chemical weapons programme in Iraq. (232)

There is separate evidence of MI6 feeding misleading information to the press in the case of the Sunday Telegraph and Colonel Gaddafi’s son. On 26 November 1995, the papers chief foreign correspondent, Con Coughlin ran a story describing Gaddafi’s son, Saif, as ‘an untrustworthy maverick’ and accusing him of being involved in an attempt to flood Iran with fake currency. The story described a complex plot and claimed that it had been foiled by Egyptian banking authorities. Saif sued and, after several years of legal argument, the case finally came to trial in April 2002, trailing with it the disclosure that the story had been concocted and provided to the Sunday Telegraph by MI6. (233)

Documents filed with the court revealed that Coughlin had obtained the story from a sequence of three lunches and two briefings with MI6 officers. At the final meeting, they had showed him what they claimed were photocopies of banking records which apparently proved that Saif was involved with one of the key players in the fake currency-plot. As a pre-trial judgement in the High Court put it, Coughlin ‘became convinced’ that the story was true. But it wasn’t- after one day’s evidence, the Sunday Telegraph finally accepted that it’s story was wrong and agreed to pay a proportion of Saif Gaddafi’s legal costs. (233-234)

The apparatus for strategic communications is still under construction. It is clear from this conference (MI6 conference that Davies attended) that those involved had failed to answer fundamental questions about how it should be run. It was equally clear that, in the absence of agreed answers- and in the absence of any kind of oversight or regulation- a significant number of its practitioners had broken open the door that is supposed to separate them from the mass media and were pouring their product into the public domain. (249)

US Lieutenant general Tom Metz and his preparations of taking over a Sunni town in Fullujah:

“Metz used traditional military deception…the interview given by a US military public affairs officer to CNN, on 14 October, which clearly suggested that the assault on the city had begun. The reality was that the assault was still three weeks away, but CNN’s misleading story was broadcast all over the world and bounced back to Fallujah, where the insurgents reacted by coming out of their hideouts to take up their defensive positions, thus allowing US intelligence to map the lot of them.” (250)

“Metz understood the business of fabricating news and set up his men to perform manoeuvres whose sole purpose was to generate useful media coverage… (Military Review) ‘to be prepared to execute actions specifically tailored to capture photographic documentation of insurgent activities.’ He added ‘specific guidance was handed down to key elements to develop bite sized vignettes with graphics and clear storylines'” (250-251)

“Metz used more than eighty embedded reporters to tell his tale. In the April defeat, Metz believed, the insurgents had used the main Fallujah hospital to generate hostile media coverage of dead and injured civilians. In November, he not only sent troops to grab the hospital at an early stage of the battle, he followed the Lincoln PR line by using a unit of Iraqi troops to do so and sent an embedded (spy mole) reporter, Kirk Spritzer from the CBS network, to cover ‘the making of heroes'” (251)

“Metz urged his men to deliver what he called ‘package product’ for reporters, i.e. Video News Releases. ‘This small component of the battle enabled the coalition to get its story out first and thereby dominate the information domain,’ he said. This included an oven ready story about insurgent atrocities and, as Metz described in Military Review, items about the devious behaviour of insurgents. He cited the case of a sniper using a mosque as cover: US troops were entitled to attack the mosque to get the sniper, he said, but ‘as a main gun round moves downrange to destroy a sniper position, simultaneously the digital image of the sniper violating the rules of war, plus the necessary information to create the packaged produce, can be transmitted for dissemination to the news media.'” (251)

A website of uncertain origin had posted the beheading of the US hostage Nick Berg, with a printed title claiming that this was the work of Zarqawi, even though Arab linguists pointed out the executioner did not have a Jordanian accent; and others observed that it was strange that if Zarqawi was willing to announce himself as the executioner, he had worn a mask over his face for the video. (252)

“As general Metz’s men finally moved into the city, a torrent of eye catching stories flowed through the global media. One, which was widely used, scored an important point for the legitimacy of the assault by reporting that US troops had found Zarqawi’s headquarters in Fallujah. This was described ‘as an imposing building with concrete columns and a large sign in Arabic on the wall reading “Al-Qaeda Organisation”‘. Most reporters simply failed to comment on the profoundly surprising idea that the most hunted terrorist group in the world would advertise it’s presence as though it were a branch of Woolworths.” (253)

“Fallujah tells it all, not just about the new aggression of the hidden persuaders, but also about the new weakness of the global media whom they manipulate. It is impossible to be certain that all of the eye catching stories in the last torrent of Fallujah were untrue. But it is certain that not one of them should have been published or broadcast: each of them screamed the possibility of falsehood; each of them needed to be checked; and if there was no evidence to support them, then each of them should have been chucked. Yet all of them ran.” (253-254)

Unlike some of his colleagues, Metz had studied ‘information operations’ and understood the built-in bias in the rules of production in the news factory. ‘We must recognize,’ he wrote in the Military Review, ‘that the global media gravitates toward information that is packaged for ease of dissemination and consumption: the media will favour a timely, complete story.’ So, he packaged it. In theory the media were media were free to reject the packages. In practice they accepted all of them. (254)

Falsely attributed and deliberately aimed (stories) not only at the insurgents inside the city but at global media consumers including those in the United States and allied countries. (254)

It is this ability to reach into the news factory, to plant stories at will and then to watch them circulate the planet, which links the two domains of the hidden persuaders: the burgeoning industry of public relations, and the newly expanded apparatus of public propaganda. Both of these domains have a history which reaches back before the point at which corporate owners took over the media and undermined their ability to gather and check facts. (254)

The US campaign on Zarqawi eventually succeeded in creating its own reality…the US campaign to ‘villainize Zarqawi’ glamorised him with his enemy audience, making it easier for him to raise funds, to attract ‘ un sponsored’ foreign fighters, to make alliances with Sunni Iraqis and to score a huge impact with his own media manoeuvres. Finally in December 2004, Osama bin Laden gave in to this constructed reality, buried his differences with the Jordanian and declared him the leader in al-Qaeda’s resistance to the American occupation. (255)

…the process is as simple as the one that was involved in the global tale of the millennium bug: born out of genuine uncertainty, ‘cranked up’ by those who think it might be true, and exaggerated remorselessly by those who have a vested interest in it and then again by those who simply have no idea what they are talking about. Pure ignorance usurping knowledge. (255)

1. “Our media has become mass producers of miscommunication” (Nick Davies, comment is free Guardian)

2. “The Myth of Zarqawi (Loretta Napoleoni author of “Insurgent Iraq” in AntiWar.com)


1st chapter:

Strategic communications: Nick Davies: (Al Zarqawi/ invasion of Iraq 2002) Noam Chomsky (Mehmet Ali Agca, shooting of Pope John II)

2nd Chapter:

Misreporting: Israel, Palestine conflict, New York Times, biased and unbiased…


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