U.S. news media promoted two "themes" about Secretary of State
Colin Powell's trip to the United Nations where he buttressed George W.
Bushs case for war with Iraq by presenting satellite photographs of
trucks outside buildings and snippets of intercepted conversations.
While the evidence on its face didnt seem to
prove much of anything, the media's first "theme" was that
Powell is a trustworthy man of principle, a straight talker who wouldn't
be part of some cheap propaganda ploy. The second "theme" was
that Powells appearance before the United Nations was a kind of sequel
to Adlai Stevensons convincing case that Soviet missiles had been
installed in Cuba in 1962.
But both themes Powells trustworthiness and
the Cuban missile precedent may be misleading, as articles below from
the Consortiumnews.com Archives will demonstrate.
Powells press clippings aside, his real history is
one of consistent political opportunism. For the full picture, see the
Colin Powells Legend or read the excerpt below that recounts how
Powell advanced his political standing with the first Bush administration
at the expense of the U.S. field commanders during the Persian Gulf War in
On the second "theme," instead of the Cuban
missile crisis, a better historical parallel may be the Reagan
administrations fabricated presentation to the UN following the
Soviets downing of the Korean Airlines Flight 007 after it flew over
Russian territory. Though the evidence supported a case of outrageous
Soviet bungling, that was not enough for the Reagan administration, which
was determined to exaggerate the case and chose to willfully mislead the
American people and the world community by insisting that the incident was
To achieve that propaganda coup, U.S. diplomats
manipulated the release of intercepted radio communications from the
Soviet military to give the impression of premeditation. This
disinformation caper was later admitted by a participant in the scheme,
Alvin A. Snyder in his book, Warriors
of Disinformation. Snyder explained that in such situations, "the
key is to lie first." The Consortiumnews.com's full story about the
KAL 007 incident is republished below.
an excerpt on Powell's behind-the-scenes role in the Persian Gulf War
drawn from Behind
Colin Powells Legend written by Robert Parry and Norman Solomon:
Powell & the Persian Gulf War
enduring image from the Persian Gulf War is the picture of the two
generals -- Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf -- celebrating the 1991
military victory in ticker-tape parades.
seemed the perfect teammates, a politically smooth chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff (Powell) and the gruff field commander (Schwarzkopf).
the behind-the-scenes reality often was different. Time and again in the
march toward a ground war in Kuwait and Iraq, Powell wavered between
siding with Schwarzkopf, who was willing to accept a peaceful Iraqi
withdrawal, and lining up with President Bush, who hungered for a clear
tension peaked in the days before the ground war was scheduled to begin.
Iraqi forces already had been pummeled by weeks of devastating allied air
attacks both against targets in Iraq and Kuwait.
the clock ticked toward a decision on launching a ground offensive, Soviet
leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to hammer out a cease-fire and a withdrawal
of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. President Bush and his political leadership
desperately wanted a ground war to crown the American victory.
and some of his generals in the field felt U.S. goals could be achieved
through a negotiated Iraqi withdrawal that would end the slaughter and
spare the lives of U.S. troops. With a deadline for a decision looming,
Powell briefly joined the Schwarzkopf camp.
Feb. 21, 1991, the two generals hammered out a cease-fire proposal for
presentation to the National Security Council. That last-minute peace deal
would have given Iraqi forces one week to march out of Kuwait while
leaving their armor and heavy equipment behind. Schwarzkopf thought he had
Powells commitment to pitch the plan at the White House.
Bush was fixated on a ground war. According to insiders, he saw the war as
advancing two goals: to inflict severe damage on Saddam Husseins army
and to erase the painful memories of Americas defeat in Vietnam.
the NSC meeting, Powell reportedly did reiterate his and Schwarzkopfs
support for a peaceful settlement, if possible. But sensing Bushs mood,
Powell substituted a different plan, shortening the one-week timetable to
an unrealistic two days and, thus, making the ground war inevitable.
on a Ground War
secret from the American people at that time, Bush had long determined
that a peaceful Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait would not be tolerated.
Indeed, U.S. peace initiatives in early 1991 had amounted to
window-dressing, with Bush privately fearful that the Iraqis might
capitulate before the United States could attack.
Bush, exorcising the "Vietnam Syndrome" demons had become an
important priority of the Persian Gulf War, almost as central to his
thinking as ousting Saddam's army from Kuwait.
columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak were among the few who described
Bush's obsession publicly at the time. On Feb. 25, 1991, they wrote that
the Gorbachev initiative brokering Iraq's surrender of Kuwait
"stirred fears" among Bush's advisers that the Vietnam Syndrome
might survive the Gulf War.
was considerable relief, therefore, when the President ... made clear he
was having nothing to do with the deal that would enable Saddam Hussein to
bring his troops out of Kuwait with flags flying," Evans and Novak
of a peace deal at the Bush White House had less to do with oil, Israel or
Iraqi expansionism than with the bitter legacy of a lost war. 'This is the
chance to get rid of the Vietnam Syndrome,' one senior aide told us."
the book, Shadow, author Bob Woodward confirmed that Bush was
adamant about fighting a war, even as the White House pretended that it
would be satisfied with an unconditional Iraqi withdrawal.
have to have a war, Bush told his inner circle of Secretary of State
James Baker, national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and Powell,
according to Woodward.
was aware that this understanding could never be stated publicly or be
permitted to leak out. An American president who declared the necessity of
war would probably be thrown out of office. Americans were peacemakers,
not warmongers, Woodward wrote.
Jan. 9, 1991, when Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz rebuffed an ultimatum
from Baker in Geneva, Bush was jubilant because it was the best news
possible, although he would have to conceal it publicly, Woodward
Jan. 15, U.S. and allied forces launched a punishing air war, hitting
targets in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities as well as Iraqi forces in
Kuwait. Weeks of devastating bombing left tens of thousands of Iraqis
dead, according to estimates.
Iraqi forces soon seemed ready to crack. Soviet diplomats were meeting
with Iraqi leaders who let it be known that they were prepared to withdraw
their troops from Kuwait.
Bush recognized the military and psychological value of a smashing ground
offensive. A ground war could annihilate the Iraqi forces as they
retreated while proving Americas war-fighting mettle once again.
Schwarzkopf saw little reason for U.S. soldiers to die if the Iraqis were
prepared to withdraw and leave their heavy weapons behind. There was also
the prospect of chemical warfare that might be used by the Iraqis against
advancing American troops. Schwarzkopf saw the possibility of heavy U.S.
found himself in the middle. He wanted to please Bush while still
representing the concerns of the field commanders. Stationed at the front
in Saudi Arabia, Schwarzkopf thought Powell was an ally.
Powell nor I wanted a ground war," Schwarzkopf wrote in his memoirs, It
Doesn't Take a Hero.
key moments in White House meetings, however, Powell sided with Bush and
his hunger for outright victory. "I cannot believe the lift that this
crisis and our response to it have given to our country," Powell told
Schwarzkopf as American air sorties pummeled Iraq.
mid-February 1991, Powell also bristled when Schwarzkopf acceded to a
Marine commander's request for a three-day delay to reposition his troops.
hate to wait that long," Powell fumed. "The President wants to
get on with this." Powell explained that Bush was worried about the
pending Soviet peace plan which sought to engineer an Iraqi withdrawal
with no more killing.
Bush was in a bind," Powell wrote in My American Journey.
"After the expenditure of $60 billion and transporting half a million
troops 8,000 miles, Bush wanted to deliver a knock-out punch to the Iraqi
invaders in Kuwait. He did not want to win by a TKO that would allow
Saddam to withdraw with his army unpunished and intact."
Feb. 18, Powell relayed a demand to Schwarzkopf from Bush's NSC for an
immediate attack date. Powell "spoke in the terse tone that signaled
he was under pressure from the hawks," Schwarzkopf wrote. But one
field commanders still protested that a rushed attack could mean "a
whole lot more casualties," a risk that Schwarzkopf considered
increasing pressure to launch the ground war early was making me
crazy," Schwarzkopf wrote. "I could guess what was going on. ...
There had to be a contingent of hawks in Washington who did not want to
stop until we'd punished Saddam.
been bombing Iraq for more than a month, but that wasn't good enough.
There were guys who had seen John Wayne in 'The Green Berets,'
they'd seen 'Rambo,' they'd seen 'Patton,' and it was very easy for
them to pound their desks and say, 'By God, we've got to go in there and
kick ass! Got to punish that son of a bitch!'
course, none of them was going to get shot at. None of them would have to
answer to the mothers and fathers of dead soldiers and Marines."
Feb. 20, Schwarzkopf sought a two-day delay because of bad weather. Powell
exploded. "I've got a President and a Secretary of Defense on my
back," Powell shouted. "They've got a bad Russian peace proposal
they're trying to dodge. ... I don't think you understand the pressure I'm
yelled back that Powell appeared to have "political reasons" for
favoring a timetable that was "militarily unsound." Powell
snapped back, "Don't patronize me with talk about human lives."
the evening of Feb. 21, however, Schwarzkopf thought he and Powell were
again reading from the same page, looking for ways to avert the ground
war. Powell had faxed Schwarzkopf a copy of the Russian cease-fire plan in
which Gorbachev had proposed a six-week period for Iraqi withdrawal.
that six weeks would give Saddam time to salvage his military hardware,
Schwarzkopf and Powell devised a counter-proposal. It would give Iraq only
a one-week cease-fire, time to flee from Kuwait but without any heavy
National Security Council was about to meet," Schwarzkopf wrote,
"and Powell and I hammered out a recommendation. We suggested the
United States offer a cease-fire of one week: enough time for Saddam to
withdraw his soldiers but not his supplies or the bulk of his equipment.
the Iraqis withdrew, we proposed, our forces would pull right into Kuwait
behind them. ... At bottom, neither Powell nor I wanted a ground war. We
agreed that if the United States could get a rapid withdrawal we would
urge our leaders to take it."
when Powell arrived at the White House late that evening, he found Bush
angry about the Soviet peace initiative. Still, according to Woodwards Shadow,
Powell reiterated that he and Schwarzkopf would rather see the
Iraqis walk out than be driven out.
said the ground war carried serious risks of significant U.S. casualties
and a high probability of a chemical attack. But Bush was set: If
they crack under force, it is better than withdrawal, the president
My American Journey, Powell expressed sympathy for Bushs
predicament. "The President's problem was how to say no to Gorbachev
without appearing to throw away a chance for peace," Powell wrote.
could hear the President's growing distress in his voice. 'I don't want to
take this deal,' he said. 'But I don't want to stiff Gorbachev, not after
he's come this far with us. We've got to find a way out'."
sought Bush's attention. "I raised a finger," Powell wrote.
"The President turned to me. 'Got something, Colin?'," Bush
asked. But Powell did not outline Schwarzkopfs one-week cease-fire
plan. Instead, Powell offered a different idea intended to make the ground
don't stiff Gorbachev," Powell explained. "Let's put a deadline
on Gorby's proposal. We say, great idea, as long as they're completely on
their way out by, say, noon Saturday," Feb. 23, less than two days
understood that the two-day deadline would not give the Iraqis enough time
to act, especially with their command-and-control systems severely damaged
by the air war. The plan was a public-relations strategy to guarantee that
the White House got its ground war.
as I suspect, they don't move, then the flogging begins," Powell told
a gratified president.
next day, at 10:30 a.m., a Friday, Bush announced his ultimatum. There
would be a Saturday noon deadline for the Iraqi withdrawal, as Powell had
and his field commanders in Saudi Arabia watched Bush on television and
immediately grasped its meaning. "We all knew by then which it would
be," Schwarzkopf wrote. "We were marching toward a Sunday
the Iraqis predictably missed the deadline, American and allied forces
launched the ground offensive at 0400 on Feb. 24, Persian Gulf time.
Iraqi forces were soon in full retreat, the allies pursued and slaughtered
tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers in the 100-hour war. U.S. casualties
were light, 147 killed in combat and another 236 killed in accidents or
from other causes.
losses as military statistics go," wrote Powell, "but a tragedy
for each family."
Feb. 28, the day the war ended, Bush celebrated the victory. "By God,
we've kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all," the president
Second, a 1998 story by Robert Parry
on the KAL-007 incident and the modern Republican tendency to use
propaganda as an everyday tool of politics.
& KAL-007: 'The Key Is to Lie First'
By Robert Parry
not entirely clear when the Republican Party made disinformation a
political weapon of choice.
Some trace the
pattern back to the late 1940s when Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon used an
exaggerated Red Scare to throw the Truman administration on the defensive
and clear the way for the GOP's Cold War dominance of the White House.
however, that Republican lying is nothing special; that it's just the
nature of politics; that it's always been that way; that the Democrats --
or the Greens and the Libertarians, for that matter -- are no better.
But I believe
there are shades of gray in politics, that a disingenuous "spin"
or a defensive equivocation are not the same as an outright falsehood
intended to defame an enemy or to inflame the public. It seems to me that
the modern Republican Party is unusual in that it not only steps across
the line from time to time, but has relocated on the wrong side.
Distortion and character assassination have become almost a political way
experience with this disturbing trend started in December 1980, when I
worked for The Associated Press and was part of the AP's
Special Assignment Team. In my earlier reporting career -- covering state
politics in Rhode Island and congressional politics in Washington -- I had
seen lots of the lighter forms of lying from both parties. Indeed, most of
my early investigative stories were about Democratic misdeeds and damage
But in covering
the emerging U.S. policy toward Central America in late 1980, I
encountered a systematic strategy of lying. The incoming Reagan
administration apparently saw "disinformation" as just one more
ideological weapon in the Cold War arsenal, with the ends justifying the
Republicans didn't blink, for instance, in protecting political murderers
in El Salvador, even when the victims were four American churchwomen who
were raped and butchered by a right-wing military.
Coming as he
did from movies, President Reagan seemed to have only a casual
relationship with the truth anyway. But his persistent acts of deception
over his eight years in the White House cannot be so glibly explained or
excused. In his handling of foreign policy, in particular, Reagan
routinely misled the American people.
One of the
baldest -- and now admitted -- lies was the case of Korean Air Lines
flight 007. On the night of Aug. 30, 1983, the KAL 747 jumbo jet strayed
hundreds of miles off-course and penetrated some of the Soviet Union's
most sensitive air space, by flying over military facilities in Kamchatka
and Sakhalin Island.
KAL-007 was finally intercepted by a Soviet Sukhoi-15 fighter. The Soviet
pilot tried to signal the plane to land, but the KAL pilots apparently did
not see the repeated warnings. Amid confusion about the plane's identity
-- a U.S. spy plane had been in the vicinity hours earlier -- Soviet
ground control ordered the pilot to fire. He did, blasting the plane out
of the sky and killing all 269 people on board.
soon realized they had made a horrendous mistake. U.S. intelligence also
knew from sensitive intercepts that the tragedy had resulted from a
blunder, not from a willful act of murder (much as on July 3, 1988, the
USS Vincennes fired a missile that brought down an Iranian civilian
airliner in the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people, an act which Reagan
explained as an "understandable accident").
But in 1983,
the truth about KAL-007 didn't fit Washington's propaganda needs. The
Reagan administration wanted to portray the Soviets as wanton murderers,
so it brushed aside the judgment of the intelligence analysts. The
administration then chose to release only snippets of the taped intercepts
packaged in a way to suggest that the slaughter was intentional.
Reagan administration's spin machine began cranking up," wrote Alvin
A. Snyder, then-director of the U.S. Information Agency's television and
film division, in his 1995 book, Warriors of Disinformation.
Charles Z. Wick "ordered his top agency aides to form a special task
force to devise ways of playing the story overseas. The objective, quite
simply, was to heap as much abuse on the Soviet Union as possible,"
In a boastful
but frank description of the successful disinformation campaign, Snyder
noted that "the American media swallowed the U.S. government line
without reservation. Said the venerable Ted Koppel on the ABC News
'Nightline' program: 'This has been one of those occasions when there is
very little difference between what is churned out by the U.S. government
propaganda organs and by the commercial broadcasting networks.'"
Of course, if
the journalists hadn't gone along, they could have expected to be flogged
for disloyalty. So, most Washington reporters ran with the pack. Newsweek
published a cover line: "Murder in the Sky," exactly the
"theme" that the White House wanted conveyed to the public.
At the AP,
I made a small contribution to questioning the official story. I felt the
released intercepts were suspicious. So I took the English language
translation, as well as the original Russian, to Russian language experts,
including one who taught Pentagon personnel how to translate Russian
language experts noted one important error in the English translation
released by the State Department. In the context of the Soviet pilot
trying to communicate with the KAL plane, the administration translated
the Russian word "zapros," or inquiry, as "IFF" for
"identify: friend or foe." The AP's experts, however, said
"zapros" could mean any kind of inquiry, including open radio
transmissions or physical warnings.
significance of the mistranslation was central to the administration's
case. U.S. officials had extrapolated from "IFF" to advance the
"murder in the sky" argument. Since an IFF transmission can only
be received by Soviet military aircraft, that was further proof that the
Russians made no attempt to warn the civilian airliner.
mistranslation was only one of the ways the tapes were doctored, as Snyder
discovered when the intercepts were delivered to his office for transfer
into a video presentation that was to be made at the United Nations.
was supposed to run 50 minutes," Snyder observed. "But the tape
segment we [at USIA] had ran only eight minutes and 32 seconds. ... 'Do I
detect the fine hand of [Nixon's secretary] Rosemary Woods here?' I asked
But Snyder had
a job to do: producing the video that his superiors wanted. "The
perception we wanted to convey was that the Soviet Union had
cold-bloodedly carried out a barbaric act," Snyder noted.
Only a decade
later, when Snyder saw the complete transcripts -- including the portions
that the Reagan administration had hidden -- would he fully realize how
many of the central elements of the U.S. presentation were false.
pilot apparently did believe he was pursuing a U.S. spy plane, according
to the intercepts, and he was having trouble in the dark identifying the
plane. At the instructions of Soviet ground controllers, the pilot had
circled the KAL airliner and tilted his wings to force the aircraft down.
The pilot said he fired warning shots, too. "This comment was also
not on the tape we were provided," Snyder stated.
It was clear to
Snyder that in the pursuit of its Cold War aims, the Reagan administration
had presented false accusations to the United Nations, as well as to the
people of the United States and the world. To these Republicans, the ends
of smearing the Soviets had justified the means of falsifying the
In his book,
Snyder acknowledged his role in the deception and drew an ironic lesson
from the incident. The senior USIA official wrote, "The moral of the
story is that all governments, including our own, lie when it suits their
purposes. The key is to lie first."
Another key to
the propagandists' success has been to soften up the Washington news
media, to ensure that journalists were ready to accept whatever lies were
told. To that end, Reagan assigned aggressive "public diplomacy"
teams to intimidate and discredit the few Washington journalists who asked
pointed questions and tried to get at the truth. [For details, see Robert
Parry's Lost History.]
In this regard,
another interesting disclosure in Snyder's book is the quasi-official USIA
role played by Accuracy in Media's Reed Irvine. Irvine is commonly
described as a "media watchdog" and is addressed personably as
"Reed" when he appears on Koppel's "Nightline."
According to Snyder, however, Irvine also was an adviser to the Reagan
administration's propaganda apparatus.
second term, Irvine -- along with conservative fund-raiser Richard
Viguerie and Joe McCarthy's legendary counsel Roy Cohn -- vetted the
selection of a new Voice of America director, Snyder reported. When the
leading candidate, former ABC News president William Sheehan, refused to
answer the group's questions about his personal vote in the presidential
election, Sheehan was blackballed from getting the job.
unpublicized collaboration with Reagan's propaganda machinery also
surfaced during the Iran-contra hearings in 1987. A White House document,
dated May 20, 1983, described how USIA director Wick held a private White
House fund-raiser which generated $400,000 for Irvine's organization and
other conservative groups.
behind the scenes with USIA and receiving secret subsidies arranged by the
government, Irvine carried out vituperative attacks on skeptical
journalists. I was one of the reporters who was a frequent target of AIM.
But the end of
the Cold War did not end the Republicans' reliance on propaganda. They
seem to have just taken the lessons domestic. Many of the same individuals
who thrived during the Reagan-Bush years, such as Irvine, are employing
similar disinformation tactics against the Clinton administration.
It is as if
President Clinton has replaced the former Soviet Union as the target for
the Right's "ends-justify-the-means" deceptions. Instead of lies
about KAL-007 -- or "yellow rain" chemical warfare or the KGB
role in the pope's shooting or Nicaraguan Sandinista
"anti-Semitism" or a host of other propaganda "themes"
-- the disinformationists now are linking Clinton to a variety of crimes:
Vincent Foster's "murder," drug trafficking out of the Mena,
Ark., "death squad" operations in Arkansas, etc.
early May, congressional Republicans mounted one remarkable disinformation
operation that echoed the KAL-007 story from 15 years earlier. Rep. Dan
Burton, R-Ind., released selective excerpts from private prison
conversations that Clinton pal Webster Hubbell had with family, friends
snippets suggested that Hubbell was under White House pressure to lie and
was covering up for criminal over-billing by Hillary Clinton when she
worked at the Rose Law Firm. The Washington media had a field day, with
front-page stories that accepted Burton's spin on the tapes.
But, just as
the Reagan administration had done in the KAL-007 case, Burton had
withheld exculpatory statements from the released excerpts. For instance,
Burton chose to leave out Hubbell's declaration in the same conversation
that Mrs. Clinton had "no idea" about illegal over-billing
schemes and that he was not receiving hush money.
news media ran clarifications. But the Washington press corps still seems
unwilling to draw lessons from the past. Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr
and other Republicans might insist that their interest now is a principled
pursuit of "the whole truth" about the "Clinton
scandals." But the party's 50-year record -- from Nixon and McCarthy
to Reagan and Bush -- leave many with an understandable sense of
situational ethics of GOP politics, Snyder's advice still rings loudly:
"The key is to lie first."