Secret Agencies, Media and the National Interest
By Orya Maqbool Jan The Express Tribune, May 13, 2014
The writer is a columnist, poet and a CSS officer
Secret agencies and the media have a long history of association and this relationship continues and will keep on continuing. The two champions of democracy, the US and the UK, are known for their elaborate vast secret systems of secret agencies, CIA and MI6 and MI5, and we all know the influence both have on their politics and governance.
Long ago, the media was confined to a few newspapers, magazines and radio and television channels. The CIA had not been created yet. US President Harry S Truman founded the Central Intelligence Group in 1946 to bring public opinion under American government influence. The National Security Act was passed the next year in 1947 under which the CIA was formed. Under Article 102(a) of this Act, the CIA director general was given vast authority, which included making public opinion favourable towards the ruling administration. The White House assigned the CIA the authority of a psychological operation in 1954 with the objective of creating propaganda and of binding the media within the confines of the national interest.
This included three kinds of propaganda: ‘white’, ‘grey’ and ‘black’. White propaganda was approved by the White House and included all kinds of classified and non-classified information. Grey propaganda was something whose source of information the CIA could not disclose. Its objective was to stop the hands that were against US foreign policy and US interests. Black propaganda consisted of information that apparently goes against the policy of the US government and was something that it could categorically deny in public. Such information is usually fictitious, but the intended audience may believe it to be true. Journalists across the world are purchased for disseminating such information.
In 1973, the CIA disclosed to The Washington Star News (it closed down in 1982) that 30 American journalists across the world were actually employees of the agency. They all were members of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which was later exposed as being funded by the CIA. In the 1990s, the CIA started a project to promote a peculiar kind of entertainment in South America and Hollywood was used to produce films for this purpose.
These included The Recruit, The Sum of All Fears, Enemy of the State and Bad Company. Articles against communists were also commissioned. Operation Mockingbird was started in 1951 and the objective was to produce news that would turn people against communism. The National Endowment for Democracy was established in 1983 to force the implementation of democracy across the world and under this project funds were provided to NGOs, human rights organisations and political parties.
In 1963, US President John F Kennedy was assassinated and some suspected that the CIA was involved. His successor, President Lyndon Johnson, set up a commission headed by the then US Chief Justice, Earl Warren, but the agency refused to provide any kind of information to it. And as the commission released its report, the agency started sponsoring a series of books and articles against it.
The history of MI5 and MI6 is not much different. Lawrence of Arabia is one such example. Recent examples include Operation Rockingham in 1990-91, under which cooked-up information was to be provided about Iraq’s nuclear weapons. Under this project, the entire media, government agencies and even the office of the prime minister were given fake information through forged documents, video films and other formats to convince them that Iraq posed a threat to world peace.
A more astonishing fact is that the relation between the media and the secret agencies established in the national interest also has influence over the judicial systems of both the US and the UK. The Justice and Security Act of 2013 provided legal cover to set up courts to deal with cases relating to the secret agencies. The mechanism for doing this is called ‘Closed Material Procedures’, under which a secret agency can provide a court material which only the court or the lawyers with the necessary security clearance can see. The accused is not provided a full list of the charges against him or her. Agents can appear in such courts to provide evidence as well. Such courts have been working in the US since 1978 and are calledintelligence surveillance courts.
This relationship between the secret agencies, media and the courts in the name of national interest is seen in all democracies. Secret agencies plan how to make someone win an election. They plan how to carry corporate money to which political leader. Important persons like Princess Diana and JFK were eliminated when the question of national interest arose. Secret agencies also decide where and when to wage a battle and against whom, who is to be befriended and who is to be treated like an enemy. As a matter of fact, words are put into the mouths of democratic rulers and these parliamentarians utter these as if it was their national duty. This is the reality and status of the democratic system prevailing all over the world.
But despite the fact that the secret agencies enjoy all this authority in the name of national interest, people raise their voices against them. During the Cold War it was almost impossible to imagine that a media group could set up a TV channel or publish a newspaper with Soviet money or on instruction from the Soviets or run a campaign against a policy which that country had adopted as reflective of its national interest. Even the so-called independent media of the world cannot think of making any independent documentary on the life of Osama bin Laden and run it continuously.
A producer tried to make such a film and then what happened to him is a long story. The secret agencies, media and courts do not oppose one another in any of the democratic countries. That happens only when people feel that their newly found media power is too great. They start feeling that they have become king-makers and policymakers. They start feeling that they can make and break governments. These people should look around to see the ground realities and study history.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2014.