The State Department vs. Misinformation
February 5, 2006 7:23 PM   Subscribe

The State Department's campaign against misinformation and propaganda. Before you comment on the irony of it all, it is worth a read. Included are a careful, Snopes-like debunking of various rumors: Hugo Chavez's "Plan Balboa documents," the old 4,000 Jews and the WTC rumor, the use of chemical weapons in the Korean War, and some I hadn't heard of (the US to take over the rainforest?). Also information on how to spot disinformation, and attacks on the credibility of a few sites. Too bad that the US information services don't have the credibility they used to, but still worth reading.
posted by blahblahblah (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Office of Strategic Influence
posted by Rothko at 7:36 PM on February 5, 2006

Curious what they have to say about Jihad Unspun, I've heard that it's a CIA disinformation site.

Just one of a number of possibilities out there.
posted by mk1gti at 7:41 PM on February 5, 2006

I think the US has its work cut out for it.

Exhibit A: State's newest high-level diplomat (Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, rank: Ambassador), here sharing sensitive briefing papers with Muslim counterparts during a recent Mideast fact-finding mission.
posted by rob511 at 7:55 PM on February 5, 2006

mk1gti, the "a few sites" link in the original post addresses Jihad Unspun.
posted by zsazsa at 8:11 PM on February 5, 2006

And that it's most probably a CIA disinformation site?
posted by mk1gti at 8:48 PM on February 5, 2006

John Perkins’ popular, but misleading, book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, is being released in paperback. Perkins claims that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) recruited him to be an “economic hit man,” who deliberately entrapped foreign countries in unmanageable amounts of debt so they would be beholden to the United States. This appears to be a total fabrication. To the contrary, the U.S. government has led a recent initiative to cancel the debt of many heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC).
Oh, so I guess Jamaica and the World Bank and 'Life and Debt', that's all so much bullshit we should just ignore and move along. Along with Argentina and it's experiences with the world bank. . . .
posted by mk1gti at 8:53 PM on February 5, 2006

Hmm, that's some tasty information. I checked out the page on "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man", since that book has such a catchy title. While I have no reason to believe that they're incorrect to suggest that the premise of the book is a "total fantasy", their efforts to convince the reader of this fall a bit flat:

I don't think anyone's really going to believe that all the ever NSA does is study crypto-systems. Not that they're necessarily likely to do the kind of things mentioned in the book, but implying that it's certain that they do nothing other than pursue the missions stated on their public website seems entirely ridiculous.

The author's opinions on the assasination of JFK seem barely relevant. If he really does put some faith in any crazy conspiracy theory about it, he'd be in the company of quite a few people. If his ideas on the various popular conspiracy theories are reported accurately, it may lead one to suspect that he's a little too credulous, but that doesn't mean he's dishonest.

Which leads to the idea that while what he wrote might be the truth as he saw it, he may have been mislead about who he was working for. Indeed if he was an "economic hit man" working for some secretive government agency, it seems quite likely that he might not know exactly where the orders were really coming from. Just a possibility, but one worth considereding.

That the US government has recently supported the cancellation of official debt for the world’s poorest countries seems entirely irrelevant. I haven't read the book, so I've no idea if any of those 18 poorest countries in the world are in it. Assuming they are, the timing might be important. If in the past some mysterious conspiracy existed for the purpose of puting them into debt, it's not unreasonable to think that they might have decided that it had gone too far, or for some other reason, change their tactics. Or be over-ruled by, for instance, the President. Anyway, I'd expect some more substantially relevant facts before thinking that recent efforts at debt relief say anything about the book.

The author's other books seem mostly irrelevant to the subject of the one being discussed, though they might suggest some flexible ideas about the nature of reality that are at least consistent with the idea that he'd create a complex fantasy world and present it as fact.

But anyway, I suppose this stuff is convincing to people who just want to confirm beliefs they already hold. And of course, it looks like about 95% of the other misinformation they talk about over there really is obviously false. And of the other 5%, probably almost all of it is genuine misinformation, too. I just wish they'd done a better job with the "economic hit man", so I could put it neatly in the "obvious lies" category along with the rest.
posted by sfenders at 8:58 PM on February 5, 2006

"Plan Balboa" Not a U.S. Plan To Invade Venezuela

Nope, now we call it "Plan A Man A Plan, Panama", we thought it was kind of funny.

-The State Department
posted by doctor_negative at 9:33 PM on February 5, 2006

I actually feel the frustration of these authors coming through the articles. I am sure that these things are written by a bunch of staffers at Foggy Bottom, probably all of whom are career State people, not political appointees, and just as likely as annoyed at the administration as many MeFiers are. And then these really ridiculous accusations are made -- "Plan Balboa lays out the US invasion of Venezuela!" "The US is writing a new version of the Koran!" "Some shamanist conspiracy theorist claims he was an economic superspy!"

Even if any of this stuff was true (and, from my experience with the government and military, I think they are often way overestimated in their ability to carry out major plots secretly and well), these are just some State Department folks from the old US Information Agency, with only access to public data, trying desperately to say "The US isn't that bad, really, you gotta believe us!" I really don't think that they are part of some massive disinformation campaign, but believe what you will.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:47 PM on February 5, 2006

The sensation is that this is a disinformation site in itself because of its incredible superficiality and supposed naivety of the reader

The researcher was also able to find weblog entries (numbered 100 and 333, on June 26 and July 15, 2005) from the commanding officer of the platoon that was involved in the incident and another member of his platoon.

And then it goes to use that blog as a source of reliable information on the topic !!

Is the source trustworthy?
Let's ask the source :D
posted by elpapacito at 1:43 AM on February 6, 2006

It's funny that their campaign against disinformation led to at least one prominent issue where their claims were proven to be categorically false, due to the military's own information.

Makes you wonder how many of their other claims about anti-US disinformation aren't just based on carefully parsed, legalistic CYA language (i.e. *WE* didn't do ____, but a proxy for the US did, under US orders/supervision...) or are flatout incorrect.

BTW, if the CIA/NSA/etc. did something covert and controversial that led to "anti-US disinformation", is it *ever* US government policy to confirm that fact?! I doubt it.
posted by insomnia_lj at 2:34 AM on February 6, 2006

Ok, I read. Now can I comment on the irony, if that's what you want to call it? Where is the State Department debunking of pretty much everything Condoleeza Rice ever says? Yellowcake? Abducting foreigners? WMD? Seems like their focus is a little off.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:48 AM on February 6, 2006

Well, the response to the "Stay behind" article in a Greek newspaper (I am impressed that they noticed), is instructive. Though the actual article they attack is indeed full of exaggerations and holes, it is interesting that from all the discussions about Gladio in Greece, they focus on the "weakest link" as it were - two assertions about murders that truly are over the top. But that was not all that was mentioned. It is for example a fact that a good number of the protagonists of the Greek junta were part of the Gladio network in Greece.

They also mention Ganser's work on Gladio, but fail to discuss the volumes of pretty overwhelming evidence of crimes committed by Gladio all over Europe, not the least of which is the Bologna massacre, that Ganser has painstakingly collected.

The section on "Operation Balboa" is also unimpressive. It was well known among those that support the Chavez government that this was a "war games" simulation. So it isn't really news, is it, much less some sort of debunking....
posted by talos at 8:04 AM on February 6, 2006

elpapacito - didn’t we have a post on that here?
posted by Smedleyman at 11:12 AM on February 6, 2006

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