NATO ‘s War Crimes: The Crime of Propaganda

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1335 Journal NEO CollageThe NATO military alliance is a world encompassing threat. It is now conducting various forms of hybrid warfare against Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and most of Africa. They have destroyed directly or are largely responsible for the destruction of the socialist nations of the USSR, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and too many to name in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Destruction is the fate that each nation on earth can expect unless it pays homage and obeisance to these neo-feudal overlords who promise protection in return for national servitude, in return for the complete surrender of their people and natural resources to increase the rate of profit for the capital that controls the NATO military machine. For NATO is first and foremost the armed fist not only of the United States and its allies as nations, but is the armed fist of the capitalists of those nations who are prepared to strike against any nation, capitalist or socialist, that stands in their way of obtaining profit.

The primary concern they have, in order to preserve their control, is for the preservation of the new feudal mythology that they have created; that the world is a dangerous place, that they are the protectors, that the danger is omnipresent, eternal, and omnidirectional, comes from without, and comes from within. The mythology is constructed and presented through all media; journals, films, television, radio, music, advertising, books, the internet in all its variety; all the information systems available are used to create and maintain scenarios and dramas to convince the people that they, the protectors, are the good and all others are the bad. We are bombarded with this message incessantly. They have succeeded into luring us to all their communication platforms, so that no one is able to ignore the constant flow of information into their consciousness and their subconscious. They have us locked to our screens. They have our attention. They have us hypnotised and under this state of hypnosis we are fed so many images we cannot take any of them in and so we drown in the river of information washing over us, barely able to breathe, unable to think, blind from looking.

The use of propaganda, and by propaganda I mean here the use of lies, inventions, fabrications, distortions and misrepresentations of reality in order to evoke an emotional response in the receiver of the desired type and desired action to follow, is a primary pillar of the mythology they create. The immediate means of delivery is through the news media. To turn on the television these days to watch the political, national and world “news” is a surreal experience. You have a dissociative experience as the presenters present not “news” but carefully crafted scripts inventing scenarios out of whole cloth that have nothing to do with what is really happening in any given situation. Even the weather “news” is moulded to keep mention of abrupt climate change to a minimum and sports “news” seems like a rehearsal for war news to come as our team smashes their team with our catastrophic weapons, erases them from the earth, never to play again.

But whatever form the propaganda takes it is a crime against the people, a crime against the republic, a crime against democracy, and since it is a part of the hybrid warfare campaign being conducted and because it is used to provoke a large aggressive general war, it is a war crime.

It is a crime against the people because the people are in essence the state, the nation. The leaders of our nations are merely our representatives placed in positions of power through various, more or less “democratic” mechanisms to act for our benefit, on our behalf. But when these leaders instead represent secret cabals of financiers and industrialists who want to use the government machinery for their private benefit against the interests of their people then they have betrayed the people, have sold them out to the highest bidder. Their lies flow from this betrayal for if their wars were just they would not need to use propaganda. But their wars are not just, they are the actions of gangsters writ large and so to get the people to go along, to fool them, they, by necessity, have to lie to the people.

It is a crime against democracy for the same reason, for democracy means that representatives of the people put in positions of power have a duty to inform the people honestly on all issues, to present all the facts and arguments, and most importantly, fulfil their duty to preserve the peace and to seek peaceful resolutions of differences between nations. But again, their wars for the profit of a few are always against the interests of the people and so the lies become part of the system of control, and with each lie the grave of democracy is dug deeper and deeper.

It is a crime against the republic because the republic is the people ruling themselves, in the name of the people, not the people ruled by a monarch or emperor, who rule in their own name. So when the leaders of a republic lie to the people of the republic they repudiate the republic and act against its interests and for the private interests of those who control them. They subvert the republic and destroy it.

It is a war crime because propaganda is used to provoke war, to sustain war, to turn other people, declared to be the enemy, into beings that need to be killed. It robs them of their humanity, of their kinship with us, their desires and dreams, and makes them into vermin to be destroyed with ease and even joy in the killing. It turns us into salivating monsters calling for death of the other and cheering when the bombs explode; turns us all into the Hilary Clinton lunatic who cackled like some satanic demon as she watched a great man cut to pieces before her eyes.

I could give dozens, hundreds, thousands of examples of how the propaganda is being used. The New York Times, BBC, CNN, CBC and the rest of the western media are full of it every day and every day worse than the day before, against Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Syria Venezuela, all the known targets. We all sense that the intensity if it is increasing, the vitriol becoming more hysterical and absurd with every headline.

The journalists who write these propaganda pieces and the presenters who read them on television are among the worst of criminals as they sit there looking attractive, with their fake smiles and fake concern, while taking lots of money to lie to our faces every day. It takes a very low person to sit there and lie to their fellow citizens so easily. It takes someone who has no sense of morality whatsoever. One could say they are sociopaths. But criminals they are and they deserve to be in the dock with the leaders that hand them the scripts they read so willingly.

For propaganda is a threat to peace itself. It is not only necessary to eliminate nuclear weapons and armies, it is also necessary to eliminate the psychological weapons that are used to justify, provoke and prolong war. Lenin once said that “disarmament is an ideal of socialism” and it was, we must not forget, the USSR that developed ideals of international peace and responsibility for wars of aggression. The successor state of Russia still relies on these principles.

On the second day of the creation of Soviet power the Decree on Peace was issued that made it a matter of state policy that aggressive war is a crime. Up until then it was assumed that nation states had an inherent right to go to war for their own interests. War propaganda is a way of preparing for aggressive war and consequently is a war crime. This was confirmed at the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1946.

This was echoed in the Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations of November 3, 1947 that denounced war propaganda;

“The General Assembly condemns all forms of propaganda, in whatsoever country conducted, which is either designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.”

A Soviet draft definition of aggression presented to the General Assembly in 1957 defined war propaganda as ideological aggression. Their draft stated that a state has committed ideological aggression when it “encourages war propaganda, encourages propaganda for the use of atomic or other weapons of mass extermination and stimulates nazi-fascist views, racial or national superiority, or hatred and disdain for other peoples.”

But before that the Supreme Soviet on March 12, 1950 passed a law on the defence of peace that stated:

“The Supreme Soviet of the USSR is guided by the high principles of the Soviet peace policy, which seeks to strengthen peace and friendly relations between the peoples, recognises that human conscience and the concept of right of the peoples, who, during one generation suffered the calamities of two wars, cannot accept that the conduct of war propaganda remain unpunished, and approves the proclamation of the Second World Congress of the Partisans of Peace, who expressed the will of the entire progressive mankind concerning the prohibition and condemnation of criminal war propaganda.

“The Supreme Soviet decrees,

  1. To recognise that war propaganda under whatever form it is made, undermines the cause of peace, creates the threat of new war and is the graves crime against humanity.

  2. To bring to court person guilty of war propaganda and to try them as having committed a most grave criminal offense.”

The western powers blocked a Russian UN resolution at that time to denounce war propaganda even though it was in accord with the principles of the United Nations Charter which makes it a duty of all member states to preserve the peace. The west relied on arguments of “free speech” arguments that do not hold water since war propaganda is not designed to enlighten people but to twist their minds into thoughts of hatred and war.

The Rome Statute today contains a clause that arguably encompasses these principles in Article 5, dealing with aggression, though this clause is not yet in effect. It is one of the grave problems with the International Criminal Court, that aside from being controlled effectively by the US and European Union for their purposes, its statute does not include a specific section on war propaganda. But then the United States and its allies prevented the inclusion of such a clause just as they prevented the adoption of the resolution at the UN in the 1950’s so that they could continue using war propaganda as part of their arsenal of world control.

So, the criminal dossier against NATO grows with the crimes committed. One day we can hope that those responsible for the war propaganda used against us will face the peoples’ justice but in the meantime we have to be aware that when we are confronted with it, when we open a newspaper, turn on the television, or radio, click that link on the internet, we are the victims of a war crime, the use of war propaganda as part of the crime of aggression, each and every one of us. And if that does not make you angry then what hope is there for peace in this world?

Christopher Black is an international criminal lawyer based in Toronto. He is known for a number of high-profile war crimes cases and recently published his novel “Beneath the Clouds. He writes essays on international law, politics and world events, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

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The Fight Against Media Terrorism

“Blatant lies, which used to be the prerogative of tabloid outlets, have now been adopted by well respected media outlets.” — Margarita Simonyan

Yesterday I put up a post about a speech given on July 4 by RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan before the visiting Chinese delegation in Moscow. Here is a video of her talk. The full speech, as you will see, included a few key comments that didn’t make it into yesterday’s report, including the quote above.

As you can also see, Simonyan urged her Chinese colleagues to join her in the fight against “media terrorism.” She has chosen a good way of describing it. By reporting lies, the mainstream media are essentially committing acts of terror. Information is a weapon–no different from tanks, missiles, or artillery–and when weapons are misused (just as when information is turned into misinformation) innocent people can die as a result.

Hopefully the Chinese will soon launch their own equivalent to RT and Press TV. I have a feeling they will, and I also have a feeling it won’t stop with China. I think we’ll also see more and more citizen journalism. Project Veritas is a good example of the latter.

It is not surprising that a producer at CNN thinks the American people are “stupid as sh*t.” The American people aren’t stupid. But they are misinformed. And who is mainly responsible for that? The mainstream media. And this is what makes a comment like this, from a young punk working at CNN, so utterly loathsome.

In case you missed it, RT has a report out today about the response to threats made by CNN against the maker of a video posted recently by Donald Trump. The article includes a quote from a Reddit moderator who expresses the view that the entire Internet basically is turning against CNN.

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“CNN has all of the Internet against them right now, and when organizations attack freedom of speech, it never ends up well for them,” he said.

He may not be far off the mark. You can go here to read about a recent poll which found that 65 percent of Americans believe the mainstream media regularly publish fake news.

I’m not usually optimistic by nature, but I can visualize a future in which sentiments like these among the public continue to build until eventually the mainstream media succeed in neutralizing themselves–that is until they essentially become extinct like dinosaurs. The only way, in fact, I think they are going to be able to stop this is by shutting down the Internet or effectively shutting it down through excessive regulation, and by blocking out websites like RT and Press TV. But I don’t think this will ultimately be successful.

Just as there are black markets, I think we would see “black Internets” spring up which would offer access to the blocked out sites. The days in which six corporate media conglomerates are able to control everything people see on TV, hear on radio, or read in books, newspapers, and magazines–those days are actually numbered, I believe. Which is not to say that our future is going to be rosy, but at least in this one respect it will be better than the situation which exists at present.

The media’s capacity for committing acts of terrorism, in other words, will, I think, be greatly diminished. The fight against media terrorism will ultimately be successful.

RT Editor, in Speech Before Leaders, Discusses Role Played By ‘Powerful Press Artillery’ in West’s Wars

[ Ed. note – During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Moscow, RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan delivered a speech in which she discussed the role of the Western media in fomenting wars. Specifically, the media serve as a “press artillery,” effectively engaging in “precision bombing,” she said, remarking also that “not a single war in recent years started” without propagandistic barrages of this sort.

The media not only can change people’s attitudes toward a leader or a country, but they can even alter “the values of entire societies.” My own comment here is that this has certainly been the case in the United States–a country which has seen a dramatic evolution of its values over the past three, four, and five decades.

Simonyan’s speech is good as far as it goes, although sadly she makes no mention of the fact that media owners in the west are predominantly Jewish, nor either does she allow for the possibility that a Jewish tribal agenda may be (and most likely is) a driving factor behind the deceitful reporting. Both Presidents Putin and Jinping were present during her speech, however, and she invited the Chinese to join Russia in its efforts to “fight information terrorism.”  ]

***

RT

There has not been a war in recent times that began without “a powerful press artillery” and “precision bombing” by media, RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said, speaking in front of President Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Simonyan expressed her concern over the media’s growing, and often boundless, influence and the way it changes the world around us, during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Moscow.

“We live in unique times, when media – the so-called fourth estate – in many countries is trying to become, and sometimes becomes, the first: sets the rules of the game, controls public opinion, doesn’t just change people’s attitude towards a leader or a state, but alters the values of entire societies,” RT’s editor-in-chief said.

The media has become a weapon and a life-changing tool at the same time, Simonyan said.

“Not a single war in recent years started without a powerful world press ‘artillery,’ not a single battle happened without previous precision bombing by TV, radio, newspapers, and online resources,” she said.

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The media can also change people’s perceptions of public figures, like “making an unheard-of, ordinary person, like, for instance, Barack Obama, the hero of a generation overnight; or vice versa, making a generation’s hero, like Julian Assange, into an outcast and a misfit.”

Even more than that, “the media can change the fates of entire nations, their leaders, and sometimes even shift the borders: for instance, Kosovo wouldn’t ever have been possible without one-sided and biased coverage by all the world media, by the so-called mainstream, with no exception,” Simonyan added.

The media’s impact can be, and often is, purposefully damaging and detrimental, she said.

“This power of the press, sometimes boundless, can be used for the good – when we save the innocent, fight injustice, tyranny, corruption – or to do damage, when the media provides for the aggressive foreign policy of a country, illustrating it with convenient pictures.”

Simonyan also provided a striking example of media adjusting the narrative to fit in with their agenda.

“Everyone remembers the boy Omran, who became a symbol of Assad’s so-called ‘atrocities.’ This photo was on the front covers of all world media, spread by all of the mainstream. Of course, who wouldn’t feel sorry for a boy dug up from under the rubble, covered in blood and soot? We found the boy’s family a month ago. His father supports Assad, and he told us this really scary story about how an infamous humanitarian organization basically snatched the boy out of his father’s hands, not letting him perform first aid, to take the photos and give them to the journalists. And he is not being heard.”

Sometimes it seems that some media may resort to any means to ensure their agenda stays in place, and here’s where fake news comes in handy, Simonyan said. When it comes to that, few countries are under attack as often and as consistently as China and Russia, she added.

“Fake news has become a trap, snaring millions of people used to trusting major media names, who shouldn’t be trusted for a long time now. Blatant lies that used to be reserved for tabloids are now doing the rounds in the world media, and from their pages, those lies are put into the mouths of the newly-minted leaders.”

Continued here

3 videos to better understand the false chemical weapons accusations made by western powers against Syrian government

The Debate: “Syria Chemical Claims”


Journalist Alaa Ibrahim: “US claim that Assad preparing chemical attack is inventing excuse to go against Syrian Army”


Maria Zakharova, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “US is preparing fake chemical attack in order to bomb the legitimate Syrian government forces”

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Nikki Haley: Warmonger Extraordinaire!

South Front

Written by Antonius Aquinas; Originally appeared at antoniusaquinas.com

It must now be a prerequisite of those who become an American ambassador to the UN to possess certain characteristics and traits, the most important of which are rabid warmonger, child killer, and outright liar.

Remember it was Madeleine Albright when asked about the US blockading Iraq which prevented medicine and medical equipment from entering the country that resulted in the estimated death of a half a million children who coldly responded: “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”  Then there is Colin “Weapons of Mass Destruction” Powell who told a bald-face lie about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities which paved the way for the US destruction of the country.

Nikki Haley: Warmonger Extraordinaire!

In her brief tenure as UN ambassador, Nikki Haley is fulfilling these requirements quite nicely.  Her latest crazed outburst came on the heels of the bizarre White House press release about another supposed Syrian government gas attack which warned President Assad that he would “pay a heavy price” if carried out.*

While the State and Defense Departments were apparently caught off guard by the White House action, Ambassador Haley was not (probably given advanced notice) and issued an even more provocative tweet:

Any further attacks done to the people

of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but

also on Russia & Iran who support him

killing his own people.**

Not only has Haley appointed herself judge, jury and executioner of the Assad regime, but her wild accusation includes reprisals to the neocons’ ultimate targets of Russia and Iran.  Her ridiculous statement has now given Syria’s enemies the green light to conduct another gas attack which will be blamed on Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran.  Nice work, Nikki!

From a diplomatic perspective, the entire affair was bungled and amateurish, confirming once again that the Trump Administration is out of its league in conducting foreign policy.

That Haley was even chosen to become part of the Trump Administration has been odd from the beginning, but as things have unfolded quite telling.  Haley was a vociferous critic of the future president.  She, and the likes of another war-monger and Russophobe, Lindsey Graham, were consistently attacking candidate Trump for being “soft” on Russia and his immigration stance especially his wildly popular border wall proposal.  To Haley and Graham, Donald Trump was out of step with the Republican Party’s values such as diversity as represented by Haley who, herself, is of Indian heritage.

Yet, despite all of the vitriol heaped at candidate Trump, the newly elected president, in a surprising and ominous move, decided to make the South Carolina governor, UN ambassador.  This, and a number of other selections to foreign policy posts, signaled that President Trump would abandon his promises and vote-garnering campaign talk of peaceful coexistence with Russia, a reduction of US presence in the Middle East, and in other hot spots across the globe.

While Haley has been an ardent warmonger from the start, President Trump did not have to select her for the post.  There were other more competent and surely less belligerent candidates available.  More than likely, the choice was probably a nod to his “advisor” daughter Ivanka, to curry favor among feminists.

While President Trump’s pick of Haley was an implicit betrayal of a large segment of his base, his foreign policy actions since becoming chief executive have been an explicit rejection of putting America first which he spoke of at his inaugural.  From escalating tensions with puny North Korea, dropping the mother-of-all-bombs on Afghanistan for no apparent reason, to making multi-billion dollar armament deals with the despots of Saudi Arabia among other troubling endeavors, Trump’s foreign policy is little different than his infamous predecessors.

While it looks like President Trump may have won the war, at least temporary, over the press and the anti-Trump Congressional forces about the fake Russian election involvement, he and his bellicose UN ambassador are now using the same underhanded methods to instigate a conflict to depose President Assad.  While the alternative media rightly showed how the mainstream press and politicos made up and manipulated stories to undermine President Trump, it should now be intellectually honest and call out the president and his UN ambassador for what they are doing in Syria.  In doing so, it may prevent the outbreak of WWIII.

Washington Purposely Unleashes Fake News to Launch New Attack on Syria, Says Spencerová

Sunday, 02 July 2017 22:09

The White House purposely unleashes fake news about the use of chemical weapons in Syria in order to change the current situation for the interest of American plans, Tereza Spencerová  told the Czech ‘Parliamentary Papers’ website.

The Czech Journalist, who is specialized in Middle East Affairs, said:

“The U.S. threat to launch a new attack against Syria under the pretext of the use of chemical weapons comes despite Washington’s previous attack on the Syrian airfield was launched with no evidence about the use of chemical weapons by Syrian Arab army in Khan Sheikhon area in Idlib countryside.”

 She affirmed that the new U.S. threat aims to compensate for the recent defeats suffered by the US-backed terrorist groups in the east and the south of Syria.

“Launching a new attack on Syria by the United States will be a childish behavior,” Spencerová  stressed,  mocking the acts of the new US Administration.

“No one can know what is going on in the heads of Donald Trump and his close advisors,”  she said.

Last month, the Czech journalist underlined that  both Saudi and Qatari regimes hired terrorist organizations as tools to implement destructive policies in the region in accordance with foreign agendas.

She said:

” The Saudi Arabia’s recent escalation against Qatar is caused by tension of Saudi regime that has financial, social, religious and military problems.”

The crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar erupted following US President Donald Trump’s visit to the region last month, marked by the signing of a record $110-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the visit was aimed at getting Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations in the region to stand in “unity” with Israel and confront Iran.

Basma Qaddour

The History of Fake News

The History of Fake News

EDITOR’S CHOICE | 03.07.2017

The History of Fake News

Why can’t America reliably separate out fact, falsehood, opinion and reasoned analysis?

David V. GIOE

It was a clear autumn day in Washington, DC on October 27, 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his Navy Day speech to the American people. Halloween was later that week, but Adolf Hitler and his Wehrmacht war machine were scaring the administration. Roosevelt used his address to highlight the threat posed to the Western Hemisphere—America’s hemisphere—per the longstanding Monroe Doctrine. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was six weeks hence, and Americans were leery of getting involved again in Europe’s perennially bloody wars. Charles Lindbergh and the “America First” movement, which represented America’s isolationist current, objected to greater involvement. Roosevelt needed to make the case that the Nazi threat to America was real. He noted, earlier that month, that a German U-boat had attacked an American destroyer, the USS Kearny, causing eleven American combat fatalities. “America has been attacked,” Roosevelt declared. “The USS Kearny is not just a navy ship. She belongs to every man, woman and child in this nation… Hitler’s torpedo was directed at every American.”

Roosevelt left out the minor detail that the Kearny was busy raining down depth charges on a German U-boat when she was torpedoed. In case the attack on the Kearny wasn’t enough to convince skeptical Americans of Hitler’s devious transatlantic designs, Roosevelt pressed his point with further evidence: “Hitler has often protested,” Roosevelt continued, “that his plans for conquest do not extend across the Atlantic Ocean. But his submarines and raiders prove otherwise. So does the entire design of his new world order,” Roosevelt stated ominously. “For example, I have in my possession a secret map made in Germany by Hitler’s government… of the new world order.”

“It is a map of South America and a part of Central America, as Hitler proposes to reorganize it… into five vassal states, bringing the whole continent under their domination… [including] our great lifeline—the Panama Canal… This map,” Roosevelt thundered, “makes clear the Nazi design not only against South America but against the United States itself.”

In addition to millions of Americans tuning their radios in to Roosevelt’s revelations of Nazi treachery, the Germans were listening too. They vociferously denied the authenticity of Roosevelt’s map, but then again, it was marked “Geheim,” (Secret), so of course they would disown it, wouldn’t they? German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels rejected FDR’s “absurd accusations.” In his estimation, this was a “grand swindle” intended to “whip up American public opinion.” The problem is that Goebbels was right. The map was a forgery. He didn’t know who the real authors were, but British intelligence did—because it was they.

Operating out of the forty-fourth floor of New York’s Rockefeller Center, the remit of the vanilla sounding British Security Coordination office was, in part, to get America into the war. The Roosevelt administration was already reaching across the Atlantic with all sorts of civilian and military aid, but it wasn’t coming fast enough during the dark days of the Blitz, and each new initiative to support the British was met with howls of indignation by the isolationists in Congress. Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed that the Americans would eventually get around to doing the right thing; they just needed a prod in the right direction—a prod in which the ends justified the means.

British intelligence recalled their previous success at stoking America’s ire for war when, in February 1917, desperately seeking American entry into the Great War, they passed the Americans the infamous Zimmermann Telegram, albeit with a phony cover story to hide the fact that they were routinely breaking American diplomatic codes. The Zimmermann Telegram, intercepted and decrypted by British codebreakers, offered a secret deal in which the Germans promised to return New Mexico, Arizona and Texas to Mexico if the latter would declare war on the United States in the event that Washington declared war on Germany.

In that instance, the British artfully used the telegram, authored by German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann, to overcome characteristic American concern about foreign entanglements. President Woodrow Wilson was in a pickle. Just a year earlier, in the election of 1916, correctly sensing the national mood of nonintervention, he had run and won on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Now he felt that war might be inevitable, but how to reverse himself? A week after Wilson received the telegram from the British he authorized its publication in (or, in today’s vernacular, “leaked it to”) the media. It made the front page on March 1, 1917.

Notably, many Americans suspected the dark arts at play, assessing the telegram as a forgery. The wind was taken out of their conspiratorial sails when, two days later, none other than Arthur Zimmermann himself helpfully confirmed that his telegram was genuine. By the next month, America was at war. Not only did the British weaponize the explosive content of Zimmermann’s telegram, but Wilson used it to change tack as well, each to their own political ends.

The Zimmermann Telegram was but one of several factors, including German unrestricted submarine warfare, which led to American entry into World War I. The Americans tipped the balance in favor of the Entente powers and Germany was forced to sign the punitive Treaty of Versailles in 1919, but such a peace could not last, and exactly two decades later the European powers were again at war.

The sequel to the Great War in Europe had been raging since 1939, the German Blitzkrieg seemed unstoppable, and Britain stood alone against it. By late 1941, America had made itself the “arsenal of democracy,” but, as the Kearny incident showed, it actually went much further than that. In addition to Lend-Lease and similar arrangements, American warships and planes patrolled much of the Atlantic convoy route, guarding ships packed with millions of tons of American products—Britain’s tenuous lifeline for survival.

Still, the lost tonnage projections for transatlantic shipping were unsustainable. In a war of material, Britain was going to lose, whereas America’s population and industrial potential were still largely untapped. The supplies sent by America were critical, but if Britain was going to do more than lose slowly, America needed to go all in. But where was the next Zimmermann telegram to help this president lead his country to war? It seemed that, although Britain had affixed keys to every kite it had, lighting was not going to strike twice, but just maybe, this time they could put lightning in a bottle for FDR.

Britain’s senior intelligence official in the United States, Sir William Stephenson, sat atop the British Security Coordination office and became fast friends with Roosevelt’s decorated protointelligence chief, William J. Donovan, acting as coordinator of information, the forerunner of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, itself subsequently reassembled in 1947 as the Central Intelligence Agency. Donovan and Stephenson were birds of a feather. Self-made wealthy men, internationalist in outlook, and both combat heroes of World War I. Stephenson referred to the avuncular and paunchy Donovan as “Big Bill,” and Donovan affectionately labeled the smaller and trimmer Stephenson as “Little Bill.” Years later, Donovan opined, “Stephenson taught us all we ever knew about foreign intelligence”—although perhaps some lessons were learned the hard way.

Despite the bonhomie between the “Bills,” Stephenson was using his friendship with Donovan to run unilateral propaganda operations against the isolationists in American chattering classes. It was in this context that Little Bill handed the fake map (amongst other forgeries) to Big Bill, who presented it to FDR as a cat brings a mouse to its master, perhaps, reminiscent of contemporary news media, not lingering over questions of authenticity because it was a scoop that Donovan had over his rivals in the military branches and J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI.

The State Department, on the other hand, assessed British “intelligence” relating to Latin America as forgeries, even complaining to the British Embassy about it. Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle, a man for who his intelligence portfolio was a bothersome sideshow, was on the right track with his skepticism about the British intelligence that Donovan was feeding to Roosevelt. He had concerns regarding reliability and veracity of the volumes of British intelligence that was finding its way to the Oval Office. Berle told his boss, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, “British intelligence has been very active in making things appear dangerous [in Latin America] . . . I think we have to be a little on our guard against false scares.”

Despite Berle’s suspicions, Roosevelt was not informed of the differing analytical lines in his bureaucracy. In fact, after the Germans cried foul, responding to a question about the map’s authenticity, Roosevelt claimed the source was “undoubtedly reliable.” One scholar pronounced “the most striking feature of the episode was the complicity of the President of the United States in perpetuating the fraud.” Another historian commented that British forgeries like the map were “truly a frontal assault on the rules of evidence.” Yet, like the Zimmermann Telegram twenty-four years earlier, the map served both the author and recipient’s intended political purpose.

Roosevelt died, in all probability, ignorant of the map’s true provenance, but whether or not he, like Assistant Secretary Berle in Foggy Bottom, personally harbored any suspicions about the map’s authenticity, on that sunny day in October 1941, Roosevelt needed it to be true, and that was what mattered. Thus, although the British put forward the fake news, Roosevelt was a willing political vessel for it. Several commentators have observed that fake news is not a fraud perpetrated on the unsuspecting, but rather willful belief. A shrewd political operator, Roosevelt was no novice to narrative shaping, but was likely willing to suspend disbelief for his policy goals. Indeed, the mud of deception often slides into self-deception.

One commentator asserted that the purpose of fake news “is not to pose an alternative truth . . . but to destroy truth altogether, to set us adrift in a world of belief without facts, a world where there is no defense against lies.” Actually, the purpose of fake news isn’t to destroy truth; it is to manipulate, to weaponize information, made out of whole cloth at times, to achieve political or societal goals. America is no more “post-truth” than it is “post-gravity”; it’s just that the terrible repercussions will take longer to drop. Information alchemy is about weaving straw into golden political outcomes. Several commentators have suggested that, during the 2016 presidential election, Russian president Vladimir Putin sought to engender a general crisis of civic confidence in the American electoral system. That’s a nice byproduct from his point of view, but even he knows full well that he can’t destroy American democracy—he just wanted to manipulate it toward his own ends.

Likewise, the saga of the fake map wasn’t a British assault on truth as such; it wasn’t intended to cloud the American people in an epistemological fog in which it was unclear who were the aggressors in Europe. The British needed a political—and by extension military—outcome and they assessed that the best way to do this was through bespoke disinformation.

In today’s deluge of information and disinformation, enabled in part by social media as news propagation outlets, the solution most proffered is “consider the source” as a way to separate wheat from chaff. Media outlets are trying to outcompete each other to earn their reputational halo. But, in the case of the fake map, Little Bill a was usually reliable source, and, if the British couldn’t be trusted, who could be? Indeed, the fall comes hardest when betrayed by trusted friends, and whom we admire. CIA’s own webpage homage dedicated to Stephenson is notably silent on the specifics of his greatest deception.

CIA has matured immeasurably from the heady and freewheeling days of the OSS, partly through the progression of intelligence officers from glorious amateurs to seasoned professionals, and partly in response to lessons learned from mistakes. Professional intelligence analysts are put through a rigorous analytical training pipeline that includes how to structure analysis, how to weigh sources, and how to consider competing hypotheses. They are taught that one analytical conclusion isn’t equally as valid as another, and that nuances matter. They are taught to figuratively interrogate sources and to consider the source’s purpose in providing information, and who was the intended audience? On the operational side, most raw intelligence generated by CIA’s case officers bears a health warning, a sort of caveat emptor, reminding analysts of what they should already know: “The source of the following information knew their remarks could reach the U.S. Government and may have intended to influence as well as inform.”

And in fact, many tools that intelligence analysts use every day are those that are borrowed from the practice of history, with critical thinking and a skeptical mind at the top of the list. The analytical cadre of Donovan’s nascent intelligence bureaucracy was staffed with the best minds from leading universities, raising questions about whether Donovan, in his haste to please his intelligence consumer in chief and scoop his rivals, even stopped for any analytical on what would be considered raw-liaison intelligence.

Not everyone needs to be professionally trained as an intelligence officer or historian to wade through sources, but Hugh Trevor-Roper was both. To apply his craft to approaching a primary source, he listed three questions that should be asked about every document: Is it genuine? Was the author in a position to know what he was writing about? And, why does this document exist? Answers to these questions are the handmaidens of trusting information and halting the malign influence of fake news. Perhaps, before passing the map to Roosevelt, Donovan should have heeded the wise counsel of a different British subject, the historian E.H. Carr, who commanded: “interrogate documents and . . . display a due skepticism as regards their writer’s motives.” Indeed, what intelligence analysts have in common with historians is that the best of the bunch are skeptics.

One practical way that skepticism ought to manifest itself in considering the source was offered by historian and strategist B. H. Liddell Hart: “On every occasion that a particular recommendation is made, ask yourself first in what way the author’s career may be affected.” Or, as the Romans may have inquired, “cui bono?” Who benefits? Maybe this level of skepticism sounds paranoid, but as the aphorism goes, you’re only paranoid if there is no plot. Or applied to the twenty-first century information wars, deception.

While considering the source is necessary, it is not sufficient—it’s a shortcut that too often turns into a handicap. Fact-based and objective reporting and analysis is surely the gold standard, but information consumers also have a role, even a civic obligation as citizens to take some responsibility for what they allow themselves to consider as truth. It is the manifestation of this shortcut crossed over to handicap that demands Facebook or Twitter do a better job of curating information on their platforms. It elides society’s individual responsibility for skepticism and critical thought in the evaluation of evidence and argument. For the same reason that diet pills don’t work, it’s just not that easy. Seeing results is going to take some discipline. Social-media sites, amongst others, are appropriately required to weed out extremist or illegal content, but filtering information is a more challenging feat. It would be convenient if they can run an algorithm and block bots and trolls, but disingenuous information and especially fraudulent analysis of facts would still remain. There is no Internet filter or setting that can remove conspiracy theory from the digital public square. Moreover, that might not be desirable in any case. It may be worth considering whether technological convenience, rapidly morphing into dependence past the point of no return, may have a causal relationship to America’s contemporary intellectual helplessness.

Perhaps technology companies will develop a genius algorithm to filter out Russian bots and disable some troll accounts, but this will not stop overly credulous people from retweeting, sharing and reposting “news” that bears as much semblance to reality as CheezWhiz does to cheese. Despite significant strides in artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence remains ineffective against intellectually dishonest analysis, non sequitur conclusions and ideological spin. It is therefore dubious to hope social-media sites will become guardian curators of fact-based knowledge and objective journalism. But there is no reason to rely on technology companies to solve the problem of fake news. The do-it-yourself tools are readily available.

How to begin to learn how to discern fake news? By rediscovering the broad civic applicability of the historical method. It starts with modifying the national epistemological approach to acquiring knowledge, and, applied across the population of the United States, the impact could be profound.

Quite when America started deviating from critical thinking is unclear, but a test of American college students, the College Learning Assessment Plus (CLA+) shows that, in over half of the universities studied, there is no increase in critical thinking skills over a four-year degree. The reasons for this are far from clear, but the pursuit of knowledge has become more argumentative, opinion-based and adversarial than illuminating. Research papers are reminiscent of watching the prosecutor layout a criminal case on Law and Order.

The CLA+ findings track with an informal survey of professors’ experience at over a dozens American (and some international) universities. In the main, here is how a research paper usually unfolds: Students set out a thesis, about which they know very little at the outset, but about which they already seem to have well-developed or even passionate opinions as if they have skin in the game, as if their thesis is personal and deeply held. They spend the rest of the paper proving the validity of these opinions, like a court case, beyond a reasonable doubt. They comb through material, hunting for those key nuggets of evidence that support their thesis, and ignoring those equally important discoveries that don’t support their narrative. In the worst cases, logical fallacies are waived away because a conclusion “feels right” or “should be true.” Once enough similarly suggestive nuggets are accumulated, they are listed like items entered into evidence, often devoid of argumentation or theoretical framework. Moving onto their conclusions, they again restate their strongest bits of evidence, and pronounce their thesis proved; case closed. Rediscovering the historical method and teaching the difference between argument and assertion offers promise.

The starting point is to have a research question in mind. It is not a thesis at the outset; it is a question to be answered, ideally with bias explicitly stripped out of it. Working on the research question itself takes a great deal of time, phrasing and rephrasing, testing and reformulating it for just the right construction. The net difference may be only a carefully excised word, but the effect on the rest of the project can be significant. It might be the difference between, “When did Saddam Hussein restart his WMD program?” and “Did Saddam Hussein restart his WMD program?” One is an important question for national security. The other contains a presupposition that led a country to war. Likewise, “Why is Kim Jong-un an irrational actor?” is a separate question from “Is Kim Jong-un an irrational actor?” American policy toward an international pariah with nuclear weapons hinges on the answer.

Once the research question is established, a method of inquiry is needed, a process by which the question might be answered. Research is a voyage of intellectual discovery where unexpected information is not unwelcome because there is no initial thesis to prove as yet. Most questions, of course, don’t have easy answers and there are usually good arguments and reliable sources on both sides. The important thing is to grapple with all of the information and not cherry-pick supporting evidence or selectively exclude contradictory evidence. Historian J. H. Hexter has argued that, rather than seeking evidence to bolster an initial thesis, one should actively seek out evidence that challenges or even disproves it. This is the heart of research and analysis, and again calls on the craft of the historian to weigh the credibility of sources, to consider the original purpose of documents, and to test whether a conclusion makes sense based on other knowledge.

Finally, before a thesis is published as news or breathlessly retweeted, it would be better to pause and consider on what basis the arguments might be criticized, and in light of these weaknesses, shore up analytical flanks. Intellectual “stress testing” is as important to public discourse as financial stress testing is to banking, yet seems to be as a lost tradition on college campuses as in American politics.

If the method just outlined seems like a foreign land for students, information consumers, politicians and an uncomfortable plurality of media outlets, then what went wrong? Why can’t America reliably separate out fact, falsehood, opinion and reasoned analysis? As the CLA+ test suggests, the American educational system is responsible to some degree for not exposing students to critical thinking—or maybe demanding some mastery of it before awarding a degree, but what happened, at a national level, to skepticism of claims, to questions without baked-in bias, to critical thinking?

It seems that in polarized America, political and ideological precommitments have superseded a skeptical mindset and even the desire, if not capacity, for critical thought, thus leaving America frightfully vulnerable to fake news. Consider a scenario in which, upon proper methodological inspection, one was to discover new information or arguments that demonstrate an error in a personal stance. Would one swallow his pride and update his views, especially on social media—the platform of personal record. What would one’s political tribe say after such an admission? Would they, following the scientific method, attempt to replicate the experiment to verify the results and update their own thinking? Or would there instead be a feeling of political or social betrayal? Princeton Professor Jonathan Haslam considered it is a sign of intellectual immaturity to read only those thinkers who reinforce preexisting beliefs. If that is the case, is American society intellectually regressing in a closed echo chamber of self-reinforcement? In an age of fake news, considering whether information is true is less important than whether it is useful for supporting a worldview, or discounting that of others. Thus, the utility of information is now more important than its veracity.

Professors don’t help matters when their syllabus requires that students only use certain pre-vetted source material for research projects. These well meaning professors are trying to help students avoid relying on fake news or highly biased books, journal articles and websites, but this is actually harming students because it doesn’t require the students to critically evaluate sources or material. Instead, it is the equivalent of intellectual training wheels for students well past their primary education. Students with helicopter professors learn that they just need to color inside the safe lines and they can’t go too far astray. Yet by circumscribing the known world of pre-vetted material our universities are failing to live up to their mandate to prepare students for the real world, where there won’t be anyone to screen what information these newly minted alumni are consuming. It would be better to let students make—and then learn from—their mistakes in the structured halfway house of being an adult than protect them until graduation and then push them out of the nest into a world of fake news and disinformation, of which they have had no previous experience. This increasingly widespread practice of benevolence in university courses probably also directly contributes to the increasing helplessness, thus vulnerability, of post-university civic life.

This is more than one elbow-patched curmudgeon’s complaint about American education and society; suggested here is a timeless strategy for defense from fake news. It is not foreordained that America is doomed to a virtual future of reflexive retweeting and conspiracy theories parading as news. Encouraging a different approach to discovering knowledge is part of the solution to an overly credulous population. As was demonstrated during the 2016 election, Americans seem particularly vulnerable to information war, and it appears that Putin’s minions will be back again in 2020 and beyond. Yet rediscovering the tools of the historian—skepticism and critical thinking—can help develop a more resilient national character as a key pillar of future American security.

nationalinterest.org

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