Caitlin Johnstone: Pentagon’s Propaganda Push in Ukraine

Caitlin Johnstone, Consortium News, February 16, 2023 — The U.S. military’s push to “counter disinformation” actually has nothing to do with “taking apart Russian propaganda” and everything to do with suppressing dissent.

A Washington Post article, “Pentagon looks to restart top-secret programs in Ukraine” contains some interesting information about what U.S. special ops forces were doing in Ukraine in the lead-up to the Russian invasion last year, and what they are slated to be doing there in the future.

“The Pentagon is urging Congress to resume funding a pair of top-secret programs in Ukraine suspended ahead of Russia’s invasion last year, according to current and former U.S. officials,” writes the Post’s Wesley Morgan. “If approved, the move would allow American Special Operations troops to employ Ukrainian operatives to observe Russian military movements and counter disinformation.”

Much further down in the article we learn the specifics of what those two top-secret programs were. One entailed U.S. commandos sending Ukrainian operatives “on surreptitious reconnaissance missions in Ukraine’s east” to collect intelligence on Russia. The other entailed secretly administering online propaganda, though of course The Washington Post does not describe it as such.

“We had people taking apart Russian propaganda and telling the true story on blogs,” WaPo was told by a source described as “a person in the Special Operations community.”

U.S. special ops forces “employing Ukrainian operatives” to “take apart Russian propaganda” and “tell the true story on blogs” is just U.S. special ops forces administering U.S. propaganda online.

Whether or not they actually see themselves as “telling the true story” or “taking apart Russian propaganda” does not change the fact that they are administering U.S. government propaganda. A government circulating media that advances its information interests is precisely the definition of state propaganda.

The U.S. government is theoretically prohibited from directly administering propaganda to its own population (though even that line has been deliberately eroded in recent years with measures like the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act and U.S. government infiltration of the mass media and Silicon Valley), but there’s nothing stopping the funding and directing of foreign bodies to circulate propaganda on the internet, which has no national borders.

Back when U.S. propaganda was limited to old media like the C.I.A.’s Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia it was possible to claim that the propaganda was solely targeting populations where that media was broadcast, but propaganda circulated online will necessarily trickle over everywhere, including to U.S. audiences.

The Washington Post explains that these secret programs were discontinued ahead of the Russian invasion last year because a stipulation in the 2018  National Defense Authorization Act which, while permitted their funding, forbids their use during a “traditional armed conflict.”

The Pentagon is working to persuade Congress to repeal that condition. Part of its sales pitch to restart these secret operations is that they will be “what the U.S. military calls ‘non-kinetic’ — or nonviolent — missions,” which would cover the administering of propaganda.

As we discussed recently, it’s very silly that there’s a major push in the U.S. power alliance to begin administering more government propaganda in order to “counter Russian propaganda” when Russian propaganda has no meaningful influence in the Western world.

Before RT was shut down it was drawing just 0.04 percent of the U.K.’s total TV audience. The much-touted Russian election interference campaign on Facebook was mostly unrelated to the election and affected “approximately 1 out of 23,000 pieces of content” according to Facebook, while research by New York University into Russian trolling behavior on Twitter in the lead-up to the 2016 election found “no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior.”

A study by the University of Adelaide found that despite all the warnings of Russian bots and trolls following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the overwhelming majority of inauthentic behavior on Twitter during that time was anti-Russian in nature.

In reality, this push we’ve been seeing to pour more and more energy into propaganda, censorship, and other forms of narrative control has nothing to do with “taking apart Russian propaganda” and everything to do with suppressing dissent.

March 3, 2016: U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on a tour of the Microsoft Cybercrime Center in Seattle as part of a trip to strengthen ties between the Department of Defense and the tech sector. (DoD/Tim D. Godbee)

The U.S. empire has been frantically ramping up propaganda and censorship because the “great power competition” it has been preparing against Russia and China is going to require economic warfare, massive military spending, and nuclear brinkmanship that no one would consent to without lots of manipulation.

Nobody’s going to consent to being made poorer, colder and less safe over some global power struggle that doesn’t benefit them unless that consent is actively manufactured.

That’s why the media have been acting so weird lately, that’s why dissident voices are getting harder and harder to find online, that’s the purpose of the new “fact-checking” industry and other forms of narrative control, and that’s why the Pentagon wants congressional funding for its propaganda operations in Ukraine.

The empire’s “great power competition” happens to be occurring at the same time as widespread access to the internet means that drastic measures must be made to ensure its information dominance so it can march the public into playing along with this agenda. The more desperate our rulers grow to secure unipolar planetary domination, the more important controlling the narrative becomes.


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This article is from and re-published with permission.

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