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  Continuity Über Alles: Massaging the Message in Afghanistan
Newspaper logo

COMMENTARY:

Continuity Über Alles: Massaging the Message in Afghanistan

by Chris Floyd
First published in Empire Burlesque yesterday, 24 August 2009

Obama is paying millions to a shadowy PR firm to "vet" the political leanings of journalists reporting on his ever-expanding "Af-Pak War." This is the same PR firm used by the Bush-Cheney regime to help mislead the nation into the murderous war of aggression against Iraq: the Rendon Group.

Continuity, continuity, in all things, continuity.

This has been the battle cry of Barack Obama's administration, especially when it comes to waging the Terror Wars -- and trying to manipulate public opinion about these intractable conflicts.

As Stars and Stripes reports, Obama is paying millions to a shadowy PR firm to "vet" the political leanings of journalists reporting on his ever-expanding "Af-Pak War." This happens to be the same PR firm used by the Bush-Cheney regime to help mislead the nation into the murderous war of aggression against Iraq: the Rendon Group. S&S:

As more journalists seek permission to accompany U.S. forces engaged in escalating military operations in Afghanistan, many of them could be screened by a controversial Washington-based public relations firm contracted by the Pentagon to determine whether their past coverage has portrayed the U.S. military in a positive light.

U.S. public affairs officials in Afghanistan acknowledged to Stars and Stripes that any reporter seeking to embed with U.S. forces is subject to a background profile by The Rendon Group, which gained notoriety in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq for its work helping to create the Iraqi National Congress. That opposition group, reportedly funded by the CIA, furnished much of the false information about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion.

Rendon examines individual reporters’ recent work and determines whether the coverage was “positive,” “negative” or “neutral” compared to mission objectives, according to Rendon officials.

Not to worry, though. The Pentagon says it doesn't deny anyone access because of their background; they just use the information to let the relevant commanders know if they've got some nosy pinko commie islamofascist left-wing wacko in their midst. Just so they can be extra careful that, you know, nothing happens to the little American-hating bastard during the visit.

“We have not denied access to anyone because of what may or may not come out of their biography,” said Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a public affairs officer with U.S. Forces Afghanistan in Kabul. “It’s so we know with whom we’re working.”

Yet strangely enough, it seems that the Pentagon is, well, lying about not barring anyone because of their past reporting. Who have they barred? Why, a reporter from Stars and Stripes, just two months ago:

U.S. Army officials in Iraq engaged in a similar vetting practice two months ago, when they barred a Stars and Stripes reporter from embedding with a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division because the reporter “refused to highlight” good news that military commanders wanted to emphasize.

Of course, Obama's continuity in using the Bush-serving professional manipulators only continues Bush's continuity with the Clinton Administration, which also used the Rendon Group to, among other things, do exactly what George Bush later did: peddle war-fomenting lies about Iraq. Of course, this was simply Bill Clinton's continuity with the policies of his predecessor, the other George Bush. (It sounds confusing, but it's really not; all you have to do is follow the policies -- and the money. The name of whoever happens to be managing the imperial war machine at any given moment hardly matters.) As SourceWatch reports:

Rendon was also a major player in the CIA's effort to encourage the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In May 1991, then-President George Bush, Sr. signed a presidential finding directing the CIA to create the conditions for Hussein's removal. The hope was that members of the Iraqi military would turn on Hussein and stage a military coup. The CIA did not have the mechanisms in place to make that happen, so they hired the Rendon Group to run a covert anti-Saddam propaganda campaign. Rendon's postwar work involved producing videos and radio skits ridiculing Saddam Hussein, a traveling photo exhibit of Iraqi atrocities, and radio scripts calling on Iraqi army officers to defect.

A February 1998 report by Peter Jennings cited records obtained by ABC News which showed that the Rendon Group spent more than $23 million dollars in the first year of its contract with the CIA. It worked closely with the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an opposition coalition of 19 Iraqi and Kurdish organizations whose main tasks were to "gather information, distribute propaganda and recruit dissidents." According to ABC, Rendon came up with the name for the Iraqi National Congress and channeled $12 million of covert CIA funding to it between 1992 and 1996. Writing in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh says the Rendon Group was "paid close to a hundred million dollars by the CIA" for its work with the INC.

And those millions keep on rolling in, no matter who sits in the White House. And why not? The group's founder, John Rendon, was a long-time political operative in the top levels of the national Democratic Party, while his eagerness to serve the imperial agenda has endeared him to Republican courtiers as well. SourceWatch again:

John Rendon began his career as an election campaign consultant to Democratic Party politicians. According to Franklin Foer, "He masterminded Michael Dukakis's gubernatorial campaign in 1974; worked as executive director of the Democratic National Committee in the Jimmy Carter era; managed the 1980 Democratic convention in New York; and subsequently worked as chief scheduler for Carter's reelection campaign." James Bamford reports Rendon and his younger brother Rick went into consulting in 1981.

These guys are wired from way back, and they are wired still. Rendon's Job 1 is to make the destructive and expensive imperial wars appear palatable to the yokels back home, so the rubes will keep sending their sons and daughters off to die -- and to kill, in vast numbers -- for the profit and privilege of the small, bipartisan American elite. Sure, our rulers squabble amongst themselves as they jostle at court and scramble for the choicest bits of roast suckling from the feast table, and it can get pretty vicious. But this is just a matter of personalities and factions. When it comes to actual policy -- militarism, manipulation, domination -- the watchword remains: continuity.


Chris Floyd at his deskChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at cfloyd72@gmail.com.

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.



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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on August 25, 2009.

 



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