“Perception Management”: How to Sell a War

July 7, 2016

“Perception Management” was pioneered in the 1980’s under the Reagan administration in order to avoid the public opposition to future wars that was seen during the Vietnam War.

The United States Department of Defense defines perception management as:

Actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning as well as to intelligence systems and leaders at all to influence official estimates, ultimately resulting in foreign behaviors and official actions favorable to the originator’s objectives. In various ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations, security, cover and deception, and psychological operations.

At the onset of the Iraq war in 2003, journalists were embedded with US troops as combat cameramen.  The reason for this was not to show what was happening in the war, but to present the American view of it.  Perception management was used to promote the belief that weapons of mass destruction were being manufactured in Iraq to promote its military intervention, even though the real purpose behind the war was regime change.

Alvin and Heidi Toffler cite the following as tools for perception management in their book, War and Anti-War:

accusations of atrocities;

hyperbolic inflations;

demonization and dehumanization;

polarization;

claim of divine sanction; and

meta-propaganda.

In 2001, the Rendon Group, headed by John Rendon, was secretly granted a $16 million contract to target Iraq with propaganda. Rendon, who had been hired by the CIA to help create conditions to removal Saddam Hussein from power, is a leader in “perception management”.  Two months later, in December 2001, a clandestine operation performed by the CIA and the Pentagon produced false polygraph testimony of an alleged Iraqi civil engineer, who testified that he had helped Saddam Hussein and his men hide tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.  Of course, we now know that there were no weapons of mass destruction hidden in Iraq.

A study by Professor Phil Taylor reveals the differences between the US and global media over the coverage of the war to be:

Pro-war coverage in the US made US media “cheerleaders” in the eyes of a watchful, more scrutinous global media;

Issues about the war were debated more in countries not directly affected by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks;

The non-US media could not see the link between the “war on terror” and the “axis of evil”; and,

The US media became part of the information operations campaign, which weakened their credibility in the eyes of global media.

President Bush himself admitted in a televised interview with Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News that, “One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.”  Vice President Dick Cheney stated on Meet the Press, “If we’re successful in Iraq…we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11.”

Prior to 2002, the CIA was the Bush Administration’s main provider of intelligence on Iraq. In order to establish the connection between Iraq and terrorists, in 2002, the Pentagon established the “Office of Special Plans” which was, in reality, in charge of war planning against Iraq, and designated by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to be the provider of intelligence on Iraq to the Bush Administration.

Its head, the Undersecretary of Defense, Douglas J. Feith, appointed a small team to review the existing intelligence on terrorist networks, in order to reveal their sponsorship states, among other things.  In 2002, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz wrote a memo to Feith entitled, “Iraq Connections to Al-Qaida”, which stated that they were “not making much progress pulling together intelligence on links between Iraq and Al-Qaida.”

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