The Reagan administration also used national security concerns to spend public funds to create American public support for its foreign policy in Central America. The Reagan administration launched a massive campaign to persuade the American public to support the Contra rebels in Nicaragua and other right-wing movements in Central America. About $200,000,000 in public funds were used by the Reagan administration. Money from many private foundations was also employed. A precedent for this was Nixon’s “Operation Mocking Bird,” which placed CIA operatives in major journalistic positions. to assure that the press took a sufficiently anti-Communist line. The Reagan program was different in that it sold a particular approach to dealing with an alleged communist threat. While an administration certainly has the right to influence opinion, it is doubtful there is a right to use public funds for political purposes. This “perception management” campaign was called Project Truth and worked in part through the apparatus of Project Democracy, which was run by Walter Raymond, a 30 year CIA veteran who resigned from the agency to do this work. A parallel operation in the State Department was run by Otto Reich. It was a “public diplomacy” operation in which efforts were made to recruit supporters in universities and the media. Publications were used, speakers deployed, and magazines founded. Polls were taken to find arguments that would sell. It was found that claiming the Sandanistas were anti-Semitic was a strong argument, even though there was no supporting evidence. People were also alerted to the danger of millions of left-leaning people from Central America coming across the US border. It was thought that most of them would flee after leftists took over Central America and Mexico and wrecked those economies.
Psychological warfare operatives from the military and propaganda experts from the CIW were employed to use techniques once reserved for foreign countries and enemy populations to manipulate American opinion and influence Congress. The taught Republican spokesmen to stay on message, to repeat it continually, and that with skillful arguments they could create reality with words. Days after coming to power, Jean Kirkpatrick, Alexander Haig, and Bill Casey demonstrated how effective their information management techniques were in dealing with the four nuns who were raped and murdered by a right-wing death squad in El Salvador in December 1980. Kirkpatrick hinted they deserved their fate because they were leftist political activists, and others hinted they may have been packing weapons and trying to run a roadblock. Soon right wing journalists were shouting at the nun’s families that they were not raped.
The new strategy was remarkable because it was based on flat lies rather than just representing the spinning of half-truths. Eventually, they were able to reverse American opinion on Central American issues and even make massacres and the murder of tens of thousands simply fade away. The public diplomacy operation was located in the State Department and run by Otto Reich, who later became assistant secretary of state for the western hemisphere in the George W. Bush administration. The comptroller general had noted that Reich’s public diplomacy activities constituted illegal propaganda. To give the Reagan administration the benefit of the doubt, it should be noted that government has a long history of trying to influence journalists to cover foreign policy in certain ways. Moreover, the Pentagon has also engaged extensively in these activities. The difference under Reagan was scale and creating stories without any factual basis.
Many op-ed pieces were planted, especially in the Wall Street Journal. Long after these operations were over, in 1994 when Oliver North ran unsuccessfully for the Senate, another successful information-planting operation briefly but effectively planted all the blame for not reporting contra drug running on a rogue lieutenant colonel, Oliver North. Of course, he did far more than look the other way. It was a strange comeuppance for a man who was adept at coaching contra drug runners to pose as human rights advocates and speak against their opponents. Oliver North sent an underling to Congress to testify posing as a Roman Catholic priest and claiming the contras were very religions and respectful of human rights. Journalistic “enemies” were targeted and usually demoted or taken off Central America. These people were continually trashed and their journalistic integrity questioned.
An ABC reporter who survived this treatment finally volunteered to cover the Ethiopian civil war rather than remain a target of unrelenting fire. Journalists who wrote positive things about the right-wing movements were rewarded. Soon the State Department established the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America under Otto Reich. He proved to be very energetic and industrious and was particularly successful in forcing NPR and CBS to avoid reporting negative information about the right-wing movements. Reich’s operation included five people borrowed from the military who were experts in psychological warfare.
The FBI cooperated by investigating and harassing people who were critical of the contras and other right-wing operations in Central America. Two Associated Press investigative reporters were branded “Sandanista agents,” and the AP quickly decided to give as little space as possible to stories about contra corruption and drug trading. Newsweek also reluctantly printed such stories, including one about the office of Vice President Bush helping to supply the contras when funds were cut off, but its top officials were continually harassed and intimidated by government officials about this and the reporter who had been pursuing these matters was forced to resign in 1990. Once a respected liberal magazine, The New Republic became an outlet for the Reagan administration’s propaganda. The General Accounting Office eventually ruled that these government activities violated the law that made “covert propaganda” illegal. Congress cut off funding for public diplomacy in 1987, but these abuses of law could not be mentioned in committee reports without running the risk of losing the veneer of bi-partisanship. Republicans would not sign reports that discussed these matters.
Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum
"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.
- Sherman De Brosse
- Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!