Saturday, April 19, 2008

The military-industrial complex is alive and kicking, lying for Iraq dollars

All those retired general talking heads on network and cable news programs? Most of them have big-time connections with defense weapons makers, otherwise politely called “military contractors.”

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the … several dozen military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

That’s why President Bush has had no problem in the past flying some of them on Air Force 2.
In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.

“It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’ ” Robert S. Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst, said.

Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he said.

As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Mr. Allard recalled, he saw a yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed.

“Night and day,” Mr. Allard said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”

This is a long, 11-page exposé in the New York Times and well worth a read. More details on the jump.

Some of the 75 or so brass hat talking heads are also lobbyists, for example. The whole affair was launched in large part by former Defense Department assistant secretary for PR Torie Clarke. But, the military talkers were given their own, independently-officed handlers.

Others were in charge of contract negotiation or procurement at their firms, a very direct conflict of interest in going on TV and promoting the war.

Some of them had huge anti-media axes to grind going back to Vietnam:
This was a major theme, for example, with Paul E. Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 to 2007. A retired Army general who had specialized in psychological warfare, Mr. Vallely co-authored a paper in 1980 that accused American news organizations of failing to defend the nation from “enemy” propaganda during Vietnam.

“We lost the war — not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. He urged a radically new approach to psychological operations in future wars — taking aim at not just foreign adversaries but domestic audiences, too. He called his approach “MindWar” — using network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.”

In a word, bullshit. Former DoD schmoozer and Donald Rumsfeld flunky Larry Di Rita confirms this was the attitude the Whatagon had. Other analysts, anonymously, also explicitly called this “psyops.”

Meanwhile, these talking heads coneheads were perfectly content to be led around by the nose by Paul Bremer et al on the occasions they actually did visit Iraq.

How can you be an “analyst” when you’re not actually out in the field analyzing anything?

But, most of the tin stars didn’t care. It was a way to meet U.S. mercenary companies like KBR, or Iraqi decision-makers, and try to drum up more business.

Showing their importance, one of the first things Gen. David Petraeus did after being named commander in Iraq was to meet with the group of analysts. I assume he does the same as part of his preparation for each round of Congressional testimony, so the talking heads are ready and armed.

And, for all of this bullshitting, most the analysts were being paid, in essence, on commission, by how many times they talked on TV.

And, while some of them admit soon being disillusioned about what lies BushCo was spinning, none of them saw fit to stop talking on TV. Those who were wary said “military loyalty” kept them from speaking out.

More bullshit. Fear of scorn from fellow colonels or generals is what it was, along with fear of losing contracts or lobbying access. As for loyalty to privates and noncoms, the actual military? Hah.

The few who did speak out? Well, this happened:
On Aug. 3, 2005, 14 marines died in Iraq. That day, William V. Cowan, who said he had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the “twisted version of reality” being pushed on analysts in briefings, called the Pentagon to give “a heads-up” that some of his comments on Fox “may not all be friendly,” Pentagon records show. Mr. Rumsfeld’s senior aides quickly arranged a private briefing for him, yet when he told Bill O’Reilly that the United States was “not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq, the repercussions were swift.

Cowan said he was “precipitously fired from the analysts group” for this appearance. The Pentagon, he wrote in an e-mail message, “simply didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t carrying their water.” The next day James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint Chiefs, presided over another conference call with analysts. He urged them, a transcript shows, not to let the marines’ deaths further erode support for the war.

As for the cable and network news companies? None of them asked questions about outside business dealings.

Today, of course, most these folks are ghettoized to Fox, but not all of them, and it certainly wasn’t that way in the run-up to the war and the first year afterward.

Of course, there are a few things you won’t find in the story.

One is the number of weapons contractors who give plenty of money to Democrats as well as Republicans. Indeed, one of the retired shills, Gen. John Ralston, eventually went to work for William Cohen’s lobbying group. True, Cohen was a Republican senator, but he became defense secretary in a Democratic administration.

The other is how much money some of these war merchants, war-merchant lobbyists and such, spend on advertising, both with the TV networks and in places like the NYT.