Reports in the Dutch newspaper Trouw (2/21/00, 2/25/00) and France's Intelligence Newsletter (2/17/00) have revealed that several officers from the US Army's 4th Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) Group at Ft. Bragg worked in the news division at CNN's Atlanta headquarters last year, starting in the final days of the Kosovo War.
In the U.S. media, so far only Alexander Cockburn, columnist for The Nation and co-editor of the newsletter CounterPunch, has picked up on the story. Cockburn's column on the subject is available at www.counterpunch.org.
The story is disturbing. In the 1980s, officers from the 4th Army PSYOPS group staffed the National Security Council's Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD), a shadowy government propaganda agency that planted stories in the U.S. media supporting the Reagan Administration's Central America policies.
A senior US official described OPD as a "vast psychological warfare operation of the kind the military conducts to influence a population in enemy territory." (Miami Herald, 7/19/87) An investigation by the congressional General Accounting Office found that OPD had engaged in "prohibited, covert propaganda activities," and the office was soon shut down as a result of the Iran-Contra investigations. But the 4th PSYOPS group still operates.
CNN has always maintained a close relationship with the Pentagon. Getting access to top military officials is a necessity for a network that stakes its reputation on being first on the ground during wars and other military operations.
What makes the CNN story especially troubling is the fact that the network allowed the Army's covert propagandists to work in its headquarters, where they learned the ins and outs of CNN's operations. Even if the PSYOPS officers working in the newsroom did not influence news reporting, did the network allow the military to conduct an intelligence-gathering mission against CNN itself?
For instance, one PSYOPS officer worked in CNN's satellite division. According to Intelligence Newsletter, rear admiral Thomas Steffens, a psychological warfare expert in the Special Operations Command, recently told a PSYOPS conference that the military needed to find ways to "gain control" over commercial news satellites to help bring down an "informational cone of silence" over regions where special operations were taking place.
An unofficial strategy paper published by the U.S. Naval War College in 1996 and written by an Army officer ("Military Operations in the CNN World: Using the Media as a Force Multiplier") urged military commanders to find ways to "leverage the vast resources of the fourth estate" for the purposes of "communicating the [mission's] objective and endstate, boosting friendly morale, executing more effective psychological operations, playing a major role in deception of the enemy, and enhancing intelligence collection."
ACTION: Please write to CNN and ask why the network allowed government propaganda specialists to work in their news division.