Posted by: zanshin, 2008-06-27 01:36

Story

This war brought to you by Rendon Group

Ian Urbina, 2002-11-13 (Wednesday), Asia Times
WASHINGTON - "Word got around the department that I was a good Arabic translator who did a great Saddam imitation," recalls the Harvard grad student. "Eventually, someone phoned me, asking if I wanted to help change the course of Iraq policy."

So twice a week, for US$3,000 a month, the Iraqi student says, under condition of anonymity, that he took a taxi from his campus apartment to a Boston-area recording studio rented by the Rendon Group, a DC-based public relations firm with close ties to the US government. His job: translate and dub spoofed Saddam Hussein speeches and tongue-in-cheek newscasts for broadcast throughout Iraq.

"I never got a straight answer on whether the Iraqi resistance, the CIA or policy makers on the Hill were actually the ones calling the shots," says the student, "but ultimately I realized that the guys doing spin were very well and completely cut loose." And that's how Baghdad's best-known opposition radio personality was born six years ago - during the Clinton administration. It was one of many disinformation schemes cooked up by the Rendon Group, which has worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations fighting the psy-op war in the Middle East.

"The point was to discredit Saddam, but the stuff was complete slapstick," the student says. "We did skits where Saddam would get mixed up in his own lies, or where [Saddam's son] Qusay would stumble over his own delusions of grandeur." Transmissions were once a week from stations in northern Iraq and Kuwait. "The only thing that was even remotely funny," says the student, "were the mockeries of the royal guard and the government's clumsy attempts to deceive arms inspectors."

The Saddam impersonator says he left Rendon not long ago out of frustration with what he calls the lack of expertise and oversight in the project. It was doubly frustrating, he says, because he despises Saddam, although he adds that he never has been involved with any political party or opposition group. "No one in-house spoke a word of Arabic," he says. "They thought I was mocking Saddam, but for all they knew I could have been lambasting the US government." The scripts, he adds, were often ill conceived. "Who in Iraq is going to think it's funny to poke fun at Saddam's mustache," the student notes, "when the vast majority of Iraqi men themselves have mustaches?"

There were other basic problems, too. Some of the announcers hired for the radio broadcasts, he says, were Egyptians and Jordanians, whose Arabic accents couldn't be understood by Iraqis. "Friends in Baghdad said that the radio broadcasts were a complete mumble," the student says. One CIA agent familiar with the project calls the project's problem a lack of "due diligence", and adds that "the scripts were put together by 23-year-olds with connections to the Democratic National Committee."

Despite the fumbling naivete of some of its operations, the Rendon Group is no novice in the field. For decades, when US bombs have dropped or foreign leaders have been felled, the public relations shop has been on the scene, just far enough to stay out of harm's way, but just close enough to keep the spin cycle going.

As Franklin Foer reported in the New Republic, during the campaign against Panama's Manuel Noriega in 1989, Rendon's command post sat downtown in a high-rise. In 1991, during the Gulf War, Rendon operatives hunkered down in Taif, Saudi Arabia, clocking billable hours on a Kuwaiti emir's dole. In Afghanistan, group founder John Rendon joined a 9:30am conference call every morning with top-level Pentagon officials to set the day's war message. Rendon operatives haven't missed a trip yet - Haiti, Kosovo, Zimbabwe, Colombia.

The firm is tight-lipped, however, about its current projects. A spokesperson refuses to say whether Rendon is doing any work in preparation for the potential upcoming invasion of Iraq. But a current Rendon Arabic translator commented, "All I can say is that nothing has changed - the work is still an expensive waste of time, mostly with taxpayer funds." However, Rendon may just prove to be one step ahead of the game. If Saddam is toppled, a Rendon creation is standing by to try to take his place. The Iraqi National Congress (INC), a disparate coalition of Iraqi dissidents touted by the US government as the best hope for an anti-Saddam coup, has gotten the go-ahead from US officials to arm and train a military force for invasion. The INC is one of the few names you'll hear if reporters bother to press government officials on what would come after Saddam.

At the helm of the INC is Ahmed Chalabi, a US-trained mathematician who fled from Jordan in 1989 in the trunk of a car after the collapse of a bank he owned. He was subsequently charged and sentenced in absentia to 22 years in prison for embezzlement. Back home in Iraq, he's referred to by some as the so-called limousine insurgent and is said to hold little actual standing with the Iraqi public. Shuttling between London and DC, Chalabi hasn't been in Iraq for over years, and draws "more support on the Potomac than the Euphrates," says Iraq specialist Andrew Parasiliti of the Middle East Institute in Washington DC.

"Were it not for Rendon," a State Department official remarked, "the Chalabi group wouldn't even be on the map."

With funding first from the CIA throughout the 1990s and more recently the Pentagon, Rendon managed the INC's every move, an INC spokesperson acknowledges, even choosing its name, coordinating its annual strategy conferences, and orchestrating its meetings with diplomatic heavy hitters, such as James Baker and Brent Scowcroft. Not that the Rendon Group was the first purveyor of psy-op tactics for promoting US foreign policy in the region. In fact, some of the most impressive spin maneuvers and disinformation campaigns occurred during the Gulf War in 1991, the lessons of which are particularly pertinent as the US again gears up.

Most notorious was the work of PR giant Hill & Knowlton (H&K) (for which current Pentagon spokesperson Torie Clarke worked after she was an aide to John McCain and Bush's dad). Subsidized by the Kuwaiti royal family, H&K dedicated 119 executives in 12 offices across the country to the job of drumming up support within the United States for the 1991 war. It was an all-out grassroots blitz: distributing tens of thousands of "Free Kuwait" T-shirts and bumper stickers at colleges across the US and setting up observances such as National Kuwait Day and National Student Information Day. H&K also mailed 200,000 copies of a book titled The Rape of Kuwait to American troops stationed in the Middle East. The firm also massaged reporters, arranging interviews with handpicked Kuwaiti emissaries and dispatching reams of footage of burning wells and oil-slicked birds washed ashore.

But nothing quite compared to H&K's now infamous "baby atrocities" campaign. After convening a number of focus groups to try to figure out which buttons to press to make the public respond, H&K determined that presentations involving the mistreatment of infants, a tactic drawn straight from W R Hearst's playbook of the Spanish-American War, received the best reaction.

So on October 10, 1990, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus held a hearing on Capitol Hill at which H&K, in coordination with California Democrat Tom Lantos and Illinois Republican John Porter, introduced a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah. (Purportedly to safeguard against Iraqi reprisals, Nayirah's full name was not disclosed.) Weeping and shaking, the girl described a horrifying scene in Kuwait City. "I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital," she testified. "While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns and go into the room where babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die." Allegedly, 312 infants were removed.

The tale got wide circulation, even winding up on the floor of the United Nations Security Council. Before Congress gave the green light to go to war, seven of the main pro-war senators brought up the baby-incubator allegations as a major component of their argument for passing the resolution to unleash the bombers. Ultimately, the motion for war passed by a narrow five-vote margin.

Only later was it discovered that the testimony was untrue. H&K had failed to reveal that Nayirah was not only a member of the Kuwaiti royal family, but also that her father, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, was Kuwait's ambassador to the US. H&K had prepped Nayirah in her presentation, according to Harper's publisher John R MacArthur, in his book Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War. Of the seven other witnesses who stepped to the podium that day, five had been prepped by H&K and had used false names. When human rights organizations investigated later, they could not find that Nayirah had any connection to the hospital. Amnesty International, among those originally duped, eventually issued an embarrassing retraction.

When asked if it acknowledges the incubator story as a deception, H&K's media liaison, Suzanne Laurita, only responded: "The company has nothing to say on this matter." Pushed further on whether such deception was considered part of the public relations industry, she reiterated, "Please know again that this falls into the realm that the agency has no wish to confirm, deny or comment on." Years later, Scowcroft, the national security adviser at the time, concluded that the tale was surely "useful in mobilizing public opinion".

H&K's baby-atrocity routine really won over the hearts, but for the minds of realpolitik skeptics the Pentagon had other methods. To sway them, the Pentagon flooded the major media outlets with reports of a top-secret satellite image that allegedly showed 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks amassed at the Iraqi-Saudi border.

Once again, this was misinformation. When the US military refused to hand the satellite image over to the press, several investigative journalists opted to purchase commercially available, but equally detailed, satellite images on the open market. Shots of the exact same region, during the same time frame, revealed no Iraqi soldiers anywhere near the border. The journalists hired a coterie of experts, including a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who specialized in desert warfare imagery, and the verdict was the same: no Iraqis, just desert and a lot of US jet fighters sitting wing-tip to wing-tip at nearby Saudi bases.

But by the time those questions began circulating about the Pentagon's supposed satellite image and the web of decisions being spun around it, the US military was already set on course. Once again, a similar mobilization is in high gear, with skeptical questions lagging behind.

(©2002 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd

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Afghanistan,   Ahmed Chalabi,   Asia,   Brent Scowcroft,   Bush,   CIA,   Colombia,   First Gulf War,   Haiti,   Human Rights,   Iraq,   James Baker,   John Mccain,   Jordan,   Kosovo,   Kuwait,   military,   Panama,   Saddam Hussein,   Saudi Arabia,   USA,   Zimbabwe,  

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Date  
1990-10-10 In the USA, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus held a hearing on Capitol Hill at which H&K, in coordination with California Democrat Tom Lantos and Illinois Republican John Porter, introduced a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah. (Purportedly to safeguard against Iraqi reprisals, Nayirah's full name was not disclosed.) Weeping and shaking, the girl described a horrifying scene in Kuwait City. "I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital," she testified. "While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns and go into the room where babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die." Allegedly, 312 infants were removed.

The tale got wide circulation, even winding up on the floor of the United Nations Security Council. Before Congress gave the green light to go to war, seven of the main pro-war senators brought up the baby-incubator allegations as a major component of their argument for passing the resolution to unleash the bombers. Ultimately, the motion for war passed by a narrow five-vote margin.

Only later was it discovered that the testimony was untrue. H&K had failed to reveal that Nayirah was not only a member of the Kuwaiti royal family, but also that her father, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, was Kuwait's ambassador to the US. H&K had prepped Nayirah in her presentation, according to Harper's publisher John R MacArthur, in his book Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War. Of the seven other witnesses who stepped to the podium that day, five had been prepped by H&K and had used false names. When human rights organizations investigated later, they could not find that Nayirah had any connection to the hospital. Amnesty International, among those originally duped, eventually issued an embarrassing retraction.
1990 In the USA, the Pentagon flooded the major media outlets with reports of a top-secret satellite image that allegedly showed 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks amassed at the Iraqi-Saudi border.

Once again, this was misinformation. When the US military refused to hand the satellite image over to the press, several investigative journalists opted to purchase commercially available, but equally detailed, satellite images on the open market. Shots of the exact same region, during the same time frame, revealed no Iraqi soldiers anywhere near the border. The journalists hired a coterie of experts, including a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who specialized in desert warfare imagery, and the verdict was the same: no Iraqis, just desert and a lot of US jet fighters sitting wing-tip to wing-tip at nearby Saudi bases.

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2007-03-05Lets Not Forget: Bush Planned Iraq 'Regime Change' Before Becoming President
2007-03-05Timeline: al-Qaida
2007-03-17Outsourcing the War
2007-03-18Between Europe And The Middle East: The Transformation Of Turkish Policy
2007-03-21Andrew Cockburn’s Rumsfeld Revelations
2007-03-24Is the American Empire on the Brink of Collapse?
2007-02-19Chomsky on Iran, Iraq, and the Rest of the World
2007-02-18After Neoconservatism
2007-02-10Neocon 101 - Some basic questions answered
2007-02-10Q&A: Neocon power examined
2007-02-13More politics, less force
2007-01-29Whose Iran?
2007-02-20Russia's hudna with the Muslim world
2007-02-21The Propaganda Machine’s Lies About Saddam Live On
2007-02-22Washington's $8 Billion Shadow
2007-02-28RUSSIA AND THE NEW COLD WAR -- When cowboys don't shoot straight
2007-02-26Which Will It Be America, Empire or Democracy?
2007-02-26Military Commissions Act of 2006 – Turning bad policy into bad law
2007-01-09U.S. must resist 'military surge' and push for 'diplomatic surge'
2007-01-23Al Jazeera's Global Gamble- A PEJ Interview - Al Jazeera Timeline
2007-01-24President Bush’s State of the Union Address
2007-01-27My Worst Moment As a Lawyer
2007-01-14Natural Resources are Fuelling a New Cold War
2007-04-25The Crime of War: From Nuremberg to Fallujah
2007-04-24The revenge of the Ba'athists
2007-05-01Iran’s Nuclear Calculations
2007-05-01Attack on Iran is the next step in divide and conquer of Middle East
2007-05-03Military Responses to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's Comments
2007-05-02Country Reports on Terrorism -- Chapter 2 -- Country Reports: Middle East and North Africa Overview
2007-05-02Country Reports on Terrorism -- Chapter 2 -- Country Reports: Western Hemisphere Overview
2007-05-05WHY IRAN WILL HAVE THE BOMB
2007-05-22We're Number One! America Leads the World in War Profits
2007-05-17Rehabilitating US Imperialism
2007-05-10Six Nightmares: Real Threats in a Dangerous World and How America Can Meet Them
2007-05-13Pentagon Hopes to Expand Aid Program
2007-05-16No-goodniks and the Palestinian shootout
2007-04-12The Eurabia Code
2007-04-13Analysis: Arabian Medicis
2007-04-14The Iraqi role in Jordan bombing
2007-04-15Eye on Iran, Rivals Pursuing Nuclear Power
2007-03-31The Second Lebanon War -- It probably won't be the last
2007-03-30China vs Japan: FTAs, oil and Taiwan
2007-04-069-11 AND THE SMOKING GUN -- Part 2: A real smoking gun
2007-04-10Cakewalk In Iraq
2006-05-01Symbol of Abu Ghraib Seeks to Spare Others His Nightmare
2006-08-21Why Bush should go to Tel Aviv - and confront Iran
2006-10-05Woodward and You
2006-09-12The Nation That Fell to Earth
2006-09-25Richard Clarke 9/11 prepared testimony
2006-09-09Outgoing State Department Chief of Policy Planning Richard Haass
2006-09-09United States Secretary of State Colin Powell discusses recent concerns
2006-09-10William Blum's Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, 3rd Edition
2006-09-03The World According to China
2006-09-03Transcript - President Bush's Speech
2006-10-31Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
2006-11-02World entering dangerous era of US impotence
2007-01-03U.S. Not Winning War in Iraq, Bush Says for 1st Time
2006-12-30Dictator Who Ruled Iraq With Violence Is Hanged for Crimes Against Humanity
2006-12-13What the U.S. Really Learned From World War II
2006-12-15The Israel Lobby
2006-11-29Iran War Games Aimed at Warning Shot to U.S. Allies (Update1)
2008-09-25Power, Politics & Scholarship
2008-09-27One Million Weapons to Iraq; Many Go Missing
2008-09-27Domestic Spying, Inc.
2008-10-12Afghanistan: A country locked in a spiral of doom
2008-10-13Top Interrogators Declare Torture Ineffective in Intelligence Gathering
2008-10-09U.S. Study Is Said to Warn of Crisis in Afghanistan
2008-10-16Bailout Continues on Global Scale; Are We Becoming the Weimar Republic?; ACORN Facing Allegations of Voter Fraud
2008-08-13‘Where Are the Weapons of Mass Destruction?’
2008-08-23Iran Achieves a Four-Front Missile Command, Breakthrough on Nuclear Missile Warheads
2008-08-24Are You Ready for Nuclear War? -- The Mindlessness is Total
2008-08-25Securitarism, reproduction of disorder and erosion of democratic rule of law
2008-08-26The Russian Empire Strikes Back
2008-09-02Stoking Tensions, Risking Confrontation: A High Stakes US Gamble with Russia
2008-09-02Torture and liberty
2008-09-01Realists unite
2008-08-28Vice President's Remarks on the 90th National Convention of the American Legion
2008-09-12A Grim Anniversary
2008-09-12Afghanistan After Seven Years of War -- You Call This a Good War?
2008-09-12The Return of U. S. Death Squads
2008-07-22CSIS-SCHIEFFER DIALOGUE: OPENING STEPS FOR A DIPLOMATIC PATH BETWEEN THE U.S. AND IRAN
2008-07-15A war waiting to happen
2008-07-16Obama stands by timetable for Iraq
2008-07-09Who's Planning Our Next War?
2008-07-09Iran: Learning the Lessons of Cambodia and Iraq
2008-07-27How Obama Became Acting President
2008-07-25How to Get Away With Torture
2008-07-27Obama on the Brink
2008-07-28Reflections on Leadership
2008-07-29Does the Constitution Require the Impeachment of Bush and Cheney?
2008-07-30Somalia: Crusade Number Four
2008-08-09Chasing a Mirage
2008-08-06Douglas Feith's War and Decision: Life in a Neocon's Parallel Universe
2008-08-06Nothing Succeeds Like Success
2008-08-01The Democrats & National Security
2008-08-03Attacking Iran? It will not happen
2008-06-13John McCain: War Hero or North Vietnam's Go-To Collaborator? -- From Glory Boy to PW Songbird
2008-06-11The History of the House of Rothschild
2008-06-06Between the Rule of Power and the Power of Rule: In Search of an Effective World Order
2008-06-08The Operator: The Double Life of a Military Strategist
2008-06-25HOW HEZBOLLAH DEFEATED ISRAEL -- PART 3: The political
2008-07-03'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Thursday, May 29
2008-06-29Indictment and Trial of Bush and Cheney
2008-07-02The Impeachment of George W. Bush