Public Propaganda, The Human Terrain System, and Staged Democracy in Afghanistan

Posted on 17 September 2009 by


Some interesting reports have surfaced over the past three weeks concerning  initiatives with links to the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS), along with reports about control exercised over U.S. journalists, both of which come under the rubric of public propaganda (what proponents call “public diplomacy” and others call “strategic communications”).

Gary Langer of ABC News, in “Assessing the Afghanistan Election” (25 August 2009), wrote of the only two pre-election polls in Afghanistan as being extremely problematic, polls that were widely reported in the mainstream media and that “forecast” a victory by Hamid Karzai (who appears to be winning by a wide margin of fraud). One of the two polls was produced by a HTS partner:

One of these polls was released Aug. 9 by an outfit called Glevum Associates, which appears from its website to be a military contractor engaged in producing psychological operations data as part of a U.S. Army counterinsurgency program, the Human Terrain System. The New York Times identified its poll as “financed by the United States government,” with no details; AP and Reuters did similarly.

Glevum did not return our repeated calls and e-mails for details, both methodological and in terms of the survey’s sponsorship, at the time of its release. Its methodological statement sounds satisfactory, but leaves some questions unanswered. Its poll was done July 8-17, more than a month before the election. Its full questionnaire, essential in discerning bias, was not released (rather, we got a PowerPoint summary).

Keep in mind the following facts: fraud was expected in advance; before the election even took place we heard the UK’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, going as far as saying that a fraudulent election is better than none at all (source); Richard Holbrooke,  the U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, in advance said there would be “imperfections;” even as the first documented reports of fraud, witnessed first hand by foreign journalists, were beginning to appear, the election was quickly praised by the U.S. and various NATO and European Union heads of government as a “success;” that the main emphasis for Western forces backing these elections was their anti-Taliban value, as a political appendage of counterinsurgency and “stabilization;” moreover, Hamid Karzai is a known quantity, while Abdullah Abdullah is reported to have ties to Iran, and is remembered for being a minister in the pre-Taliban government that was the one to actually welcome Al Qaeda (Abdullah’s former prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is now leading his own insurgent army against the US/NATO). What was least desired by the West was uncertainty, an unpredictable outcome. It is at the very least fortuitous that a polling agency tied to the Pentagon produced an expected victory prediction in favour of Karzai. Managing the message back home, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this past Sunday more than once emphasized his confidence that Karzai had won handily.

Who are Glevum Associates? What we do know, besides what Langer confirmed above, is that Andrew Garfield is the Vice President of Glevum Associates, “a Wasington DC based Strategic Communications Company.” (Not propaganda, rather “strategic communications.”) According to Source Watch:

Andrew Garfield served both as a British military and then a senior civilian intelligence officer, finishing his government service in 2001 as a senior policy adviser in the UK Ministry of Defense. He has extensive Information Operations (IO) and Psychological Operations (PSYOP) experience, which includes becoming the UK Defense Intelligence Staff’s first IO Staff Officer in the mid 1990’s and performing IO–related research and operations for the Department of Defense (DoD) in the United States since 2002. Mr. Garfield lectures extensively on IO and PSYOP in Europe and the US, including at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Naval Postgraduate School, National Defense University, Fourth Psychological Operations Group and on a TRADOC sponsored predeployment cultural education program for senior US Army and Marine commanders and their staffs….(more)

While HTS also comes under TRADOC, it’s interesting to note the other ties that connect Garfield with the Lincoln Group, and that tie it with two people who have been or are tied to HTS, including Andrea Jackson and Laurie Adler (previously profiled on this blog). Andrea Jackson, credited by some for envisioning HTS, was Lincoln Group’s Director of Research. Andrew Garfield was Senior Director of Insight and Influence at the Lincoln Group. As some already know, the Lincoln Group was found guilty of planting U.S. military propaganda in Iraqi newspapers, some of which at least indirectly informed U.S. media reports from Iraq, thus likely violating a law preventing the U.S. military from spreading propaganda at home.

Now we see almost the exact same group of actors, reconfigured under new institutional letterheads, producing a “poll”, reported in the U.S. news media.

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Then there is the control over U.S. journalists in Afghanistan. A series of news reports  (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) revealed that journalists embedded with U.S. forces in Afghanistan were being secretly vetted on the degree to which their stories were favourable to the U.S. mission, as Danger Room summarized it:

A week ago, Stars & Stripes broke the story that U.S. forces in Afghanistan had hired The Rendon Group, a D.C.-based media consulting firm, to write assessments of war reporters. The profiles rated journalists as “positive,” “negative” or “neutral” towards U.S. war aims, and were apparently used to deny reporters access to military units, according to follow-on reports by Stars & Stripes.

According to Stars & Stripes,

The Rendon Group…gained notoriety in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq for its work helping to create the Iraqi National Congress. That opposition group, reportedly funded by the CIA, furnished much of the false information about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion.

The Rendon Group was also contracted to help shape perceptions and manage the public image of the Karzai government:

The New York Times reported in April 2004, “The United States has hired a Washington-based communications company, the Rendon Group, to bolster Mr. Karzai’s communications office. And in a brief huddle at the palace, Mr. Khalilzad and the head of intelligence, Amrullah Saleh, discussed how the Afghan people regarded the government — and, as Mr. Khalilzad put it, ‘things we could do to help the standing of the government without working through the government.’

A December 2005 Chicago Tribune story profiled Rendon’s work in Afghanistan, including a $1.4 million contract awarded in early 2004, “to help Afghan President Hamid Karzai with media relations”…(more from source)

In response to the news of Rendon’s profiling of journalists, to better massage/manage the public message, the International Federation of Journalists said: “Bringing democracy to Afghanistan is a massive challenge. But it will not be made easier by trying to manipulate media or encouraging journalists to show bias in favor of the military.” Likewise, Roberta Reardon, President of the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, said: “Many Americans rely on the unbiased information that journalists report to understand what is happening in the world and to make critical decisions. If the military pre-approves only certain journalists to report a specific point-of-view or agenda, our decisions cannot be made independently or freely and that threatens our democracy.”

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