The War At Home:
Cover for War in Central America
exerpted from the book
Toxic Sludge Is Good For You:
Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry
"The Torturers' Lobby"
by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton
The most pressing concern of all for the Reagan administration
was the need to win the support of the US people for its policies
in Central America. "I think the most critical special operations
mission we have today is to persuade the American people that
the communists are out to get us. If we can win this war of ideas,
we can win everywhere else," explained Michael Kelly, Deputy
Assistant Secretary of the US Air Force. "Psychological operations,
ranging from public affairs on the one end, through black propaganda
on the other end is the advertising and marketing of our product."
Public affairs" is the government's term for "public
relations"- a rather pointless change in terminology adopted
to get around a law which specifically enjoins federal government
agencies against engaging in public relations activities. The
law also forbids the White House from using ads telegrams, letters,
printed matter or other media outside "official channels"
to influence members of Congress regarding legislation. Rules
against CIA involvement in domestic US politics are even more
severe. It is against the law for the CIA to operate domestically,
except in narrowly-defined circumstances such as cooperating with
an FBI investigation. In 1982 however, reports of the secret CIA
war in Nicaragua led Congress to pass the Boland Amendment, ending
military aid to the contras and barring the Reagan administration
from any further attempts to overthrow the Sandinistas.
In response, Reagan dispatched CLA Director William Casey
in January 1983 to set up a "public diplomacy' machine that
journalists Robert Parry and Peter Kornbluh describe as "America's
first peace time propaganda ministry . . . a set of domestic political
operations comparable to what the CIA conducts against hostile
forces abroad. Only this time they were turned against the three
key institutions of American democracy: Congress, the press, and
an informed electorate.... Employing the scientific methods of
modern public relations and the war-tested techniques of psychological
operations, the administration built an unprecedented bureaucracy
in the [National Security Council] and the State Department designed
to keep the news media in line and to restrict conflicting information
from reaching the American public."
As head of the operation, Casey appointed Walter Raymond,
Jr. a 20-year veteran of the CIA's clandestine overseas media
operations-described by one US government source as the CIA's
leading propaganda expert. According to Washington Post editor
Ben Bradlee, Raymond's involvement in the campaign symbolized
"the wholesale integration of intelligence and PR at the
National Security Council." During the Iran/Contra scandal,
Congress investigated the Reagan administration's domestic propaganda
operations and found that Raymond's name appeared on Oliver North's
calendar more than that of any other White House staff member
or government employee. A chapter detailing these domestic activities
was drafted for the investigating committee's Iran/Contra report,
but House and Senate Republicans successfully blocked even a paragraph
of the draft from being included in the committee's final report.
As a result the CIA's domestic propaganda activities in violation
of its charter have received almost no public scrutiny.
A Little Help from Our Friends
As the PR apparatus was taking shape in August 1983, Casey
summoned a group of top public relations executives to a full-day,
hush hush strategy meeting. Four of the five PR executives at
the meeting with Casey were prominent members of the Public Relations
Society of America, the industry's leading professional association.
All five were members of "PR Seminar," a 37-year-old
highly secretive gathering of about 120 senior corporate PR executives.
All PR Seminar proceedings are "off the record," and
members are threatened with a lifetime ban if they reveal any
details of PRS to the press. The members who met with Casey were:
1) Kalman B. Druck, retired president and founder of Harshe-Rotman
& Druck. He was national president of the PRSA in 1972 and
has long been one of its most outspoken and prominent members.
2) Kenneth Clark, vice-president for corporate communications
of Duke Power Co., and a former national treasurer of PRSA.
3) Kenneth D. Huszar, a senior vice-president of PR giant
Burson Marsteller, the largest PR firm in the world.
4) William I. Greener, Jr., senior vice-president of corporate
relations at G.D. Searle. Greener had served previously as deputy
press secretary for President Gerald Ford and then as assistant
secretary of public affairs for the Department of Defense under
Donald Rumsfeld in the late 1970s.
5) James Bowling of Philip Morris, a highly experienced Washington
hand who later went on to work for Burson-Marsteller. In 1985
Bowling became chairman of the Public Affairs Council, the leading
public affairs industry trade association.
According to Druck the atmosphere at the meeting was emotionally
supercharged. It began in the morning with a briefing in front
of a large map of Latin America. Aides from the CIA and National
Security Council painted a frightening picture of subversion spreading
throughout Central America and asked for advice to help pin "white
hats" on the contras and "black hats" on the Sandinistas.
At the aides' request, the PR executives brainstormed some 25
ideas, which were presented on an easel while Casey took copious
Their advice boiled down to two principal suggestions. First,
"that the administration follow the lead of modern-day corporations
by setting up a classic corporate communications function within
the White House." Second, to dramatize the contra cause,
they proposed that the White House set up "a private sector-funded
public education program," headed by a prominent individual,
"to launch a highly-publicized national fund drive."
Following this advice to the letter, the White House brought
together a coalition of "retired" military men and right-wing
millionaires to support the "Nicaragua Freedom Fund,"
chaired by Wall Street investment executive William Simon. Contributors
included famlllar rlght-wing figures like TV evangelist Pat Robertson,
Colorado beer baron Joseph Coors, oil magnate Nelson Bunker Hunt,
singer Pat Boone, and Soldier of Fortune magazine. The Fund claimed
to raise over $20 million through activities such as a $250-a-plate
"Nlcaraguan refugee" dinner in April 1985 attended by
Casey and Slmon and featuring a speech by Reagan. In reality,
the Fund was a propaganda front, spending almost as much money
as it raised. An audit of the "refugee dinner" showed
it had raised $219,525 but costs totaled $218,376, including $116,938
in "consulting fees."
The main purpose of the Nicaraguan Freedom Fund was to divert
attention from the covert channels through which real money flowed
to the contras in violation of the Boland Amendment. One of those
channels was a specialized PR firm, International Business Communications,
which pleaded guilty in 1987 to fraud by using a tax-exempt foundation
to raise funds to arm the contras. It had been a profitable business,
according to the Iran/Contra congressional investigating committee,
which concluded that IBC had kept about $1.7 million of the $5
million it channeled to the contras.
The other part of the PR plan-setting up a "communications
function within the White House"-put Raymond at the head
of a newly created "Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin
America and the Caribbean.'' "Public diplomacy" was
simply another synonym for public relations. In its first year
alone, reported Parry and Kornbluh the activities of the OPD included
"booking more than 1,500 speak mg engagements, including
radio, television, and editorial board interviews; publishing
three booklets on Nicaragua, and distributing materials to 1,600
college libraries, 520 political science faculties, 122 editorial
writers, and 107 religious organizations. Special attention was
given to prominent journalists." In 1985, for example, a
memo by OPD staffer Otto Reich described using a "cut-out"
(someone whose tie to the OPD was concealed) to set up visits
by contra leader Alfonso Robelo to news organizations including
Hearst Newspapers Newsweek, Scripps-Howard Newspapers, the editorial
board of the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, the "MacNeil-Lehrer
Report," the "Today Show" and CBS Morning News.
In private memos to the National Security Council, the OPD
boasted also of having "killed" news stories that contradicted
the Reagan administration's public position on Nicaragua, using
tactics that included intimidation and character assassination
of journalists. Using $400,000 raised from private donors, the
OPD funded organizations such as Accuracy In Media, a right-wing
organization that vigorously attacked journalists who criticized
Reagan's foreign policy. In July 1985, the OPD itself helped spread
a scurrilous story that some American reporters had received sexual
favors from Sandinista prostitutes in return for writing slanted
The OPD assigned five Army experts from the 4th Psychological
Operations Group to find "exploitable themes and trends"
and used opinion polling to "see what turns Americans against
Sandinistas." A variety of publicity stunts and news stories
were staged to achieve this objective. In 1984, for example, the
White House leaked information to the press to create a mythical
"MIGs Crisis." The story, which claimed that Nicaragua
was about to receive a delivery of Soviet fighter planes, was
prominently played on the TV news, with "special bulletins"
interrupting regular programming. Although it was later proven
false, the MIGs story helped create the public perception that
Nicaragua posed a military threat to the US, and also diverted
attention away from elections which had been held earlier that
week in Nicaragua. Despite widespread praise from a large contingent
of international observers, Nicaragua's first free elections-in
which the Sandinistas received 67 percent of the vote-were summarily
dismissed as a "sham" by the Reagan administration.
The White House used classic "enemy-image" propaganda
to paint the Sandinistas as the embodiment of evil-"a second
Cuba, a second Libya"-while describing the contras as "the
moral equivalent of our founding fathers." White House Communications
Director Patrick Buchanan claimed that "Iranian, PLO, Libyan
and Red Brigade elements" were "turning up in Managua"
and warned that "if Central America goes the way of Nicaragua,
they will be in San Diego." The Sandinistas were accused
of drug trafficking, terrorism, persecuting Jews, building secret
prisons, and beating Catholics in the street for attending mass.
To push the terrorism charge, the White House used Neil Livingstone,
a self-proclaimed ' expert on terrorism" and senior vice
president with the public relations firm of Gray & Company.
In fact, considerable circumstantial evidence suggests that Gray
& Company was itself connected to secret arms and money shipments
connected with the Iran/Contra affair. In addition to a web of
incriminating financial transactions, the evidence includes the
September 24, 1985, shooting of Glenn Souham in Paris. Souham
was the son of New York PR counselor Gerard Souham, a frequent
White House visitor whose firm was affiliated with Gray &
Company. Glenn had talked openly to friends of working with a
certain "lieutenant colonel" at the National Security
Council and of suddenly making more money than ever before. Although
the killing received almost no attention in the major news media,
O'Dwyer's PR Services came to the conclusion that "young
Souham, because of his international social and business connections,
was enticed into Iran-Contra arms dealing" and that his indiscriminate
bragging to friends led to his assassination.'
from the book:
Toxic Sludge Is Good For You:
Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry
by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton
Common Courage Press, Box 702, Monroe, MA 04951