Looking back on the carnage of the last 15 years it's easy to see the psychological changes in America. What's not easy to see is how a longstanding campaign of covert psychological warfare built up since the early days of World War II had made the slow destruction of American democracy and the ascension of rule by secrecy inevitable, long before the planes ever left the runway on 9/11.
:::::::: Five-Part Series: 15th anniversary of 9/11
The moment Truth became the Enemy of the State
9/11/2001. The date still echoes in the mind with outrage, anger, and utter disbelief. Through the clarity of hindsight it now seems more than ever like a Madison Avenue commercial intended to sell the American population on another war they didn't need or want. But that's what we got. Fifteen years of it so far and no end in sight. Believing in the official narrative of 9/11 requires what's referred to in drama as a willful suspension of disbelief. How could this happen? How did a band of ragged terrorists plotting from a cave in faraway Afghanistan accomplish such a feat given the pervasiveness of the most expensive military/intelligence apparatus in the history of the world? How did three skyscrapers defy the laws of physics and manage to collapse as if brought down by a controlled demolition? And even more curiously, why would Islamic radicals provide the neoconservative administration of George W. Bush with exactly the pretext they needed to launch a bloody invasion of Afghanistan and further occupation of the Middle East?
Who among America's national-security mandarins at the CIA or FBI or Department of Defense would be held accountable? No one would. Instead America's national-security apparatchiks would be rewarded with expanded powers to eavesdrop and torture; powers that were supposed to be anathema to the American way of doing things. Like Kafkaesque characters who'd suddenly found themselves on the other side of the Cold War mirror, Americans would now have to "watch what they say and watch what they do" as a preexisting "Patriot Act" would be signed into law to clamp down on dissent and real or imagined domestic terrorism.
Some careful observers like Anthony Lewis of the New York Times had already noticed the bizarre coup-like changes coming over Washington in the months leading up to the attack as the George W. Bush administration inaugurated radical shifts in domestic and foreign policy that seemed un-American and alien to anything that had gone before. But those concerns would soon be forgotten in the race for revenge.
9/11 would ultimately give President George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisors all the public approval they needed to transform America and invade Afghanistan and Iraq to cleanse the world of evil. In the end it would turn the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and America's reputation on its head.
Looking back on the carnage of the last 15 years it's easy to see the psychological changes in America. What's not easy to see is how a longstanding campaign of covert psychological warfare built up since the early days of World War II had made the slow destruction of American democracy and the ascension of rule by secrecy inevitable, long before the planes ever left the runway on 9/11:
"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State." -Dr. Joseph Goebbels
As chief propagandist for the Nazi Party, Joseph Goebbels' system of black propaganda not only helped Hitler's rise to power but kept him there by utilizing near-hypnotic powers over the German people even after the consequences of his disastrous failures had become obvious.
To counter Goebbels' propaganda theatre emanating from Nazi party headquarters at Munich's Braunhaus (Brown House), an organization named Freedom House was founded in New York City in 1941. Fronted by American celebrities and public luminaries such as Eleanor Roosevelt, the wizard behind the outfit was Leo Cherne, psychological warfare specialist/co-founder of the Research Institute of America (RIA), which would later be labeled the "CIA for businessmen."
If anyone could match Goebbels' black arts of psychological warfare it was Cherne. In 1939 Cherne published a guide to industrial mobilization in Adjusting Your Business to War, prophetically forecasting the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 and on September 1st of that year completed a 3000-page report titled, Industrial Mobilization Plans for World War II, the very day that German troops crossed into Poland.
That same year Cherne asked an ambitious young prote'ge' named William J. Casey, the future director of the CIA, "How do you take a country like ours, stuck in depression, and convert it into an arsenal?" The answer was a highly profitable loose-leaf book called The War Coordinator. Operating through Freedom House and a second entity known as the International Rescue Committee, (IRC) Cherne and Casey's psychological-warfare campaign would ultimately transform universally held concepts like Freedom, Justice and Truth into exclusive American brands, which over decades of repetition and reinforcement would grow into the now sacred axioms of American exceptionalism.
Over the decades following World War II Cherne would attract the most powerful and influential figures in American business and politics to his causes. A listing of Freedom House trustees on its 50th anniversary in 1991 includes people as diverse as Andrew Young, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Albert Shanker, Donald Rumsfeld and James Woolsey. It has since become an exclusive clearinghouse for the neoconservative's international agenda.
Freedom House's narrative is no less than the narrative of the American century where, "It has fought on the side of freedom and against aggressors in struggles that can be evoked by simple words and phrases: the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, NATO, Hungarian Freedom Fighters, the Berlin Wall, the Prague Spring..." and of course Afghanistan.
We experienced Freedom House's profound influence on the major media in the spring of 1983 in a televised Nightline program following a trip to Afghanistan with Harvard Negotiation Project Director Roger Fisher. We had brought Fisher to Afghanistan to explore the possibilities of a Soviet withdrawal of forces and discovered the Soviets were desperate to get out. But instead of expanding on Fisher's expert opinions about Soviet intentions, host Ted Koppel steered the discussion toward the CIA-backed Mujahideen by introducing a political officer of the Jamaat-i Islami, which Koppel described as "an anti-communist resistance group based in Pakistan... here in the United States under the auspices of two American organizations, concerned with democracy in Afghanistan, the Afghan Relief Committee and Freedom House."
Had Koppel and Freedom House really been concerned about democracy in Afghanistan, they would never have chosen the Jamaat-i Islami. Originally founded by the Pakistani theologian Abul Ala Maudidi in 1941, the Jamaat-i Islami's primary concern was not about democracy but replacing western-style democracy with an extremist Islamic Society.
According to testimony of Freedom House's Rosanne Klass at a congressional hearing in February 1988, Freedom House's real concern wasn't about ending the conflict in Afghanistan at all but about keeping the Soviet Union tied down indefinitely. So, Nightline's challenge to Roger Fisher's evidence of a Soviet willingness to leave Afghanistan in 1983 and its choice of the Jamaat-i Islami could only have been intended to discredit Soviet intentions and the potential for peace in Afghanistan.
In 1939 Leo Cherne and William Casey set out to wage a war of disinformation on Germany and Japan. When that war was over they turned their campaign onto the Soviet Union. Then in 1981 - after they'd helped to stoke up a disinformation campaign surrounding events in Afghanistan - CIA Director William Casey told the President of the United States, "We'll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false."
Fifteen years ago on 9/11, the product of Leo Cherne and William Casey's disinformation war came home to America. Americans couldn't know what had just happened and still can't know because everything they'd been hearing for decades about the Soviet Union, about Afghanistan and Ronald Reagan's fiercely religious freedom fighters was admittedly false. By September of 2001 both men had passed on, but the false narrative where the lie became the truth and the truth became the enemy of the state lives on today. It comes as a steady flow of false information about America's latest enemies floods American minds as never before.
How did the American political system and foreign-policy apparatus become enslaved by a demented political class whose only recourse is to prepare for a third World War that can never be won? How can the American people defend themselves against a lie they would rather accept than face the stark truth that lives within our society like a cancer? Join us, as we explain how this dilemma came to be, who the players are and what they really want in the next installment of Psychological Warfare and the American Mind.
Copyright 2016 Fitzgerald & Gould All rights reserved
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are the authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story, Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire, and The Voice. For more information visit their websites at invisiblehistory and grailwerk.
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are the authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story and Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire and The Voice,a novel.
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, a husband and wife team began working together in 1979 co-producing a documentary for Paul's television show, Watchworks. Called, The Arms Race and the Economy, A Delicate Balance, they found themselves in the midst of a controversy that was to boil over a few months later with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Their acquisition of the first visas to enter Afghanistan granted to an American TV crew in 1981, brought them into the most heated Cold War controversy since Vietnam. But the people inside Soviet-occupied Afghanistan told a very different story from the one being broadcast on the evening news.
Following their news story for the CBS Evening News, they produced a documentary (Afghanistan Between Three Worlds) for PBS and in 1983 they returned to Kabul for ABC Nightline with Harvard Negotiation project director Roger Fisher. Arriving in Kabul that spring they were told that the Russians wanted to go home and negotiate their way out. But the story that President Carter called, "the greatest threat to peace since the second World War" had already been written by America's pundits was not about to change the script.
As the first American journalists to get behind the official propaganda on the war, they not only got a view of an unseen Afghan life, but a revelatory look at how the US defined itself under the veil of superpower confrontation. But as they pursued the reasons behind the propaganda, they were drawn into a story that was growing into mythic dimensions.
It was at the time of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 when they were working on the film version of their experience under contract to Oliver Stone, that they began to piece together the mythic implications of the story. During the research for the screenplay crucial documents were declassified. Over the next decade they trailed a labyrinth of clues to find a likeness in Washington's official policy towards Afghanistan - in the ancient Zoroastrian war of the light against the dark - whose origins began in the region now known as Afghanistan. It was a likeness that grows more visible as America's involvement deepens.
By 1998, as the horrors of the Taliban regime began to grab headlines, they started collaborating with Afghan human rights expert Sima Wali. They contributed to the Women for Afghan Women: Shattering Myths and Claiming the Future book project. In 2002 they filmed Wali's first return to Kabul since her exile in 1978. The film they produced about Wali's journey home, The Woman in Exile Returns, gave audiences the chance to discover the message of one of Afghanistan's most articulate voices and her hopes for her people.
In the years since 9/11 much has happened to bring their story into sharp focus. Their experience at combining personal diplomacy with activist journalism could become a model for restoring a healthy and vibrant dialogue to American democracy. Ultimately, Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story lays bare why it was inevitable that the Soviet Union and the U.S. should end up in Afghanistan and what that means to the future of the American emp