Fracas in Caracas: Messing With the Press?

Sucking up to the campaign-donor proconsuls: “The New York Times‘ South American correspondent Larry Rohter, right, with U.S. Chargé D’Affaires James Nealon during a courtesy call at the U.S. Embassy Montevideo, August 18, 2006.” Source: U.S. Dept. of State.

“Cash for news coverage” can only be regarded as an insidious attempt to control people through the manipulation of information and must be viewed as a threat to civil society, regardless whether “cash for news coverage” is offered by public relations practitioners or is solicited by consumer newspaper media that publicly portend to value fairness and objectivity and truth. Public relations practitioners and journalists alike—as citizens of their respective countries and of the world who are well-informed about the importance of the integrity of media channels — need to take leadership in eliminating this misleading and thereby untruthful practice in keeping with both their professional and their human values. –Dean Kruckeberg & Katerina Tsetsura, “A Composite Index by Country Of Variables Related to the Likelihood Of the Existence Of ‘Cash for News Coverage’” (July 21, 2003)

Stealth marketing harms, I argue, by degrading public discourse and undermining the public’s trust in mediated communication. Doubt that an editor has an authentic voice leads to an overgeneralization of distrust as audiences come to believe that mediated speech is inauthentic or untrue even when it is not. The law of bribery as well as public discourse theory helps to show how such distrust corrupts the kind of communicative public sphere that a democracy needs. –Stealth Marketing and Editorial Integrity, Ellen P. Goodman. Texas Law Review. Austin: Nov 2006. Vol. 85, Iss. 1; pg. 83, 70 pgs

CIA Operation “Pliers” Uncovered in Venezuela: Is it really the case that Venezuelan counterintelligence obtained a memo from a CIA officer at the embassy in Caracas to his boss, detailing how the Company plans to disrupt the Venezuelan referendum tomorrow?

If that is true, and leaving aside the desirability of repeating the Cold War ratfinking of Salvador Allende, I find myself just as irritated from the point of view of patriotic taxpayer.

We fund our spies to the tune of a gazillion dollars a year, and they cannot keep a freaking secret?

I am waiting for two things:

  1. For my goverment to deny it
  2. For the mass-market news media to report and fact-check the story

(December 2: The government has now denied it. Only the New York Times has reported the claim and denial, citing one source who doubts its authenticity. Which is curious, given that the Times, like every other major metro daily, has editorialized against the Bolivarian Blowhard. Here is a chance to legitimately and thoroughly reality-test one of the man’s allegedly “paranoid” claims. I would pay to read a good, thorough fact-check of it.)
If it is not true, on the other hand, it is a competent bit of disinformation, at least, because all of the techniques described — particularly phony opinion polling and Vlademir Montesinos-style cooption of the news media — have a long and fairly well-documented history.

The plan, titled “OPERATION PLIERS” was authored by CIA Officer Michael Middleton Steere and was addressed to CIA Director General Michael Hayden in Washington. Steere is stationed at the US Embassy in Caracas under the guise of a Regional Affairs Officer. The internal memorandum, dated November 20, 2007, references the “Advances of the Final Stage of Operation Pliers”, and confirms that the operation is coordinated by the team of Human Intelligence (HUMINT) in Venezuela.

Those who give a damn favor YES, but estimates suggest that NI-NI (“neither-nor”) is the strongest tendency. A sign, some observers think, that Chávez’s “personalism” is starting to grate on people who otherwise support his policies.

The memo summarizes the different scenarios that the CIA has been working on in Venezuela for the upcoming referendum vote on December 2nd. The Electoral Scenario, as it’s phrased, confirms that the voting tendencies will not change substantially before Sunday, December 2nd, and that the SI (YES) vote in favor of the constitutional reform has an advantage of about 10-13 points over the NO vote. The CIA estimates abstention around 60% and states in the memo that this voting tendency is irreversible before the elections.

The headline in EL TIEMPO (Colombia) the other day was something like “four out of five polls show advantage for NO.”

Yesterday, the principal headline you saw was “technical tie between YES and NO.”


One polling firm found a distinct advantage for NO.

Another — which lists the Costa Rican government (and Chiquita Brands– “We smuggled guns for Mono Mancuso”) as a client — found that the referendum was “too close to call.”

And predicted the margin of victory, in percentage terms, with a margin of error near zero. I thought that was pretty amazing.

Officer Steere emphasizes the importance and success of the public relations and propaganda campaign that the CIA has been funding with more than $8 million during the past month – funds that the CIA confirms are transfered through the USAID contracted company, Development Alternatives, Inc., which set up operations in June 2002 to run the USAID Office for Transition Initiatives that funds and advises opposition NGOs and political parties in Venezuela. The CIA memo specifically refers to these propaganda initiatives as “psychological operations” (PSYOPS), that include contracting polling companies to create fraudulent polls that show the NO vote with an advantage over the SI vote, which is false.

July 2, 2006: The president of IFE, the Mexican federal elections commission, announces to the nation that the election is “too close to call.”

See also

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

From the “transition initiative” project description for Venezuela:

The Venezuela program has two main objectives: (1) strengthen democratic institutions and promote democratic dialogue between political groups; and (2) encourage citizen participation in democratic processes. USAID supports five implementing partners: Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI), which focuses on dialogue, public debate, citizen participation, and training for democratic leadership; the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which offer technical assistance for political parties; Freedom House, which provides technical support to human rights practitioners; and the Pan-American Development Foundation (PADF), which provides support to civil society.

It is claimed that international press agencies cooperate with the CIA.

Larry Johnson, who along with Robert Baer and Richard A. Clarke is one of thos rising rock-stars of the ex-spook infotainment consultancy sector, doubts the authenticity but the thinks the hamhanded fake is probably an effective crib from the Karl Rove playbook:

This, in my judgment, is the work–very clumsy work at that–of the Venezuelan intelligence service eager to build on the truth that the United States has sought to oust Chavez. All of this is quite convenient with Venezuelan elections on the horizon. It may be hamhanded, but for internal Venezuelan consumption, this is brilliant psyops and should help Chavez further demonize the equally clumsy Americans.

Eva Gollinger — the attorney who used the FOIA to document other measures taken against the Bolivarian Blowhard, but whose detractors claim is a paid Venezuelan agent — names the “Interamerican Press Society” [sic] as cooperating with the Company.

See also

The CIA also confirms in the memo that it is working with international press agencies to distort the data and information about the referendum, and that it coordinates in Venezuela with a team of journalists and media organized and directed by the President of Globovision, Alberto Federico Ravell.

The astonishing thing is that the target of this disinformation would be American readers.

Does our government really wage information warfare on us?

Is Larry Rohter their messenger?

(When the Miami Herald discovered that its journalists were participating in government propaganda broadcasts, it fired the editor who was supposed to be supervising their extracurricular activities.

Jefferson Morley no longer works for the Washington Post — but Juan Forero still does.

The New York Times fired Raines over Jayson Blair, and let Judy Miller take early retirement. And its public editor is dubious of Henry Blodget.)

That used to be illegal, but I recall reading that there is a loophole: If American readers wind up being exposed to disinformation targeted at readers in other countries, that does not count as a violation of laws against domestic propaganda.

In other words, there is a kind of governance arbitrage at work, not dissimilar to the logic of money-laundering. It’s Nixonian “plausible deniability” all over again. (Dick Cheney worked for Donald Rumsfeld in those years, recall.)

CartaCapital magazine here in Brazil ran an interview a while back with an FBI agent formerly seconded to the State Department and assigned to the embassy here.

Agent Costas described how your taxpayer dollars allegedly go to paying off or otherwise coopting the local news media in an attempt to reengineer the local political dynamic in a “desirable” direction. The State Dept. described him, basically, as “a disgruntled ex-employee.”
See (the unfortunately headlined)

I should translate some of that interview for you.

At any rate: Is this true? It certainly is plausible, but plausibility is not truth — unless you are Veja magazine. See

On the eve of the free-trade referendum, TV Futura here in Brazil ran an astonishing piece of propaganda, reported by a TV Globo “new journalist,” designed to promote the notion that Costa Rica was a bastion of democracy and that its elections are a marvel of efficiency and fairness. See

Those elections were phonier than a $3 bill.

Imagine if a foreign government bribed and coopted American journalists and media companies to stealth-propagandize the American public to advance its interests.

You would think there were would be a huge stink about that.

(U.S. congressmembers photographed crowning Sun Myung Moon emperor of the universe.)

U.S. cable companies made a point of boycotting al-Jazeera for that very reason, after all. Because it is supposed to be propaganda. But they carry other programming, from foreign-owned media, that is just as propagandistic, if not more so. (I am talking about Fox.) Go figure.

U.S. agents of foreign powers are required to register and conduct their lobbying in a transparent manner.

And indeed, there was that controversial exposé in Harper’s recently in which a journalist posing as a representative of a colorfully chaotic former Soviet “stan” with a grotesque cult of personality for a government got a prominent lobbying firm to promise him that he would not have to disclose that government’s involvement in the communications campaign to be waged on its behalf.

It would all be conducted through NGO front organizations.

I think the same sort of thing still goes on in Brazil, for example.

If I were the Brazilians, I would run a Church Committee on the subject and out these people.

It is as though the perfidious French paid Ronaldo to throw the match so they could get into the finals against Italy.

You want your team to win, sure, but not by cheating. Cheating is bad for the national brand. It reflects badly on the old school tie. Playing fields of Eton and all that, what, what?

People are starting to get the idea — blame those (badly) dubbed episodes of The Simpsons — that the United States of America is run by the cheerfully corrupt “Diamond Joe” Quimby.

In high school, sure, I really, really wanted to beat those rich kids from La Cañada and San Marino, but I also wanted them to bring their best game.

Real competition makes you better.

This is not Karl Marx talking here, this is the liberal theory of the free market.

(A Brazilian fan recently sued and won over matches he attended that later turned out to have been thrown, through bribes paid to the ref. The court found that he paid to see a real competition but was provided with a Sino-Paraguayan simulacrum of the same.)

I imagine there might be diplomatic reasons for not doing so.

But not even the president-generals were willing to put up with this nonsense, after all.

Which is how Time-Life got kicked out of the country after its deal with Globo fell through.

What I want to know, however, is whether my tax dollars are getting spent on this kind of crap.

And whether, to add insult to injury, I am paying the New York Times for the privilege of being fed all the disinformation that is fit to print. If the New York Times is just going to feed me nonsense from people on government salaries, why should I be paying for it twice?

Because I do not approve of this nonsense.

And I want to know who does approve of this sort of thing, so I can vote for somebody else, or buy somebody else’s newspaper.

It is just embarrassing to be living in a tropical foreign country, reading the homeland news, and suddenly come to the realization that banana-republicanism seems to be advancing there even as it shows hopeful signs of declining here.

A modest proposal: Let’s do what France did in the Louisiana Purchase and auction off Florida to the highest bidder. Or better, sell it to Iran. Its toxic political culture is the moral equivalent of a biological weapon of mass destruction.

Sell Texas back to Mexico. Call it a reengineering of the Republic to be leaner, meaner, more competitive and less Moonie-infested.

We can use the money to rebuild New Orleans.
“Did Larry Rohter do good journalism?” Only if “good” is redefined to mean the same thing as “bad.”


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s