Agitprop and the Art of Selling Lies

It is rare that one gets to witness the early staging of a propaganda campaign.

The elements of the campaign surfaced on Monday (September 27, 2010), first with an opinion piece in the Washington Post intimating—while admitting there was no evidence– that Iran is developing uranium facilities in the jungles of Venezuela.

The second piece of evidence came hours later in the form of an e-mail from a public relations person who thought I still worked for the Washington Post. Writing from Buenos Aires, she offered an interview with the Argentinian prosecutor in charge of investigating the July 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed and hundreds wounded. After a famously botched and controversial investigation, the Argentine government charged in 2006 that the Iranian government was behind the bombing.

The man standing behind the curtain is Roger Noriega, the controversial, right-wing ideologue who was assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under George W. Bush. He was once an aide to Jesse Helms, the late ultraconservative Republican senator from North Carolina. Among his other claims to fame, Noriega was central in the drafting of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which tightened the screws of the long-standing U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.

Noriega is a visiting fellow at the prominent right-wing think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute, home of such luminaries as Lynne Cheney, Norman J. Ornstein, and Richard Perle, all famous for promoting one of the greatest failures in U.S. history: the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Iran-Venezuela opinion piece in the Washington Post was written by Jackson Diehl, the Post’s deputy editorial page editor. Diehl gave voice to Noriega’s claim that Iran may be developing uranium facilities in conjunction with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“Noriega, a soft-spoken man who is known as a hard-line conservative, now works at the American Enterprise Institute,” Diehl wrote. “…he put on a briefing there for journalists, at which he offered what he described as copies of confidential Venezuelan government documents and testimony from undisclosed government sources….Noriega hasn’t got a smoking gun, but his circumstantial evidence is intriguing.”

Neoconservatives—Noriega and his friends at the American Enterprise Institute prominent among them—for years have lobbied for an invasion to topple the Iranian government. After 9-11, the same players, led by Lynne Cheney’s husband, then-vice president Dick Cheney, manipulated the news and public discourse toward the Iraq invasion.

Distortions of U.S. intelligence on Iraq are now etched in history – the neocons have managed to sell the false notion that the Bush administration acted prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq on the best intelligence available. That is a lie; raw intelligence showed no effort by Iraq to build nuclear weapons after its program was destroyed following the first Gulf War.

The same crowd has similarly labored to overstate Iran’s progress toward the development of nuclear weapons. They seek increased sanctions and eventual military action against Iran.

The Argentinian contact offered the chance for an interview with Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor still investigating the 1994 Jewish community center bombing. Nisman, the message said, “has information of great importance” to provide.

I wasn’t familiar with Nisman, and searched his name on the Web. I found a news story describing his recent meeting with the same “soft-voiced” former American diplomat, Roger Noriega. The story said that Noriega had flown down to Buenos Aires “incognito, in a sudden visit for a confidential meeting with prosecutor Alberto Nisman.”

I doubt that Nisman has any new information, other than to stir up the charges about Iranian involvement in the bombing, and to participate in Noriega’s apparent new attempt to warn that Iran is making new forays into Latin America.

And I doubt that Noriega has evidence on Iranian uranium development in Venezuela. His record is dim. Some of the information may even be true. Even the best liars have to tell the truth at least some of the time, to maintain an appearance, as Stephen Colbert would say, of “truthiness.”

This latest campaign on Iran adds up to a troubling piece of agitprop. The campaign is dedicated to preventing a negotiated outcome on Iran, and rejecting President Obama’s notion, among others, that diplomacy involves talking to enemies as well as friends.

4 Comments

Filed under Latin America, Politics

4 responses to “Agitprop and the Art of Selling Lies

  1. Claire Montgomery

    Very interesting piece, Peter.

    My heart goes out to Obama, with all the war mongers he must have to contend with. The Post’s recent pieces on Bob Woodward’s new book highlight the up-hill battle any US president would likely encounter should he attempt to pursue a peaceful solution to a conflict or, God forbid, actually bring home the troops.

    Good to see you’re fighting the good fight.

  2. richard foster

    Peter,

    I know that feeling when a series of apparently routine maneuvers in the world of information began to emit the smell of rotten eggs. Frank exposure of this campaign is heroic because journalists can become witting or unwitting warmongers, as in the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003. That was, as you know, a disaster for the country and its media.

  3. Alfred Gluecksmann

    Peter,
    Kudos to you for again being in the ethical pursuit of the truth. This article needs to be disseminated widely, and hopefully Deutsche Welle, BBC, France 24, plus even the mainstream U.S. media will this time be part of the exposure of the dissembling agitators such as Noriega, so we can be truly and progressively be “conservative” within the good context of conserving the loss of incalculable blood and treasury if we are lulled into an a yet another unjustifiable and atrocious war, this time on Iran.

  4. Pingback: Fear without Facts: “Iranian sleeper agents” in the Caribbean | World Desk

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