Searching the Weapons of Mass Disinformation

The Internet and the Ongoing Investigation into the White House Leak Probe

While the world watches the next stage in Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the White House leak probe, stories carried in the mainstream US media have been mainly limited to speculation on which of the suspected White House staff would be indicted. There has been little sign of any of the mainstream media conducting its own investigation into circumstances of the leak of the identity of the undercover CIA agent, or into other wrongdoing related to this crime. Instead the role of the press has been to sensationalize the investigation by their constant speculation on who may be indicted or how those indicted may defend against the charges.

Meanwhile, there is a different and potentially more important story unfolding on the Internet. There have been articles and discussion of the circumstances surrounding the leaked information on web sites, blogs, and in online discussion forums. Articles posted and the discussion that sometimes ensues play a different role from that of the US media. These web site and blog posts and discussions provide a means for interested netizens to examine the circumstances surrounding the events being probed and to analyze what the implications of the unfolding revelations are.

In the US, policy is often bipartisan with politicians in both of the two US parties supporting the same policy initiatives or legislation. Hence, elections are less important in determining US policy than one might expect. This is particularly true with regard to how international policy is determined. For example, during the most recent US election, both the Democratic and Republican candidates for the presidency advocated continuing the war in Iraq. They differed only over the means. Similarly, the mainstream US media supports this bipartisan policy. This is aptly demonstrated by the New York Times, a supposedly 'liberal' newspaper with connections to the Democratic Party, printing Judith Miller's articles about Iraq's 'weapons of mass destruction'. Miller's articles, and hence, the pages of the New York Times, were used to create the pretext for the unjustifiable war against Iraq.

In the past, investigations, like Watergate, have played a role in helping to uncover some of the criminality and corruption that has developed inside the US government. In the Watergate investigation, the Washington Post played a helpful role in uncovering and publicizing the illegal activities going on within the Nixon White House. In the current probe, however, reporters from the mainstream media were used by White House officials to create a campaign of disinformation about the basis for a war in Iraq, and also to seek to discredit criticism of their disinformation campaign.

Hence it is a significant achievement to have public discussion and posts exploring how the disinformation campaign was created and to consider the implications of such activity. This discussion has been occurring on the Internet.

Some of the posts have focused on White House staffers like Joe Hannah and Dav Wurmser. They were on loan from the State Department where they had worked for John Bolton, when he was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs (2001-2005). Another Bolton staffer, who is still working in the State Department, is Fred Fleitz, who also maintained his CIA position in WINPAC, the CIA non-proliferation group created by Bush when he assumed office in 2002. WINPAC is also where Valerie Plame worked.1

Online posts and discussion of the role of these White House and CIA staff help to explain how the aura of support by the CIA for White House claims of 'weapons of mass destruction' in Iraq could have been achieved and funneled into official intelligence documents through the web of connections of these staffers.

Similarly, web sites have pointed to the investigations ongoing in Italy into the source of the forged Niger documents which were used to make the case for the war to the American people and to the UN. Recent articles in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica suggest that the White House may have let Italian intelligence agency SISMI know of their need for a pretext for the Iraq war (Fabrikation der Beweise für den Irak-Krieg). This may have led to Italian intelligence involvement in creating the forged documents about Iraq seeking yellowcake from Niger and the passing of these documents to the US government. This may help to explain how these forged documents came to be used by the White House to justify their plan to invade Iraq, even though experts like Greg Thielmann and the analysts at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence Research (INR) identified them as forgeries.2There are also more lighthearted posts like those creating a new holiday Fitzmas (like Christmas), and a song "The 12 Days of Fitzmas"3 to help celebrate. Along with posts and discussion on the Internet about the investigation, the Special Prosecutor's Office opened a web site on Friday, October 21, where documents related to the investigation are being made available to the public. Documents outlining the broad ranging authority that has been given to Fitzgerald by those appointing him are publicly available. This has helped to counter the pro White House critics of the investigation who are attacking Fitzgerald and accusing him of exceeding his authority.

Also on the Prosecutor's web site is the brief presented to the court that challenged Judith Miller's initial refusal to testify. That case exposed the close alliance between the US press corps and Bush administration officials which has created the current political environment in the US where public officials function outside of press oversight.

While the critique of what has happened at the White House is being developed on the Internet, Washington insiders are documenting their disgust with the level of corruption and dishonesty they have found surrounding White House activity. Col. Larry Wilkerson was been the Chief of Staff at the State Department while Colin Powell was Secretary of State. Wilkerson publicly condemned what he refers to as the cabal, i.e. the White House-Pentagon alliance which included State department officials (Selbstmörderische Regierungspolitik und Intrigen in Washington). This cabal operated undermining the procedures and legitimate government processes needed to make serious policy decision.

Wilkerson's complaint is that the Bush government created its own forms and structures functioning outside of and around the official government structures. "Discounting the professional experience available within the federal bureaucracy," he explains, "and ignoring entirely the inevitable but often frustrating dissent that often arises therein - makes for quick and painless decisions....It takes firm leadership to preside over the bureaucracy. But it also takes a willingness to listen to dissenting opinions. It requires leaders who can analyze, synthesize, ponder and decide."

With such strong criticism coming from those who were part of the Bush White House, and a picture of how forgeries and lies were able to bypass official and legitimate government processes being developed in posts on web sites, blogs and discussion forums on the Internet, the Fitzgerald investigation is unfolding in an environment where the corruption and abuse of power that have dominated Bush White House activity is beginning to be exposed. (Ronda Hauben)