CNN - The CIA's News Network?

By Dave McGowan
May 2000

In February of this year, a story that had appeared in the European press was reported by Alexander Cockburn - co-editor of Counterpunch - concerning the employment by CNN of military psychological warfare specialists. Other than Cockburn's piece, and the issuance of an 'Action Alert' by the media-watchdog group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), the report was ignored by the American press.
        As originally reported by Abe de Vries in the Dutch periodical Trouw, the story went something like this: "For a short time last year, CNN employed military specialists in 'psychological operations' (psyops). This was confirmed to Trouw by a spokesman of the U.S. Army. The military could have influenced CNN's news reports about the crisis in Kosovo." (1)
        Could have? The word 'duh' would seem to apply here. In fact, here's a news flash: the military influenced the news reports of all the media outlets that covered the Kosovo bombardment. The only news coming from the area was coming from NATO and the Pentagon. When you are the sole source of information, you tend to have a lot of influence.
        But that's not the issue here. The concern here is with CNN hiring military personnel to package for viewers the information provided as 'news' by other military personnel. This is said to be a most disturbing development, and I suppose it would be were it not for the fact that the U.S. media - as a whole - is infested with so many intelligence assets that it is hard to see how a few more in the mix could make much of a difference.
        Of course, most of them are posing as reporters, editors, news anchors, analysts, producers, publishers, etc. The difference here is that these particular spooks were employed openly at CNN, without journalistic cover. As Major Thomas Collins, of the U.S. Army Information Service acknowledged:
        "Psyops personnel, soldiers and officers, have been working in CNN's headquarters in Atlanta through our programme 'Training With Industry'. They worked as regular employees of CNN. Conceivably, they would have worked on stories during the Kosovo war. They helped in the production of news." (1)
        The phrase "production of news" is notably ambiguous when used in this context. It could easily be defined as the manufacture of news. Manufacturing news is, in fact, exactly what psychological warfare specialists do. As de Vries notes:
        "The military CNN personnel belonged to the airmobile Fourth Psychological Operations Group, stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. One of the main tasks of this group of almost 1200 soldiers and officers is to spread 'selected information'. [We should pause here, briefly, to note that in this context, the phrase 'selected information' generally means vicious distortions and outright lies.]
        "American psyops troops try with a variety of techniques to influence media and public opinion in armed conflicts in which American state interests are said to be at stake. [We need to pause again to note that 'American state interests' generally means the financial interests of U.S. monopoly capitalists.] The propaganda group was involved in the Gulf war, the Bosnian war and the crisis in Kosovo." (1)
        In other words, they did during the war in Kosovo what they have always done. This time, however, they did it more openly. This could have proven to be a major blunder for CNN, with scores of competitors airing this story to embarrass and discredit a rival. But that would require that we have some actual semblance of a free press.
        Instead, what happened was that the story got a couple of brief mentions in the alternative press that were easily overlooked and ignored. And this was only after the translated article began appearing on internet sites, most notably on the Emperor's Clothes. Had this not been the case, the story likely would not have surfaced at all on these shores.
        Nor would a follow-up article by de Vries in the same publication a few days later. De Vries refers to the Commander of the Fourth Psychological Operations Group, Colonel Cristopher St. John, who described the cooperation with CNN as "a textbook example of the kind of ties the American army wants to have with the media." (2)
        The kind of ties that will allow it "to spread handpicked 'information' and keep other news quiet, ... to control the internet, to wage electronic warfare against disobedient media, and to control commercial satellites." (2) Most of which, it should be noted, the intelligence community already does to varying degrees. Still, the control is not yet complete enough.
        De Vries reports that the psyops personnel were not completely satisfied with the Kosovo operation: "In their opinion, too much information about the unplanned results of the bombings has come to the surface. [We must pause yet again to note that 'unplanned results of the bombings' refers to the entirely foreseeable civilian carnage.] Rear Admiral Thomas Steffens of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) reportedly would like to have the capacity to bring down an 'informational cone of silence' over areas where special operations are in place. What that can mean in reality was shown by the bombing of the Serbian state television RTS in Belgrade." (2)
        Indeed. And speaking of the bombing of the Serbian television station, there was another story that ran in the European press concerning that particular incident which also happened to cast CNN in a particularly bad light. Considerably more so than the story told in the Dutch publication, in fact.
        Significantly, this story was not aired at all in the United States. It did appear, however, in the U.K., in an article by corespondent Robert Fisk in The Independent. The report reveals that:
        "Two days before NATO bombed the Serb Television headquarters in Belgrade, CNN received a tip from its Atlanta headquarters that the building was to be destroyed. They were told to remove their facilities from the premises at once, which they did." (3)
        Apparently it helps to have those psyops specialists on board. Fisk goes on to recount that the next day, Aleksander Vucic, the Serbian Information Minister, received an invitation to appear on the Larry King Live show, ostensibly to give Larry's audience the Serbian view of the conflict via satellite.
        There were two rather serious problems with this invitation, however. First, the notion that CNN would invite a Serbian official on the air to give the Serb point of view is rather far-fetched, to say the least. More importantly, the studio to which Vucic had been invited was now deserted. Nevertheless, he was asked to arrive for makeup at 2:00AM for a 2:30AM appearance.
        "Vucic was late - which was just as well for him since NATO missiles slammed into the building at six minutes past two. The first one exploded in the make-up room where the young Serb assistant was burned to death. CNN calls this all a coincidence, saying that the Larry King show, put out by the entertainment division, did not know of the news department's instruction to its men to leave the Belgrade building." (3)
        CNN's explanation is, of course, preposterous. In fact, the notion that there is some kind of distinction between CNN's 'entertainment division' and its 'news department' is rather preposterous as well. The truth appears to be that CNN was directly complicit in the attempted commission of a war crime.
        And this action was, to be sure, a war crime. The deliberate targeting of a foreign dignitary for assassination - even in time of war - is definitely an international war crime. So it appears that our media have crossed the line from complicity in the covering-up of U.S. war crimes - which has been a mainstay of the press for decades - to complicity in the actual commission of war crimes.
        A rather serious transgression, one would think, yet one which has been politely overlooked by the rest of the American media outlets. This is quite likely due to the fact that the intelligence community and corporate America pretty much controls all the media.
        That is why even when stories such as the CNN/Psyops reports emerge in the 'progressive' media, albeit in a very limited way, they are accompanied by amusing commentary and analysis intended to downplay the significance of the incident.
        For example, Cockburn wonders if: "It could be that CNN was the target of a psyops penetration and is still too na´ve to figure out what was going on." (4) To the contrary, it appears that CNN was well aware of - and actively participating in - "what was going on."
        Similarly, for FAIR what is "especially troubling is the fact that the network allowed the Army's covert propagandists to work in its headquarters, where they learned the ins and outs of CNN's operations. Even if the psyops officers working in the newsroom did not influence news reporting, did the network allow the military to conduct an intelligence-gathering mission against CNN itself?" (5)
        Or, more likely, is CNN itself an "intelligence gathering mission," and has it been from its inception? It was CNN, it will be recalled, that pioneered the concept of military conflict as mini-series - complete with theme music and title graphics - during the Gulf War. That is, of course, the blueprint that has been followed by the media at large for all coverage of U.S. military actions since then.
        One of the specific purposes for which CNN seems to have been born is the packaging of imperialist military conquests as humanitarian missions. In other words, "to spread 'selected information'" in order to "influence media and public opinion in armed conflicts in which American state interests are said to be at stake."
        Glorification of U.S. high-tech weaponry, vilification of America's enemy of the moment, canonization of genocidal military leaders and advisers, rote reporting of the NATO/Pentagon/State Department line, deliberate avoidance of reporting clear-cut cases of American brutality and war crimes - all of these are indicative of a psyops program, not an allegedly independent news agency.
        As the group FAIR noted: "CNN has always maintained a close relationship with the Pentagon. Getting access to top military officials is a necessity for a network that stakes its reputation on being first on the ground during wars and other military operations." (5)
        Being first on the ground during military operations is, to be sure, a good place to be if one is a reporter. It is also a good place to be, it should be noted, if one is a member of the spook community.
        Whether CNN was born as an intelligence front is probably now largely an irrelevant issue, as the cable titan has since the Kosovo war announced that it is to become a part of the AOL family. And AOL is, as was noted in a recent Spin Cycle article (Sony's Magic Cameras), doing a pretty damn good job of masquerading as an intelligence front itself.
        So if CNN was not originally conceived as a psychological warfare entity (which appears to be the case, despite its purported status as the brainchild of Ted Turner, husband of Jane Fonda), it has certainly evolved into one. And by the way, does anyone remember when Jane was supposed to be one of the good guys? Just checking.

1. Abe de Vries "U.S. Army 'Psyops' Specialists Worked for CNN," Trouw, February 21, 2000
2. Abe de Vries "The American Army Loves CNN," Trouw, February 25, 2000
3. Robert Fisk "Taken In By the NATO Line," The Independent, July 2, 1999
4. Alexander Cockburn "CNN And Psyops," Counterpunch, March 26, 2000
5. "Why Were Government Propaganda Experts Working On News At CNN?," FAIR Action Alert, March 27, 2000