A website calling itself the Free Thought Project (1), citing sources in the British media, and a site called the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported on what seems to be a Pentagon secret operation against Al Qaeda during the height of the Iraq War.
The United States military is alleged to have paid a British PR firm called Bell Pottinger to produce fake Al Qaeda videos that would be recorded on specially-formatted CDs. The CDs would be left lying around in homes that the American military had raided to be picked up and viewed by terrorists and their sympathizers.
The purpose of the operation was two-fold. First, the videos were supposed to cast Al Qaeda in a bad light, to impress on those watching them the evil inherent in the organization.
Second, the videos were formatted only to be run on players connected to the Internet. When someone played the video, American intelligence monitors would be alerted to the location of the person or persons watching them.
Curiously, the website seems to take the tone that this operation was in some way illegitimate. Psychological warfare and intelligence gathering have been tools of warfare since time began, but one’s attitude toward the Pentagon video operation likely depends on one’s view of the Iraq War.
If one favored the war in Iraq (2), then one likely sees no problem using any tool available to try to win. If one opposed the war, then just as likely one would find dropping off tracking videos for Al Qaeda terrorists to find to be wrong and something that should not be allowed.
Part of the objection seems to be the fact that the videos were produced in such a way as to make them look like they were made by local, Arab sources.
But any military strategist would point out that identifying a video as being American sourced would tend to inhibit their effectiveness. The idea was to sow doubts in the minds of people viewing them as to the justice of the cause that Al Qaeda was fighting for.
In any event, the American military hardly needed fake videos to impress on Iraqis how evil Al Qaeda is. Al Qaeda abuse of Iraqi citizens, which included rape and murder, led to the Anbar Awakening, featuring Iraqi Arab tribesmen fighting alongside American forces to drive the terrorists from their land during the Iraqi Surge campaign.
The video operation was the rough equivalent of dropping leaflets by air on enemy troops (3) and occupied cities during World War II. The idea is that people who were occupied by the Nazis would be given hope and information about the effort to liberate them.
Nazi soldiers would be exposed to propaganda designed to dispirit them and to lower their morale. Radio broadcasts sent to Occupied Europe were made for the same purpose. No serious person ever suggested that these operations were in some way in violation of the rules of war.
Psychological warfare operations became more sophisticated during the Cold War.
The Soviet KGB ran an extensive disinformation campaign (4) against western governments, planting stories in sympathetic media outlets that attacked American and allied efforts to oppose Soviet aggression.
The KGB produced fake documents that would also serve the campaign. According to Soviet expert John Barron, the disinformation campaign was different from conventional propaganda operations in that the actual origin of the content was often concealed from those viewing it.
In the modern War on Terror, both Al Qaeda and ISIS make extensive use of the Internet (5) to reach out to sympathizers in the West and incite them to acts of terror. Thus people who live in America or countries in Europe could be persuaded to carry out mass casualty attacks, as happened in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, and Orlando.
References & Image Credits:
(1) The Free Thought Project
(2) TSW: The Tragic Consequences of the Iraq Burn Pits