Editor’s note: This article is the last in a four-part series on Truthdig called “Universal Empire” — an examination of the current stage of the neocon takeover of American policy that began after World War ll. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
The recent assertion by the Trump White House that Damascus and Moscow released “false narratives” to mislead the world about the April 4 sarin gas attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria, is a dangerous next step in the “fake news” propaganda war launched in the final days of the Obama administration. It is a step whose deep roots in Communist Trotsky’s Fourth International must be understood before deciding whether American democracy can be reclaimed.
Muddying the waters of accountability in a way not seen since Sen. Joe McCarthy at the height of the Red Scare in the 1950s, the “Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act” signed into law without fanfare by Obama in December 2016 officially authorized a government censorship bureaucracy comparable only to George Orwell’s fictional Ministry of Truth in his novel “1984.” Referred to as “the Global Engagement Center,” the official purpose of this new bureaucracy is to “recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United States national security interests.” The real purpose of this Orwellian nightmare is to cook the books on anything that challenges Washington’s neoconservative pro-war narrative and to intimidate, harass or jail anyone who tries. As has already been demonstrated by President Trump’s firing of Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian government airbase, it is a recipe for a world war, and like it or not, that war has already begun.
This latest attack on Russia’s supposed false narrative takes us right back to 1953 and the beginnings of the cultural war between East and West. Its roots are tied to the Congress for Cultural Freedom, to James Burnham’s pivot from Trotsky’s Fourth International to right-wing conservatism and to the rise of the neoconservative Machiavellians as a political force. As Burnham’s “The Struggle for the World” stressed, the Third World War had already begun with the 1944 Communist-led Greek sailors’ revolt. In Burnham’s Manichean thinking, the West was under siege. George Kennan’s Cold War policy of containment was no different than Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement. Détente with the Soviet Union amounted to surrender. Peace was only a disguise for war, and that war would be fought with politics, subversion, terrorism and psychological warfare. Soviet influence had to be rolled back wherever possible. That meant subverting the Soviet Union and its proxies and, when necessary, subverting Western democracies as well.
The true irony of today’s late-stage efforts by Washington to monopolize “truth” and attack alternate narratives isn’t just in its blatant contempt for genuine free speech. The real irony is that the entire “Freedom Manifesto” employed by the United States and Britain since World War II was never free at all, but a concoction of the CIA’s Psychological Strategy Board’s (PSB) comprehensive psychological warfare program waged on friend and foe alike.
The CIA would come to view the entire program, beginning with the 1950 Berlin conference, to be a landmark in the Cold War, not just for solidifying the CIA’s control over the non-Communist left and the West’s “free” intellectuals, but for enabling the CIA to secretly disenfranchise Europeans and Americans from their own political culture in such a way they would never really know it.
As historian Christopher Lasch wrote in 1969 of the CIA’s cooptation of the American left, “The modern state … is an engine of propaganda, alternately manufacturing crises and claiming to be the only instrument that can effectively deal with them. This propaganda, in order to be successful, demands the cooperation of writers, teachers, and artists not as paid propagandists or state-censored time-servers but as ‘free’ intellectuals capable of policing their own jurisdictions and of enforcing acceptable standards of responsibility within the various intellectual professions.”
Key to turning these “free” intellectuals against their own interests was the CIA’s doctrinal program for Western cultural transformation contained in the document PSB D-33/2. PSB D-33/2 foretells of a “long-term intellectual movement, to: break down world-wide doctrinaire thought patterns” while “creating confusion, doubt and loss of confidence” in order to “weaken objectively the intellectual appeal of neutralism and to predispose its adherents towards the spirit of the West.” The goal was to “predispose local elites to the philosophy held by the planners,” while employing local elites “would help to disguise the American origin of the effort so that it appears to be a native development.”
While declaring itself as an antidote to Communist totalitarianism, one internal critic of the program, PSB officer Charles Burton Marshall, viewed PSB D-33/2 itself as frighteningly totalitarian, interposing “a wide doctrinal system” that “accepts uniformity as a substitute for diversity,” embracing “all fields of human thought — all fields of intellectual interests, from anthropology and artistic creations to sociology and scientific methodology.” He concluded: “That is just about as totalitarian as one can get.”
Burnham’s Machiavellian elitism lurks in every shadow of the document. As recounted in Frances Stoner Saunder’s “The Cultural Cold War,” “Marshall also took issue with the PSB’s reliance on ‘non-rational social theories’ which emphasized the role of an elite ‘in the manner reminiscent of Pareto, Sorel, Mussolini and so on.’ Weren’t these the models used by James Burnham in his book the Machiavellians? Perhaps there was a copy usefully to hand when PSB D-33/2 was being drafted. More likely, James Burnham himself was usefully to hand.”
Burnham was more than just at hand when it came to secretly implanting a fascist philosophy of extreme elitism into America’s Cold War orthodoxy. With “The Machiavellians,” Burnham had composed the manual that forged the old Trotskyist left together with a right-wing Anglo/American elite. The political offspring of that volatile union would be called neoconservatism, whose overt mission would be to roll back Russian/Soviet influence everywhere. Its covert mission would be to reassert a British cultural dominance over the emerging Anglo/American Empire and maintain it through propaganda.
Hard at work on that task since 1946 was the secret Information Research Department of the British and Commonwealth Foreign Office known as the IRD.
Rarely spoken of in the context of CIA-funded secret operations, the IRD served as a covert anti-Communist propaganda unit from 1946 until 1977. According to Paul Lashmar and James Oliver, authors of “Britain’s Secret Propaganda War,” “the vast IRD enterprise had one sole aim: To spread its ceaseless propaganda output (i.e. a mixture of outright lies and distorted facts) among top-ranking journalists who worked for major agencies and magazines, including Reuters and the BBC, as well as every other available channel. It worked abroad to discredit communist parties in Western Europe which might gain a share of power by entirely democratic means, and at home to discredit the British Left.”
IRD was to become a self-fulfilling disinformation machine for the far-right wing of the international intelligence elite, at once offering fabricated and distorted information to “independent” news outlets and then using the laundered story as “proof” of the false story’s validity. One such front enterprise established with CIA money was Forum World Features, operated at one time by Burnham acolyte Brian Rossiter Crozier. Described by Burnham’s biographer Daniel Kelly as a “British political analyst,” in reality, the legendary Brian Crozier functioned for over 50 years as one of Britain’s top propagandists and secret agents.