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Botched CIA Kidnapping and the PR War – Is the Agency is Losing Its Touch?

By Patrick Henningsen
21st Century Wire
July 17, 2010

The public relations war waged by the US-Euro-Israel axis block was dealt an unfortunate blow this week when it was revealed that an Iranian nuclear scientist was kidnapped by CIA and Israeli assets during a Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, drugged and spirited away to the US, then offered millions for information regarding Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions, only to return back to Iran to tell all.

In his most recent article, The Independent’s award-winning journalist Patrick Cockburn outlines this story which you can read here. It’s a bizarre one to say the least.

Such an event will no doubt  be scored as a major setback in the effort for hearts and minds, and men and women pacing the halls of Langley, Pennsylvania Avenue and the Pentagon are most certainly scrambling to limit the PR damage from this incident.

In today’s world of extraordinary rendition and extrajudicial state-sponsored assassinations, a routine CIA abduction would normally raise few if any eyebrows outside of the morally inclined who send their yearly cheque to Amnesty International. “Nothing interesting here, move along” says the mainstream media and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, except when there is big money involved. US officials have admitted on record that Mr Shahram Amiri was paid a cool $5m by the CIA, apparently for information about Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme. And the fact that he is Iranian- and not Iraqi or Arab further moves this spook novel tale into uncharted territory.

As if the embarrassment of this revelation was not enough, the CIA dropped the ball by losing their prized catch after a year in custody, only to see him turn up at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. Upon his triumphant repatriation to Tehran this week, the scientist  stated that he was offered $50m to stay in the US- where he would most likely be refashioned into a ladder day Ahmed Chalabi-type US marionette puppet to be paraded in front of Senate committee Hearings on Iran and churning out regular pro-democracy proclamations, human rights rhetoric and shadow reports about weapons of mass destruction hidden somewhere inside his home country… all from a heavily guarded witness protection compound in Beverly Hills. In his own words, Amiri denied he had ever had information about an Iranian nuclear programme explaining, “I am an ordinary researcher… I have never made nuclear-related researches. I’m not involved in any confidential jobs. I had no classified information.”

It’s entirely possible that like most of the taxi drivers, farmers and delivery boys locked up in Guantanamo and Baghram prisons, Mr Amiri was the wrong guy in the right place and by the time he was Gulf-Streamed back to Washington the politics of modern desktop intelligence had overtaken old fashion common sense.

Shahram Amiri reappears after a year in CIA custody (Photo: BBC)

After a 6 year public relations bout between the powers of the West and Iran, with Iran out-manned and out muscled by the West’s immense PR machine,  Mr Amiri’s return to Iran appears to have awarded Iran, in PR terms anyway, a tenth round decision by knockout. In an arena where the  Pentagon spends at least $4.7 billion a year on PR trying to win the hearts and minds at home and abroad, the CIA’s botched operation here resembles the demise of someone like Mike Tyson, the heavy weight fighter who following a series of high profile blunders, embarked on a long and painful career downward trajectory.

There was a time when he had it all. We all remember ‘Iron Mike’ in his heyday dropping his opponents in 90 seconds, the toughest guy on the block, a consummate underdog, untouchable, a man of the people and with all the money and a celebrity wife to boot. And then it began to go all a bit wrong for Iron Mike- first came the allegations of wife-beating, a rape conviction, jail time, chewing off the ear of an opponent, the bankruptcies, followed by circus-like appearances alongside Jake the Snake on the WWF circuit, B movie cameos… and finally all those the tattoos, lots of them. It’s safe to say that the glory days are long gone. What, with all the abductions, assassinations, torture and fabricated intelligence, one could say that like the Champ, the CIA- or “The Agency” as it’s romantically referred to in modern folklore, has not only lost its touch, it’s lost its way and has become a parody of itself.


IRON MIKE: the former heavyweight champ lost his touch

The Importance of the PR War

Time will tell the full scope and severity of the PR damage sustained by the CIA with the botched kidnapping of this Iranian scientist. How well or how widely this CIA kidnapping story was covered in the domestic US media is difficult to measure without running real focus groups and getting Joe the Plumber’s take on the incident.  European or World headlines don’t always penetrate US minds.

One example being the infamous ‘Downing Street Memo’ which was a major scandal in the British press, but was somehow barely mentioned on American network television for two months when it ran in Europe. First published by The Sunday Times on May 1, 2005 this document detailed, amongst other things, President Bush’s plan to provoke Saddam or even by shooting down its own US aircraft (a False Flag Attack), thus providing a pretext for the initial invasion. During those two months in the US, ABC ran a virtual fire blanket of approximately 121 stories on Michael Jackson and 42 stories on Natalee Holloway, a high-school student who disappeared from a bar while on holiday in Aruba. CBS news had 235 stories featuring Michael Jackson and 70 on Natalee Holloway- with the Downing Street Memo practically nonexistent in the news cycle. Ect, ect. So much for the fabled watchdog. We should be aware that there is a massive gulf between the quantity and the quality of the news we are fed by the majors.

Public Perception vs Opinion

The reality of the dominant mainstream media influence on public perception- which in turn, influences foreign and military policy decisions, is something which often eludes the passive viewer.

As we are witnessing today with Iran, the run-up to the big event is everything. When it comes to a pre-war campaign, your government with do as much as it can get away with, unless… there is a sizeable public backlash in the run-up to a particular event. In the case of Iraq, the public’s resistance to the imminent US-British invasion in March 2003 was significant but not large enough to tip the scales of overall public perception of the supposed Iraqi threat. We say perception here, not opinion, because perception deals with perceived fact, whilst opinion is something else altogether.

It’s important to note the difference between the two and that perception comes before opinion. We are forever being told how important public opinion is to the formation of policy, but it’s the perceived reality of a situation that supplies the spark needed to get political wheels in motion. For example, the public cannot actually have an ‘opinion’ on whether or not Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction hidden in his palace because the answer to this question relies on actual fact and the existence physical evidence. But after a sustained public relations media campaign, over time, enough of the public (and Congress) can and did, perceive that these weapons were there in Iraq , thus providing Washington and London for a pretext to prepare the attack or invasion later.

Afterwards, the public would then be asked their opinion on where or not we should go to war. Ditto for our elected representatives.

Once the occupation was underway and the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ had already sunk $500 billion into their colonial venture, it was obvious to even the most ardent anti-war activist that no matter how hard they tried, they could not stop the juggernaut, and so elites and opportunists were not denied the spoils of the Iraq War. Yet, there was a point in late 2002 and early 2003 where the public perception of the nature of the threat from Iraq was not clear enough to endorse an invasion. Few would disagree that the US could not have had a ‘coalition’ without Tony Blair standing shoulder to shoulder with Washington, because in American eyes, his endorsement of Washington’s fabricated intelligence and cooked-up dossiers gave a sort of credence to America’s bumbling Dubya Jr and Daddy Bush Sr’s somewhat questionable designs on the Middle East. The Pentagon’s PR victory was achieved before the invasion in 2003 during a very long(and expensive) public relations war to mislead the public about WMDs and won enough hearts and minds in the West to get a green light. Open the bomb doors.

The same is happening now with regards to Iran, as spin doctors and spooks in the West work to construct a public perception of Iran’s nuclear capability, afterward they will return to ask us our opinion on whether or not we should attack or invade the alleged rogue state.

CIA: Losing its touch?

Has the CIA lost its touch? When events spill into the public arena, even the Agency knows that perception and opinion are much harder to control than their operations in the field. Some might argue that they lost it a long time ago. After the forged document for Yellow Cake uranium from Niger and Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell’s now legendary “Dodgy Dossier”, a generation of educated readers will almost certainly be sceptical of any serious intelligence claims which originate from Langley, Virginia, much less informants or foreign nationals who were drugged and kidnapped. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern has stated this week in his editorial that ‘Amiri wasn’t going to play curveball’ and that despite what Hilary Clinton and the White House claim, Iran has no nuclear weapons capabilities now- and certainly won’t have any time in the near future. This conclusion, of course, is based on the CIA’s own Intelligence Estimate published in 2007, so it seems the Agency is offering $50 million to strangers in order to undo their intelligence findings. Interesting. He has described repeatedly on record an agency marginalized by an ever-growing bureaucracy and sycophantic culture that fears the opinions of experienced analysts will clash with political and military industrial ambitions. In the end, we can only watch in amazement and place our bets on what will be the next move in the public relations war against Iran. No matter which way the Iranian project goes, intelligent political circles are already debating the relevancy and long term fate of the Agency. From a cost-benefit point of view an argument certainly can be made today that the effectiveness of this monster of a department has already peaked.

To understand better the full size and scope of this intelligence monster we can look to The Washington Post who recently published a brave volume of information on the subject entitled, “Top Secret America”, a project nearly two years in the making that describes the huge national security buildup in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. See their full report online here.

Max Keiser talks live on the Alex Jones Show about the size of the “Secret Government” in the US…

Nonetheless, all eyes are currently on Iran. For anyone who is still on the fence as whether or not Iran actually presents some kind nuclear threat to the West, just remember that you too may have to endure the aftermath of an attack which could trigger WWIII proper. Think long and hard about that one, because you can be guaranteed that Dr Strangelove and the War Hawks have not. Hardly a “surgical” operation, and all the more reason to keep an eye on what’s going on in Washington, London and Tel Aviv.

The truth about Iran’s nuclear weapons programme or even its alleged intent to “wipe Israel off the map” (this was never actually said by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) will not be coming out of the mouths off politicians or their front men. Ask yourself what lessons we have learned from the Iraq invasion. After the attack, comes the war. Remember during the early days of Iraq, the words of White House press secretary Scott McClellan, assuring us all that “I think we have a clear strategy for success, and there is great progress being made on the ground. We are succeeding and we will succeed.” This followed by President Bush saying, “We have a clear path forward.” It sounded good at the time- to them anyway.

Whether it’s McClellan-Bush or Gibbs-Obama, the message and the game are one in the same.

Don’t be fooled, don’t be distracted by Brad, Angelina, Michael Jackson, Paris or LeBron, just know that you are in the middle of the PR War – and make no mistake… it’s for your mind.

READ MORE GITMO NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Gitmo Files

Mr Amiri denied that he had ever had any information about the Iranian nuclear programme. “I am an ordinary researcher… I have never made nuclear-related researches. I’m not involved in any confidential jobs. I had no classified information.”



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