Building the Afghan Narrative with Black Propaganda, the People, the Process & the Product
By definition, America’s use of Psychological Warfare is described as the “The planned use of propaganda and other psychological actions having the primary purpose of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of hostile foreign groups in such a way as to support the achievement of national objectives.” Of course this very definition is itself propaganda, a white lie which omits the fact that America’s domestic population is just as often the target of psychological warfare as any “hostile foreign groups.” The state’s use of psychological warfare to bend the population to war is as old, if not older than the existence of states themselves. But it was perhaps Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering whose statement while on trial at Nuremberg best summed up the cynical simplicity of the logic.
“Of course people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders, that is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to greater danger.”
Psychological warfare in the form of propaganda comes in all shapes and sizes as well as shades of black, grey or white. America’s coordinated use of psychological warfare began in earnest during World War II and ever since has grown and expanded into public relations, advertising, cinema, radio and television, electronic video games and now social media. Its pro-war boosterism extends over sports, religion, education, news and entertainment (and of course the military) to form a seamless electronic cocoon-like web. It is employed on an ever growing list of those deemed as enemies of America as well as on a confused and agitated American public – whose corporate news networks frame and manage an increasingly shallow narrative while engaging in a kind of Orwellian Kabuki Theatre of fairness and balance.
Americans were heavily propagandized to support a U.S. entry into World War II and again heavily propagandized to accept the morality of deploying the atomic bomb to end it, despite dissent from within the scientific community. Even Mickey Mouse was conscripted for America’s total war effort along with the minds of America’s youth. Following the war Americans were heavily propagandized to accept the Cold War, the need for maintaining a permanent army, navy and air force as well as the buildup of a nuclear weapons arsenal.
Since 9/11 Americans have been bathed in psychological warfare on Islamic terrorism despite the fact that only a handful of incidents in the West can be attributed to radical Islamists. What is generally not appreciated by America’s leadership about this kind of prolonged use of propaganda on the American public is that it exposes the rationale for the longest war in American history in Afghanistan as flimsy and unconvincing and completely sidesteps the outright lies and deceptions used to justify the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The origins of Washington’s war in Afghanistan have always been strategic, long term and particularly black, obscured throughout the Cold War by a narrative adapted from Britain’s 19th century colonial expansion.
Given little priority during the U.S.’s long involvement in Vietnam in the 1950s and 60s, America’s psychological warfare campaign shifted its attention to Central Asia in 1973 when Afghanistan’s king was overthrown by his brother in law and cousin Mohammed Daoud with the help of the Parcham faction of the Marxist/Leninist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). The role of the Communist party meant so little to the U.S. media at the time it remained invisible in both Time and Newsweek’s published reports of the coup. But to U.S. ambassador Robert G. Neumann, the presence of the PDPA meant that a “limited Great Game” with the Soviet Union was now back in play.
A coordinated campaign of pressure from U.S.-backed Pakistan and Iran soon ousted Daoud’s Marxist partner while the Shah’s dreaded spy agency SAVAK moved in to help Daoud clean house of leftists. The Shah even readied a military force to invade should Daoud waver in his newfound anti-Communist zeal. But by 1978 a new day for Iran and Afghanistan was about to dawn.
Enter Hafizullah Amin. Before, during and after World War II the U.S. had created a number of psychological warfare organizations designed to compete with the political propaganda of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Integrated closely into the CIA’s intelligence and psychological warfare units after the war, organizations like Leo Cherne’s International Rescue Committee (IRC) and according to the CIA’s own website, the Congress for Cultural Freedom “helped to solidify CIA’s emerging strategy of promoting the non-Communist left–the strategy that would soon become the theoretical foundation of the Agency’s political operations against Communism over the next two decades.”
In constant competition with the KGB, the CIA was also known to target foreign students destined to hold high rank in their home countries. Handpicked by U.S. administrators to participate in a UNESCO/Columbia University program, Amin was sent to New York in 1957. He later completed a master’s degree at Columbia—coincidentally at a time when future National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was gaining prominence as a professor there.
Amin claimed to have become radicalized at the University of Wisconsin in 1958. He also claimed to have become a Marxist that summer but would conceal his emergence as a leader in the Kalq faction of the PDPA until much later. Despite being a Marxist, Amin was again chosen in 1962 by the Americans to attend Columbia, this time as a doctoral candidate and rose quickly to become the president of the Afghan Student Association. A disclosure in Ramparts magazine in 1967 would reveal the CIA’s sponsorship of that same Afghan Student Association during that time. Following his return Amin rose rapidly in Afghan politics and by 1978 was positioned to play a pivotal role in another Palace coup, this time of Prince Mohammed Daoud himself.
1978 was a pivotal year in the foreign policy of the United States as President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski made steady inroads into Secretary of State Cyrus Vance’s power. By that year he had persuaded Carter to transfer jurisdiction over the CIA from the Inter-Agency Policy Review Committee, (headed by the secretary of state) to the National Security Council’s Special Coordinating Committee which he chaired. This shift gave Brzezinski control over covert operations in Afghanistan. It also gave him control of the psychological warfare campaign necessary to make those operations work both at home and abroad.
Hafizullah Amin played the perfect foil to Brzezinski’s propaganda war which, regardless of the lack of evidence, painted the PDPA takeover in Kabul as a clear example of the growing dangers of Soviet expansionism and their pursuit of dominance in the Persian Gulf. Throughout 1978 and into 1979 Amin’s actions dovetailed perfectly into the expanding psychological warfare campaign with Brzezinski blaming Amin’s February 1979 assassination of American Ambassador Adolph Dubs, on the Soviets.
The subsequent, December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan ended détente, renewed the Cold War and opened a U.S. relationship with Communist China that could not have been imagined at the time. It established a new narrative of an expanding Evil Empire threatening America’s vital interests in the Persian Gulf and would redefine U.S. objectives along neoconservative lines. These lines were laid out within days of the Soviet invasion by former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Theodore Eliot and Harvard Professor Richard Pipes in a MacNeil Lehrer broadcast on January 2, 1980.
But it wasn’t until we probed this new narrative by going to Afghanistan ourselves in 1981 and were challenged personally in a public forum for doing so by Ambassador Eliot, that we realized there was much more to Ambassador Eliot and his narrative than met the eye. Copyright © 2011 Gould & Fitzgerald All rights reserved