GT investigates: US, primary spreader of disinformation, manipulates propaganda machine for own gains under guise of ‘freedom, human rights’
An empire of lies
Published: Jun 15, 2022 11:42 PM
Former US secretary of state Colin Powell holds up a vial of what was later found to be washing powder as evidence of

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell holds up a vial of what was later found to be washing powder as evidence of "weapons of mass destruction" being developed in Iraq as he addresses the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003. Photo: VCG


The so-called "Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act," which maliciously denigrates the human rights situation in China's Xinjiang while disregarding facts and truth, will come into effect on June 21. 

The act is the latest example of how the US launches disinformation campaigns against China. Experts noted that starting from funding anti-China think tanks and scholars to authoring malicious, false reports, the hyping up of relative topics in the media, and interference from US politicians, the US government enacts such evil laws.  In its mastery of creating disinformation, the US, on April 27, announced the creation of the Disinformation Governance Board under the US Department of Homeland Security. However, the board was shut down after just three weeks after serious concerns were raised. 

"The US government itself is the primary spreader of disinformation. German writer Michael Lüders pointed out in his book The Hypocritical Superpower that the US government is very adept at selecting and distorting facts, limiting the source of information, and polarizing public opinion in order to blur facts and influence people's judgment. When the waters are muddied, it is certainly easier to fish for geopolitical and economic gains," said Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian at a media briefing on June 8, in response to a question related to the Disinformation Governance Board. 

Last month, former US President Barack Obama's speech on disinformation and democracy sparked heated discussions. While what he tried to say was that disinformation is harmful to US democracy, many netizens pointed out that his words actually exposed how the US had launched disinformation campaigns in other countries, including meticulous propaganda operations designed to mislead citizens and result in a lack of confidence in their leaders.

"Large-scale propaganda is an important part of the US global strategy to establish, maintain, and consolidate its global dominance. The institutionalized US foreign communication strategy was accelerated after World War II," Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Cuban Ambassador to China, Carlos Miguel Pereira, told the Global Times that the US likes to fuel its powerful propaganda machine to present a distorted world view that does not correspond to reality to protect its political interests. 

Lüders told the Global Times in a previous interview that the US is "hypocritical because while it always cites higher values, in reality, it pursues a kind of power politic that is tough and cold-blooded. Its reference to 'higher values' is being manipulated."

Experts noted that the US employed "white", "black" and "gray" propaganda, and the latter two are mostly carried out by agencies such as the CIA and Defense Department in a covert manner. It is estimated that 40 percent of the CIA's covert operations are propaganda programs.

Three types of propaganda

In 1951, the US government set up the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB), a committee comprised of the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the CIA. In 1953, the Operations Coordinating Board (OCB) under the command of the National Security Council was formed to further propose the US government's information and psychological warfare programs while the PSB was abolished.  

In 1961, former US President Kennedy abolished the OCB as it was believed that secret wars should not be publicly overseen by so many officials. Since then, the agency in charge of psychological warfare became a mystery. 

However, based on the analyzed related materials and US government documents, we can still have a broad understanding of how the US conducts information and psychological war abroad, Lü said.  

After more than a century of practice, the US formed a complete set of international communications mechanisms. That is, the NSC led inter-department cooperation, to conduct either covert or overt communications operations. They use "idealism" as a cover to achieve their "realistic" interests in their international communication disclosures. This strategic communication, to a great extent, helps maintain US global dominance, Lü noted to the Global Times. 

According to Lü, an important characteristic of US national and international communication is that it pursues "ideological thrust" and "weaponized information." That is to say, all the conveyed messages must serve US national strategic interests and goals.

Lü listed three types of propaganda that the US adopts in its strategic communication.

The "white" propaganda refers to osmotic propaganda based on the government's public activities, including public diplomacy led by the US State Department and the state-owned media represented by Voice of America.

The "black" propaganda refers to propaganda activities carried out through covert action. Many propagandist activities carried out by the CIA, the Department of Defense, and other agencies fall in this category, which includes a large number of infiltration activities such as secretly controlling domestic and foreign media and buying off politicians.

The CIA has a long history of manipulating media outlets worldwide for its secret propaganda purposes. According to an article in The New York Times in 1977, dozens of English and foreign language publications have been owned, subsidized, or influenced by the CIA over the past three decades. To shape world opinion, the CIA was able to call upon many news outlets in its worldwide propaganda campaign.

Some of its officials admitted to The New York Times that they were concerned about the possibility of "blow-back" - that is - some of the purposely misleading or downright false information spread by the CIA abroad may be picked up by US reporters overseas and included in their dispatches to publications at home.

The "gray" propaganda refers to engaging "opinion leaders" and workers in the media industry in relevant countries to act as spokespersons for US interests by means of behind-the-scenes bribes and inducements, so as to promote the interests of the US and influence the decisions of relevant governments, Lü said.

According to the Los Angeles Times, in 2005, the US military secretly paid newspapers in Iraq to run stories written by US military information operations troops with help from a defense contractor to "burnish the image of the US mission in Iraq." Nearly $1,500, for instance, was paid to Addustour newspaper to run an article titled "More Money Goes to Iraq's Development." The Los Angeles Times also found out that the Pentagon had contracted a Washington-based firm named the Lincoln Group to plant these stories. 

The "gray propaganda" and "black propaganda" are mostly carried out by agencies including the CIA and the US Defense Department and the secrecy of these plans is hard to uncover, Lü said. 

Scholar Loch Johnson estimated that a full 40 percent of CIA secret operations are propaganda programs. "Whatever foreign policies or slogans the White House may be pushing" at the time, the CIA "will likely be advancing these same ideas through its covert channels," he said.

Newscasters work on their broadcast at Radio and TV Marti headquarters on Jan 24, 2007 in Miami, Florida. The anti-Castro broadcasting network is overseen by the US Broadcasting Board of Governors. Photo: AFP

Newscasters work on their broadcast at Radio and TV Marti headquarters on Jan 24, 2007 in Miami, Florida. The anti-Castro broadcasting network is overseen by the US Broadcasting Board of Governors. Photo: AFP

US' harm to the world

Ambassador Pereira told the Global Times that the destabilization campaigns and subversion programs from the US government against Cuba are nothing new. 

According to the ambassador, in 2021, the Joe Biden administration asked Congress for $20 million for so-called "democracy in Cuba" programs, and almost $13 million for illegal radio and television broadcasts.

The ambassador said that in 2021, they found that the federal agency USAID granted 12 organizations based in Florida, Washington, and Madrid dedicated to the anti-Cuban campaign, more than $6.6 million, in the month of September alone.

"The US has unleashed a media offensive aimed at discrediting the management of the Cuban government, through the manipulation and politicization of issues such as human rights and the fight against terrorism, as well as generating mistrust around the Revolution, for which it deploys today with full intensity, its subversive component to try to influence sensitive and strategic sectors for the future of the country, such as our youth, through social networks, in which private US platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are known to predominate," he said. 

Such methods include creating Facebook groups, the use of robots and fake accounts on Twitter, or trying to recruit Cuban residents in Miami to spread falsehoods about Cuba as though they were in the country. 

During the violent July 11 unrest in 2021 in Cuba, an account based in Spain and managed by US institution posted more than 1,000 tweets a day to fuel the unrest, according to the diplomat.

From 1996 to 2021, the US Congress allocated around $404 million for supposed democracy programs under the Helms-Burton Act, an act seeking international sanctions against the Castro government. Likewise, between 1984 and 2021, the US Congress had allocated nearly $945 million for illegal broadcasts on Radio and TV Martí.

Radio and TV Martí is a Miami-based radio and television international broadcaster financed by the US federal government which transmits news to Cuba.

In November, the Ethiopian government urged the US government and relevant organizations to stop spreading falsehoods about the country. 

Ethiopia's state minister of communication, Kebede Dessisa, said the US government should "refrain from disseminating shameful fake news and defamation regarding Ethiopia," state broadcaster EBC reported.

The US likes to claim that it acts in the name of freedom, democracy, and human rights but there is a huge gap between this idealism and reality. Their disinformation causes great harm which ordinary citizens have to bear, experts said. 

The US used white powder as so-called evidence of possession of weapons of mass destruction then waged war on Iraq, killing about 200,000 to 250,000 Iraqi civilians. Citing a staged video by the "White Helmet" and the false intelligence it provided as "evidence", the US launched the so-called "most precise air campaign in history" against Syria, claiming more than 1,600 innocent civilian lives in a single strike.

Info war on China

Since the normalization of China-US relations, the US has not abandoned its use of ideological weapons and US intelligence agencies' rumor mill capabilities  to contain China's development and undermine political stability, Lü said.  

Since 2018, the US has incessantly hyped "human rights" topics in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Its modus operandi, as Lü pointed out, includes letting the media first create ambiguous topics, followed by intelligence agencies selecting suitable candidates and presenting them as "fugitives" to accept interviews in the media, followed by so-called research reports by anti-China think tanks. After that, the US government usually mobilizes several "human rights organizations" that it either secretly or openly supports to proliferate the topic and call for "sanctions." Thereafter, the US government follows the suit. 

Zhao Lijian also listed how the US launched a disinformation campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic at the June 8 media briefing. 

"You may still remember that the US downplayed the threat and speed of the coronavirus disease's transmission at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and kept spreading disinformation about the origins of the virus. Disinformation about COVID-19 was rated by a certain US website as "2020 Lie of the Year." As a result, more than one million innocent American lives have been lost to the virus, making the US the country with the highest COVID-19 death toll as well as the most confirmed cases," Zhao said. 

"The more lies the US government tells, the greater the reputational damage and its credibility deficit," he said. "The US needs to stop fabricating and disseminating false information, and stop taking pride in being "an empire of lies."

According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, only about 39 percent of American respondents said they trusted their country's government, which is nearly the lowest level ever recorded.