Floating in a Sea of Propaganda – part 5

Businesses have a right to promote themselves, the capitalists say.

When I complained on the CIA’s Twitter page that they were waging a domestic propaganda campaign, someone replied, “the CIA is like any other business, they’re allowed to promote themselves.” Well, yes, that’s true – assuming your promotion is honest. But honesty, we see, is an intangible concept: how much is true, if we’re sticking to true facts but omitting the warts? I.e.: the CIA is a great espionage agency. Let’s not mention that they are international exporters of terrorism and violate international law constantly.

In order to ensure Haspel’s confirmation, the CIA pulled out a few of the stops, and got several past directors to do interviews (e.g. Michael Hayden is trotted out to say “if I could tell you what I know, you’d totally be awestruck by her resume…” on the Intelligence Matters podcast” [im]) Again, history is edited more by what’s left out than by what’s put in – the conversation is about how she had to make “hard decisions” that were in line with the determination of the chain of command – ignoring the fact that the “morality” of torture had already been adjudicated by international humanitarian law. Leaving out the hard questions, asking only the ones that make your subject look good, is that how to propagandize a contentious issue?

Notice the lineup of pigs standing behind the protesters. They are also doing nothing. So much for “good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns.”

It seems that a great deal of this is an attempt to override a signal with noise: if you’ve got something nasty coming up on your search engine under your name, bombard the search engines with “good” content to drive out the bad. This can get expensive. Basically, the same people who run “search engine optimization” businesses are the people who are also ‘spinning’ results on the engines.

University of California, Davis, spent at least $175,000 to clean up their online search results following the infamous pepper spray incident. [sacramento bee] Delete the unpleasant parts of history, rather than add newer, better history. Hide your wrongdoings because it’s easier than doing right. I’m not a marketing genius but I suspect that if they spent that $175,000 by donating it to a cause specified by the victims of the cop, they’d look better.

UC Davis spent thousands to scrub pepper-spray references from Internet

April 13, 2016 03:35 PM
UC Davis contracted with consultants for at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative online postings following the November 2011 pepper-spraying of students and to improve the reputations of both the university and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, newly released documents show.

One good way to boost your image is not to have out of control authoritarian douchebags spraying unarmed protesters in the face with pepper spray. The same applies to Gina Haspel, imagine how sterling she’d appear at her confirmation if she could actually say that “no, I was not involved in the torture and helped document and prevent it from happening.”

Others sought to improve the school’s use of social media and to devise a new plan for the UC Davis strategic communications office, which has seen its budget rise substantially since Katehi took the chancellor’s post in 2009. Figures released by UC Davis show the strategic communications budget increased from $2.93 million in 2009 to $5.47 million in 2015.

“Strategic Communications.”

The US needs an Office of Strategic Communications. I mean, it already has one; except in name. The CIA evolved from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – basically, the department of dirty tricks. Maybe they should start offering reputation repair as a service.

my mad photoshop skillz

At this point I am going to shift my focus away from propaganda, for a while, and go back to happier and shorter stuff. I think it’s important to focus on propaganda, periodically, to remind us of one important thing: If we believe them, they win. The way to respond to propaganda is to look behind it for a motive. Then, to look behind it for a sponsor that has an interest that they are pushing. And, when you find that agenda, point it out – but, most of all, don’t believe it. Any of it. The sock puppets, click-bots, troll-farms, social media sites, influencers, search-engine optimizers: they are all lying and nobody spends millions of dollars on “outreach” unless they know that their message won’t stand on its own merits.

[source: sacramento bee]

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Intelligence Matters podcast. I listen to it frequently but the MC takes an extremely “establishment” view and basically acts as though he’s promoting the CIA.

Part 1 [stderr]
Part 2 [stderr]
Part 3 [stderr]
Part 4 [stderr]

The last little bit of the Nevins proposal is nasty: “support Google” – basically – switch to becoming a valued customer of Google’s so you can attempt to leverage that relationship to have certain bits taken down.


  1. jrkrideau says

    There is a slight problem with the statement, “the CIA is like any other business, they’re allowed to promote themselves.”

    The CIA is an agent of the US Government. It is not a business.

    It should not promote itself without the direct authorization and instructions of the Executive to advance the objectives of the US Government. At the moment, the CIA promotion seems to have been intended to unduly influence or subvert the functions of the legislative branch.

  2. says

    Businesses have a right to promote themselves, the capitalists say.
    When I complained on the CIA’s Twitter page that they were waging a domestic propaganda campaign, someone replied, “the CIA is like any other business, they’re allowed to promote themselves.”

    OK, I can agree with the first part, namely that business have a right to promote themselves. For example, the fact that I can draw pretty pictures alone isn’t enough for me to secure art commissions, I also need to promote my art, because otherwise prospective clients will have no clue that I even exist.

    But CIA supposedly being like a business. . . WTF? CIA isn’t a business, it’s a government agency. I believe that states, governments, and government agencies shouldn’t advertise themselves. I’m very familiar with the advertisements created by totalitarian states, for example, those Soviet posters I mentioned yesterday. Life in the Soviet Union sucked so badly, that the state had to create silly posters talking about how living in their country was great. If life in the Soviet Union really had been so good, citizens would have already known it; there would have been no need to create advertisement campaigns in order to inform the citizens about the fact that their life was great. Whenever a democratic country starts to advertise itself, I get uncomfortable, because they are basically emulating totalitarian dictatorships.

    Besides, when government agencies promote themselves, I perceive it as incompatible with a democracy. If we want to maintain the illusion of a democracy, namely, that the voters actually are in charge and decide what happens in their country, advertisements are a bad idea—they basically announce that, no, citizens are not in charge at all.

    Theory about how things ought to happen under a democratic system: citizens decide what they want, they vote, and afterwards government agencies fulfill their wishes. The moment some state agency starts airing advertisements, it becomes clear that this is not how things are happening. It’s the other way around—a government agency (for example, the CIA director) decides what they want, and then they create an advertising campaign in order to convince the citizens that whatever they are doing is a good thing.

    I have never seen advertisements trying to convince voters that their country needs to employ firefighters. Apparently, when citizens already appreciate having some government service, then there’s no need to make additional advertisements for it. If there’s a need for advertisements that aim to convince citizens that, for example, domestic surveillance programs are good and necessary, then that’s a pretty good indicator that citizens don’t want this program in the first place. And, if the majority of citizens don’t want some government agency doing something, then under a democratic system this government agency or service (can we even call NSA spying as a “government service”?) ought to be terminated.

    Moreover, did majority of the voters authorize their government to waste tax money on advertisements?

  3. invivoMark says

    “The CIA is … allowed to promote themselves.”

    And this is how we get tumorigenic government programs.

  4. komarov says

    University of California, Davis, spent at least $175,000 to clean up their online search results following the infamous pepper spray incident. [sacramento bee] Delete the unpleasant parts of history, rather than add newer, better history. Hide your wrongdoings because it’s easier than doing right. I’m not a marketing genius but I suspect that if they spent that $175,000 by donating it to a cause specified by the victims of the cop, they’d look better.

    Only if the donation topped the search results. If it doesn’t show up prominently and inquiring minds only see the bad stuff you may have absolved your bad conscience but gain nothing in terms of PR. Unfortunately that means whitewashing your search results is probably still the more “sensible” investiment. I don’t think very many people coming across something like the pepper spray attack would take the time to look much further before deciding that UC Davis is awful, period. Best case scenario they’d try to learn more about it and then stumble across the donation. And then they’d still have to decide whether it was enough. Hiding is easy but doing things right is hard and making amends is even harder.

    Just in case I’ll add that I’m not defending UC Davis. The whole thing screams “systemic failure”, something that desperately needs to be investigated and understood on a deep level before you can even think about actually addressing the issue. That Nevins paper is the exact opposite. Damage-control and nothing else. Hopefully that’s just because it’s an excerpt from a larger push to deal with the issue but it might well not be (thanks be cynicism). In engineering terms this doesn’t even qualify as a quick fix. It’s like claiming you were cold when the wastepaper basket is on fire before moving the flaming mess in the back room.

  5. Roj Blake says


    using duckduckgo I get the pepper spray incident @ 69, but when I switch it to just Australian results, it pops up at 19. Perhaps UC Davis needs to send me $$$ to sort out the Aussie end for them. :-)

  6. komarov says

    Re: Roj Blake (#5):

    Which brings me to business idea #2482712:

    A search engine you can use to search all known search engines for [Horrible Incident Your Organisation Is Responsible For]. It allows you to check that something has been safely buried and doesn’t crop up in some obscure place. (Like Australia!)
    Being geared primarily towards large businesses and / or their wealthy management,* the service would charge a fee to make ends meet. (Ad impressions from rep-cleaners might be a secondary revenue stream) To capitalise on less wealthy markets there would also be a weekly report or newsletter showing which organisations have been searching for which PR disasters. The letter would be available for free; to generate income customers would be given the opportunity to opt out and avoid being mentioned – for a hefty fee, of course. And just to prevent people from avoiding the service altogether so they don’t show up in any awkward listings, there would also be a newsletter listing “interesting events” involving companies that we think might benefit greatly from our services. It’s not blackmail, it’s just marketing.

    Yeah, I think I may have to scrap this idea due to ethical concerns. Again. Capitalism just isn’t conducive to sound business practices. Ethical, not sound, sorry. There seems to be a vast gulf in between the two.

    *Based on the assumption that the severity and frequency of damaging “incidents” is proportional to the money and power a party can throw around. Completely unfair, I know.

  7. cvoinescu says

    Good idea. And if a business offers you money to hide something, your “algorithm” will automatically bump up the importance and severity of that thing, so they’ll now need to pay you even more money to bury it (and the scandalous news that they’re willing to pay to bury it). Classic!

  8. secondtofirstworld says

    See Marcus,

    I was silly again, as I was thinking you relate to the pertinent internal destruction of the EU, glorified by Bannon and Milo who just got their hategasm from having the free press banned from the conference on Europe’s future where they were key speakers. Where “coincidentally” NGOs are being smeared by an anonymous advertisement campaign in the name of organizations like Amnesty International banners are being put up, that allegedly promote the idea of settling black people down, and quite freely uses the N word. I used air quotes because I totally expect from Milo and Bannon to be white nationalists.

    Though I’m busy writing, at least once a day I can catch snippets of news of what’s happening in America and other than the blown off meeting with Un and the new CIA director being bushite on the interpretation of torture, not much happened.

    I’ve said it before, that you’re informative, but for some reason don’t really follow up on a nation’s mentality that was borne out of absolutism. Russia doesn’t just manipulate racists, they play all sides, sadly to a perfection with soft power. One could say it’s biological hacking. Please remind me if you have ever tackled how bigotry in America is strongly supported by a loaning industry that separates the white majority, and steers minorities away from the idyllic suburban life. What people like Tammi Lahren know about non white people comes from Fox News. Take a country bumpkin who goes off to college for the first time in their lives and from childhood only knows what’s being told to them. Almost like a PC without a firewall and a buggy OS. Offering it a free antivirus software (fake news) is being a script kiddie. That’s the ominous hacking. Works with left leaning people too just crank up calling others a redneck to eleven. Appealing to their intelligence by providing the false idea only stupid people vote populist.

    Bannon spoke about how the countries of the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary need to work together on everything, not just immigration. He has also praised the NATO fence as something the Deep South should also have. To nobody’s surprise he chatted an hour with Mr. Orbán whose dream is nothing smaller than retooling Europe into white and Christian countries.

    I truly don’t mean to offend but I give a rat’s *** about a propaganda pamphlet from 60 years ago, so long as it doesn’t tie in with today. The dixiecrats of the past did not do research, and neither did the post-Great Purge Soviets. The current Russian elite however is different. They have been spies here in the West, they lived among them, and supporting the fringe is good for circumventing sanctions. Way back when, they used Angela Davis to legitimize Eastern Europe, and now they use her enemies to glorify the alt right and left which grew out from the New Left and New Right in the ’80s and ’90s.

    If I recall you’re a history buff just like my lil’ ol’ me, so you also know that the Spanish Civil War was dress rehearsal for WWII for both the Soviets and the Nazis. As such, the fringe arm of the conservatives in union with religious zealots have been using Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe both a dumping ground to get rid of ideas which were unsuccessful back at home, but also as a staging ground to test out some before they introduce it there. The more humanists (and rightfully so) oppose the blatant disregard in these areas, the more the fringe can sell the idea that’s it’s an attack on whiteness.