Wikileaks have released a series of secret documents by the US Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) that reveals their program of countering conspiracy theories by installing over 700 “American Spaces” abroad that are tasked with spreading anti-conspiracy propaganda.
The goal of the program is to advance “U.S. policy priorities and goals” in foreign countries, employing propagandists in 700 different locations to protect Israel for any blame for the crimes it commits or its role in the 9/11 attacks.
Today there are over 700 “spaces” in nearly 170 countries around the world. According to the State Department’s website, these “American Spaces” are generally located outside of cities, in places where most individuals are likely to harbor anti-US sentiment, and where US embassy officials can engage local residents.
It’s unclear exactly where each “American Space” is located on the map, as is the case with US military bases — no one knows exactly how many there are, much less where they are all located — but one thing is certain from US diplomatic cables: Nigeria is a hotspot of IIP activity.
A secure document sent by the US Embassy in Nigeria shortly after the attacks of September the 11th show that the United States was extremely concerned about the rise of conspiracy theories in the Nigerian Media alleging that Israel was responsible for the attacks which initiated America’s War on Terror. Shortly after the attacks which destroyed the Twin Towers and damaged the Pentagon, Nigeria’s Weekly Trust reported that: “4000 Israelis, tipped off by the Israeli government, stayed away from work on September 11.”
More worryingly for the US Embassy in Nigeria, the Weekly Trust had become the first paper to deliver an “outright expression of support for Bin Laden.” At the time, the Trust wrote: “While we sympathize with all nations and families that lost their members in the WTC attack and hope that actual truth behind it will one day be discovered, we have chosen today to side with the Taliban and pray for the safety of Bin Laden or his martyrdom. America has accused them unjustifiably”
Former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Howard Jeter, wrote that the United States needed to confront such allegations in the media, and recommended that: “We may need to consider how IIP can counter this kind of disinformation.” Nigerian papers tend to reflect the opinions of elites who speak English and, accordingly, this represented tremendous risk for the US when it came to its influence in the country, especially considering the fear at-the-time that oil supplies could be disrupted as part of a post-9/11 jihadi attack plot.
Five weeks after Ambassador Jeter sent his suggestion to Washington that the IIP counter 9/11 conspiracy theories, President George W. Bush delivered a speech, proclaiming: “Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September 11th — malicious lies that attempt to shift blame away from the terrorists themselves, away from the guilty.” It was apparent that Ambassador Jeter’s cable had been delivered and read with great concern.
Diplomatic cables sent before the invasion of Iraq make it apparent that articles in a country’s local media were to be reported to the IIP if they promoted conspiracies which could affect the US invasion. A January, 2003 cable sent to the IIP from the United Arab Emirates reported on an article by Naeem Qadah in the newspaper Al Khaleej which was highly critical of the Middle East Partnership Initiative, alleging that it was a “conspiracy to achieve Zionist ambitions.”
By 2004, the IIP had begun to broaden its operations, with a cable sent from Nigeria relaying that “American Muslims are effective speakers, and moderate Islamic voices [are] necessary to counter extremists’ views and the anti-US government, anti-West conspiracy theories common in the north. With the growth of the Internet among journalists and easier access to wire services, traditional US government products such as Washington File stories are difficult to place as the same information can be easily obtained from a non-partisan news source.”
This essentially meant that it was becoming harder to plant partisan information in the media. In February of the same year, the English-language Al-Hurra satellite channel launched, with President Bush proclaiming in a speech: “To cut through the barriers of hateful propaganda, the Voice of America and other broadcast services are expanding their programming in Arabic and Persian. And soon, a new television service will begin providing reliable news and information across the region.”
Nonetheless, the launch of Al-Hurra still meant that the US needed to closely monitor the media for anti-American conspiracies. In July of 2004, the Kuwait Embassy sent the IIP a cable reporting on an article titled “Locate the Beneficiary” in which the columnist wrote: “America’s failure in nation-building is a success for Israel and a massive let-down for Iraq. Sabotaging Iraq’s march toward stability is Israel’s doing.”
In January, 2005, the Bangladesh Embassy sent the IIP a cable reporting on a columnist who’d written: “Occupiers have been trying to incite a civil war in Iraq. Iraq’s future will plunge into serious uncertainty if their attempts succeed.” Two months later, the Bengali mission sent the IIP another cable, relaying information on a columnist who opined: “[Bush] occupied Afghanistan and Iraq on false pretexts. The United States is now mad to exert its control over the entire Middle East. It is the Americans’ most important condition to retain its supremacy as the number one imperialist country.”
In June, 2005, the IIP received a cable from the United Arab Emirates, where a columnist wrote that there existed a conspiracy to desecrate the Koran in Guantanamo and that: “The US should also close Guantamamo and release all of the detainees, or try them before a fair court should they be guilty.”
In March, 2006, a writer in the United Arab Emirates was reported to the IIP for criticizing US interference in Iraq’s worsening sectarian violence: “The American Secretary of Defense unintentionally disclosed the occupation’s lie through his latest statement, when he said that his forces would not interfere were a civil war to be waged, and that the mission of putting out the flames of civil war would fall on the shoulders of the Iraqi forces, while he knows very well that these forces need more training, especially in the area of dealing with civil wars.”
In July of that year, another writer’s name in the UAE was sent to the IIP for writing in response to a US veto on behalf of Israel: “What happened yesterday in the UN Security Council demonstrates America’s efforts to ensure international impotence. Israeli aggression is quite clear to the international community, but no action was able to come forth to deter conflict or even condemn Israel.”
Another cable sent to the IIP a week later from the UAE and in response to the same veto castigated a writer for opining: “The current situation has revealed not only American reluctance to deter Israeli aggression, but a full-fledged conspiracy… This gives the slaughterer [Israeli PM] Olmert and his army a strong signal that they may continue their aggression without fearing any repercussions.”
On the 5th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the US Embassy in Oman sent a cable reporting: “Columnists in government-owned ‘Oman’ suggested that 9/11 was an Israeli conspiracy and that the post-9/11 U.S. ‘adventure’ has made the world less secure.”
In March of 2007, a cable sent from Oman — specifying even that the newspaper had a circulation of 42,000 — forwarded the IIP an editorial which claimed: “We have repeatedly mentioned that Israel doesn’t want peace, nor is it seeking help to achieve peace. The very existence of the Israeli government is based on the continuation and escalation of tension in the Middle East, so it can continue to pretend to be a weak country which needs support and help. They need to financially blackmail other countries to survive… The Palestinians are facing a great conspiracy against their cause.”
In May of 2007, the IIP heard from the UAE Embassy: “While Cheney speaks of the liberation of fifty million people from dictatorship, he does not mention the four million Iraqi refugees, tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands wounded and disabled and the Iraqi widows and orphans… He sees with one eye only and therein lies the American catastrophe, stupidity or conspiracy.”
In October of 2008, the Pakistan mission relayed to the IIP: “Pashtun soil was being destabilized under a conspiracy. ‘U.S. wants to occupy the natural resources of the region and using Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda as tools to justify its presence in the area.”
In January, 2009, a writer’s name in Pakistan was passed along to the IIP for writing: “Pakistan urgently needs to replace the ‘U.S.-slave’ leadership with honest and patriotic people in order to survive the internal strife and external conspiracies threatening its very existence.”
In May, 2009, a writer in Oman was reported to the IIP for writing in his weekly column: “Israel is the Main Culprit Behind Piracy.”
In August of 2009, the IIP got wind of an opinion column about US plans to establish a military base in Colombia: “President Lula was not convinced that Alvaro Uribe and Barack Obama are not colluding in a conspiracy to militarily conquer South America, starting with Venezuela. After two hours of conversations with Uribe, Foreign Minister Celso Amorim reported that President Lula was still fearful that U.S. troops may take actions outside the Colombian territory.”
And so it goes, writers around the world have to pen their words with the knowledge that US embassies are keeping close tabs on newspapers. What’s striking about most of the hundreds of diplomatic cables that Abreu Report analyzed for this story is that oftentimes, people who were making very articulate comments in defense of the US were also mentioned to the IIP.
The IIP is targeting anyone who has a high media profile in their respective countries, or who has the intellectual and technological knowledge to start a website exposing US abuses.