A Pentagon's Who's Who of Your Life
Note to Readers: As a sidebar to today's piece by Nick Turse, adapted from his book The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, you might get a kick out of taking his revealing "Pentagon pop quiz" put together for a favorite site of mine, Buzzflash.com. (If so, click here.) When you visit Buzzflash, you immediately feel the energy of the site, promising a prospective wild ride through all sorts of headlines that lead you to a potpourri of up-to-the-minute political pieces. To support itself, Buzzflash sells "premium" books like The Complex with an add-on contribution to the site. It's a great way to get Turse's book and offer a good website a couple of needed bucks. (If you want to do so, click here.) By the way, talking about someone with energy to spare, David Swanson of Afterdowningstreet.com – and a sometime Tomdispatch contributor – wrote a spot-on review of Turse's book recently. ("Nick Turse has done something pretty amazing in producing an entertaining account of the almost limitless variety of ways in which our money is wasted by what he calls the military industrial technological entertainment academic media corporate matrix, or 'The Complex' for short… Wait until you read about the exploding Frisbees, cyborg wasps, and Captain America no-meals and no-sleep soldiers being developed by the same people who brought you mechanical killer elephants and telepathic warfare: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.") Check it out.
Last Sunday, David Barstow of the New York Times revealed just how effectively the Pentagon orchestrated a propaganda campaign for "information dominance" when it came to the President's various wars (and prisons). Pentagon officials, from the Secretary of Defense on down, put together a "rapid reaction force" of retired generals and other retired military officers (aka "message force multipliers" or "surrogates"). With copious Pentagon help and perks, these "experts" became key go-to guys for the mainstream media when it came to the War on Terror and the war in Iraq. As the Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel put the matter, "This was an all out effort at the highest levels of the Bush administration, continuing to this day, to dupe, mislead and lie to the American people – using propaganda dressed up and cherry-picked as independent military analysis. As one participant described it, 'It was psyops on steroids.'" The Pentagon's Brent T. Kreuger put it another way, speaking of the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq: "We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks [the retired military men] were up there delivering our message. You'd look at them and say, 'This is working.'"
But let's face it, as today's post indicates, the Pentagon, however unseen, is increasingly everywhere in our world. That it's been in bed with cable news, the major TV and radio networks, and our leading newspapers via retired-generals-tied-to-military-contractors-turned-pundits, can't really shock anyone who's bothered to listen to anything this bevy of talking-heads has had to say these last years. The fact is the Pentagon is now the most incestuous organization in America. If it regularly embeds reporters in its ranks to ensure decent coverage of its operations (think of this as a military version of Stockholm Syndrome) and, as Jon Stewart recently pointed out, embeds its retired generals in the media, it's also regularly in bed with itself in a way that can only be called perverse.
Take a simple example of such in-beddedness, a $50 million Air Force contract involving another of those retired generals. Given our near trillion-dollar defense budget, the sum itself is military chump change. As the Washington Post's Josh White described the process, a seven-person "selection team" charged with picking a contractor to "jazz up the Air Force's Thunderbirds air show with giant video boards," under pressure from a higher-ranking officer, gave the contract to Strategic Message Solutions, "a company that barely existed in an effort to reward a recently retired four-star general and a millionaire civilian pilot who had grown close to senior Air Force officials and the Thunderbirds."
It's hardly surprising that taxpayer dollars in amounts that would have staggered Croesus have led to a revolving-door system of rampant corruption; more surprising is just how much that system is linked into your everyday life. In a sense, the militarization of America is happening right in your apartment or house. The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, the new book by Nick Turse who has long written for Tomdispatch on Pentagon matters, makes this point strikingly. (By hook or crook, it should be on your bookshelf.) You'll get the idea as, in the adaptation of the book's first chapter below, with the fictional "Rick" you live through an all-too-real, all-American militarized morning at home. (And while you're at it, just imagine some of those retired generals offering lulling, Pentagon-inspired commentary in the background about how all of this is healthy, none of it really matters.) ~ Tom
The Real Matrix: The Pentagon Invades Your Life
By Nick Turse
Rick is a midlevel manager in a financial services company in New York City. Each day he commutes from Weehawken, New Jersey, a suburb only a stone's throw from the Big Apple, where he lives with his wife, Donna, and his teenage son, Steven. A late baby boomer, Rick just missed the Vietnam era's antiwar protests, but he's been against the war in Iraq from the beginning. He thinks the Pentagon is out of control and considers the military-industrial complex a danger to the country. If you asked him, it's a subject on which he would rate himself as knowledgeable. He puts effort into educating himself on such matters. He reads liberal websites, subscribes to progressive-minded magazines, and is a devotee of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
In fact, he has no idea just how deep the Pentagon rabbit hole goes or how far down it his family already is.
Rick believes that, despite its long reach, the military-industrial complex is a discrete entity far removed from his everyday life. Now, if this were 1961, when outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the country about the "unwarranted influence" of the "military-industrial complex" and the "large arms industry" already firmly entrenched in the United States, Rick might be right. After all, he doesn't work for one of the Pentagon's corporate partners, like arms maker Lockheed Martin. He isn't in the Army Reserve. He's never attended a performance of the Marine Corps band (not to mention the Army's, Navy's, or Air Force's music groups). But today's geared-up, high-tech Complex is nothing like the olive-drab outfit of Eisenhower's day: It reaches deeper into American lives and the American psyche than Eisenhower could ever have imagined. The truth is that, at every turn, in countless, not-so-visible ways Rick's life is wrapped up with the military.
So wake up with Rick and sample a single spring morning as the alarm on his Sony (Department of Defense contractor) clock interrupts his final dream of the night. Donna is already up and dressed in fitness apparel by Danskin (a Pentagon supplier that received more than $780,000 in DoD dollars in 2004 and another $456,000 in 2005) and Hanes Her Way (made by defense contractor and cake seller Sara Lee Corporation, which took in more than $68 million from the DoD in 2006). Committed to a healthy lifestyle, she's wearing sneakers from (DoD contractor) New Balance and briskly jogging on a treadmill made by (DoD contractor) True Fitness Technology.
Rick drags himself to the bathroom (fixtures by Pentagon contractor Kohler, purchased at defense contractor Home Depot). There, he squeezes the Charmin, brushes with Crest toothpaste, washes his face with Noxzema; then, hopping into the shower, he lathers up with Zest and chooses Donna's Herbal Essences over Head & Shoulders – "What the hell," he mutters, "I deserve an organic experience." (The manufacturer of each of these products, Procter & Gamble, is among the top 100 defense contractors and raked in a cool $362,461,808 from the Pentagon in 2006.)
In go his (DoD supplier) Bausch and Lomb contact lenses and down goes a Zantac (from DoD contractor GlaxoSmithKline) for his ulcer. Heading back to the bedroom, he finds Donna finished with her workout and making the bed – with the TV news on – and lends her a hand. (Their headboard was purchased from Thomasville Furniture, the mattress from Sears, the pillows were made by Harris Pillow Supply, all Pentagon contractors.) They exchange grim glances as, on their Samsung set (another DoD contractor) the Today Show chronicles the latest in chaos in Iraq. "Thank god we never supported this war," Rick says, thinking of the antiwar rally Donna and he attended even before the invasion was launched. NBC, which produces the Today Show, is owned by General Electric, the 14th-largest defense contractor in the United States, to the tune of $2.3 billion from the DoD in 2006, and has worked on such weapons systems as the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and F/A-18 Hornet multimission fighter/attack aircraft, both in use in Iraq.
A Who's Who of Your Life
Of course, the Pentagon has long poured U.S. tax dollars into private coffers to arm and outfit the military and enable it to function. At the time of Eisenhower's farewell address, New York Times reporter Jack Raymond noted that the Pentagon was spending "$23,000,000,000 a year for services and procurement of guns, missiles, airplanes, electronic devices, vehicles, tanks, ammunition, clothing and other military goods." Today, that would equal around $200 billion. In 2007, the Department of Defense's stated budget was $439 billion. Counting the costs of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number jumps to over $600 billion. Factoring in all the many related activities carried out by other agencies, actual U.S. national security spending is nearly $1 trillion per year.
Back in Eisenhower's day, arms dealers and mega-corporations, such as Lockheed and General Motors, held sway over the corporate side of the military-industrial complex. Companies like these still play an extremely powerful role today, but they are dwarfed by the sheer number of contractors that stretch from coast to coast and across the globe. Looking at the situation in 1970, almost 10 years after Eisenhower's farewell speech, Sidney Lens, a journalist and expert on U.S. militarism, noted that there were 22,000 prime contractors doing business with the U.S. Department of Defense. Today, the number of prime contractors tops 47,000 with subcontractors reaching well over the 100,000 mark, making for one massive conglomerate touching nearly every sector of society, from top computer manufacturer Dell (the 50th-largest DoD contractor in 2006) to oil giant ExxonMobil (the 30th) to package-shipping titan FedEx (the 26th).
In fact, the Pentagon payroll is a veritable who's who of the top companies in the world: IBM; Time-Warner; Ford and General Motors; Microsoft; NBC and its parent company, General Electric; Hilton and Marriott; Columbia TriStar Films and its parent company, Sony; Pfizer; Sara Lee; Procter & Gamble; M&M Mars and Hershey; Nestlé; ESPN and its parent company, Walt Disney; Bank of America; and Johnson & Johnson among many other big-name firms. But the difference between now and then isn't only in scale. As this list suggests, Pentagon spending is reaching into previously neglected areas of American life: entertainment, popular consumer brands, sports. This penetration translates into a remarkable variety of forms of interaction with the public.
Rick and Donna's home is full of the fruits of this incursion. As they putter around in their kitchen, getting ready for the day ahead, they move from the wall cabinets (purchased at DoD contractor Lowe's Home Center) to the refrigerator (from defense contractor Maytag), choosing their breakfast from a cavalcade of products made by Pentagon contractors. These companies that, quite literally, feed the Pentagon's war machine, are the same firms that fill the shelves of America's kitchens.
Today, just about every supermarket staple – from Ballpark Franks (Sara Lee) and Eggo waffles (Kelloggs) to Jell-O (Kraft) and Coffee Mate (Nestle) – has ties to the Pentagon. The same holds for many household appliances. In Rick and Donna's dining room, a small Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner buzzes around the floor. Rick thought it would be cute to have the little mechanical device trolling around the house making their hectic lives just a tad easier. Little did he know that Roomba's manufacturer, iRobot, takes in U.S. tax dollars ($51 million of them from the DoD in 2006, more than a quarter of the company's revenue) and turns them into PackBots, tactical robots used by U.S. troops occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and Warrior X700s – 250-pound semiautonomous robots armed with heavy weapons such as machine guns, that may be deployed in Iraq this year.
In addition to selling millions of Roombas to civilian consumers, the company uses government tax dollars to make money on the civilian side of its business. According to the company's December 2006 annual report (which listed as its "Research Support Agencies" the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA], the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, and the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center), government funding "allows iRobot to accelerate the development of multiple technologies." Yet iRobot retains "ownership of patents and know-how and [is] generally free to develop other commercial products, including consumer and industrial products, utilizing the technologies developed during these projects." It's a very sweet deal. And iRobot is hardly alone.
Entering the Digital World with Guns Blazing
Sitting on the dining room table is Rick's HP (Hewlett-Packard) notebook computer. HP is another company that has grown its civilian know-how with generous military contracts, like the multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal it signed in 2005 with DARPA to "develop technologies to improve the performance of mission-critical computer networks used during combat and other vital operations." A spokesman for the company noted, "Our work for DARPA is aimed at significantly improving the performance of the Internet.... If we can successfully create new approaches to the way Internet traffic is detected and routed, we may start seeing the Internet used as the de facto communications and information network in areas where it previously would've been thought too risky." Success would certainly translate into more lucrative civilian work, as well.
Meanwhile, Rick and Donna's son, Steven, is still upstairs, having a hard time tearing himself away from his computer game. His room is a veritable showcase of the new entertainment/sports/high tech/pop culture dimension of the twenty-first-century Complex: there are NASCAR posters (in 2005, more than $38 million in taxpayer money was spent on U.S. armed forces' racecars); National Football League (NFL) jerseys and baseball caps (the NFL has partnered with the Pentagon to create military profiles aired during TV broadcasts of regular and postseason games, while individual NFL teams have hosted "military appreciation" events); X-Men comic books (the Pentagon teamed up with Marvel Comics to produce limited-edition, "military-exclusive" comic books, with pro-Pentagon themes, that are now sought after by civilian collectors); and a wastebasket filled with empty Mountain Dew bottles (the Air Force was one of the sponsors of the Dew Action Sports Tour, a traveling show featuring skateboarding, BMX, and freestyle motocross contests).
During Ike's time, when civilian firms like Ford and AT&T were the big military suppliers, the payroll showed an utter lack of cool companies. Now, the Pentagon is reaching into virgin territory in new ways with new partners. Today, hip firms like Apple, Google, and Starbucks are also on DoD contractors' lists. And while Ike's complex was typified by brass bands and patriotic parades, today's variant is a flashy digitized world of video games, extreme sports, and everything cool that appeals to potential young recruits.
Steven finally shuts down Tropico: Paradise Island – a nation-building simulation video game where the player, as "El Presidente," attempts to lure tourists to his/her fun-in-the-sun resort. Neither father nor son is remotely aware that the software maker, Breakaway Games, does taxpayer-funded work for such military clients as DARPA, the Joint Forces Command, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the United States Air Force – as well as having developed 24 Blue, a simulator used to improve aircraft carrier-based operations. They are blissfully unaware of even the existence of Breakaway's Pentagon-funded video game that could conceivably lead to more effective bombing of targets abroad.
Steven grabs his iPod MP3 player (from DoD contractor Apple Computer) and heads downstairs to leave with his father. On his way to the door, Rick goes to his bookshelf and scans a selection of progressive texts whose publishers just happen to be DoD contractors, including a reissue of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (Houghton Mifflin), Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America by Lou Dubose and Molly Ivins (Random House), and Jon Stewart's America (The Book) (Warner Books), before choosing the Hugo Chavez-approved Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky (ahem, Metropolitan Books from Macmillan publishers). As the last one out, Donna sets the ADT alarm system. (ADT took in more than $16 million from the Pentagon in 2006, while its parent company, Tyco International, cleaned up to the tune of over $187 million.)
The Pentagon on Wheels
Rick and Steven hop into the Saturn parked in the driveway. Rick is proud of his car choice – after all, Saturn has such a people-friendly (even anti–Detroit establishment) vibe. Admittedly, he is aware that General Motors owns not only the Saturn but the Hummer brand – the civilian version of the U.S. military's Humvee – but he believes that, in this world, you can't be squeaky-clean perfect. But Hummer isn't the half of it.
How could Rick have known that, in 1999, GM formally entered the Army's COMBATT (COMmercially BAsed Tactical Truck) vehicle development program? Or that GM actually had its own military division, General Motors Defense, when his Saturn was made? Nor could Rick have known that GM Defense formed a joint venture with defense giant General Dynamics to create the GM-GDLS Defense Group (which was awarded in excess of $1.5 billion in DoD contract dollars in 2005). Or that GM took in $87 million from the Pentagon in 2006. Or that, in 2007, GM entered into a 50-year lease agreement to build a $100 million test track on the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds. Or that the maker of his Saturn's tires, Goodyear, was America's 69th-largest defense contractor in 2004, with DoD contracts worth nearly $357 million.
Rick might be an aging baby boomer, but he still tries to look cool (to Steven's embarrassment). As he pulls the Saturn out of the driveway, he dons a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Oakley supplies goggles and boots to U.S. troops. And while the military purchased goggles from firms such as the American Optical Company during the 1940s, it's unlikely that anyone ever called that company's designs "badass," as Powder, a skiing magazine that runs Army recruitment ads on its website, called one of Oakley's products.
Driving along, Rick glances over at his son. "Are those the Wolverine boots we just got you?"
"Yeah, Dad," answers Steven, looking down at his now-ratty footwear.
Rick's already thinking about the next pair he'll need to buy his son, not about the five-year, multimillion-dollar contract the company signed in 2003 to supply the Army with an upgraded infantry combat boot, or the other deals, worth tens of millions of dollars, that Wolverine signed with the Pentagon in 2004, 2006, and 2007.
As they drive to his school, Steven perks up. "That's it, Dad!" he says, pointing at a Ford Escape that just pulled into the high school parking lot. "Whaddaya say, Dad? Next year, when I get my license?"
Rick remembers hearing on the radio that Ford makes an Escape hybrid-electric vehicle. "You know what, son? I think maybe we just might look into it." He experiences a little burst of satisfaction. Not only can he feel like a good dad, but as a bonus he can even help the environment. (Ford Motor Company and its subsidiaries have, of course, garnered rafts of defense contracts and aided the Army and Navy in various projects.)
Overjoyed, Steven shoots his father a big smile as he opens the car door, "Alright! Well, I'll see you tonight, Dad."
"Do you have your cell phone?" Rick asks. Steven whips a Motorola from his pocket. (Motorola made almost $308 million from the Department of Defense in 2004, while the phone's service provider, Verizon, took home more than $128 million in DoD contracts, and $50 million more from the Department of Homeland Security, in 2006.)
The Real Matrix
With Steven at school, Rick heads for work. He gives the local Exxon station (ExxonMobil took in more than $1.17 billion in DoD dollars in 2006) a pass and instead pulls into Shell, which likes to portray itself as a kinder, greener oil giant. As he signs the receipt of his Bank of America credit card (a firm which issues special credit cards to Pentagon employees to streamline the process of buying supplies for the DoD), Rick has no way of knowing that Shell's parent company, N.V. Koninklijke Nederlansche, was the 31st-largest defense contractor in 2006, reaping more than $1.15 billion dollars in DoD contracts.
Entering the Holland Tunnel on his way to Manhattan, Rick realizes that, with Steven driving next year, he can start taking mass transit to work. The PATH train into the city – recently restored under the watchful eye of Bechtel, the 15th-largest defense contractor of 2004 and the recipient of more than $1.7 billion in DoD contracts that year – will, he believes, lessen his "footprint" on the planet.
Keep in mind, Rick is now only a couple of hours into his long day. In fact, no part of the hours to come will be lacking in products produced by Pentagon contractors – from the framed photographs of Donna and Steven on his desk (taken by an Olympus camera and printed on Kodak paper) to the beer he drinks with lunch (Budweiser) to most of the products around his office, including: 3M Post-It notes, Microsoft Windows software, Lexmark printers, Canon photocopiers, AT&T telephones, Maxwell House Coffee, Kidde fire extinguishers, Xerox fax machines, IBM servers, paper from International Paper, Duracell batteries, an LG Electronics refrigerator, and paper towels by Marcal Paper Mills.
Rick is, of course, a fiction, but the rest of us aren't – and neither is the existence of the real Matrix.
In the 1999 sci-fi movie classic of the same name, the Matrix is an artificial reality (resembling the Western world at the dawn of the twenty-first century) created by sentient machines. Humans, who are grown as energy sources and wired in to the Matrix using cybernetic implants, are kept in a coma-like state – ignorant of the very existence of the artificial reality that they "live" in. In explaining the situation to Neo, the movie's protagonist, Morpheus, a leader of a group of unplugged free humans who wage a guerrilla struggle against the machines, reveals:
"The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."
At one point in his farewell speech, Eisenhower presaged this point, suggesting, "The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – [of the conjunction of the military establishment and the large arms industry] is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government." But only Hollywood has yet managed to capture the essence of today's omnipresent, all-encompassing, cleverly hidden system of systems that invades all our lives; this new military-industrial-technological-entertainment-academic-scientific-media-intelligence-homeland security-surveillance-national security-corporate complex that has truly taken hold of America.
From the book The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives by Nick Turse. Copyright © 2008 by Nick Turse. Reprinted by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved.
April 25, 2008
Tom Engelhardt [send him mail] who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project. He is the author of several books, including The Last Days of Publishing: A Novel, The End of Victory Culture, and most recently, Mission Unaccomplished (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews. His blog is The Notion. Nick Turse is the associate editor of Tomdispatch.com. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, Adbusters, the Nation, and regularly for Tomdispatch. His first book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, has just been published in Metropolitan Books' American Empire Project series. His website is NickTurse.com. To view a short video interview with Turse, click here.----------------------------------
How the Pentagon Planted a False Story
By Gareth Porter
Inter Press Service
Wednesday 16 January 2008
Washington - Senior Pentagon officials, evidently reflecting a broader administration policy decision, used an off-the-record Pentagon briefing to turn the January 6 US-Iranian incident in the Strait of Hormuz into a sensational story demonstrating Iran's military aggressiveness, a reconstruction of the events following the incident shows.
The initial press stories on the incident, all of which can be traced to a briefing by deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs in charge of media operations, Bryan Whitman, contained similar information that has since been repudiated by the navy
Then the navy disseminated a short video into which was spliced the audio of a phone call warning that US warships would "explode" in "a few seconds". Although it was ostensibly a navy production, Inter Press Service (IPS) has learned that the ultimate decision on its content was made by top officials of the Defense Department.
The encounter between five small and apparently unarmed speedboats, each carrying a crew of two to four men, and the three US warships occurred very early on Saturday January 6, Washington time. No information was released to the public about the incident for more than 24 hours, indicating that it was not viewed initially as being very urgent.
The reason for that absence of public information on the incident for more than a full day is that it was not that different from many others in the Gulf over more than a decade. A Pentagon consultant who asked not to be identified told IPS he had spoken with officers who had experienced similar encounters with small Iranian boats throughout the 1990s, and that such incidents are "just not a major threat to the US Navy by any stretch of the imagination".
Just two weeks earlier, on December 19, the USS Whidbey Island, an amphibious warship, had fired warning shots after a small Iranian boat allegedly approached it at high speed. That incident had gone without public notice.
With the reports from Fifth Fleet commander Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff in hand early that morning, top Pentagon officials had all day Sunday, January 6, to discuss what to do about the encounter in the Strait of Hormuz. The result was a decision to play it up as a major incident.
The decision came just as President George W Bush was about to leave on a Middle East trip aimed in part at rallying Arab states to join the United States in an anti-Iran coalition.
That decision in Washington was followed by a news release by the commander of the Fifth Fleet on the incident at about 4am Washington time on January 7. It was the first time the Fifth Fleet had issued a news release on an incident with small Iranian boats.
The release reported that the Iranian "small boats" had "maneuvered aggressively in close proximity of [sic] the Hopper [the lead ship of the three-ship convoy]." But it did not suggest that the Iranian boats had threatened the boats or that it had nearly resulted in firing on the Iranian boats.
On the contrary, the release made the US warships handling of the incident sound almost routine. "Following standard procedures," the release said, "Hopper issued warnings, attempted to establish communications with the small boats and conducted evasive maneuvering."
The release did not refer to a US ship being close to firing on the Iranian boats, or to a call threatening that US ships would "explode in a few minutes", as later stories would report, or to the dropping of objects into the path of a US ship as a potential danger.
That press release was ignored by the news media, however, because later that Monday morning, the Pentagon provided correspondents with a very different account of the episode.
At 9am, Barbara Starr of CNN reported that "military officials" had told her that the Iranian boats had not only carried out "threatening maneuvers", but had transmitted a message by radio that "I am coming at you" and "you will explode". She reported the dramatic news that the commander of one boat was "in the process of giving the order to shoot when they moved away".
CBS News broadcast a similar story, adding the detail that the Iranian boats "dropped boxes that could have been filled with explosives into the water". Other news outlets carried almost identical accounts of the incident.
The source of this spate of stories can now be identified as Bryan Whitman, the top Pentagon official in charge of media relations, who gave a press briefing for Pentagon correspondents that morning. Although Whitman did offer a few remarks on the record, most of the Whitman briefing was off the record, meaning that he could not be cited as the source.
In an apparent slip-up, however, an Associated Press story that morning cited Whitman as the source for the statement that US ships were about to fire when the Iranian boats turned and moved away - a part of the story that other correspondents had attributed to an unnamed Pentagon official.
On January 9, the US Navy released excerpts of a video of the incident in which a strange voice - one that was clearly very different from the voice of the Iranian officer who calls the US ship in the Iranian video - appears to threaten the US warships.
A separate audio recording of that voice, which came across the VHS channel open to anyone with access to it, was spliced into a video on which the voice apparently could not be heard. That was a political decision, and Lieutenant Colonel Mark Ballesteros of the Pentagon's Public Affairs Office told IPS the decision on what to include in the video was "a collaborative effort of leadership here, the Central Command and navy leadership in the field".
"Leadership here", of course, refers to the secretary of defense and other top policymakers at the department. An official in the US Navy Office of Information in Washington, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that decision was made in the office of the secretary of defense.
That decision involved a high risk of getting caught in an obvious attempt to mislead. As an official at Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain told IPS, it is common knowledge among officers there that hecklers - often referred to as "Filipino Monkey" - frequently intervene on the VHF ship-to-ship channel to make threats or rude comments.
One of the popular threats made by such hecklers, according to British journalist Lewis Page, who had transited the strait with the Royal Navy is, "Look out, I am going to hit [collide with] you."
By January 11, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell was already disavowing the story that Whitman had been instrumental in creating only four days earlier. "No one in the military has said that the transmission emanated from those boats," said Morrell.
The other elements of the story given to Pentagon correspondents were also discredited. The commanding officer of the guided missile cruiser Port Royal, Captain David Adler, dismissed the Pentagon's story that he had felt threatened by the dropping of white boxes in the water. Meeting with reporters on Monday, Adler said, "I saw them float by. They didn't look threatening to me."
The naval commanders seemed most determined, however, to scotch the idea that they had been close to firing on the Iranians. Cosgriff, the commander of the Fifth Fleet, denied the story in a press briefing on January 7. A week later, Commander Jeffery James, commander of the destroyer Hopper, told reporters that the Iranians had moved away "before we got to the point where we needed to open fire".
The decision to treat the January 6 incident as evidence of an Iranian threat reveals a chasm between the interests of political officials in Washington and navy officials in the Gulf. Asked whether the navy's reporting of the episode was distorted by Pentagon officials, Lydia Robertson of Fifth Fleet Public Affairs would not comment directly. But she said, "There is a different perspective over there."
Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in June 2005.http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/011608S.shtml