The Scandal With Leaked War Files Proves One Thing: Washington Is Crap At PR

July 28, 2010

Anton Goryunov writes: Pardon me for asking, but how come the US government that spends billions on intelligence gathering and keeps an army of advisors did not have a contingency plan in place to counter any possible leak of damaging information about the war in Afghanistan? Is there a certain slowness of the thinking process registered in the US corridors of power? Or could it be that officials in Washington are under the impression that all that stuff in Jason Bourne films is actually true and they can make things go away with a touch of a button?

Let’s face it – this massive leakage was bound to happen sooner or later. When you have a war that’s been going on for ages, without much success and a lot of indiscriminate killing of civilians going on, you’re bound to come to a point when someone somewhere would start sharing damaging information with the outside world. Not to mention that American armed forces and intelligence agencies have always had a strange habit of compiling millions and billions of reports and memos, to keep themselves busy. I mean, who on earth could have imagined that there were hundreds of thousands of notes covering every bloody incident in the Afghan war?

And now the Obama Administration is furious because of the leaks produced by aptly named website, WikiLeaks. The Pentagon is saying that national security and the lives of US and other NATO troops have been put in danger. One thing is crystal clear: Washington is crap at PR. Hopeless, no good at all.

Here is how I would handle the situation, if I was in charge of some huge American intelligence agency with a multi-billion budget. The moment word got out that damaging documents about the war in Afghanistan were about to be made public, I’d release hundreds of thousands of papers, giving my version of events. For example, I’d have top secret papers revealing that yes, so-called ‘special squads’ (I’d replace the word ‘death’ with the word ‘special’) did operate in Afghanistan, but they were mostly involved in delivering presents to sick children and gifts to newlyweds and old people. The shooting, according to my leaked papers, happened only when the Taliban attempted to prevent these deliveries.

My version of the leaked documents would paint a totally different picture of the war that emerged from the WikiLeaks effort. The majority of Afghan people, according to my reports and memos, would be very happy with the presence of NATO troops and hate the Taliban with gusto. Results of opinion polls carried out in the country would show a massive, something like 90 per cent, support, for President Hamid Karzia and NATO. Blame for the continued insurgency would be placed on Pakistan, Iran, Nepal, China and as many other countries as possible. (In a war the blame game is very important.)

The number of civilian casualties, in my version of the’ leaked documents’, would be tiny and most of them would be attributed to the insurgents. Some of my classified reports would be saying that NATO troops preferred to die rather than shoot at people who didn’t look like insurgents. In fact, a good juicy number of papers would say that NATO’s casualties were mostly suffered through soldiers refusing to open fire, for fear of hurting some innocent bystander or a passing animal.

And then there’d be countless documents and memos portraying the Taliban as a bunch of wankers, who had no idea what they were doing. I can just see such a report from an imaginary commander on the ground that would say: ‘The Taliban are a bunch of wankers. They are terrified of the brave NATO troops and have one rifle for a hundred fighters, running away at the first sight of trouble. They are all on dope most of the time and spend hours watching the box and playing PC games. The only reason why they are all still alive is because Pakistan, Iran and other countries are allowing them to use their territory to hide from us.’

Basically, my ‘leaked documents’ would tell a story of a victorious war that is nearing the end, with Afghanistan becoming a cradle of democracy and stability. And it would have created a feeling that our boys have done their job and will soon be coming back.

That’s the sort of ‘leak’ I’d have organised, even before WikiLeaks would come up with their damaging stuff. And the scandal would have been averted. And no one would have known the true state of things in Afghanistan. Which is always a good idea when you are fighting in an unwinnable semi-legal war and bending the rules a lot.

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