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[infowar.de] Salon.com, 25.3.03: Is the CIA spamming Iraqi generals?
Is the CIA spamming Iraqi generals?
It's the latest in high-tech psychological warfare: E-mail and
voice-mail invitations to surrender. But so far there are few signs that
the strategy is working.
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By Farhad Manjoo
March 25, 2003 | On Friday night in Baghdad, at the exact moment
American bombs were falling on Saddam Hussein's key power centers around
the city, Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmad, the Iraqi defense minister, was
conducting a press briefing. As he spoke, explosions rocked the city.
Yet remarkably, the building he was in, the Iraqi Defense Ministry -- a
huge complex on the eastern bank of the Tigris River that one would
guess might be near the top of the list of important places to bomb --
was left standing.
Why hasn't the United States hit the Iraqi Defense Ministry? On NBC's
"Meet the Press" Sunday, Tim Russert asked Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld that question. Rumsfeld was coy: "Obviously we didn't hit it,"
the secretary said, without offering much explanation. But as media
commentators speculated over the weekend, one reason may be that U.S.
officials are conducting informal talks with members of the Iraqi
defense establishment in an effort to persuade them to lay down their
arms and embrace the invading Western military.
U.S. Defense Department officials have acknowledged this strategy. "Is
there country-to-country dialogue taking place?" Rumsfeld said on Friday
afternoon during a press briefing. "The answer is no ... Is there
contact between coalition forces and Iraqi forces? The answer is, most
certainly. There has been over the past period of weeks, and those
discussions have intensified."
According to several press reports, U.S. military and intelligence
personnel have managed to establish remarkably close contact with Iraq's
top military leaders. The Americans don't just know these generals' home
and office telephone numbers; the CIA, it's been reported, has a robust
Rolodex of e-mail addresses,
cellphone numbers and other high-tech means to contact both the warriors
and their family members.
Jack Kelley, a reporter for USA Today, wrote on Monday of Iraqi Maj.
Gen. Abdul Qassab, who is apparently the object of intense wooing from
the U.S. Every day for the past few months, the general has received an
anonymous phone call telling him to "give yourself up. You cannot win.
You will be saved if you defect."
Reuters has also reported the text of e-mails being sent to Iraqis
asking them not to use weapons of mass destruction. One read as follows:
"If you provide information on weapons of mass destruction or you take
steps to hamper their use we will do what is necessary to protect you
and protect your families. Failing to do that will lead to grave
The CIA's efforts to call Iraqi generals with a friendly reminder that
they'll be annihilated if they don't give in fits into the United
States' larger strategy in this war -- one relying on what officials
have called "capitulation," the mass surrender of much of the Iraqi
military, as much as it does on the military damage wrought by precision
bombing and the invading ground forces.
Indeed, "Shock and Awe," the name for the blitzlike massive bombing
campaign the U.S. has been conducting over Baghdad, is specifically
intended to break the will of the enemy. "Since before Sun Tzu and the
earliest chroniclers of war recorded their observations, strategists and
generals have been tantalized and confounded by the elusive goal of
destroying the adversary's will to resist before, during, and after
battle," the military strategists Harlan Ullman and James Wade write in
"Shock and Awe," the 1996 book that introduced the term that has become
the most annoying buzzword of this war. "Psychological and intangible,
as well as physical and concrete effects beyond the destruction of enemy
forces and supporting military infrastructure, will have to be achieved.
It is in this broader and deeper strategic application that Rapid
Dominance perhaps most fundamentally differentiates itself from current
doctrine and offers revolutionary application."
Although this war represents the biggest -- and most high-tech -- test
yet of an effort to convince the enemy that it's better to surrender
than to fight, the U.S. military has tried, in previous conflicts, to
connect with individuals from the enemy's side and get them to hang it
up. "The first attempts to do this were during the 1999 Kosovo air
campaign," says Charles Borchini, a fellow at the Center for Emerging
Threats and Opportunities and a former psychological operations -- or
psyops -- officer in the Army. "There were attempts to contact key
officials in Serbia to get them to stop fighting, much the same way
we're doing here."
The CIA used a slight variation on this technique in Afghanistan in
2001, too. At the same time that the U.S. Air Force was attacking
Taliban warriors with laser-guided bombs, American intelligence agents
were deployed throughout the country armed with briefcases stuffed with
hundred-dollar bills, conducting face-to-face meetings with warlords to
convince them that it was in their best interest to switch sides.
How does the U.S., in the heat of battle, manage to contact Serbians or
Afghans or Iraqis who are presumably trying to hide from Americans?
There's no easy answer to that question, experts say. Suffice it to say,
the CIA has resources that go beyond the Yellow Pages -- if you're a
foreigner, the CIA can spy on you, and it's not too hard to find out
your phone number and e-mail address. Robert David Steele, a former spy
and the founder of OSS.net, an intelligence company, said in an e-mail
that his firm "can reach anyone in the world, including an Iraqi, within
3-5 telephone calls or 1-3 e-mails. We believe the U.S. Army is at least
as capable -- they are as intelligent an organization as we know of with
respect to 'information operations.' What they do in 'IO' is at least as
important -- perhaps more important -- than what they do with tanks and
But experts say that just getting somebody's phone number is the easy
part. The hard part is contacting the enemy leader without having the
contacts detected by others on his side. In Iraq, electronic
communications are censored and monitored; a general getting an e-mail
from the U.S. Department of Defense could reasonably expect to be
executed in short order. That's why the U.S. is probably exercising a
certain amount of discretion in its efforts to contact Iraqis. The CIA
could be sending veiled messages, for instance, or its notes might be
passed through the leaders' friends or family members. Abdul Qassab, the
Iraqi officer named in the USA Today story, has received messages
through people in London and Jordan and in a hand-delivered message
dropped off at his home.
Do such techniques work? Borchini says that he saw a result in Kosovo,
but a delayed result. He's not sure that U.S. broadcasts to the
population worked to quickly end that conflict, but he thinks that the
U.S. efforts might have paid off more than a year later, when Slobodan
Milosevic was ousted from office after a popular uprising against his
Certainly the CIA's campaign in Afghanistan worked to get warlords to
switch sides, but the timing of their defections is important to
remember, experts say. Many warlords switched sides only after the U.S.
had won a few major battles and it became clear which side would emerge
victorious. Experts suggest that the
same will hold true for Iraq, but that the military there is not
convinced, after less than a week of war, that Saddam's end is nigh.
The talks that the United States is conducting with members of the Iraqi
military can be successful only "in the context of somebody who is
desperate to avoid getting killed, and from everything I'm seeing right
now these guys aren't certain of defeat," says Kenneth Allard, a
military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"That point has not yet come on this battlefield."
How should the U.S. convince the enemy that they have no chance to win?
"The best way to do it is to systematically demolish from the face of
the earth the Medina division of the Republican Guard," Allard says.
That division, positioned on the outskirts of Baghdad, is part of the
Iraqi military considered most loyal to Saddam Hussein, and Allard says
that the only thing that will persuade the other members of the guard to
change their minds about Saddam is if the U.S. hands a frighteningly
punishing blow to this group of soldiers. "It is an enemy that you have
to bludgeon into the earth."
He added: "It ain't rocket science. It's street fighting."
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About the writer
Farhad Manjoo is a staff writer for Salon
Technology & Business.
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