Andreas von Bülow, former German Minister for Research and Technology and former German Secretary of Defence, currently a lawyer in Bonn, on disinformation strategies and the role of intelligence services.
Q: Mr. von Bülow, in connection with the Iraq war the question of the reliability of information has again become urgent. To which extent do we have to assume that the information channeled in the mass media is influenced by the intelligence services’ disinformation campaigns?
A: This kind of influencing is one of the principal responsibilities of intelligence services such as the CIA and the Mossad. Winning over the opinion of the public is one aspect of psychological warfare. In order to achieve their aims, the intelligence services rely on various types of strategies, such as disinformation, but also including terrorist actions.
Q: Does that mean that terrorist actions are carried out by intelligence services with a view of manipulating the news?
A: Yes, it does. But they also organize a constant flow of news that are aimed at certain situations or regions. They can also target groups of people who are then transformed into enemy images in the public mind.
Q: To which extent do you think that the mass media are capable or even willing to defend themselves against campaigns of disinformation?
A: Whether they want depends on whether they are dependent. During the hearings on the operative principles of the CIA at the end of the Vietnam war it became apparent that newspapers had received payments and that the intelligence services had placed their people in news agencies. The CIA can deploy their people in all news agencies of the world. Whenever the situation requires it, they can supply them with news which is so exclusive and „hot“ that it pushes other news into the background.
Q: How can the media protect themselves?
A: If they are interested in unbiased reporting, they can protect themselves from disinformation by looking at the details that have been revealed in the sixties and seventies when some of the CIA’s activities were scrutinized. These details are quite impressive, and they range from a death list of heads of state to the strategic influencing of entire segments of the press, as for example the financing of the Springer newspapers in Germany. It is not impossible to get this information, but it has not been reported in the large media in Europe or the United States, so that most common citizens remain uninformed.
Q: We have to assume that large portions of the news have been influenced by disinformation of intelligence services, and that the media themselves have no interest in reporting about such issues?
Q: How do you assess the Internet’s capacity to engage into something like civil society based information policies and undercut the intelligence services’ monopolies?
A: The possibilities offered by the Internet are considerable. In most cases the alternative news available on the Internet have been researched with great care. Of course not everything is fully reliable, but much of the news is put together in a meticulous and impressive fashion, most of the time by Americans. This is admirable, because these people are swimming against the current. In Europe, we don’t have that in the same extent.
Q: Does this kind of information exchange not arouse the desires of the intelligence services?
A: I do believe it is annoying for the American intelligence services, as well as for the Israeli one, and that they will try to put an end to it. It could be part of this effort to launch trap stories, or to flood those channels with information trash, for example with ridiculous stories that make people stop reading. At the moment, however, it is still quite remarkable what can be obtained through the Net.
Q: Were the intelligence services not forced to reorient themselves and revise their priorities as a consequence of 9/11?
A: The priorities have long be set. They are about continuing the geopolitical game. The “Great Game“ is once again open, the Americans have no opponent and face the question what to do with their huge military apparatus. It would make sense to scale it down, but the current leadership prefers to create new enemies. These have now been put into place, and there are intense efforts to mange the information supply accordingly. The Middle East will continue to be on the agenda even after Iraq. There will be new targets. Now that the US has such a massive presence in the region, they will certainly consider to re-order the neighboring states as well.
Q: Pakistan for example?
A: We are talking about large-scale targets. Previously they had small targets, Grenada for example, where Cuban laborers were building an airport that was partly sponsored by the EU in order to develop tourism. A hub like this could have served as a base for Soviet nuclear bombers attacking the US. This is why the US intervened. The only superpower, counting 280 million inhabitants and a military budget of 300 billion Dollars, raided a small island, and a small group of hand-picked journalists and TV teams hyped the operation into a kind of reprisal of the landing in the Normandy. By contrast, Iraq has a population of 26 million, a number that corresponds roughly to the population of the Netherlands or the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. At this time, the superpower positions itself everywhere, showing its presence by deploying forces. Not only in order to secure access to raw materials, but also in order to make states with a much larger population than the US, such as China, India, and Pakistan, more manageable.
Q: The intelligence services’ role is to orchestrate the corresponding information policies?
A: Yes, amongst other things. They investigate the situations and supply arms and money to minorities, exacerbating the divisions between minorities and the majority in many regions of the world. On this basis, it is possible to make accusations because of human rights violations and to justify an intervention vis-à-vis one’s own people. Frequently it is all about gaining the support of one’s own population in the face of such policies of expansion.
Q: Are there any possibilities at all to subject intelligence services to democratic control, as required by many constitutions?
A: In the USA, any oppositional positions in these matters have been superseded. You have to take it for granted that the parliamentary intelligence commissions of the US Congress are represented by people who support these policies, both on the Republican and the Democratic side. So there is nothing that can be expected in terms of democratic checks and balances.
Q: Are there any important voices who say that after 9/11 intelligence as a security model has failed?
A: It depends how you interpret 9/11. If you believe that in fact there were 19 Muslim terrorist who carried out the attack on the orders of Osama Bin Laden, then the intelligence services have failed. If you think that it was itself an operation of the intelligence services, than they have not failed.
Q: How do you assess the position of German mainstream media with regard to the shady undertakings of intelligence services?
A: I can hardly answer that question because I have unsubscribed from most of these media, precisely because of this background. However, it is remarkable how the Germans have arrived at reasonable conclusions in spite of the newspaper editorials, and how they have supported the position of the Government even against the press and media landscape. Unlike in America, there was enough common sense and some important information that made it possible to come to a level-headed assessment of the situation. There is still considerable variety in the media landscape, but it will not stay like this in the long run.
Q: So there is still a counter public where information that is not officially endorsed can circulate.
A: Yes, it still has not been possible to streamline all the broadcasting media, as in most parts of America, where radio and TV and the large media are in the hands by very few people.
Q: Will this variety be preserved, considering for example the media policies of the EU?
A: When I look at the quota of the large TV stations I am pessimistic. The great theme will be bread and games. Information about remote regions is difficult to assess and therefore easily penetrable by disinformation. In this way, common citizens are going to be fed with false stories without being able to do anything against it.