Information Warfare: How To Fool The Media


June 21, 2007: Recent developments in the Haditha case (marines accused of murdering civilians in Iraq) not only show how easily the media can get things wrong, but it also exposes how al Qaeda is taking a new approach to asymmetric warfare. In essence, the controversy over the events in Haditha was a more refined attack than the claims after the 2002 Battle of Jenin. And, despite claims from certain politicians, there was no cover-up attempted. Now, some of the charges have been dismissed, others are in doubt, and it is beginning to look like the accusations of a massacre may be untrue.

Al Qaeda faces the same problem that the Palestinian terrorists at Jenin faced in 2002. They are unable to win in a straight fight with troops that are highly trained and motivated. American and Israeli troops tend to be among the best in the world on a soldier-for-soldier basis. All the terrorists really could do was to try to make the Americans (or Israelis, as the case could be) look bad. Sometimes, this involves exacting a high price on the attacking force. More often, it involves creating the impression that the American or Israeli troops are indiscriminate killers who routinely slaughter civilians. This not only weakens the resolve of the populations in the West, it also will help generate new recruits for the terrorists.

In the case of Jenin, the Palestinians claimed that hundreds had been killed in a massacre. The resulting investigations from the United Nations found no evidence of a massacre involving hundreds (as claimed by various reports from Palestinian sources and echoed by human rights groups and the press). Instead, the total number of casualties was set at 52, of which only 22 were confirmed as civilians. That said, the Palestinian media campaign largely succeeded. The claims of a massacre got front-page coverage - the corrections got much less exposure, and much of the notice of the facts came from blogs.

Hezbollah took the same approach in the brief 2006 war with Israel. They were much clumsier, though, and their media manipulation efforts were outed in the blogosphere. One free-lancer who did work for Reuters was revealed to have doctored his photos. This was a huge black eye for the Iranian-sponsored terrorist organization.

It is now apparent that the Haditha media manipulation was much more successful. In this case, the media effort was helped out through the fact that the aftermath was mishandled. The initial Haditha investigations uncovered some apparent discrepancies in the Marines' stories, and a criminal investigation by NCIS was launched. NCIS filed criminal charges, and internal investigations showed that officers failed to ask the right questions.

In essence, terrorists have employed a media strategy. This strategy is not intended to target the troops - or to cause damage, although that is welcomed. The strategy is instead to convince the media - and the politicians through the media - that the war on terror is a lost cause, with the United States and its allies doing nothing but losing men and equipment for no gain. Worse, these efforts will make future attacks inevitable as terrorists seek to avenge massacres that never happened. - Harold C. Hutchison (


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