The general public and mainstream media outlets in America are refusing to take the government’s word about Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine and are demanding proof, which the White House is not providing. Experts say that America’s reputation crisis is down to Washington’s numerous lies, falsehoods and mistakes, and the difficulties US authorities are having working with the intelligence agencies. How do the US authorities intend to make up for this total loss of trust?
According to the Associated Press, US journalists are not willing to take Washington at its word when it comes to intelligence and military matters. This was particularly evident when it came to statements regarding Russia’s alleged preparation of a video showing explosions, fake corpses, and mourning actors. The US authorities claim this is how Moscow wants to create a pretext for invading Ukraine.
When journalists asked for evidence to back up this claim, Washington replied: “You’ll have to trust us on that.” The US authorities also stated that “reporters were buying into foreign propaganda by even asking such questions”. Eventually, the AP article continues, “[t]he lack of transparency strained already depleted reserves of credibility in Washington, a critical resource diminished over the decades by instances of lies, falsehoods and mistakes”. As a result, there were “barbed interactions with White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesman Ned Price that stood out even amid the typically contentious relationship between the government and the press”.
In addition, while on board Air Force One on Thursday en route to New York, Psaki spoke about the US special forces raid on the hideout of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi in Syria that resulted in his death.
Upon hearing the news, NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe said that “there may be people who are skeptical” of statements by the US authorities that the terrorist died in a bomb explosion and the US had nothing to do with it.
Trust is in short supply
US politicians often promise to restore trust in Washington, but it has remained in short supply since the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Bill Clinton did particular damage when he lied outright about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Following the terrorist attack on 11 September 2001, President George W Bush declared that the US had to carry out an armed operation in Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction being produced by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
During a speech to the UN Security Council in 2003, the then US Secretary of State Colin Powell held up a vial of white powder – to show the amount of Iraqi WMD needed to kill thousands of people – as proof of the legitimacy of invading Iraq. But, in the end, no WMD were found.
A Syrian fake
In April 2018, an NGO known as the White Helmets (funded by the US and Britain) accused Bashar al-Assad’s regime of using chemical weapons in the Syrian city of Douma. A week later, and without waiting for the findings of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the US, the UK and France attacked territory under the control of the legitimate Syrian government.
But, as shown by the evidence presented to the UN by Russia, the bodies of the victims killed as a result of the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons were actually the bodies of people who were already dead, and the whole alleged chemical attack by al-Assad’s troops was a fake.
The intelligence failure in Afghanistan
In August 2021, the US Air Force, acting on real-time intelligence, launched a drone strike on a car loaded with explosives that may have been used by ISIS fighters in Khorasan. In fact, the strike killed Zemari Ahmadi, an Afghan civilian who worked as an engineer for Nutrition and Education International (NEI), a US-based aid organisation. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet later reported that a total of ten civilians had been killed in the attack, including seven children.
It is also noteworthy that US intelligence misjudged the offensive capabilities of the Taliban that led to the flight of Americans and their allies from Kabul after its capture. Footage of the chaos and panic at Kabul airport was discussed in detail around the world.
Biden doesn’t keep his promises
After replacing Trump, Biden promised to restore trust in White House statements, but, a year after taking office, the level of trust has not increased.
The tipping point was Psaki’s statement that the US authorities had changed their minds about describing Russia’s future invasion of Ukraine as “inevitable”. It is an interesting situation because Washington urgently needs to change its information policy, but in what direction is completely unclear. To back up its accusations against Russia, Washington has not changed its tactics but merely cranked up the tension and actually spread information that Russia is allegedly making a fake video about Ukraine.
The State Department refers to “intelligence information” to back up unsubstantiated accusations, but this information cannot always be believed. There are a few difficulties that the State Department has when working with intelligence. First, it sometimes happens that the US authorities really can’t corroborate their claims because they would then have to disclose the source of the information and the depth of US intelligence work.
In fact, intelligence itself often fails when analysing the reliability of information. For example, US intelligence was unable to predict the speed of the Taliban’s advance while present and on the ground in Afghanistan. The same can be said of the success of US missile strikes on Syria in April 2018.
Sometimes, US intelligence deliberately gives the State Department incomplete or unverified information. The long-standing battle between US intelligence and the State Department hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, both involve groups geared towards de-escalation in a number of foreign-policy areas and the creation of tension. This also has an impact on the information provided.
The White House will attract a loyal media
The current pushback against the White House and the State Department by the AP and a number of other media outlets is virtually unprecedented, but it will not make the US authorities change the principles of its information policy. Washington won’t spend much time thinking about such protests. Instead, it will continue spreading absurd fake news but through loyal media outlets such as CNN. Although there may also be slightly fewer unverified accusations.
The reason for the fall in the level of information is the current administration’s short subs’ bench and the quality of the staff. Biden’s team is largely made up of career apparatchiks, none of whom have a background in foreign policy. There is clearly no longer anyone like Kissinger or Rice in the United States.
As for intelligence failures, the US authorities often take raw intelligence that can be moulded to suit any agenda and use it to their advantage.
When accusing Russia of creating fake videos about Ukraine, the US authorities probably took one of a dozen predictions for how the situation would develop – the one that would garner the most hype and potentially resonate the most with the public.
The behaviour of the media itself, which is starting to show the US government in its true colours, is fuelled by the declining trust of ordinary Americans. According to Pew Research and Gallup, only 15–20% of Americans trust Congress and 20–25% trust the media. Of course, the media also has an interest in re-establishing themselves as the information touchstones they were fifty years ago.