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Fracking and Psychological Operations: Empire Comes Home

When among friends, you’re far more likely to air your dirty secrets. A corporate conference held in Houston, Texas, on October 31 to November 1, 2011, titled “Giving Communications Professionals At Unconventional Oil & Gas Companies The Tools To Design A Comprehensive Media & Stakeholder Relations Strategy For Engaging The Public On A Positive Image For The Industry” provides perfect evidence of this. The goal at the conference was a simple one: communications professionals in the natural gas industry sharing with one another the optimal communications strategies and tools to fight back against media and community opposition to what is inherently a toxic product, natural gas.

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When among friends, you’re far more likely to air your dirty secrets.

A corporate conference held in Houston, Texas, on October 31 to November 1, 2011, titled “Giving Communications Professionals At Unconventional Oil & Gas Companies The Tools To Design A Comprehensive Media & Stakeholder Relations Strategy For Engaging The Public On A Positive Image For The Industry” provides perfect evidence of this.

The goal at the conference was a simple one: communications professionals in the natural gas industry sharing with one another the optimal communications strategies and tools to fight back against media and community opposition to what is inherently a toxic product, natural gas.

Natural gas, obtained through the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” process, was brought into the limelight by the Academy Award-nominated documentary film “Gasland,” directed by Josh Fox.

On November 8, 2011, thanks to a smoking gun tip from Sharon Wilson, renowned anti-fracking activist and author of, CNBC investigative journalist Eamon Javers broke a story with huge implications. Wilson paid to attend the conference and recorded all sessions on an audio recorder and then handed them off to Javers, who broke the story live on national cable television.

Javers revealed that Matt Pitzarella, head of the public relations team at the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based natural gas corporation, Range Resources, openly admitted that his corporation utilizes psychological warfare (psyops) military veterans as community relations professionals, hired to apply the skills gained on the periphery for work to be done here at home.

“We have several former PSYOPs folks that work for us at Range because they’re very comfortable dealing with localized issues and local governments,” said Pitzarella at the conference.

He continued, “Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that. But very much having that understanding of PSYOPs in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania.”

Expanding on the comments made by Pitzarella, DeSmogBlog Executive Director Brendan DeMelle explained further, “Range Resources’ Local Government Relations Manager in Pennsylvania is James Cannon, a former Marine and Army Reservist whose unit conducted PSYOPs during Operation Iraqi Freedom … Range has sent threatening letters to residents of Mount Pleasant, PA, where citizens were concerned about the impacts of natural gas drilling on their community.”

At the same conference, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation’s Public Relations Chief Matthew Carmichael, a military veteran himself, recommended that all natural gas industry PR professionals read the “Counterinsurgency Field Manual,” formerly the official doctrine of the US military.

“Download the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual because we are dealing with an insurgency. There’s a lot of good lessons in there and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable,” remarked Carmichael.

Another presenter at the Houston conference was Aaron Goldwater, CEO of Jurat Software, which describes itself as a company that “ensures effective stakeholder engagement through a comprehensive single source and intuitive software solution. More than just managing data, Jurat facilitates strong relationship building with internal and external stakeholders that results in achieving business objectives.”

Goldwater spoke of the importance of data mining and intelligence collection on natural gas company stakeholders, or on those citizens living in communities in which resource extraction will take place.

Goldwater said, “A number of people today have, in my words, have talked about having a battle with stakeholders, a bit of a war with stakeholders. So, if you look at the people who are experts at it, which is the military, the one thing they do is gather intelligence … The important thing is to get high-quality data because data rules. The military doesn’t spend billions of dollars on data-mining for the fun of it. They want to know who knows who.”

In many ways, Jurat’s corporate model resembles that of the Human Terrain System (HTS) developed by the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). HTS consists of highly trained Human Terrain Teams (HTTs), five-person units that enter communities in Iraq and Afghanistan and collect massive amounts of data that they hand to the CIA with the goal of “mapping the human terrain.” HTTs utilize the skills of anthropologists, accompanied by four armed agents while they collect data in the field, data that will eventually be used to pacify, or kill dissidents and “insurgents.”

Jacob Kipp, historian at the US Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, described HTS, according to anthropologist Roberto Gonzalez, as “‘A CORDS for the 21st Century'” – a reference to Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support, a Vietnam War-era counterguerrilla initiative. CORDS gave birth to the infamous Phoenix Program, in which South Vietnamese and US agents used intelligence data to help target some 26,000 suspected communists for assassination, including many civilians.”

Data collection to equip well-connected corporations in their “war with stakeholders” is without a doubt troubling, but history demonstrates it is rather unsurprising.

The militarization of public and community relations efforts by the natural gas industry can be seen quite clearly through these alarming excerpts from these three presentations. The reason for militarization is quite clear, though uncomfortable to confront.

By its very nature, the gas industry is in the midst of what can most accurately be described as systematic and well-planned “resource colonialism,” invading communities and extracting their resources, often even displacing citizens from their homes and taking over their property. Militarization is but a logical progression in a scheme of this sort.

The common denominator are the tools of “empire coming home,” and the true nature of both imperial counterinsurgency warfare and the dark underbelly of the history and original purpose of the public relations industry finally coming to light, thanks to these frank comments thought to have been made solely among friends in Houston.

The origins of the proliferation of the public relations industry and mass propaganda is deeply interconnected with the development of psyops tactics. In fact, in many ways, the two are one in the same.

A brief history lesson is in order to put this all into proper and sobering context.

PR, Propaganda and Psyops in the US: A Dark and Intertwined History

The public relations industry has always existed as a means of coercion and, to use the words of scholar Noam Chomsky, to “manufacture consent.” Furthermore, the development public relations tactics and psyops tactics share the same origin – World War I.

As the father of modern public relations industry, Edward Bernays, wrote in his seminal book “Propaganda,” “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country … It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.”

Bernays, the nephew of psychologist Sigmund Freud, is perhaps most famous for his public relations work surrounding selling lethal cigarettes to women as “freedom torches” during the era of the flappers, during the “Roaring Twenties.”

Among other things, Bernays also served as a major influence on Walter Lippman, author of the 1922 book “Public Opinion” and member of the infamous Committee on Public Information, or Creel Commission, created as a message-force-multiplier to sell American entrance into World War I to the masses, many of whom were not originally sympathetic to the cause.

The Creel Commission is also the progenitor to the modern use of psyops tactics on a mass scale, both at home and abroad.

Writing on the Creel Commission in his book “Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare 1945-1960,” historian Christopher Simpson, explained, “Psychological warfare is not new, of course … But it was not until World War I that the US government institutionalized and employed psychological warfare in the modern sense … Persuasive communication … became central to Lippman’s strategy for domestic government and international relations. He saw mass communication … as a necessary instrument for any managing elite.”

Disturbingly, the term “psychological warfare” was first utilized by the Nazis during World War II, wrote Simpson in “Science of Coercion.” “The phrase ‘psychological warfare’ is reported to have first entered English in 1941 as a translated mutation of the Nazi term Weltanschauungskrieg, (literally, worldview warfare), meaning the purportedly scientific application of propaganda, terror and state pressure as a means of securing an ideological victory over one’s enemies … Use of the term quickly became widespread throughout the US intelligence community.”

Most importantly, Simpson explained that psyops and by extension, public relations and propaganda campaigns, have always existed on a continuum, with the use of violence always on the table. He wrote that strategic planners saw “[P]eaceful engineering of consent for US aims as desirable when it worked, but the option of using violence to achieve national goals remained essential.”

Put another way, psychological warfare campaigns have, since their inception, utilized communication as a form of domination, hence titling his book the “Science of Coercion.” When one does not acquiesce to this covert coercion, overt violence is always on the table.

Blowback: Psyops and the Tools of Empire Come Home

Recent examples abound of the tools utilized on the periphery of the American Empire eventually making their way home to its core, above and beyond the gas industry’s use of psyops tactics on US citizens.

Historian Alfred McCoy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, has devoted two entire books to the topic. In his book titled “Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines and the Rise of the Surveillance State,” he writes about how the counterinsurgency surveillance techniques developed during the occupation of the Philippines from 1898 to 1913 eventually came home during World War I, including things like the mass collection of biometric data, a program recently expanded by the FBI.

Other recent examples of the tools of surveillance and coercion coming home include the following:

  • The expansion of the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, known as robotic killing machines in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, right here on the home front on the US-Mexico border, in the state of New York and in North Dakota.
  • Scholars at the Naval Postgraduate School have been training the Salinas, California, police force in use of counterinsurgency tactics to halt gang violence in the area.
  • Rolling Stone investigative journalist Michael Hastings’ revelation that the US military employed psyops tactics to convince a group of senators to provide more troops and war funding.
  • The 2010 scandal that took place in Pennsylvania, in which its state-level Department of Homeland Security was caught placing anti-fracking activists on terrorist watch lists and outsourcing the spying efforts to an Israel-based private security firm.

The tools of the HTS have also found their way home, as well. Given that the term “human terrain” was first utilized in a report by the House Un-American Activities Committee to explain the “grave threat” the Black Panthers provided for domestic stability, it is not surprising that the HTT has also made its way back home to the core of empire.

In his book “American Counterinsurgency: Human Science and the Human Terrain,” which analyzes the HTS, Gonzalez writes, “Imagine a computer program that tells its users which neighborhoods in a distant city – Baghdad, Kabul, or Islamabad – are dangerous … the program also identifies the names of people who are likely participants in the violence, as well as their addresses, fingerprints, ID photos, relatives, friends and associates. Such a program might appear beyond the realm of possibility, but the Pentagon is spending tens of millions of dollars in [this] quest.”

HTS teams collect data on the “human terrain” of the environments in which they are working and feed them to computer databases that can be accessed by all the bureaucracies of the national security state, including the CIA.

The gas industry is also building up similar databases, as has been seen through the Pennsylvania terrorist watch list incident and as was revealed at the conference in Houston by Jurat’s Aaron Goldwater. It was Goldwater, after all, who made the case at the conference that the gas industry should emulate the information gather processes of intelligence agencies and the Pentagon.

The CIA, an intricate part of the functionality of HTS, was revealed in August 2011 to be “mapping the human terrain” of New York City, according to The Associated Press (AP):

“The department has dispatched undercover officers, known as ‘rakers,’ into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They’ve monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs … The program was modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank, a former police official said.”

The Israeli program the AP is referring to is the Basel Program, which, in a nutshell, serves as a tool of colonization for Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, ruled over by Israel through a massive system of checkpoints, separation walls and roadblocks and, specific to Gaza, a military blockade by land, air and sea.

The program calls for “facial dimensions and hand geometry. Palestinians who are permitted to enter Israel are enrolled into the system and issued a magnetic biometric card. The card holds elaborate information including biometric templates and personal and security data,” according to a recent report written by the Coalition of Women for Peace, a leading Israeli feminist peace organization, dedicated to ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, and reaching a just peace in Israel/ Palestine.

It is no exaggeration to say that the tools of empire have made their way back home. To argue otherwise is a delusion.

Implications for the Future

It takes only a bit of imagination to connect the dots among all of these developments and the frightening threat they have on an ever-disappearing American democracy. This is particularly relevant given the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012, signed by President Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve 2011, while the majority of US citizens were out partying.

The American Civil Liberties Union said of the NDAA, “The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield.”

That bill allows the president to use the military on the domestic front to detain any person “who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners,” explained former CIA analyst turned antiwar activist Ray McGovern.

Who gets to determine “substantial support”, who are the “associated forces” and what exactly is “engaging in hostilities”? George Washington University Professor of Law, Jonathan Turley, was right when he called the bill “authoritarian,” as President Obama and future presidents, under the NDAA, now have sole authority to determine the answers to these questions.

Say goodbye to democracy in the United States?

Time will tell, but one thing is for certain: it is exceedingly important to put the dirty secret thought only to be shared among friends into this broader, sober context.

This article is not covered by Creative Commons policy and may not be republished without permission.

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