[latest update here]
I was busy burying my father last week, so I was unable to fully participate in the flurry of debate that greeted Sarah Boxer's Jan 18 New York Times article discussing the authenticity (or otherwise) of the Fadhil brothers' pro-US blogs at Iraq The Model (ITM) and Free Iraqi. The NYT article only skimmed the surface of my allegations against the Fadhil brothers, gently suggesting they might be working with the CIA but quickly concluding that they probably are not. So here is the full story, from my point of view, for anyone who is interested...
[UPDATE, Oct 2006: Since I first wrote this post, I have learned a lot more about how the US works. Looking back, it was naive of me to call ITM a "CIA front" - they are actually a propaganda front for the US neo-conservatives. Whether the CIA is involved or not, and whether or not the Fadhil brothers actually believe their own propaganda, is immaterial.]
It's no secret that the Iraqi blog "Iraq The Model" - run by brothers Omar, Mohammed and (till recently) Ali Fadhil - provides US neo-conservatives with a magnificent piece of public relations. The Fadhil brothers say they want to tell the world about all the good things that have been happening in Iraq since the US invasion, and they do so even while ignoring the endless violence, the growing anarchy and the horrific scandals which grab the attention of most other Iraqi bloggers. While the world was being shocked by photos from the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, for example, the Fadhil brothers were earnestly discussing the merits of the new Iraqi flag. Arch neocon Paul Wolfowitz has frequently cited the blog while urging the global media to take a more positive line on events in Iraq. In the lead-up to the 2004 US elections, two of the Fadhil brothers even met with Wolfowitz and George W. Bush in the Oval Office.
Rampantly pro-war websites regularly link to the blog as proof that ordinary Iraqis love what America is doing in Iraq, despite any number of polls showing that the Fadhil brother's views are totally out of touch with popular Iraqi thought. "Iraq The Model" is not quite the PR equivalent of the rose-petal-strewn streets that neocons once predicted would greet US troops, but it's about as good as it gets for these militant ideologues. Even the name fits snuggly with the neocon mantra that Iraq will soon become a model for other countries in the region.
If you try posting an anti-Bush or otherwise critical comment on "Iraq The Model", you will immediately be flamed by an aggressive posse of regular visitors. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, these people - many of whom claim to have relatives serving with US forces in Iraq - still believe that Saddam had WMDs and was connected with Al-Quaeda and 9/11. Try proving their fallacies wrong and you will quickly find yourself on the receiving end of a barrage of personal abuse. Try suggesting that "Iraq The Model" could be a CIA front and you will probably be banned within minutes - as I was. Your comments may also be removed, as mine often have been.
In short, "Iraq The Model" provides an online oasis for people who would rather ignore the harsh facts of daily life in Iraq under US occupation. It's the perfect information cocoon for those who - like neocon leader Douglas Feith - would rather dwell outside the "reality-based community". And it goes a long way to explaining how George W. Bush achieved four more years in office.
NOTHING BUT GOOD NEWS
I originally started posting comments at Iraq The Model in early 2004, hoping to convince pro-Bush voters to change their minds and vote against him. It wasn't long before I became suspicious of the motives of the Fadhil brothers, who had already begun receiving donations via PayPal from their US visitors.
I can accept that many Iraqis, keen to be rid of Saddam Husseins' brutal tyranny, welcomed the US invasion with open arms. And I can understand that people overwhelmed with bad news might want to set up a blog for good news stories, if only to cheer themselves up. But the Fadhil brothers' unquestioning support of all things US, coupled with their seeming disinterest in the suffering of their fellow Iraqis, was more that a little strange.
If these guys really are Iraqi dentists, I thought, why aren't they talking about the decaying state of Iraq's hospitals, or the appalling lack of medical supplies? And why do they tolerate the outrageously militant, rude, racist and otherwise abusive comments by some visitors to their blog, while banning pacifists like me who seek to engage in honest debate?
In my opinion, there was only one rational explanation. The "Iraq The Model" blog exists not for the sake of its authors or their fellow Iraqis, but for the sake of its many pro-war US visitors, who have already donated over US$10,000 to the Fadhil brothers, plus another US$14,000 for the brothers’ off-shoot political party, the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party.
So are the Fadhil brothers just a bunch of opportunistic Iraqis making money from dumb Americans, I wondered, or are more sinister forces at work? I started digging through the links at Iraq The Model to find out what was really going on…
THE SPIRIT OF AMERICA?
The first stop in my investigations was Spirit of America (S0A), the US organization that sponsored the Fadhil brothers’ trip to Washington. Spirit of America’s avowed aim is to raise money for “good news” projects in countries the USA has recently invaded. According to the Spirit of America website:
"We have no hidden agenda. Our intention is do all we can with the support of the American people so that freedom and peace prevail in places like Iraq and Afghanistan."In 2004, Spirit of America received more than $6 million in “cash and measurable donated goods” from over 11,000 donors. This included over $17,000 from Iraq The Model, which won an online fund-raising competition run by Spirit of America, called the “Friends of Iraq Blogger Challenge”. Close runners up were the notoriously right wing websites Little Green Footballs and Roger L. Simon. The Challenge raised a total of $90,177 for new Spirit of America projects.
In return for their winning efforts, the Fadhil brothers got a free “Spirit of America” baseball cap and a T-shirt. You can just imagine how popular such clothing is in downtown Baghdad these days. (Incidentally, Iraq The Model also won Best Non-American Blog at Right Wing News' "Annual Warblogger Awards").
So where does the money go? Registered as a US charity, Spirit of America does provide Iraqis with some helpful items such as tradesmen’s tools and sewing machines. But most of their efforts are what could be called “information-based”. Their most ambitious project to date is the creation of a network of “pro-democracy student groups and community organizations” called “Friends of Democracy.” Spirit of America provides these select individuals with things like “Internet access, blog hosting, copiers and paper” – everything they need to tell the world all the good news from Bush’s Iraq.
The most intriguing project under the “Friends of Democracy” umbrella is an Arabic blogging tool, which has been deployed just in time to provide international viewers with some positive coverage of the Iraqi elections. Both English- and Arab-speaking bloggers in Iraq can get free hosting in return for some surreptitious US marketing. As the Spirit of America website explains it:
“Every blog developed using the Arabic blogging tool will include space that is under the control of organizations that we work with, such as Friends of Democracy. This space or “real estate” will be a portion of the blog header (top of the page) and the left column. The organizations will use the space to promote groups, individuals and news that, in the big picture, advance freedom, democracy and peace in the region…”What’s more, the blogging service is hosted on servers controlled by Spirit of America, and both CEO Jim Hake and the Fadhil brothers have already made it clear that all material posted on the blogs will be monitored and censored.
WHAT’S THE BUZZ?
Interestingly, Spirit of America is a client of a "grassroots marketing" organization called Direct Impact. Grassroots marketing involves creating a "buzz" by getting seemingly ordinary people (or better yet, influential people) to promote a product by word-of-mouth. It is often criticized because the targeted people do not realize that what they are hearing is advertising, not genuine opinion.
Now why would a US charity working in Iraq want to sign up for such a US-based marketing campaign? And do the Fadhil brothers, or any of the regular commentors to their site, receive any money from Direct Impact marketing? The Fadhil brothers have refused to answer that question.
As I said before, it seems that Spirit of America, like the Iraq The Model blog, exists primarily for the sake of the US voters who support it, rather than for the ordinary Iraqis it purports to assist. In other words, to use CIA-speak, these projects appear to be covert US PsyOps.
When Omar and Mohammed Fadhil went to the White House to meet Bush, they were accompanied by Jim Hake, chairman and founder of Spirit Of America, plus another SoA executive, Kerry Dupont. Paul Wolfowitz was also present. Here's a first-hand account of that meeting from Spirit of America head Jim Hake himself:
About half way into the meeting the President said to Omar and Mohammed, "I want you two to know that we are going to stay until the job is done. It doesn't matter what the rest of the world says. It doesn't matter what the UN says. We are going to stay until the job is done. It's important that your country knows that." It was a powerful and moving moment.Yeah, you gotta love your private sector when it comes to making things happen for George W. Bush and the GOP…
After talking about Spirit of America, Pres. Bush turned to Omar and Mohammed and said, "You see gentlemen, that is the beauty of America. I never met this man before but he's out there helping to win this war on terror just as much as Wolfie here. That's what I believe in." He went on to talk about the importance of private-sector, grass roots initiatives like SoA.
How you feel about such Spirit of America projects in Iraq will most likely depend on how you feel about Bush’s militant adventurism in the first place. Those who support the war tend to see such work as enlightened altruism, while anti-war cynics (like me) are more likely to see it as covert fund-raising and public relations on behalf of the Bush war machine and Paul Wolfowitz's influential neo-conservative coterie.
A FORUM FOR THE NEW AMERICAN CYBER CENTURY
On with the show. Spirit of America was originally set up and supported by Cyber Century Forum (CCF), a group dedicated to spreading US influence worldwide, with a particular emphasis on covert cyber-intelligence measures. Sounds a lot like Spirit of America’s mission statement, doesn’t it?
As Jim Hake explains the relationship between Spirit of America and Cyber Century Forum:
” Cyber Century Forum, a nonprofit organization, provided the nonprofit, 501c3 status we needed to get Spirit of America off the ground. This allowed us to immediately begin operations without the expense and delay of forming a new, independent nonprofit…”The question is, why and how? What is Hake’s relationship with the people at Cyber Century Forum? What is their interest in Spirit of America?
Cyber Century Forum’s three ageing members are old guard warhorses from the Cold War days, people who were probably hiding under the desk with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush Snr. when the post-Nixon Church Commission started exposing the dark side of US foreign policy.
Diana Lady Dougan, who served as Assistant Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, is the public face of CCF, flittering from one top-level international chat-fest to another. Dougan is also on the board of directors at Qualcomm, a US company which just happens to have won the contract to deliver Iraq's lucrative new mobile phone network (despite a very questionable bidding process and Qualcomm's unpopular CDMA technology).
Dougan is currently a Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). According to Disinfopedia, CSIS is "one of those ephemeral constellations into which the luminaries of the American political establishment frequently arrange themselves in order to encourage policy to navigate by their lights". For example, a May 2003 Declaration proposes that
"the states of the European Union, which are among the richest and most powerful states in the world, should invite US government officials to attend their highest-level legislative and policy-making meetings, in order that these officials can ensure that the Europeans do not pursue policies which are independent of, or disapproved by, the American government."The CCF heavily promotes an apparently self-published book, Arab & Muslim Countries: Profiles in Contrast, which is a pastiche of information from "20 major data banks including those of the UN, World Bank, and CIA". The book is strongly endorsed by both Henry Kissenger and William H. Webster, former head of both the CIA and the FBI.
Cyber Century Forum VP and General Counsel, Tedson J. Meyers was a neo-conservative before they even invented the term. Meyers was Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the days when the FCC wielded considerable power and influence. He was appointed to the non-elected Washington D.C. City Council by President Richard M. Nixon in 1972. (Hello! Nixon, Kissenger, Reagan.... is there a pattern here?)
Snippets from ancient press clippings on Meyer's personal website boast of a "controversial memo" to JFK while Meyers was in the FCC:
...overseas telecasts should be guided along "lines most beneficial to the foreign policy of the US"Another snippet reveals Meyers' capacity for subterfuge and his early inclinations towards the neocon vision of US Empire:
"Working unofficially, Meyers prepared a plan for a Government Office of International Broadcasting to exploit the potential power of international TV and radio broadcasting in our national interest. Among his suggestions: American assistance in developing foreign broadcasting systems and introduction of US programming therein, development of low-cost transmitters and receivers for use overseas, encouragement of private American investment in overseas TV, stimulating programs which could serve our foreign policy objectives and "resolving whether it is desireable [sic] to establish criteria for the content of American programming displayed overseas - and if so, how such criteria should be determined and applied."There's also a four-page article called "The Unknown Influentials":
"these men not only implement policy, but frequently shape it..."There is only one other member of the Cyber Century Forum (according to their website) and that is G. Russell Pipe. Like Dougan, he is a member of the CSIS. He is also is deputy director of the Global Information Infrastructure Commission (GIIC), "a nongovernmental initiative to provide a framework to bridge gaps between the private and public sector for the development of information infrastructure". He is author or co-author of at least four books, including "Assessing Data Privacy in the 1990's and Beyond."
So now ask yourself: why are people like these providing financial support for a supposedly 100% humanitarian charity like Spirit of America? What's in it for them?
Oh, and why does their Forum have over $100K invested in the oil industry? That’s right, folks, oil.
Cyber Century Forum's tax return for 2003 shows that it holds $109,440 in corporate stocks from Schlumberger Ltd, "the leading oilfield services technology company supplying technology, project management and information solutions to the oil and gas industries". It also holds a further US$9,292 in stocks from Transocean Sedco Forex, the world's largest offshore drilling company. Now isn't that a big surprise? "Freedom and Democracy for Iraq", sponsored by the US oil and gas industry.
Again, the question is why? Where did these stocks come from? What is their purpose? Are corporate oil industry interests behind the motives of Cyber Century Forum? Does that explain their interest in Spirit of America, and hence Iraq The Model?
Those involved have been going to great lengths to protest that this as all pure Conspiracy Theory. Jim Hake created a new Financials page on his website to show that Spirit of America no longer has any connection to Cyber Century Forum, without ever explaining the original relationship. And his disclaimer about oil industry backing is also ambiguous:
Some have noted this and asked if the oil industry (or any other industry) exerts some special influence over our operations. The short answer is no…Short answer, Jim? Did Hake know about CCF’s investments when SoA was set up? If not, why not? When I started checking over SoA and CCF, it took me only an hour to find it. Has SoA received oil money or not? Has Hake met with oil execs? What does he know about CCF's relationship to the oil industry? Why is CCF investing money in US oil anyway? Just a bloody coincidence? Who ARE these people?
Similarly, Ali Fadhil has made strange denouncements about people who "made me feel I'm on the wrong side here” yet his response to allegations also leaves considerable room for ambiguity:
“Are the brothers now or have they ever been in any kind of American pay (beyond the largesse of their rightwing PayPal contributors)?"In dealing with questions of their authenticity, the Fadhil brothers have consistently failed to properly address the central (fact-based) questions. Here’s Omar Fadhil's one-and-only response to my allegations:
“Yes and no…”
Ghandi, everything you mentioned is true.When asked what three things Iraqis would most like from the US, Omar once said, "Support, love, and encouragement." Compare that with a Christmas wish list from Riverbend, another Iraqi blogger, which included gasoline, kerosene, landmine detectors and diesel generators. Who do YOU think is more in touch with real Iraqis?
now, could you please leave us alone.
we're the bad guys and you're an angel from heaven, does this satisfy your
beautiful sick mind?
get the fuck out of this CIA blog or I will have your brain taken out and
tested in our secret laboratories.
Omar. | Email | Homepage | 12.28.04 - 4:00 pm | #
And how about this dismissal of security fears from Mohammed Fadhil:
"People outside Iraq are more worried than the Iraqis themselves."Really? I guess that might depend on which side of the tracks you are living on in Baghdad these days. Or, if you are a Westerner, whether you choose to live inside or outside what Paul Wolfowitz and his friends call the “reality-based community.”