Earlier this year, the US administration floated the idea of an "Office of Strategic Influence", a propaganda ministry whose job it would be to plant false stories in the press, home and abroad.
Thanks to several beautiful constitutional instruments, the United States frowns on such taxpayer sponsored boondoggles, and this was the first time the American government had proposed a department to lie on its citizens behalf.
The outcry was swift and enormous: government is a duty that should be lightly held, with interference kept to a minimum, and career bureaucrats such as Rumsfeld ought not feather their terms of office by creating such ominous and deceptive institutions.
Well, OK, he replied, and the idea was swiftly forgotten.
And there it lay, until some pesky reporter from the Federation of American Scientists temporarily lapsed from his patriotic duty of warblogging, and asked if the organization really existed?
This provoked an astonishing reply:-
"And then there was the Office of Strategic Influence. You may recall that. And 'oh my goodness gracious isn't that terrible, Henny Penny the sky is going to fall.' I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing, fine, I'll give you the corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have."
His comments went unreported, and until Monday, when the New York Times provided specifics of the "vigorous and creative" propaganda we can expect [here], the disinformation project had gone ignored. (A search through Google News reveals only one article mentioning the subject.)
Britain has no such constitutional protections. In the 1980s, it was enthusiastically arming the Iraqi regime while telling parliament and the public that no policy change had taken place, and two prime ministers - each claiming amnesia or ignorance - were absolved of responsibility in the resulting scandal.
Thanks to the excellent web weekly WW3 Report for spotting this, and posing the following question:-
"This raises the logical dilemma of whether an agency which admits to lying can be believed when it says it doesn't exist. Is the agency's supposed non-existence the first piece of disinformation?" ®