How US Propaganda Plays in Syrian War

U.S. foreign policymakers have experimented at planting propaganda in social media and then citing it as evidence to support their goals, a process now playing out in the Syrian “regime change,” as Rick Sterling explains.

By Rick Sterling

Manipulation of public perception has risen to a new level with the emergence of powerful social media. Multibillion-dollar corporate giants, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, influence public perceptions, often via payments for “boosting” Facebook posts, paid promotion of Tweets, and biased results from search engines.

Marketing and advertising companies use social media to promote their clients, but so do U.S. foreign policy managers who hire or enlist these companies to influence public perceptions to support U.S. foreign policy goals.

A heart-rending propaganda image designed to justify a major U.S. military operation inside Syria against the Syrian military.

A heart-rending propaganda image designed to justify a “no-fly zone,” a major U.S. military operation inside Syria against the Syrian military.

For example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described making sure that Twitter was primed for street protests in Iran following the 2009 election, ready to spread and manage news of protests following the election and the killing of a young woman, which was blamed on the Iranian government although the circumstances of her death were murky. [Hard Choices hardback, p 423]

The results of similar media manipulation can be seen in the widespread misunderstanding of the conflict in Syria, amid the demonization of the Syrian government and leadership and the skillful use of social media by anti-government activists. Influenced by both mainstream and this alternative media, most people in the West do not know that Bashar al-Assad remains popular with many Syrians. Nor do they realize that Assad won an election two years ago.

There were three contestants in the Syrian presidential election of June 2014. Turnout was 73 percent of the registered voters, with 88 percent voting for Assad. In Beirut, the streets were clogged with tens of thousands of Syrian refugees marching through the city to vote at the Syrian Embassy. Hundreds of Syrian citizens living in the U.S. and other Western countries flew to Syria to vote because Syrian Embassies in Washington and other Western capitals were shut down.

While Secretary of State John Kerry was condemning the Syrian election as a “farce” before it had even happened, a marketing company known as The Syria Campaign waged a campaign to block knowledge of the Syrian election. Along with demonizing President Assad, the company launched a campaign which led to Facebook censoring information about the Syrian election.

Incubating Propaganda

The Syria Campaign was created by a larger company named “Purpose,” which – according to its website – “incubated” The Syria Campaign. The company’s website says, “Purpose creates new movements, brands and organizations from the ground up to address complex global challenges. We apply this experience as movement creators to our work with progressive companies, nonprofits and philanthropies, helping them to put purpose and participation at the heart of what they do.”

Smoke billows skyward as homes and buildings are shelled in the city of Homs, Syria. June 9, 2012. (Photo from the United Nations)

Smoke billows skyward as homes and buildings are shelled in the city of Homs, Syria. June 9, 2012. (Photo from the United Nations)

The major achievement of The Syria Campaign has been the branding and promotion of the “White Helmets,” also known as “Syria Civil Defense,” which began with a British military contractor, James LeMesurier, giving some rescue training to Syrians in Turkey with funding provided by the U.S. and U.K. The group stole this name from the REAL Syria Civil Defense as documented in this recent report from Aleppo.

The “White Helmets” are marketed in the West as civilian volunteers doing rescue work. On Sept. 22, it was announced that the Right Livelihood Award , the so-called “Alternative Nobel Prize,” is being given to the U.S./U.K.-created White Helmets “for their outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement in rescuing civilians from the destruction of the Syrian civil war.” 

But the White Helmets are largely a propaganda tool promoting Western intervention against Syria. Unlike a legitimate rescue organization such as the Red Cross or Red Crescent, the “White Helmets” only work in areas controlled by the armed opposition. As shown in this video, the White Helmets pick up the bodies of individuals executed by the terrorists; they claim to be unarmed but are not; and they falsely claim to be neutral.

Many of the videos from Al Qaeda/terrorist-dominated areas of Syria have the “White Helmets” logo because the White Helmets work in alliance with these extremist groups as primarily a media marketing tool to raise public support for continuing the support to the armed opposition as well as the demonization of the Syrian government. 

The Rights Livelihood press release said the White Helmets “remain outspoken in calling for an end to hostilities in the country.” But that is false, too. The White Helmets actively call for U.S./NATO military intervention through a “No Fly Zone,” which would begin with attacks upon and destruction of government anti-aircraft positions and aircraft.

A Major Act of War

Taking over the skies above another country is an act of war that would require a major U.S. military operation, according to senior American generals.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The New York Times reported that in 2012 General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the White House that imposing a no-fly zone in Syria would require up to 70,000 American servicemen to destroy Syria’s antiaircraft system and then impose round-the-clock control over Syrian airspace.

General Carter Ham, former commander of the U.S. Africa Command who oversaw the aerial attacks on Libya in 2011, said on CBS News that “I worry sometimes that, when people say ‘impose a no-fly zone,’ there is this almost antiseptic view that this is an easily accomplished military task. It’s extraordinarily difficult. …

“It first entails — we should make no bones about it. It first entails killing a lot of people and destroying the Syrian air defenses and those people who are manning those systems. And then it entails destroying the Syrian air force, preferably on the ground, in the air if necessary. This is a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties and increased risk to our own personnel.”

In other words, an appeal for a “no-fly zone” is not a call for a non-violent solution. It is seeking a bloody act of war by the United States against Syria, a nation that poses no threat to America. It also would almost surely be carried out in violation of international law since a United Nations Security Council resolution would face vetoes from Russia and probably China.

Also, the White Helmets have never criticized or called for the end of funding to extremist organizations including Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. On the contrary, White Helmets are generally embedded with this organization which is defined as “terrorist” by even the U.S., which is likely why the head of the White Helmets, Raed Saleh, was denied entry to the U.S.

The foreign and marketing company origins of the White Helmets were exposed over 1½ years ago – and since then, writer Vanessa Beeley has revealed the organization in more depth in articles such as “Who Are the White Helmets?” and “War by Way of Deception.” 

Despite these exposés, understanding of the White Helmets is limited, with many liberal and progressive people uncritically accepting the propaganda and misinformation about Syria. Much of the progressive media has effectively blocked or censored critical examinations amid a flood of propaganda about “barrel bombs” dropped by the “brutal dictator” and his “regime.” 

In the last week, Netflix started showing a 40-minute documentary movie about the “White Helmets” that amounts to a promotional video. A substantial portion of it takes place in Turkey where we see trainees in hotel rooms making impassioned phone calls to inquire about their families in Syria. 

The “family values” theme is evident throughout, a good marketing angle. The political message of the video is also clear: after a bombing attack, “It’s the Russians …. they say they are fighting ISIS but they are targeting civilians.”

The movie includes video previously promoted by the White Helmets such as the “Miracle Baby” rescue, an incident that may or may not have been staged. The video includes self-promoting proclamations such as “You are real heroes.” While no doubt there are some real rescues in the midst of war, many of the videos purporting to show the heroes at work have an unrealistic and contrived look to them as revealed here.

Tricking Progressives

“Alternative media” in the West has echoed mainstream media regarding the Syria conflict. The result is that many progressive individuals and groups are confused or worse. For example, the activist group CodePink recently issued a media release promoting the Netflix White Helmets propaganda video. 

U.S.-backed Syrian "moderate" rebels smile as they prepare to behead a 12-year-old boy (left), whose severed head is held aloft triumphantly in a later part of the video. [Screenshot from the  YouTube video]

U.S.-backed Syrian “moderate” rebels smile as they prepare to behead a 12-year-old boy (left), whose severed head is held aloft triumphantly in a later part of the video. [Screenshot from the YouTube video]

The White Helmets video is produced by Grain Media and Violet Films/Ultra-Violet Consulting, which advertises itself as a marketing corporation specializing in social media management, grant writing, crowd building and campaign implementation. The only question is who paid them to produce this video. 

There is growing resistance to this manipulation and deception. In response to a petition to give the Nobel Peace Prize to the White Helmets, there is a counter petition at Following the Right Livelihood Awards’ announcement, there will soon be a petition demanding retraction of the award to the White Helmets.

The story of the White Helmets is principally a “feel good” hoax to manipulate public perception about the conflict in Syria and continue the drive for “regime change.” That’s why big money was paid to “Purpose” to “incubate” The Syria Campaign to brand and promote the White Helmets using Facebook, Twitter, etc. That’s why more big money was paid to create a self-promotional documentary. 

The judges at Rights Livelihood were probably influenced by the documentary since critical examination of facts around Syria is so rare. It’s a sad commentary on the media. As veteran war correspondent Stephen Kinzer recently wrote, “Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press.”

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist and member of Syria Solidarity Movement

17 comments for “How US Propaganda Plays in Syrian War

  1. Linda Jones
    September 24, 2016 at 11:27

    How about this piece from BBC today: Major headline: “Air strikes leave Aleppo without water”. Two million people in Aleppo are reported to be without water due to air strikes. You have to read this report very carefully with some background knowledge of the situation to make sense of what looks like a deliberately confusing story.

    Air strikes of course, means Assad/Russians. You are obviously meant to understand that regime bombing cut water supplies to two million people in Aleppo. However, since the Government controls most of Aleppo, containing about 1,5 million and rebel-held areas are usually said to contain ca 200,000, for Assad to deprive two million people of water in Aleppo would have to mean that Assad bombed his own government-held areas of Aleppo.

    In fact, what Kieran Dwyer of Unicef actually said (quoted in the report) was “The pumping station supplying rebel-held parts of Aleppo was damaged on Thursday and subsequent strikes had made repairs impossible, Mr Dwyer told the BBC.” “That pumping station pumps water to the entire population of the eastern part of city – that’s at least 200,000 people and then in retaliation for that attack a nearby pumping station that pumps water to the entire western part of the city – upwards to 1.5 million people – was deliberately switched off.”

    Since the current BBC narrative rarely acknowledges that most of Aleppo is in government hands (reports on “Aleppo” generally only refer only to rebel-held Aleppo) most readers will not understand this unclarified use of the passive voice in the phrase “the pumping station…was deliberately switched off”. It avoids mentioning exactly who switched off the water supplies to the 1.5 million people in Government-held Aleppo. Presumably, the rebels switched it off, as Kieran Dwyer said, “in retaliation” for government air strikes that damaged water supplies in rebel-held Aleppo.

  2. Dorothy Hoobler
    September 24, 2016 at 10:48

    The New York TImes is in Iraq mode. It isn’t honest mistakes but just a gutter prejudice and a desire for the destruction of Syria. Obviously, Syria has done absolutely nothing to us. Damascus is the oldest capital in the world – a thousand years older than Jerusalem. These US actions int he Middle East that have destoyed human life and treasures will dishonor our country forever. It is so tragic that both parties are both corrupt and murderous. Jill Stein is against these wars and should get more coverage than she does. People should have some choice.

    Many, many thanks to Robert Perry and Consortiumnews for refusing to go along with the program.

    • Brad Owen
      September 25, 2016 at 06:51

      Thank you for mentioning Dr. Stein. I’ve abandoned the D-Party because they’ve abandoned me, to embrace Deep State/MIC/Wall Street Oligarchy, corruption, bribery, murder. People should rally ’round the Greens’ Banner. Any decent Dems should renounce their Party membership, its’ funding sources, and, IN PLACE, while holding office, JOIN the Green Party. It’s what Bernie should have done (and probably will do, down the road, or simply retire). The R-Party is even more despicable. Any decent Repubs (if there is such a thing) should also renounce R-Party membership & funds, and, WHILE IN OFFICE, JOIN the Libertarian Party which also takes a dim view of war…they probably would be open to the constant offers from the BRICS, to the U.S., to JOIN with them in “win-win” great development projects around the World, as would the Greens naturally, INSTEAD OF “war-war” insanity.

  3. col from oz
    September 24, 2016 at 08:19

    This pic and video is a setup. Made by white hats a US/UK financed propaganda unit. Its not a civil war as many combatants are not indigenous. See the video and see blue shirt man mahmoud raslan.The man credited with taking the pic world wide in such publications NEW YORK TIMES Washington post ect. Despite his denials he friends/ facebook, with a group of men who beheaded a Palestine boy.
    This could be over very soon if certain actors change their policy, guess who?
    The president of Syria (they do have one ) has over 70 percent of the population supporting him and who known majority Sunni plus minorities. These people don’t want be beheaded..

  4. Zachary Smith
    September 23, 2016 at 23:12

    I knew of another Code Pink story praising the White Helmets and linking to that organization’s “donate” page, but for some odd reason Google Search couldn’t find it, despite my using the exact title as a search term. Had to go to DuckDuckGo to locate the link.

    So there are two things going on here – Google is hiding some news that corporation prefers not to be visible, and Code Pink managers are gullible beyond belief.

    The neocons seem to be holding all the high cards at the moment, and I can’t think of a better person to blame than Barack Hussein Obama.

    • b.grand
      September 24, 2016 at 02:02

      Thank you for posting that link. Code Pink gullible? Maybe some of the small fry, but Medea & Co. have been around long enough to know a regime-change psy-op when they see one, and sorry to say, they are one.

      Medea was hot and heavy against Gaddafi, and she’s been anti-Assad since 2011 (at least). A little hard to figure their game: do they really believe in ruining countries for gay parades and pussy-riot feminism? They seem to do some good things. Are we supposed to believe they’re so stupid they don’t see the consequences of their misguided positions? The tragic thing is that their groupies fall in line with the Code Pink (mantra of the day) position..

      I’m kind of hyped up about the question of bad leadership because this week Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace declared Miko Peled an anti-Semite who should be cast out of the Palestine solidarity community. (Kinda like she did to Alison Weir last year.) That’s how you divide the movement and preserve Jewish exceptionalism, (Just to be clear, I’m huge fan of Miko.)

      • Stefan
        September 24, 2016 at 07:42

        Medea and Co are like Democracy Later (Who were also for USA bombing Syria in 2013). Democracy Later-Amy Goodman rallied for USA to launch cruise missiles at Syria. These type of organisations try to catch the more critical “anti war” activist, who isn’t as easily persuaded by the rhetoric of the usual humanitarian bombers.

        Actually, Norman Finkelstein also signed on to urge USA to bomb Syria in 2013. It is all on record and online.
        All under the guise of “humanitarian” concerns.

        • bobzz
          September 24, 2016 at 13:51

          I would like to see the links on DN and Finkelstein for this info.

        • yossarian
          September 24, 2016 at 16:18

          Democracy never, truthout, truthdig, npr, moveon,org, etc. = democan party lite propagandists hiding behind a false veneer of impartiality. “Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news.” .

    • Leonard
      October 3, 2016 at 08:20

      This page is hard to find. Where is it?

      From, we see 183, 184, 185
      and 187, 188, 189
      but not 186.

      So, what is in this page 186?

  5. J Vodic
    September 23, 2016 at 21:56

    Why won’t Syria declare its sovereignty? If not invited leave Syria now or be shot. You are invading.
    Would it be ok if Iranian Revolutionary Guard stopped by US Shores uninvited?

    Why? Why? Why Syria? You are justified.

  6. September 23, 2016 at 21:35

    The U.S. Middle Eastern policy under George Bush is appalling. But more astounding is that both Obama and Clinton rigorously endorsed it which was the complete opposite for ending war in the Middle East. They carried it out with zeal. The fact that America had already invaded the sovereign country of Iraq and that the fierce resistance from Iraqi’s patriots (later to become Isis) did not seem to deter their ambitions to destroy any and all legal secular governments in the Middle East.
    Why Clinton is even allowed to run for office baffling. But as the international ‘Global Company’ as well as others who donate to the Clinton foundation the war is sure to continue. And ISIS with other terrorist organizations will always have ammunition to destroy democratically elected governments, like Syria.
    It’s clear that the United States is arming the ‘terrorist’ Syrian rebels who are destroying that country’s infrastructure. A direct violation to Bush’s statement that America would not support terrorist organizations.
    The results are tragic, resulting in a refugee crisis. Terrorists can disguise themselves as victims of the war and infiltrate Europe to help build new cells. Just like the mercenary armies that infiltrated Syria and dug themselves in before Syria’s army was mobilized, the EU will be taken by surprise.
    Hopefully, Donald Trump will win the election and stop this madness. He will with support from Americans will help rebuild cities and towns there so that the refugees can be taken back home.

    • September 28, 2016 at 19:02

      Glad you see through their subterfuge…they DID create the BOGUS refugee crisis…and directed the refugees North…not South/East/South west…go back to Kosovo and ask yourself “How long has this been in the works?” But I digress…besides directing said refugees (mainly able bodied males) North they are transporting same to North America, on our dime, and ‘strategically/tactically locating them ACROSS the continent. Hope you feel SAFE!!!

  7. John
    September 23, 2016 at 20:18

    USA a nation of cowards ! The citizens do not want to get involved…..oh wait I’m getting a call on my i-phone, the party is on ,talk to you later…..maybe I post something somewhere …..see you tomorrow, can’t be late for the party : )

  8. Joe B
    September 23, 2016 at 18:08

    I think that the problem of major social media influencing public perceptions “via payments for ‘boosting’ Facebook posts, paid promotion of Tweets, and biased results from search engines” is far worse than presently acknowledged. Google and Amazon actively promote or suppress books by political preference, and Google is now getting involved in piracy of copyrighted material, hiring the staff of companies sued for just that. They simultaneously profit from suppressed material and deprive the owners of ordinary compensation.

  9. Tom Welsh
    September 23, 2016 at 16:53

    “General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the White House that imposing a no-fly zone in Syria would require up to 70,000 American servicemen to destroy Syria’s antiaircraft system and then impose round-the-clock control over Syrian airspace”.

    Good luck destroying Syria’s RUSSIAN antiaircraft systems. And the RUSSIAN ships standing off the coast. And the RUSSIAN aircraft based in and near Syria. Any serious attempt at that would be the end of the road for yet another species that very nearly achieved intelligence.

    • jaycee
      September 23, 2016 at 18:33

      New JCS Chairman Dunford updated the price of a Syria no fly zone just yesterday. Appearing before a Congressional panel he said “control of the skies” over Syria would require going to war against both Syria and Russia.

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