From: ("David Kocot")
Subject: [libs4peace] Your tax dollars at work - Saddam Hussein impersonator
Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2002 14:14:45 -0800

Wanders a bit, but very interesting nonetheless.


"Word got around the department that I was a good Arabic translator who did
a great Saddam imitation," recalls the Harvard grad student. "Eventually,
someone phoned me asking if I wanted to help change the course of Iraq
policy." So twice a week, for $3000 a month, the Iraqi student tells the
Voice on condition of anonymity, he took a taxi from his campus apartment to
a Boston-area recording studio rented by the Rendon Group, a D.C.-based
public relations firm with close ties to the U.S. government. His job:
Translate and dub spoofed Saddam Hussein speeches and tongue-in-cheek
newscasts for broadcast throughout Iraq.
"I never got a straight answer on whether the Iraqi resistance, the CIA, or
policy makers on the Hill were actually the ones calling the shots," says
the student, "but ultimately I realized that the guys doing spin were very
well funded and completely cut loose."

And that's how Baghdad's best-known oppositional radio personality was born
six years ago-during the Clinton administration. It was one of many
disinformation schemes cooked up by the Rendon Group, which has worked for
both Democratic and Republican administrations fighting the psy-op war in
the Middle East.

"The point was to discredit Saddam, but the stuff was complete slapstick,"
the student says. "We did skits where Saddam would get mixed up in his own
lies, or where [Saddam's son] Quasay would stumble over his own delusions of
grandeur." Transmissions were once a week from stations in northern Iraq and
Kuwait. "The only thing that was even remotely funny," says the student,
"were the mockeries of the royal guard and the government's clumsy attempts
to deceive arms inspectors."

The Saddam impersonator says he left Rendon not long ago out of frustration
with what he calls the lack of expertise and oversight in the project. It
was doubly frustrating, he says, because he despises Saddam, although he
adds that he never has been involved with any political party or opposition

"No one in-house spoke a word of Arabic," he says. "They thought I was
mocking Saddam, but for all they knew I could have been lambasting the U.S.
government." The scripts, he adds, were often ill conceived. "Who in Iraq is
going to think it's funny to poke fun at Saddam's mustache," the student
notes, "when the vast majority of Iraqi men themselves have mustaches?"

There were other basic problems, too. Some of the announcers hired for the
radio broadcasts, he says, were Egyptians and Jordanians, whose Arabic
accents couldn't be understood by Iraqis. "Friends in Baghdad said the radio
broadcasts were a complete mumble," the student says. One CIA agent familiar
with the project calls the project's problem a lack of "due diligence," and
adds, "The scripts were put together by 23-year-olds with connections to the
Democratic National Committee."

Despite the fumbling navet of some of its operations, the Rendon Group is
no novice in the field. For decades, when U.S. bombs have dropped or foreign
leaders have been felled, the PR shop has been on the scene, just far enough
to stay out of harm's way, but just close enough to keep the spin cycle
going. As Franklin Foer reported in The New Republic, during the campaign
against Panama's Manuel Noriega in 1989, Rendon's command post sat downtown
in a high-rise. In 1991, during the Gulf War, Rendon operatives hunkered
down in Taif, Saudi Arabia, clocking billable hours on a Kuwaiti emir's
dole. In Afghanistan, founder John Rendon joined a 9:30 conference call
every morning with top-level Pentagon officials to set the day's war
message. Rendon operatives haven't missed a trip yet-Haiti, Kosovo,
Zimbabwe, Colombia.

The firm is tight-lipped, however, about its current projects. A
spokesperson refuses to say whether Rendon is doing any work in preparation
for the potential upcoming invasion of Iraq. But a current Rendon Arabic
translator tells the Voice, "All I can say is that nothing has changed-the
work is still an expensive waste of time, mostly with taxpayer funds."

However, Rendon may just prove to be one step ahead of the game. If Saddam
is toppled, a Rendon creation is standing by to try to take his place. The
Iraqi National Congress (INC), a disparate coalition of Iraqi dissidents
touted by the U.S. government as the best hope for an anti-Saddam coup, has
gotten the go-ahead from U.S. officials to arm and train a military force
for invasion. The INC is one of the few names you'll hear if reporters
bother to press government officials on what would come after Saddam.

At the helm of the INC is Ahmed Chalabi, a U.S.-trained mathematician who
reportedly fled from Jordan in 1989 in the trunk of a car after the collapse
of a bank he established. He was subsequently charged and sentenced in
absentia to 22 years in prison for embezzlement. Back home in Iraq, he's
referred to by some as the so-called limousine insurgent, and is said to
hold little actual standing with the Iraqi public. Shuttling between London
and D.C., Chalabi hasn't been in Iraq in more than 20 years, and draws "more
support on the Potomac than the Euphrates," says Iraq specialist Andrew
Parasiliti of the Middle East Institute.

"Were it not for Rendon," a State Department official tells the Voice, "the
Chalabi group wouldn't even be on the map."

With funding first from the CIA throughout the 1990s and more recently the
Pentagon, Rendon managed the INC's every move, an INC spokesperson
acknowledges, even choosing its name, coordinating its annual strategy
conferences, and orchestrating its meetings with diplomatic heavy hitters
such as James Baker and Brent Scowcroft.

Not that the Rendon Group was the first purveyor of psy-op tactics for
promoting U.S. foreign policy in the region. In fact, some of the most
impressive spin maneuvers occurred during the Gulf War in 1991, the lessons
of which are particularly pertinent as the U.S. again gears up.

Most notorious was the work of PR giant Hill & Knowlton (for which current
Pentagon spokesperson Torie Clarke worked after she was an aide to John
McCain and Bush's dad). Subsidized by the Kuwaiti royal family, H&K
dedicated 119 executives in 12 offices across the country to the job of
drumming up support within the United States for the '91 war. It was an
all-out blitz: distributing tens of thousands of "Free Kuwait" T-shirts and
bumper stickers at colleges and setting up observances such as National
Kuwait Day and National Student Information Day. H&K also mailed 200,000
copies of a book titled The Rape of Kuwait to American troops stationed in
the Middle East. The firm also massaged reporters, arranging interviews with
handpicked Kuwaiti emissaries and dispatching footage of burning wells and
oil-slicked birds washed ashore.

But nothing quite compared to H&K's now infamous "baby atrocities" campaign.
After convening a number of focus groups to try to figure out which buttons
to press to make the public respond, H&K determined that presentations
involving the mistreatment of infants, a tactic drawn straight from W.R.
Hearst's playbook of the Spanish-American War, got the best reaction. So on
October 10, 1990, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus held a hearing on
Capitol Hill at which H&K, in coordination with California Democrat Tom
Lantos and Illinois Republican John Porter, introduced a 15-year-old Kuwaiti
girl named Nayirah. (Purportedly to safeguard against Iraqi reprisals,
Nayirah's full name was not disclosed.) Weeping and shaking, the girl
described a horrifying scene in Kuwait City. "I volunteered at the al-Addan
hospital," she testified. "While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers coming
into the hospital with guns and going into the room where 15 babies were in
incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators,
and left the babies on the cold floor to die." Allegedly, 312 infants were

The tale got wide circulation, even winding up on the floor of the United
Nations Security Council. Before Congress gave the green light to go to war,
seven of the main pro-war senators brought up the baby-incubator allegations
as a major component of their argument for passing the resolution to unleash
the bombers. Ultimately, the motion for war passed by a narrow five-vote

Only later was it discovered that the testimony was untrue. H&K had failed
to reveal that Nayirah was not only a member of the Kuwaiti royal family,
but also that her father, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, was Kuwait's ambassador to
the U.S. H&K had prepped Nayirah in her presentation, according to Harper's
publisher John R. MacArthur's book Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda
in the Gulf War. Of the seven other witnesses who stepped up to the podium
that day, five had been prepped by H&K and had used false names. When human
rights organizations investigated later, they could not find that Nayirah
had any connection to the hospital. Amnesty International, among those
originally duped, eventually issued an embarrassing retraction.

When asked if it acknowledges the incubator story as a deception, H&K's
media liaison, Suzanne Laurita, only responded, "The company has nothing to
say on this matter." Pushed further on whether such deception was considered
part of the public relations industry, she reiterated, "Please know again
that this falls into the realm that the agency has no wish to confirm, deny,
comment on."

Years later, Scowcroft, the national security adviser at the time, concluded
that the tale was surely "useful in mobilizing public opinion."

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