The Masters of the Lie
Trust us we'er from the Government.
Checks in the mail.
I won't *** in your mouth.
Propaganda - Disinformation
The Masters of the Lie
by William M. Arkin
Originally published - Monday, Feb. 1, 1999
"...we are going to overthrow the United States government." So begins a statement being delivered by Gen. Carl W. Steiner, former Commander-in-chief, U.S. Special Operations Command.
At least the voice sounds amazingly like him.
But it is not Steiner. It is the result of voice "morphing" technology developed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
By taking just a 10-minute digital recording of Steiner's voice, scientist George Papcun is able, in near real time, to clone speech patterns and develop an accurate facsimile. Steiner was so impressed, he asked for a copy of the
Steiner was hardly the first or last victim to be spoofed by Papcun's team
members. To refine their method, they took various high quality recordings
of generals and experimented with creating fake statements. One of the most
memorable is Colin Powell stating "I am being treated well by my captors."
"They chose to have him say something he would never otherwise have said,"
chuckled one of Papcun's colleagues.
A Box of Chocolates is Like War
Most Americans were introduced to the tricks of the digital age in the movie
Forrest Gump, when the character played by Tom Hanks appeared to shake hands
with President Kennedy.
For Hollywood, it is special effects. For covert operators in the U.S. military
and intelligence agencies, it is a weapon of the future.
"Once you can take any kind of information and reduce it into ones and zeros,
you can do some pretty interesting things," says Daniel T. Kuehl, chairman
of the Information Operations department of the National Defense University
in Washington, the military's school for information warfare.
Digital morphing — voice, video, and photo — has come of
age, available for use in psychological operations. PSYOPS, as the military
calls it, seek to exploit human vulnerabilities in enemy governments, militaries
and populations to pursue national and battlefield objectives.
To some, PSYOPS is a backwater military discipline of leaflet dropping and
radio propaganda. To a growing group of information war technologists, it
is the nexus of fantasy and reality. Being able to manufacture convincing
audio or video, they say, might be the difference in a successful military
operation or coup.
Allah on the Holodeck
Pentagon planners started to discuss digital morphing after Iraq's invasion
of Kuwait in 1990. Covert operators kicked around the idea of creating a
computer-faked videotape of Saddam Hussein crying or showing other such manly
weaknesses, or in some sexually compromising situation. The nascent plan
was for the tapes to be flooded into Iraq and the Arab world.
The tape war never proceeded, killed, participants say, by bureaucratic fights
over jurisdiction, skepticism over the technology, and concerns raised by
Arab coalition partners.
But the "strategic" PSYOPS scheming didn't die. What if the U.S. projected
a holographic image of Allah floating over Baghdad urging the Iraqi people
and Army to rise up against Saddam, a senior Air Force officer asked in 1990?
According to a military physicist given the task of looking into the hologram
idea, the feasibility had been established of projecting large, three-dimensional
objects that appeared to float in the air.
But doing so over the skies of Iraq? To project such a hologram over Baghdad
on the order of several hundred feet, they calculated, would take a mirror
more than a mile square in space, as well as huge projectors and power sources.
And besides, investigators came back, what does Allah look like?
The Gulf War hologram story might be dismissed were it not the case that
washingtonpost.com has learned that a super secret program was established
in 1994 to pursue the very technology for PSYOPS application. The "Holographic
Projector" is described in a classified Air Force document as a system to
"project information power from space ... for special operations deception
War is Like a Box of Chocolates
Voice-morphing? Fake video? Holographic projection? They sound more like
Mission Impossible and Star Trek gimmicks than weapons. Yet for each, there
are corresponding and growing research efforts as the technologies improve
and offensive information warfare expands.
Whereas early voice morphing required cutting and pasting speech to put letters
or words together to make a composite, Papcun's software developed at Los
Alamos can far more accurately replicate the way one actually speaks. Eliminated
are the robotic intonations.
The irony is that after Papcun finished his speech cloning research, there
were no takers in the military. Luckily for him, Hollywood is interested:
The promise of creating a virtual Clark Gable is mightier than the sword.
Video and photo manipulation has already raised profound questions of
authenticity for the journalistic world. With audio joining the mix, it is
not only journalists but also privacy advocates and the conspiracy-minded
who will no doubt ponder the worrisome mischief that lurks in the not too
"We already know that seeing isn't necessarily believing," says Dan Kuehl,
"now I guess hearing isn't either."
William M. Arkin, author of "The U.S. Military Online," is a leading expert
on national security and the Internet. He lectures and writes on nuclear
weapons, military matters and information warfare. An Army intelligence analyst
from 1974-1978, Arkin currently consults for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive,
MSNBC and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
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