Revelations of the U.S. National Security Agency’s large-scale interception of Internet and telephone connections (PRISM) should not have come as any surprise. Estimates of NSA’s secret budget of at least $10 billion should have told us long ago it was involved in some sophisticated spying activities.
We knew some time ago about ECHELON — the global network linking the Anglo-Saxon nations in a decoding operation aimed at the secret diplomatic and other communications of other nations, including friends. That has been going on for more than 40 years now and many of those targeted — Japan included — have yet to realize how their codes can be penetrated.
But that is only one side of the information war. Efforts to find out what we are thinking are matched by efforts to tell us what we should be thinking. Programs to disseminate black or gray information have been around for a long time. Bogus news agencies (for much of the Vietnam War the British were running one called Forum Features), planted stories, biased or bought correspondents, academics and other pundits have combined to spread distorted information about imagined enemies.
The former Soviet Union used to be a favorite target. Recently China has come back into the limelight.
With India now being courted as a potential member of an anti-China club we are hearing much about China’s alleged 1962 border attack on India. Yes, there was a brief military action. The only problem with the black-information version is that it was India, not China, that did the attacking.
I was working in Canberra’s China section at the time and had access to all the relevant maps and documents. It was clear that the very limited Chinese attack had followed some very foolish Indian military incursions across a very generous (to India) line of control that China was scrupulously observing prior to a final border agreement (all this has been confirmed in former London Times New Delhi correspondent Neville Maxwell’s excellent book “India’s China War”). But that did not stop Canberra and others setting out to condemn China’s “aggression.” The black-information people have been hammering that line ever since.
That particular black-information success, which was to lead to the myth of China’s inherent aggressiveness, in turn led to the U.S./Australian decision to intervene in Vietnam to stop Chinese “aggressive expansionism.” A lot of people were to die as a result.
But the granddaddy of all the anti-China black-information operations has to be the false version of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square incident. For some years this version had us believe that hundreds, if not thousands, of democracy-seeking Chinese students were mowed down with machine guns in the square by a brutal regime.
When some foreign witnesses emerged to say they were in the square all that night and saw nothing, the story was changed to a massacre of students near the square.
Meanwhile, the true story, found in the messages from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing at the time and available on the Internet, is very different. This says that Beijing, having tolerated the student takeover of its iconic square for six weeks, had finally tried to send in unarmed or lightly armed troops to remove the remaining students peacefully, only to be rebuffed by angry anti-regime crowds that had built up on the roads leading to the square.
When armed troops were then sent in, the crowds attacked with firebombs incinerating many in their vehicles. Some rogue units then went on a rampage and the alleged “massacre” was in fact the revenge wreaked by those units on the citizen and student crowds still trying to block their entrance.
So whence the machine gun massacre story? Fortunately the former Washington Post correspondent in Beijing at the time, Jay Williams, has done the research, published in the Columbia Journalism Review, pinpointing its origins to a full-page article in a pro-British Hong Kong newspaper written by an alleged student participant. Front-paged by an unsuspecting New York Times, the “machine gun massacre” story rapidly criss-crossed the globe to become accepted as fact. An attempt by the New York Times reporter on the scene, Nicholas Kristof, to tone down the distortions was relegated to Page 13. Meanwhile the alleged “student participant” promptly disappeared.
As the Williams report points out, the irony in all this is that the world media managed to miss the much larger story — namely a mass revolt by citizens angered by decades of the Cultural Revolution and other ideological insanities still not fully corrected by the reformist Deng Xiaoping regime. This in turn explains why Beijing today is so anxious to have the world forget about the incident. No self-respecting communist regime can admit it was attacked by its citizens. But this then allows the black-information people to use Beijing’s silence as proof it lacks repentance for the massacre.
These people have since gone on to an even greater heights with the myth of Iraq weapons of mass destruction. They show little repentance for the death and misery caused by that success.
They are now involved in giving us the one-sided, gray-information version of the Japan-China confrontation over the Senkaku Islands. Here the key issue surely is Beijing’s anger over Tokyo’s denial of a verbal 1972 agreement to shelve the island ownership issue. Instead, we are told it is more proof of the Chinese expansionism that began with India in 1962.
We are told much about Beijing’s expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea. But it was the Republic of China regime, later exiled to Taiwan, that first made these claims, and they were reinforced by none other than Tokyo itself in its 1952 peace treaty with the ROC when it granted ownership of the two main island groups there, the Spratleys and the Paracels, to that regime.
Until very recently Taiwan showed much more zeal than Beijing in seeking to pressure Japan over the Senkakus; it was Taiwan in 1971 that successfully lobbied the U.S. to exclude the Senkakus from the Okinawan territories whose sovereignty was to be returned to Japan (the U.S. agreed only to the return of administrative control).
Beijing’s very limited revival of some other ROC territorial claims, toward India for example, are also portrayed as new Beijing expansionism. So the game goes on.
We still live in a world still highly vulnerable to black- and gray-information activities. It is this, far more than NSA snooping, that demands attention.
Gregory Clark is a long-time Japan resident and former Australian diplomat. A Japanese translation of this article will appear on www.gregoryclark.net.