CIA Launches PR Push
By Staff News & Analysis - February 09, 2011

The CIA has launched a revamped website with links to YouTube and Flickr to help the public better understand the spy agency's often clandestine work, officials said. "The idea behind these improvements is to make more information about the Agency available to more people, more easily," CIA Director Leon Panetta (left) said in a statement on Monday. "The CIA wants the American people and the world to understand its mission and its vital role in keeping our country safe," he said. Although the Central Intelligence Agency's mission has always hinged on secrecy, the spy service is conscious of its public image — partly for recruiting reasons — and in recent years has added games and links for children on its website. – AFP

Dominant Social Theme: The good guys wear white hats and are too-often misunderstood.

Free-Market Analysis: Another yelp of discomfort from America's massive intel community. The 21st century has not been especially supportive when it comes to Washington's 16 separate spy agencies and the decade-old Homeland Security behemoth that now squats malevolently in the middle of Washington DC (metaphorically, anyway). The Internet itself has exposed much about the 20th century that was hidden and made the Anglosphere's intelligence narrative increasingly questionable. No wonder the CIA wants some good press, even if it has to create a PR campaign to get it.

The idea of course is that America needs hundreds of thousands of spies (or support-spies) because it is under attack by Al Qaeda. But this narrative is increasingly difficult to reinforce in an era where Al Qaeda has perhaps 100 fighters in Afghanistan and most of the "attacks" on American soil inevitably have some FBI/intel involvement (domestic terrorists having been effectively facilitated by the resources of the same government that will then prosecute them).

Does CIA research shows that it can sway US citizens in its favor and thus gain benefits of good will? Would this include additional government funding at a time when legislators are inclined to be parsimonious? If so, this becomes one more indication that America's agencies are well aware that immoderate tide of fiat-cash that has lifted the empire to absurd bureaucratic heights is now beginning to lapse.

20th century elite storytelling is falling apart, or at least unraveling a little – and that the powers-that-be are well aware of it. Elite fear-based themes have been designed with excruciating efficiency to intimidate Western middle-classes into giving up wealth and power to global agencies specially designed as receptacles. But now, in the emergent Internet era, these tend to be less convincing. We have, in fact, seen the erosion of numerous elite promotions in the 21st century, including global warming, peak oil and even the war on terror itself.

As important a narrative as the intel-agent-as-protector is, it is likely increasingly difficult to promote. That does not mean efforts will cease, or even be diminished. One thing we have learned is that the elite seldom if ever retreats from a promotion, though some may be reconfigured (global warming has become climate change, for instance).

James Bond is an example of the success of this meme. An agent for British MI6, the international arm of the British secret service, Bond is a dashing man indeed. He is always shown as using the latest technology, bedding the most beautiful women and generally protecting the free world from attack. The US has its officer and agent heroes as well. TV program after TV program (and book after book) presents the US military, intel and police bureaucracy as heroically providing a thin blue line against sociopathic criminals dedicated in some cases to the enslavement of the free world.

The idea of indomitable intelligence agents protecting democracy from internal and external attacks is an attractive one that plays to people's paternal fantasies and has proven very popular in the past. People like to think that government is benign (or operates from the best of intentions) along with the more competent elements of its bureaucracies.

But in this particular case (the CIA), we would suggest that too much is known. The CIA has been exposed over and over in the late 20th century as a most ruthless agency. Mention the CIA to many in the US and a certain level of unease may be detected, a sense that the agency has comported itself in too many cases beyond the bounds of human decency. Assassinations, rendition, torture and even allegations of drug operations to fund black ops (off budget) spying activities are all part of the public's perception of CIA business-as-usual.

Significant CIA triumphs have come under question as well. Destabilizing foreign governments such (Iran comes to mind) often leads to "blowback" as libertarian Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex) has pointed out. The CIA apparently helped create Al Qaeda, for instance, to fight against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and in doing so triggered a wave of religious fundamentalism that the US purports to struggle against today.

In the 20th century, a mythic narrative was possible to construct and even maintain. But history shows that governments – especially powerful ones – are hardly benevolent father figures marshalling resources to fight off anarchy and evil. That the CIA leadership believes such a campaign is necessary is important for at least two reasons: First, it indicates that the CIA's braintrust is aware of CIA image difficulties; second it provides evidence that the powers-that-be have no real solutions in mind.

After Thoughts

Fear-based elite promotions shaped the narrative of the 20th and promoted the elite's necessary intelligence facilities. That the powers-that-be believe it is necessary to repair an agency's image with a PR campaign, is evidence of the erosion of these promotions in the 21st century and their ability to convince. This seems to us a profound development, with numerous ramifications. An elite that has lost the ability to inculcate its memes via traditional promotional mechanisms is one that may eventually face a critical mass of skepticism.

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