I felt like Ernie Anastos after he told the weatherman to "Keep fucking that chicken" during a live broadcast. Externally I had to just keep smiling through, while inside my mind was screaming that whatever madness had just passed my lips had the potential to devastate all that I held dear. And all I had said was, “Yes, sir.”
Rather than further contemplate this horror, however, I snapped a salute to Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, spun on my heels, and exited his tent into the smothering Afghani heat. Until now, I had barely seen the general, let alone spoken with him. All orders passed from Caldwell to Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, my CO, and then down to me. But it seemed that the general and the colonel weren’t seeing eye to eye lately, so Caldwell had sought me out as a potential ally in his private campaign.
"Operation Four Star," Holmes had derisively nicknamed it. Caldwell wanted to use our psyops team against visiting Congress members to prop up flagging support for the war. There was no threat Congress would move to actually end the occupation, but attention would shift back to Iraq, the boys in Baghdad would start getting all the headlines and funding increases, and the next thing you know our $20 billion-a-year air-conditioning budget would be slashed.
It'd take three or four years before Iraq would start feeling hopeless again, the press would start screaming about the great Taliban threat, and we would get our AC back. Nope, that wouldn't do at all; the generals, with their promotions depending on AfPak s continued prominence, were not going to lose this pissing contest, even if it meant some Senators needed a little light brainwashing. And I'd just agreed to help with the scrubbing.
The first step of any good psyops job is research. It can be boring, but it's absolutely vital that you know the background of your target, inside and out. By understanding their history, you can start mapping out their weaknesses, fears, irrational prides, and subconscious biases. Initially, we'd learned a lot of our techniques from the CIA s work back in the ‘60s, but lately the Scientologists had been on the cutting edge of mind-fuckery. Their whole auditing crap was a mix of Freud, Bernays, and all the occult arts stuff LRH had learned from his friends in the OTO. Of course, Aleister Crowley had borrowed from the Freemasons, and on and on, back to the old Egyptian Mystery Schools.
It's never really been that hard to convince people to join cults or gangs or what have you, and for millennia the same techniques have been picked up and adapted, depending on the needs of the seducers. Whether they're trying to convince a mother to sacrifice her firstborn to Baal, a Detroit autoworker to support NAFTA, or a type-2 diabetic to keep sucking down super-sized Value Meals, the same isolation and indoctrination methods are pretty tried-and-true.
So I was researching Senator Al Franken, scanning his jocular lefty exterior for cracks where I could start chipping away to reveal his inner frothing warmonger. What I was doing was, of course, blatantly illegal. As a member of an information operations unit, my mission was to create and disseminate propaganda for hostile foreign populations. It was a direct violation of the Smith-Mundt Act to use our particular skills against US citizens.
I also knew, however, that most of what the CIA did was illegal, most of what went on in Abu Ghraib was illegal, and for years now the military had been using soldiers with fake internet identities to troll message boards and spread jingoistic nonsense, which was also illegal. Violating civilian law was becoming as much a part of military life over here as having sand in your crack and fantasizing about what was hiding beneath those burkas, so while the whole project made me nervous, I still did it. I was young, low-ranking, and knew enough to just keep my head down and do my job.
I filed my reports and made my recommendations, and the general seemed pleased with the results so he gave me more. Initially, the assignments seemed to get increasingly unnecessary, and then they got increasingly bizarre. Working on Al Franken made sense, as did the German interior minister. Joe Lieberman less so, but he was still in the range of people not completely sold on the war. John McCain, though? He was a company man through and through. We could advocate invading Pakistan via Nepal and he’d support it.
When I gave Caldwell my initial report on McCain, he wasn’t satisfied. It was “too conventional,” and I was encouraged to get more creative. I came back recommending that we convince him Al Qaeda in Iraq was being controlled by the Taliban and funded by Iran, but this wasn’t enough, either. After three more unsatisfactory recommendations and feeling desperate, I told the General we should convince McCain that we had secret intel proving the Taliban was working with Vietnamese geneticists cloning Ho Chi Minh to pave the way for a Communist Caliphate. This he liked, and I started getting more opportunities to be creative.
Soon I was even working on other members of the military, convincing Catholics that the insurgency wanted to bomb the Vatican. Based on my recommendations, Army officers in the Knights of Malta were being told the Ottoman Empire was reforming in Afghanistan. Red Sox fans in the Marines were hearing that hadjis wore Derek Jeter jerseys under their suicide vests. And British troops loyal to Arsenal were thinking the imams were praising Man U every week in the mosques.
Things got weirder still when I was ordered to start working on the locals again. Opium farmers were told that, if the US was victorious in Afghanistan, they were going to legalize heroin and start growing poppies in Kansas. I drew up plans to convince religious leaders that the US wanted to bring in Lady Gaga as the new head of Women’s Affairs in Afghanistan, and the secularist politicians were told that Obama was considering just selling Afghanistan to the Saudis and being done with it. Just when I thought my mission couldn’t get any weirder, though, the general called me into his office and told me I had proved my profound loyalty and patriotism and was thus worthy of my two most important—and final—targets.
He handed me two sealed envelopes and told me never to speak of the two individuals contained in the letters to anyone, not even to the general himself. I was confused, and left with the same sense of foreboding I had felt the first day I’d agreed to the mission. In the years since, I’d initiated countless rivalries, provoked factional feuds, and instigated sectarian violence that would cause hatred and bloodshed for decades.
I’d developed propaganda that had increased or invented tension between every possible group for every conceivable reason, from the Hasids and hipsters in Williamsburg to the center-left and left-center politicians in the New Zealand parliament. I’d sown so much discord, I made J. Edgar Hoover look like Mr. Rodgers. Now I was being given my most important assignments yet, the ones which would end this strange journey. When I opened the letters, I understood what the general meant.
I was so far down the rabbit hole by this point that these most bizarre assignments actually made the most sense. I was to brainwash Lt. Gen. Caldwell and then myself, thus sealing ourselves inside the fictional maelstrom we had created. It was suddenly so obvious that this had been done countless times throughout history. It explained so much. I mean, all animals fight, chimps have raids and cannibalism and lots of nasty behavior humans can identify with, but in all the world there’s no conflict or hatred that compares with the perpetual human battle.
There’s nothing natural about such tenacious animosity, and it has to be regularly recreated lest humans forget their fears, unite, and become great together without leaders to watch over them. Divide and conquer, divide and conquer, create convenient crises. Ordo ab chao. In the Bible, it wasn’t Yahweh who struck down the Tower of Babel, it was a jealous king—and this time, it was a jealous king using me as his thunderbolt.