When the Enemy is Us: MILDEC and Islamic State

That ‘All warfare is based upon deception’ (Sun Tzu, The Art of War) is well known and accepted. Less well known and, no doubt, hotly disputed is that the same techniques used to deceive an external enemy can be turned upon the civilian population of the armed forces’ host country and ‘allied’ countries. A modern day Sun Tzu might write, ‘All warfare is based upon deception, but not all military deception targets an external enemy.’ For example, it can target domestic public opinion, to legitimate what would otherwise be illegitimate acts of aggression against other countries and to delegitimate resistance to those acts.

The Islamic State beheading videos bear the hallmarks of a campaign of military deception (MILDEC), by parties so far unnamed, in which we, Western public opinion, are the adversary. They ‘work’ by manipulating our emotions into supporting action we would not otherwise support. Military deception is the one type of conspiracy that cannot be denied. All armed forces do it. Of necessity, they do it secretly. To ensure realism and to avoid detection, deception operations are strictly limited to a tight group of people, who conspire to deceive others, to get many unwitting people to do what they otherwise would not do wittingly. This is as much true when the enemy is internal as when it is external.

‘False-flag’ or ‘inside job’ does not do justice to the subtleties of domestic military deception, for these labels infer the result (‘what’) from a motive (‘why’). As Sherlock Holmes might put it, they reason forward from an assumed motive. Without an understanding of the ‘how’ we are asked to accept false-flag charges on faith. To reveal the ‘how’, to detect military deception, one must know what to look for, i.e., we must know what it is and how it works. Military deception has its own terminology, rationale and techniques. Like a disease, military deception is seldom directly observed, but we can infer its existence from its identifying signs, provided we know what to look for.

Here I present a brief account of the basic concepts of Military Deception. What follows draws on Chapter 4 ‘Military Deception’ of the US Army’s Field Manual No. 3-13 Information Operations: Doctrine, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. Department of the Army, Washington, DC, 28 November 2003. Manuals of this kind tend to assume that deception hinges on information that misleads. They need updating to take account of deception by manipulating emotions for this is the predominant mode of deception aimed at civilian targets.

While this post describes MILDEC alone, in practice it works in conjunction with psychological operations (PSYOP), Information Operations (IO) and ‘Intelligence.’ MILDEC is planned right into a military operation and integrated with its every aspect.

Deception works only if it is not perceived as such. To ensure the appearance of authenticity and to prevent deception operations being revealed as such, their secrecy or ‘security’ is paramount. So much of ‘security’, it seems is of this kind. For this reason:

(a) The deception is always to be denied; and

(b) Knowledge of each aspect of a MILDEC operation is tightly restricted to only those personnel who meet strictly defined need-to-know criteria (4-8). Typically, each Deception Operation will be run by a Military Deception Group (MDG) or Cell. Outside of this MILDEC operations are carried out by the unwitting. Their authenticity is one reason the deception is undetected.

The audience the MDG wants to deceive is the Deception Target. One might suppose that this target is the enemy, but ‘enemy’ is a flexible term. ‘Not all adversaries are military’ (4-1). They may, for example, be civilians, and not only those of the opposing country. ‘Commanders may … want to deceive others who are not adversary host-nation civilians’(4-1).

The desired result of a deception operation is the Deception Objective: what the adversary is to do or not to do at the critical time and/or location (4-15). At the centre of military deception is a Deception Event, i.e.: ‘a deception means executed at a specific time and location in support of a deception operation’ (4-22). Some examples of Deception Events:

  • Hannibal’s use of the double-envelopment tactic or pincer movement against the Romans, at the Battle of Cannae, in 216 BC, was a deception event.
  • Schwarzkopf’s well publicized prewar amphibious exercises, in 1991, to convince Iraqis that the Americans were planning to mount a major seaborne assault was a deception event.
  • The 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident was a Deception Event targeted at Americans, intended to justify US escalation of its war against the Vietnamese.
  • The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Operation Northwoods, in 1962, which envisaged CIA initiated terrorist attacks on fellow Americans, were also Deception Events. They were to be blamed on Cuba, to justify US military involvement.
  • The August, 1980, Bologna bombing, which killed 85 people and wounded more than 200, was a Deception Event. It was caused by fascist paramilitaries, the Nuclei Armati Revoluzionari (NAR), part of Operation Gladio, but blamed on the left. It’s aim? To drive frightened people into the arms of the State.

It is not the Deception Event, in itself, that deceives, but the explanation of that event, or the Deception Story: ‘a plausible, but false, view of the situation, which will lead the deception target into acting in a manner that will accomplish the commander’s goal.’ (4-18) Although ultimately false, ‘the deception story must be believable, verifiable, and consistent’ (4-21).

MILDEC planners must have fertile imaginations, ‘because the ability to create and execute an effective MILDEC often depends upon the creativity used to develop and maintain a story’. Deception Stories are consciously crafted, tailored to their audience’s beliefs about reality, for people tend to accept information conforming to their preconceptions. Such information must be disproved to become ineffective (4-10). ‘The influence of biases is very strong. In many instances, the target may believe a well-crafted deception story until it is too late to act effectively, even in the face of mounting contradictory evidence’ (4-44).

The Deception Story is dynamic, fed and developed in response to feed-back events, intelligence collection and analysis (4-109). This is done by means of Deception Indicators, items of information, some true, some false, designed to the Deception Target’s intention or capability to adopt or reject a course of action (4-20). The most effective way to convince the deception target of the deception story’s truth is to provide indicators in several different ways, each supported by different elements of truth. Wherever the target turns, there must be information that confirms his preconceptions, that makes any questionable parts of the deception story seem believable (4-8).

One way of developing the Deception Story is by allowing Indicators to ‘fall’ into adversary hands. For example: via Operation Fortitude, Allied forces deceived Nazi-occupied France into believing that the impending invasion would be at Pas de Calais, rather than the actual Normandy. The deception means included controlled leaks of misinformation through diplomatic channels, simulated wireless traffic, and British controlled German double-agents. Operation Rockingham, set up in 1991 and run by military and intelligence officers and civilian Ministry of Defence personnel, fed information in support of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Operation Mass Appeal later played a similar role. If Deception Indicators are well-crafted, the Deception Target develops the narrative of the Deception Story all by itself. A snippet of information is picked up by news media and woven into a plausible story.

Note that much of what we know about al-Qaeda came via fortuitously found laptops, letter, email, and audio-visual material. Remember the incriminating video in which Osama bin Laden ‘admitted guilt’ for 9/11, a video that was ‘found’ by U.S. forces in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in late November, 2001. Then there was the bizarre series of bin Laden audio and video tapes which always eluded the Intelligence we pay for. Lucky for us that the very private IntelCenter and SITE were there to discover them, no questions asked. The so-called al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, the precursor to Islamic State, were forever leaving laptops and letters around to be discovered by U.S. troops. Perhaps fortune favours aggressors. A book could be written on what we know about terrorism from misplaced laptops.

We should not be surprised that the narrative about Islamic State started to grow ‘legs’ in the August 28, 2014, issue of Foreign Policy: Found: The Islamic State’s Terror Laptop of Doom. Great title. Non-existent investigative journalism. Apparently this Dell laptop was found by the commander of a ‘moderate’ Syrian rebel group in northern Syria. They attacked an ISIS hideout. ISIS ‘all fled before he and his men attacked the building’. And there was the ‘terror laptop of doom’, with power cord, just waiting for them. Then there was the ISIS document ‘supposedly obtained in March [2014] by an Iraqi special forces unit during a raid on the home of an ISIS commander.’ This document—’which has been examined by western security officials – who believe it to be authentic’—tells of plans to get hold of nuclear weapons with the help of Russia in exchange for access to gas fields in Anbar province and the Kremlin giving up support for Iran and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. [Report: ISIS plots to seize Iran’s nuclear secrets] For an outfit supposedly bent of world domination, Islamic State is remarkably careless with its documents. In fact, that they feel the need to have ‘planning documents’ at all should alert our skepticism. Like al-Qaeda before it, Islamic State is organized on Western lines. Isn’t that odd?

Now I come to think of it, much of the narrative about Islamic State comes from the very same organization said to have discovered the beheading videos: Search for International Terrorist Entities (now the SITE Intelligence Group). Its INSITE blog on ‘Terrorism & Extremism’ is a veritable font of knowledge, not only about what Islamic State does, but also about what Islamic State does means. And then there is Islamic State’s in-house glossy propaganda magazine Dabiq. Very much like Inspire, of ‘al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’. (I wonder where these magazines are produced.) You can get into a lot of trouble by simply linking to the Inspire site, so I’m not going to. Strangely, Dabiq is readily available. See ‘Does Anyone Take These Al-Qaeda Magazines Seriously?’ The answer, unfortunately, is yes. This is true of Dabiq too. Not everyone can distinguish between authenticity and deception. The narrative carried in these magazines lures them to their doom.

It is easy to deny the existence of military conspiracies for the very nature of military deception makes them difficult to detect. It is, however, not impossible: what can be invented, can also be discovered. Discerning the deception and discovering how it is sustained, by whom and to what end, takes dogged detective work.

A comment on Alan Henning and ‘Another Message to America and its Allies’

This post examines the video ‘Another Message to America and its Allies’ which purports to show the decapitation of the British taxi driver Alan Henning. As with previous videos in this series I look for evidence of emotional authenticity and emotional deception. Is this video what it claims to be?

This video is suspended due to terms of service violation

The video follows a now standard format. It begins with a short news report on the British parliament’s 26 September decision to authorize British air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq, earlier that very day Friday October 3, 2014. This is ‘why’ Henning ‘has’ to die.

After the title shot, we see Alan Henning in an orange Guantanamo-like ‘detainee’ uniform. He is knelt on the ground, hands behind back. Henning looks noticeably thinner than in his pre-captivity photographs. He looks up at the camera. This gives his face an especially plaintive and poignant expression. He is the very image of sorrow. I suspect that he’s the only innocent and honest man in this gallery of rogues. An original among counterfeits. He lacks the guile to comprehend the evil he has stumbled into (and by ‘evil’ I don’t mean the obvious contender for this label).

To his left, our right, stands the familiar man-in-black, the would-be decapitator ‘Jihadi John.’ This Jihadi John is not the same man who appeared in the earlier videos. His build is slighter, less athletic, less powerful. His gesticulations with his knife are less forceful and menacing. What we can see of his face looks different too. The hooded eyes of the ‘real’ Jihadi John are missing. These eyes are closer together. His voice, of course, is exactly the same but I believe the voice is dubbed. The emotions of the voice do not match the gestures of the body.

The familiar blowing wind is absent from this video.

Henning looks into the camera and speaks for a fraction over ten seconds, just long enough to say this:

I am Alan Henning. [pause] Because of our Parliament’s decision to attack the Islamic State [ISIS], I, as a member of the British public, will now pay the price for that decision.

About the only thing he seems sure about is his name. Hence the slight pause before reading words prepared for him, the implications of which he does not comprehend. He’s a long way from Eccles and Salford, Lancashire. He might as well be on another planet for all the sense it makes to him.

Henning’s 12 second contribution ends with a fade to black. Then his apparent executioner speaks:

The blood of [fellow slain captive] David Haines was on your hands, [British Prime Minister David] Cameron, Alan Henning will also be slaughtered but his blood is on the hands of the British Parliament.

Henning continues to look to the camera. He looks haggard and drawn. Fade to black.

This decapitation scene is different to the others in that it begins with Jihadi John’s right hand over Hennings face. We must assume that it’s him. He saws away at that neck, again with no evidence that the knife is doing what we imagine it is. A muffled cry is heard, but not from the direction of the victim. It sounds like something added post-production. Fade to black.

Then the evidence of the beheading. The camera pans left to right, from the feet to the shoulders. The severed head, which doesn’t particularly resemble Henning, is in the small of the torso’s back. As I argued earlier, severed heads are not difficult to simulate and only those who have suspended disbelief would accept this as proof of a decapitation.

Finally, in the final scene, a message to Obama. Another prisoner appears, the screen text tells us it is Peter Edward Kassig (American). Jihadi John:

Obama you have started your aerial bombardment in Sham (Syria), which keeps on striking our people, so it is only right we keep on striking the necks of your people.

As far as we know, Peter Kassig lives on.

The Stephen Sotloff and Jihadi John Morality Play: A comment on ‘A Second Message to America’


This post examines ‘A Second Message to America’ from, we are told, Islamic State. The video features the testimony and apparent death by beheading of Steven Joel Sotloff, a citizen of both the United States and Israel, who plied his trade as a journalist most recently in Syria where he was captured a little over a year ago.

The video is said to have been discovered on September 2, 2014. By whom? I will address at the end of this post.

Like its predecessor, ‘A Second Message to America’ begins with a clip of President Obama. In this case, it’s his 20 August press conference in which the he responds to the beheading of Foley, another American citizen. Obama tells the world that America looks after its own citizens. Harm any one of them, and America will avenge them. In more diplomatic terms, ’We act against ISIL, standing alongside others’. The remainder of the video essentially mocks Obama’s words.

It’s worth mentioning that President Obama looks noticeably less upbeat than in his appearance in A Message to America, i.e., before he knew of these videos. He is tie-less. He looks down at his notes, not side-to-side at his teleprompter as is usual.

Act One: In which Sotloff mocks Obama

Act One features Sotloff himself. Outfitted in orange Guantanamo-like attire, he is knelt on desert terrain, hands behind his back as if tied. To his left is the man in black, his would-be executioner, who we have come to know as ‘Jihadi John’. His knife glistens in the sun, full of menace.

Sotloff looks square into the camera and does not flinch. For all the notice he takes of him, the man in black might as well not be there.

Sotloff speaks thus:

I am Steven Joel Sotloff. I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now and why I am appearing before you. And now this is the time for my message: Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be the preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I am paying the price of your interference with my life? Am I not an American citizen? We’ve spent billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars and we’ve lost thousands of our troops in our previous fighting against the Islamic State, so what are the people’s interests in reigniting war?

From what little I know about foreign policy, I remember a time when you could not win an election without promising to bring our troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan and to close down Guantanamo. Here you are now, Obama, nearing the end of your term, and having achieved none of the above and deceivingly marching us the American people into the blazing fire.

Some preliminaries.

Sotloff seems in good shape considering he’s been a prisoner of the sadistic Islamic State for just over a year. His face reveals no signs of stress or trauma. He looks well-fed. His teeth look clean and well cared for. He doesn’t look nor does he sound like a man about to be  beheaded. There are people living on the streets of most cities who look a lot worse than this after just one night of sleeping rough.

Note how his tunic ripples in the breeze, very much as Foley’s did, from exactly the same direction, although this is supposed to be a different location. That same wind, then as now, is there to persuade us that these figures are outside and not in a studio and that the depthless panorama behind them is not an image superimposed on a green screen. It doesn’t persuade me. As with Foley, this stiff breeze does not trouble the shrubs dotted around this tableau. Curiously, at several points in the video, Sotloff’s body casts no shadow, while that of his executioner does.

Sotloff speaks deliberately and with feeling. There is something in his tone of voice when he says, ‘I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now’ that strikes me as odd. It is accusatory. ‘Exactly’ is a word we would use when addressing someone who feigns ignorance of some misdemeanour. As in ‘don’t pretend you don’t know who I am. You know exactly who I am’. Presumably, this accusatory tone of voice is aimed at Obama, the man he blames for his death.

Sotloff speaks as if these are his words. He sounds as if he believes in what he is saying. This is surprising, for they are patently dishonest words and as a journalist working in the Middle East  he must know this.

He is not ‘paying the price with his life’ for Obama’s ‘interference’ in Iraq. If there is any price to be paid it is for Sotloff’s foolishness in choosing to go to the hellhole that is Syria, journalist or no. He must have known that as a Jew and an Israeli citizen he was taking a big risk. Obama cannot be blamed for his predicament.

As for ‘We’ve spent billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars and we’ve lost thousands of our troops in our previous fighting against the Islamic State’ this is not true. Thousands of American troops died fighting the Iraqi resistance to the invasion and occupation—ordinary men and women doing what anyone would do when a foreign power invades their country.   There was no ‘Islamic State’ until a few months ago. Sotloff’s  words are a means of giving the Islamic State a pedigree that it does not have. Claims made elsewhere that it is the successor to ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq’ led by the infamous al-Zarqawi are true only in the sense that all have the same characteristics of a deception operation. Neither actually existed except as deceptions. I will show how in a later post.

What do Sotloff’s words on his plight hope to achieve?

First, to weaken Obama by making him seem ineffectual. In the opening clip, Obama tells the world that America looks after its own citizens. Sotloff essentially says ‘You promised to look after Americans and aren’t I an American citizen?’ (yes, and an Israel citizen as well so what about having a go at Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu). It’s a foolish, dishonest argument.

Second, to shift responsibility for his immanent death away from the man with the knife at his side and towards the distant Obama’s ‘interference’ with Islamic State. ‘When you avenge the deaths of Americans you make things worse, so stop doing it.’ This heaps guilt on Obama with the intention of weakening him.

Sotloff’s, patently dishonest, argument relates to his complete emotional detachment from his executioner. All his emotions are directed at his audience, especially Obama, on the other side of the camera lens. It’s as if he really believes that Obama is killing him. In other words, Sotloff is acting.

One might argue that these words were written for him to speak under duress. Since he is about to die, however, what has he got to lose by refusing, and why does he have to speak them with such authenticity? It’s an odd and dishonourable way for a journalist to depart this world.

Act Two: In which ‘Jihadi John’ is ‘Back’

I’m back Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and [unclear] on Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings. You Obama, through your actions, have yet again killed another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.

‘I’m back’! is something a character in a horror movie might say. And a horror movie is exactly what this is. He’s like Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, or Heath Ledger as the Joker, but, unlike them, JJ lacks irony, an awareness of his own ridiculousness. With this humourless attitude he wouldn’t last long in South London, if that’s where he’s from, however shiny his knife. In this series of morality plays, he plays Death, in this case to Sotloff’s Innocence. He’s a modern day Mephistopheles of the Faust legend, trapped in his own hell, collecting the souls of the damned. What he isn’t is himself.

He can be accused of many things, but not of bad manners. He complains of America’s ‘arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State.’ For its critics, especially in the Middle East, it’s not ‘policy’ that’s objectionable; it’s what America actually does that’s beyond the pale. ‘Policy’ is a euphemism for death and destruction, but this character is too polite to say so. He may (or may not) decapitate people, but he doesn’t want to offend anyone. This is aimed at America and American politicians speak in euphemisms so JJ does too. In Act Five he says ‘we take this opportunity’ as if he were attending one of the Queen’s garden parties.

With lines like these, it’s no wonder he’s angry. As he accuses Obama of this, that and the other, he punctuates his words with knife jabs in the direction of the camera operators. If he carries on like this he’s going to have someone’s eye out.

We can usually understand what angry people say because the emotion expels the words cleanly. But Mr. Prickly Bear here slurs his words. He sounds like Darth Vader with a cold. If he’s got A Second Message to America he should speak clearly so we know what it is. But this is not the Dark One’s real voice. He wears a mask, in part, to disguise this deceit. It’s a dubbed voice and there is a trade-off between clarity and scariness. In some places they got that balance wrong.

He is so angry it is almost as if the real Obama was there in person. But he’s waving this knife at the camera operators and—who knows—costume, make-up and catering. Since he’s not angry at them and Obama isn’t there, we must conclude that he’s acting.

Act Three: In which Sotloff simulates his own Death

So this is it. The time has come. Having bad-mouthed his President, Sotloff is at peace with himself and awaits his fate with no complaint. For the man about to decapitate him, Sotloff has no words at all, not even glances. But why should he? It’s not the man with the knife who is to blame. That’s right, it’s Obama’s ‘interventions’.

Death moves behind the passive Innocence, seizes his chin in his right hand and makes the now familiar cutting motions with the knife in his left. Sotloff’s eyes are closed. His mouth responds slightly to the presence of the hand on his chin and then the knife on his throat. His body leans, or is drawn, back a little.  As his torso reclines darkness descends, but if we look carefully and quickly we can just make out that Sotloff’s left knee moves up off the ground and then his right. He is about to fall over and if that head is going to come off the Dark One is going to have to get his pristine clothes dirty and wrestle Sotloff on the ground like a cow hand with a loose steer. It’s a sight I find difficult to imagine. The Islamic State does not secure their victims before beheading them? It just assumes they’ll stay there like well-trained Labradors, that they’re not going to make a run for it? How very unprofessional.

I have two observations here. First, as with Foley there is no blood and, especially in that part of the human body, if there is no blood there has been no cutting and if there was no cutting there was no pain. There was certainly no sign on Sotloff’s face that he was in the process of being decapitated. Compare with actual, real-life beheadings, all too common and available on the Internet. Second, Sotloff’s clumsy and unconvincing knee-jerk was a response to critics who spotted Foley’s lack of response to the knife. The people producing these videos are professionals. They note criticisms of their productions and make the necessary changes. Sotloff is acting, but not very well.

Act Four: In which we view the evidence of Sotloff’s death

The camera pans left to right revealing human legs and torso. That ever constant wind blows with the same rhythm and from the same direction to ripple the prostrate tunic. Continuity. Sure enough, on its back is a severed head looking very much like that of Sotloff. Before we can inspect that which it is severed from, his neck and shoulders, the considerate director fades to black and we are spared this agony. But we have already seen enough.

What more proof do we need that the poor man’s dead? Well his body for one thing, and not just an image of it. Murder investigations normally require the production of an actual dead body, for otherwise we cannot be sure that a crime has been committed. Corpus delicti. Not in these cases apparently, but, then, there have been no investigations either. We’re prepared to take Islamic State’s word for it.

This is an age of simulation in which just about anything can be faked, even authenticity. The props department of most major theatre and opera companies can produce a severed head on demand, even of a specific individual. Here the Royal Shakespeare Company shows how it is done. Props departments have their counterparts in film, they’re called digital artists. We see their work in most movies these days. With digital technology, they can produce a realistic looking image of a severed head too.

For these reasons, I am unmoved by these images of torsos and severed heads. If these were common murders, here at home, the police would want a body and they would set their digital forensics people to work on these videos to deconstruct how and where they were created. Instead we are expected to suspend our disbelief as if this were just a movie.

Act Five: In which David Haines is introduced

Death holds David Cawthorne Haines by the scruff of his neck and speaks thus:

We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone.

Now this man looks like a prisoner. He is grim faced and haggard. He looks like he could do with a good meal and a shower. The backcloth is slightly different but that same wind blows.

The Emotional Dynamics of ‘A Second Message to America’

This video is a vehicle of emotional marketing. The brand being marketed is War With Islamic State. As with all emotional marketing, the video attempts to stimulate certain emotions among its target market, in this case it’s the United States. Sotloff’s bitter words against Obama attempt to stir feelings of compassion among Americans for their doomed fellow citizen and to isolate Obama by heaping guilt on his doorstep for failing to protect him. These feelings are compounded by anger at seeing Sotloff’s severed head and the cruel act of beheading. America’s righteous (and fearsome) anger maneuvres Obama towards putting ‘boots on the ground’ to destroy Islamic State. It’s digital goading. The overall effect is to say one thing and stimulate emotions that will lead to its opposite. It says both ‘don’t interfere’ and ‘interfere with a vengeance’. It’s clever, dishonest and effective.

 Where and how was this ‘message to America’ delivered?

Finally, any serious forensic examination would want to know where and how this video was acquired. One might assume that the billion dollar US intelligence community earned its keep by spotting this. But we’d be disappointed. It didn’t. Just as well then that Search for Terrorist Entities or SITE was on the ball. SITE apparently discovered this and the video featuring John Cantlie in some Jihadi chat room. Perhaps all of these videos were discovered in this way.

In fact, just about every dubious looking video and audio tape related to terrorism aquired over the ten years that I’ve been researching this has been discovered by either SITE or IntelCentre—never by the US military and intelligence apparatus. Both are highly secretive organizations with apparent Zionist credentials. They exist in the shadow of the Pentagon and the White House but at arm’s length from both. They maintain just enough distance from the political and military wings to sustain plausible deniability.

The only forensic examination (in 2007) of one of these videos (one discovered by IntelCentre) that I’m aware of found evidence that suggests that the same organization that discovered the video had a hand in creating it in the first place. [See Kim Zetter, Researcher Analysis of al Qaeda Images Reveals Surprises. Wired. 08.02.07.]

All videos of this nature should be forensically examined by an impartial and qualified person and the results made public.

As for the credibility of SITE, this is best researched on your own.

The Deceptive Decapitation of Mr. James Foley

The video ‘Message to America’, in which the American journalist James Foley is separated from his head by an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) desperado with an English accent, tests the mettle of the serious student of emotions. Are you up for it? How good are your powers of observation? Is it what it claims to be?

If you weren’t paying attention when the video first appeared on Thursday, August 19, 2014, you’ll find that question difficult to answer, because, at the behest of the authorities, it has all but disappeared from the internet. Too gory for our own good, or too shoddy a deception to withstand serious scrutiny?

If you’re in the UK, it’s just as well really, for Scotland Yard warned that merely viewing this video, let alone downloading it, could be a criminal offence under terrorism legislation. You Tube and Twitter clicked their heels in compliance and removed all trace of the offending video. This is as disturbing as anything imagined to be in the video.

You will find the video here though, for this blog is attached to a graduate course at an open university based in Alberta, Canada. Here in cowboy country, we make up our own minds about things. So that you can too, for teaching purposes, I downloaded a copy of ‘Message to America’ and this post casts a critical eye in its direction.

‘Message to America’ has been remarkably effective. By beheading an American journalist as retribution for America’s ‘humanitarian bombing’ in Iraq and threatening to behead another one, at a stroke, the video disarms those who oppose further military interventions in Iraq and Syria. The English-sounding executioner has frightened Prime Minister David Cameron into proposing a tightening of the ratchet of security so as to stem the flow of British-born jihadis travelling to and from Syria and Iraq. ‘What we’re facing in Iraq now is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before’, said Mr. Cameron, adding he was ‘absolutely satisfied that ISIS … would make specific threats to the UK.’

Wouldn’t you think, then, that we should all have the opportunity to inspect this video and form our own opinion on it? Here you can. The movie begins with President Obama explaining why he authorized air strikes against ISIS. This is followed by an aerial view of one such strike. This sets the stage for the appearance of Foley and his executioner. Our analysis begins with them, at 1:48.

Scene 1: In which Foley blames the United States for his Death

Foley is dressed in an orange Guantanamo-like prison uniform, knelt on the sand, hands behind him as if restrained. A microphone is clipped onto his tunic at the neck. Foley’s head casts a shadow on his tunic, suggesting that the sun is behind, far to his left. A wind blows on to his loose-fitting tunic, creating ripples. The wind and the sun are at opposite sides of the compass. To Foley’s left, so close they are almost touching, stands a tall and imposing man dressed in black, a balaclava obscuring all but his eyes. Limbs loose, he is at ease with himself. He rocks on his feet, left to right and back, like a sailboat in a swell. A leather revolver holder hangs from his left shoulder. Behind them is nothing but desert as far as the eye can see. The sky seems cloudy-grey.

Our eyes tell us that they are outside, but our ears suggest something else. Foley’s speech is deadened, as if absorbed by close surroundings. There is no ambient sound. No birds or insects tweet or call. That wind blows strong enough to ripple Foley’s shirt but it’s not touching anything else that we can hear. No sound of wind on microphone, or wind on sand, wind in brush. Come to think of it, that wind on Foley’s shirt blows a little too regularly, in a repetitive pattern, for it to convince us that it is real. There is shadow, so there must be sun and in Iraq it’s hot, yet these characters convey no sense of heat. The soon-to-die Foley is not perspiring.

This scene is obviously edited. In some frames the man-in-black is slightly behind Foley. In others he is side-by-side.

The entire scene lacks depth. It has the feel of a backcloth, a green screen on to which this image has been superimposed.

We’ve seen this kind of video before haven’t we? The condemned hostage’s final humiliation. He is forced to speak a script that damns his government for his plight while giving voice to his captors’ propaganda. Knowing what is to come, energy deserts him. Defeated, he speaks without affect, a sorry, pitiful sight.

But Foley is not like this at all. On his knees, hands presumably secured behind his back, his executioner by his side, Foley seems almost chipper. Is it actually him, in fact? Here he is in 2011. Compare the two. He certainly looks remarkably well for a man who has spent the last two years in captivity. Nor is Foley’s voice what we expect of a man in this dire situation. He speaks with conviction, bordering on relish, as if he means what he says and takes bitter pleasure in saying it.

He tells us that he is about to die as retribution for America’s ‘recent aerial campaign in Iraq’. Those who ordered and carried out those aerial attacks are his ‘real killers.’ ‘Who made the decision to bomb Iraq recently and bomb those people whoever they may have been?’ he asks rhetorically. Answer: the US government, against which he urges his family, friends and loved ones to ‘rise up’. Rather cruelly, he blames his brother John for his imminent death, simply because he belongs to the USAF. ‘I died that day John when your colleagues dropped that bomb on those people they signed my death certificate.’ How is that his brother’s fault?

Who are these ‘those people’ anyway? The preceding clip of Obama authorizing air strikes against ISIS, and the executioner’s angry words in the next scene, suggests that ‘those people’ refers to ISIS warriors, for why else would he be killed as retribution? But Foley’s own words are imprecise as to who was killed and when. He blames those people ‘who bombed Iraq’ recently. He refers to a ‘recent aerial campaign in Iraq’. How recent is ‘recently’? Nor is he specific about who is bombed: ‘Those people whoever they may have been’. ‘That bomb on those people’. He pointedly does not say ‘Islamic State fighters’. Since he knows that he’s about to be decapitated by one of them, wouldn’t we expect him to be more specific?

One might argue that Foley is reading under duress what is written for him. If he is reading from a script, however, in this ‘Message to America’, why weren’t his ISIS captors more precise about ‘those people whoever they may have been’? And if he is reading from a script, what has he got to lose by resisting saying these things and why does he have to speak with such conviction? It is almost as if he takes pleasure in the pain his death will cause the United States and his family, especially his brother. His last words ‘I guess all in all I wish I wasn’t  American’ are a non sequitur. We can only imagine the terrible things they must have done to him for him to say that.

Just as our emotions are evident in our speech, so they are evident in our body, its gestures and movements. The video invites us to believe that Foley and the man standing next to and over him both know that a knife is going to be worked through the flesh, sinew and bone of Foley’s neck. But that thought is absent from their bodies. To the contrary, their body movements suggest a certain emotional closeness. They are at ease in each other’s company, almost as if they are co-conspirators.

Most of us in Foley’s situation would be all-too-aware of our executioner’s presence. Foley, however, makes no anxious glances in his direction. There is not even a glint of recognition in his peripheral vision. He looks straight ahead, looking at his cue cards, as if he were entirely alone.

Finally, lest it escape notice, there is not the slightest hint in Foley’s voice and body language of fear. This is unusual in a man who knows he is about to be beheaded.

Scene 2  In which the Man-in-Black Scolds Obama

In this scene the man-in-black, the executioner, speaks and a grim-faced (microphone-less) Foley listens and faces straight ahead. At the outset of this scene, the executioner’s right hand rests on Foley’s left shoulder. He shows no sign of feeling that hand. It is as if he is unaware of his executioner’s presence. The executioner looks directly into the camera and gesticulates with his knife towards the imagined Obama watching. He is relaxed in his body and passionate in his facial movements and his speech. He is disengaged from Foley because his emotional energy, his anger, is directed towards the evil Obama, President of the United States, the target audience of this video. But if he hates America so much, why is he wearing US Military Desert Boots? And if he’s such an ardent Jihadi, why is he known as ‘John’? Come to think of it, why is the executioner wearing a mask? What has he got to hide? He surely doesn’t fear death by American hands? The leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, does not hide behind a mask, so why should this underling? Since we can’t see his face we don’t know if that South London accent belongs to him or if it was added post-production.

Scene 3     In which Foley is not Beheaded

At the moment of an execution, forget thoughts and emotions: instinct takes over, the instinct to stay alive. Not here it doesn’t. In the first seconds of this scene, the executioner, knife in his left hand, moves behind Foley stealthily and takes his chin in his right. All this time, Foley’s expression does not change. His eyes look straight ahead. Would we not expect Foley’s body to twist and turn in resistance to the blade? Even though they are constrained, those arms would surely attempt to protect his throat with his hands. Even chickens suffer and struggle if they know they are about to be butchered. But Foley does no such thing. He simply leans back a little, rather stiffly, as if to better oblige his executioner. As the knife saws rapidly across his throat, there is no response from Foley’s body. It doesn’t even respond by bleeding. And yet, if only one of his carotid arteries was severed, blood would spray under pressure, far and wide. But not a drop is to be seen. Odd that.

Scene 4     In which we imagine Foley beheaded

Before we can quite take this in, the video cuts to a still of a headless, prostrate body, on which is placed its missing head. Not having witnessed the decapitation, we are asked to make a leap of imagination and regard both the body and the head as Foley’s. British and American ‘intelligence’ seem to have done just that. But why should we? There are several grounds for suspicion. The head looks as if it has been guillotined cleanly, not rived off with a small knife. The knife next to the body is not the knife in the decapitation scene. There is blood on the back of his legs, as if someone has smeared it there, just for good measure. The orange shirt worn by the corpse is shorter than that worn by the living Foley. Remember those billowing long sleeves from scene 1? Compare them with the sleeves in this scene. (Where’s continuity!?) The left arm, still secured at the wrist, looks pasty white and puny. In fact, the entire body looks very mannequin-like. The head looks like something from special effects, and it may well be. If this were some television show, who gives a damn? We can imagine what happened. But this is real life. Isn’t it?

Scene 4: In which Mr. Steven Sotloff is introduced as a trailer for the next episode

A well-fed Steven Joel Sotloff is held by the scruff of his neck by the man-in-black, who tells us that his life depends on Obama’s ‘next decision’.


‘The US Intelligence Community has analyzed the recently released video showing US citizens James Foley and Steven Sotloff. We have reached the judgment that this video is authentic.’

Good for them, and their consciences. I do not believe this video is authentic. In military terms, ‘Message to America’ looks very much like an instance of Military Deception (MILDEC), what is referred to as a Deception Event.

Foley may well be dead and that may be his severed head, but he was not killed by the incident depicted in the video. More likely, in my opinion, he was a willing participant in this deception and lives on under deep cover. Why? is something you have to figure out on your own.

The beheading was omitted because it is difficult to simulate, not to protect us from the gore. Why would ISIS want to spare us that? Gore is their thing, isn’t it? Despite the warnings, the video is not gory at all. The appropriate response to this simulation isn’t fear and panic, it’s ridicule and laughter.

More disturbing than anything imagined in ‘Message to America’ is the rapid disappearance of the video from the internet. If you wanted to make up your own mind, you can’t. We must take the word of our betters, US military ‘intelligence’. You got a problem with that? In this sense, it’s a ‘Message to the Rest of Us’ and the message is Wake-up!

To put this disappearance in perspective, compare the efficiency with which this video was made to disappear with the apparent inability of the US ‘intelligence community’ to locate and force the closure of the website which publishes al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine. (On WordPress no less). It has lured many urban Muslims to their doom, for that is its purpose and that, I suggest, is why it is left alone.

That ‘Message to America’ is a staged deception is obvious. A child can figure this out. The purpose of the deception is less obvious. Its purpose is to discredit Islam and to further demonize ISIS so as to create an unimpeachable emotional case for the Anglo-American alliance to make an armed intervention in Iraq and Syria. Obama can say: ‘You see what evil monsters these Iraqis and Kurds are up against? They’ve murdered one of our own. He was a journalist as well. We’re America, we’ve got to help them! I tell you what—we’ll attack them in Syria too!’ It will, you understand, be a compassionate, humanitarian campaign. To oppose it is to support Foley’s murderer and those like him. So no one opposes it. Cameron’s risible response —‘What we’re facing in Iraq now is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before’—is a bonus (my emphasis). That kind of foolish talk is capable of getting a lot of people killed and curtailing the rights of a nation. All from this video.

Every Deception Event is backed by an ongoing Deception Story, a narrative fed by anonymous sources and tailored to the beliefs and assumptions of those it wants to deceive. Watch it develop.

Bonfires of sentiments

The emotions that drive revolutions are usually consumed in the act, obliterating all trace of their existence. Consider the ‘cult of sensibility’ or ‘sentimentalism’ and the French Revolution.

‘Sensibility’ was a way of understanding and expressing emotions prevalent among the elite in Europe, during the late 17th and 18th centuries, especially in France. Sentiments or sensibility are best understood in the light of Reddy’s ’emotives’. How do I know what I feel for you until I hear what I say to you? It was a way of accessing inner feelings or sensations, believed to be innate, natural things, beyond conscious understanding. Sentiments are moral sensations, natural feelings. It was like tapping in to a well of virtue.

We see traces of sentimentalism in private (especially, love) letters of the day. Indeed, is this not the entire point of all love letters? The more intense the sentiment in the letter, the better the chance its recipient will conclude that it is natural and good and respond in kind. As letters are exchanged, emotives intertwine in an upward spiral of intensity.

We find traces of sentimentalism in novels too. The best selling English novel of the 18th century was Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded. To continue its full title: ‘In a series of Familiar Letters from a Beautiful Young Damsel, to her Parents’. ‘Letters’, that is, containing sentimental emotives. The Marquis de Sade’s wickedly perceptive Justine (or the Misfortune of Virtue) and Juliette (or Enlightenment and Morality) can be read as parodies of Richardson’s trade in ‘goodness’. Sade’s threat to ‘public morality’ is just one reason he spent the best years of his life in prison on the order of Louis XV, where, of course, he continued to write.

It is this same sentimentalism that Jane Austen chronicled in Sense and Sensibility (1811). (In today’s terms, we might call it Reason and Emotion.) One’s social success depended on one’s skill in knowing a person’s real sentiments from false displays. But one example:

But Marianne abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve ; and to aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not in themselves illaudable, appeared to her not merely an unnecessary effort, but a disgraceful subjection of reason to common- place and mistaken notions. 

In France, more so than in England, sentimentalism was a potent force in political thinking. Dressed up as ‘virtue’, it was the emotional energy of the breakdown of the Old Regime and the first years of the Revolution. As Reddy explains, this period began with gestures of benevolence and ended in terror. Breaking down in tears under the intensity of one’s virtue was common. Mere friendships could bring on a fainting spell. The nearer the end came, the more intense the effusion of feelings, the better to impress with their sincerity. Those who failed died.

Pity and benevolence towards the downtrodden, gratitude for what one had and love for who knows what, were much in favour. August 4, 1789, the night the new National Assembly voted to dismantle the system of privileges that constituted the Old Regime, was a bonfire of sentiments. The rioting peasants (the ‘Great Fear’) concentrated their attention.  

The procedure followed during the session was to favor reform proposals that came from a delegate who enjoyed the very privileges he proposed to abolish. Nobles offered to give up their tax exemptions, clergy their tithes, provincial delegates the privileges of their provinces, and so on. The night’s work was widely described as a kind of sentimental cascade of reforms. (Reddy)

It was, as they say, a ‘patriotic delirium’.

Sentimentalism was consumed during the Revolution itself and confined to the private, feminine sphere of the household (to which President Hollande now retreats). Henceforth, the Revolution was known as a product of Reason (a largely male preserve) and we like to think that reason, through public deliberation, debate and voting, continues to rule us all.

And yet ’emotives’ suggests that every society has its own style of experiencing emotions. We know about ‘sentimentalism’, but what of our own way of experiencing emotions?


William M. Reddy. The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions, 2001.

Featured image: a firefighter and a fire, one of many in Paris, during the riots of November, 2005.

President Hollande’s emotional safe haven

President Hollande insists that his relationship with Julie Gayet and Valérie Trierweiler is a private matter. News media in France respect this and call off their pursuit of the truth, like foxhounds before an impassible ditch.

From whence came this private, emotional sanctuary or redoubt? In brief, it was created during the French Revolution, which abolished the privileges of the aristocracy, the church, towns, provinces, guilds, and seigneuries.

The political revolution simultaneously centralized power in the form of the state and dissolved society into independent individuals. They are sides of the same process. Civil society is a society of private individuals. The state is a society of public citizens. 

President Hollande operates within this framework. Like all French citizens, he leads a two-fold life, he is both a public and a private person. And his emotional, private life?

Although we tend to think of the Revolution as part of the Enlightenment of Reason, certainly up to 1794, it was driven by a wave of sentimentalism or moral sensations. The rational and emotional fused in the political thinking of the revolutionaries, many of which were women.

The Revolution shattered this fusion of the rational and the emotional. Henceforth, reason and interest were for the public realm of the state, and honour and emotion were relegated to the feminine, private realm of the household.

This is why French news media allow President Hollande his safe haven. So far.

Featured image: Women’s March on Versailles, 5 October 1789.


The trouble with France’s ‘First Lady’

‘Is Valerie Trierweiler still the First Lady of France?‘ was asked of President François Hollande today. Much attention has focused on his insistence that this is a private matter. But the question is as interesting as the lack of an answer.

There is no ‘First Lady’ of France. There is no such position. It has no legal status. It is a title conferred upon the wife of the U.S. President. The U.S. President and the First Lady embody a gendered division of labour between the head and the heart, or reason and emotion. The President embodies reason, deliberation and decision-making. The First Lady embodies emotion, especially caring and compassion. This arrangement seems to have some influence over French admirers of the United States. Hence ‘First Lady’ of France.

President Hollande’s alleged affair with actress Julie Gayet throws a wrench in this division of labour. Emotion appears to have interfered with his decision-making to such an extent that he risked exposure and ridicule in his clandestine visits to Ms Gayet’s apartment on the back of a scooter. The ‘First Lady’, Valérie Trierweiler, meanwhile checks herself into a hospital because she is emotionally unwell.

This gendered emotional division of labour is unwell too and should be put out of its misery. Emotions are central to ‘rational’ decision-making, not a threat to it. The French know this. So why is this question being asked of the President of France?

With infidelity, it’s not the sex that does the most damage, it’s the deceit and lying. A better question to the President would be: ‘if you deceive the woman you live with, how can the people of France trust you not to deceive them?’

President Hollande will clarify things before his visit to Washington on February 11.

At war with an emotion—terror

We are at war against ‘terror’. It’s the first war against an emotion, for terror is extreme fear. We are afraid of being afraid, so we terrorize others. It’s a license to kill, anyone, anywhere, without hindrance of evidence or trial. You got a problem with that?

The war on terror is perpetual and without limits. Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt. Seek and destroy these terrorists. A swath of destruction left by the grim reapers’ scythe.

This is OK as long as it doesn’t effect us, you think. But this war includes us too. It is the merest possibility that terrorists might be among our midst that legitimizes State surveillance into the minutia of our lives by the National Security Agency and GCHQ. Every email, phone conversation, every commercial transaction, every move you make in life is monitored.

The security in question is not actually ours you understand—you have a better chance of drowning in your bath than being harmed by a terrorist—but that of the State. What it wants to keep secure is what it doesn’t want you to know. That’s why the man who revealed details of this mass surveillance—Edward Snowden—is not feted as a hero, but vilified as traitorous fugitive.

These are grounds, are they not, for scrutinizing ‘terror’, and this I will do over the next few days.

For complete details of Snowden’s revelations see The NSA files. See especially What the revelations mean for you. For posts on the ‘war on terror’ in this blog see here.

The featured image is of three children whose fathers had just been killed by a American drone in Yemen. I have taken this from Iona Craig’s (@ionacraig) Twitter feed. The original is here.

How your digital identity is monetized and monitored

Next Monday, 11th November (Remembrance Day here in Canada) Google+’s new terms of service come into effect. Henceforth, it will sell adult users’ profile names, photos and comments on products to advertisers.

So, if you’ve commented favourably on some product, you may find yourself in advertising. You can opt out, but that’s only if you are aware of these ‘shared endorsements’. More information from Google is here: How shared endorsements work.

Google+’s ‘shared endorsements’ resemble Facebook’s ads. The ads you see on Facebook are tailored to your ‘likes’ and comments, and whatever other information you reveal to Facebook.


Twitter will be next. That’s why its market valuation is so high. Twitter is expected to begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange tomorrow, Thursday.

While Google, Facebook and Twitter monetize all you have revealed to them, the National Security Agency is tapping into their data centre cables and scrutinizing your digital identity for signs of dissent or deviation.

Digital identities don’t have bodies and emotions—that’s why they think they’re invincible—but real people do. It’s about time they woke up to what is going on and stirred themselves to action. This is a good place to start: The NSA Files.


U.S., British intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program, Washington Post, June 6, 2013

“Kill Your Rapist”

This graffiti appeared in my neighbourhood recently. Here I simply note and draw your attention to it.

There’s a connection between this graffiti and D.A. Clarke’s classic short essay which I included in this post in January: HOW TO STOP RAPE: ‘JUSTICE IS A WOMAN WITH A SWORD’ While she doesn’t advocate killing your rapist she certainly contemplates women fighting back. It’s a powerful and salutary essay.

For those who do not have time to read it in full, I quote from it here:

If the risk involved in attacking a woman were greater, there might be fewer attacks. If women defended themselves violently, the amount of damage they were willing to do to would-be assailants would be the measure of their seriousness about the limits beyond which they would not be pushed. If more women killed husbands and boyfriends who abused them or their children, perhaps there would be less abuse. A large number of women refusing to be pushed any further would erode, however slowly, the myth of the masochistic female which threatens all our lives. Violent resistance to attack has its advantages all round….

It’s interesting–amusing in a bitter kind of way–maybe even liberating–to envision a slightly different world. The man limps into the emergency room with one ear half-torn off and multiple bruises. As he gasps out his story, the doctor shakes his head: “You mean you grabbed at her breasts and tried to pull her into your car? Well I mean, dummy, what did you expect?” And he gets no sympathy, not a shred, from anyone.

She concludes:

I am not here to lay out a list of easy answers, but a tangle of difficult questions.

Violence may be a tool and a tactic that feminists should use; certainly we ought to be putting some serious thought into it. If we refuse it, it should not be because it offends against our romantic notion of morally superior Womanhood, but for some better and more thoughtful reason. If we accept it, we had better figure out how to avoid becoming corrupted by it.

Finally, another form of fighting back—parody, a lampooning of patriarchal explanations of rape in India.