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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
War Views: Let's fight with mind tricks
Propaganda, bribes, and psychological operations should be the key weapons in fighting terror, says "psyops" expert Nick Grace of in a personal view.

We are embarking on a new type of war. It is a war that defies traditional strategies and has few, if any, concrete targets. Don't kid yourself; this is a war with absolutely no rules of engagement.

We face an enemy who plays by only one rule: indiscriminately kill as many innocent people as possible - regardless of their nationality, race and religion. There are no negotiations. There can be no compromise.

Osama Bin Laden counts on media attention to sensationalise his terror

Yes, the United States and its allies will prevail against the terrorists. But we must be prepared to speak to them and their patrons around the world in the only language they understand.

We must silence their voice, erode the loyalty of their patrons through covert means, and blanket their sponsors with pro-democratic propaganda.

Muting propaganda

Terrorism is by its very nature psychological, and Osama Bin Laden, like all terrorists, counts on media attention to sensationalize his terror.

Publicity is so important to Bin Laden that he reportedly has lieutenants specialising in public relations. Such is their sophistication that a video of Bin Laden responding to the allied military campaign aired all over the world within hours of the first strikes on Afghanistan.

Publicity can only feed their activities and their hunger for blood

Their strategy is clear and simple: use our technology - whether by turning commercial passenger jets into missiles or television news broadcasts into pulpits for their propaganda - to destabilise our system and way of life.

The Bush and Blair governments should be commended for urging restraint by the news media when covering statements by al-Qaeda.

Even if these communiqués do not contain any surreptitious messages to their "sleepers" embedded in the West, we shouldn't let them take advantage of our freedom of speech, which they most certainly despise, to promote their campaign of terror.

Publicity can only feed their activities and their hunger for blood. We must silence their threats.

Neutralising patrons

Patronage is key to al-Qaeda's operations since it has allowed them to establish bases in as many as 60 countries across the globe.

Their suspected patrons, who now have an invested interest in promoting Bin Laden's fiery pan-Islamic crusade, fund attacks against Christians in Indonesia, hostage-taking in Ecuador and the Philippines, and the daily spectacle of anti-American demonstrations broadcast into our living rooms.

Remove the money and their loyalty will erode.

We must take the numerous state-sponsors of terrorism seriously

In addition to freezing al-Qaeda's finances the US and its allies should go a step further by taking a page from Bin Laden's game book. We can neutralise these groups by paying off key leaders, politicians and even newspaper editors in countries where their patrons exist in order to "reign them in".

Corruption is a way of life in most of the developing world and regardless of what international institutions try to do it's not going away anytime soon. So while it's being used against us we should not preclude using it against them.

Hitting where it counts

Al-Qaeda and the Taleban may be the current targets in our war against terrorism but our struggle to defend ourselves won't end with the death of these groups.

We must take the numerous state-sponsors of terrorism seriously, including Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Iran. And we must aggressively hit them where it counts by shattering their stability and ability to govern.

Clandestine radio can expose their populations to our democratic values and principles and provide them with a means of dissent

Clandestine radio broadcasting, which was quite popular during the Cold War, is an especially effective non-violent method in undermining a government's control. But it requires we engage in propaganda and even supply leading opposition groups with covert aid.

Czech President Vaclav Havel, who himself depended on American propaganda sent over Radio Free Europe, often recalls the hope and strength given to the people of Eastern Europe by clandestine radio broadcasts.

Radio, he said at Radio Free Europe's 50th Anniversary last May, "provided the only avenue for free exchange of information, for free journalism and [was] also the main source for communication between the opposition with the public and the nation".

Shake foundations

Clandestine radio broadcasts, whether through overt or covert means, can be used to shake the very foundation these state-sponsors of terrorism stand on. It can expose their populations to our democratic values and principles and provide them with a means of dissent.

And it can do so with only one thing: information.

The war we face is not particularly pretty and it will require us to make some difficult decisions. But we have been pushed in this position by a band of terrorists who play by no one's rules.

They understand only one language. Let's not pretend otherwise.

This is one of a series of differing opinions on the War on Terror which we shall be publishing in the coming days. You can send your view about this or other articles by using the form below.

Your comments:

Finally there is some journalism that understands that these are not people that you can negotiate with. Unfortunately, civilian casualties are a consequence of war, but this is not a war we chose. We need action and justice - and you won't get that through negotiation - and why should we negotiate with mass murderers?
Victoria, UK

Nick Grace's views are the first realistic analysis of the threat/strategy/response to Bin Laden that I have seen in the media since the beginning of this crisis. The Bin Ladens of this world despise the West as weak. Hence the propaganda coming out of al-Qaeda and Taleban threatening further terror and showing pictures of civilian/child casualties. This is exactly the same as "troops coming home in body bags" for some sections of the public/media.
Andy Duffield, UK

I find it terribly dangerous that we still have people that pretend to be "experts" as Nick Grace that keep on stating that the end justifies the means. How many crimes to human rights will continue to be inflicted under this banner??
Gonzalo Amorim, Uruguay

The terrorists must be laughing at us: and be extremely gratified by the near hysterical press coverage. It shows they are winning. These criminals have few weapons aside from terror... and giving them access to our media as we have been, places a weapon in their hand. That's just plain stupid.
Peter Hazel, Australia

We are being bombarded by propaganda from all sides, hard to figure out who is right but definitely we are being attacked!
Victor Glenn, N Ireland

The activities leading towards 11 Sept did not use the media for propaganda, not publicly anyway. I would say still use the Media but selectively...That is to prevent violent causes to innocent ones.
Rob Write, New Zealand

What on earth makes it "our" technology? Did you invent all of the electronic communications media, Mr Grace? Every country which has the technology to broadcast or ship commuters around by plane has as much claim to the technology as you or I. And stop making unsubstantiated comments like "...our freedom of speech, which they most certainly despise". Honestly!
Evan Chapman, Japan

"We shouldn't let them take advantage of our freedom of speech". I find this attitude to be deplorable. Any decent government can only be strengthened by granting freedom of speech to everyone. If speakers propose something that is wrong then it will speak for itself and people will reject it as wrong.
Dan Piponi, US

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