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CIA's PR strategy for drone war

GEOFFREY INGERSOLL, BUSINESS INSIDER AUSTRALIA

Last updated 10:29 05/09/2013

The latest in the Snowden leak saga comes from the Washington Post: it's about the NSA spying on al-Qaeda and the CIA's use of drones.

In the Post's piece, there's a portion tucked at the end which shows the battle of branding of drone tech and operations.

Analysts also questioned whether they were losing the rhetorical battle in the media, the courts and even among "citizens with legitimate social agendas." One 2010 report predicted that drone operations "could be brought under increased scrutiny, perceived to be illegitimate, openly resisted or undermined."

In response, intelligence agencies floated their own ideas to influence public perceptions.

"Strikes connote a first attack, which leaves the victim unable to respond. Other phrases employed to evoke an emotional response include 'Kill List,' 'Hit Squads,' 'Robot Warfare,' or 'Aerial Assassins.' "

Instead, the report advised referring to "lethal UAV operations." It also suggested "elevating the conversation" to more-abstract issues, such as the "Inherent Right of Self-Defence" and "Pre-emptive and Preventive Military Action."

The CIA isn't the only one in the drone branding game either. Apparently it considered the new approaches in response to an al-Qaeda push to make the US look bad over drone strikes.

Even Bill "Sweet" Tart - an Air Force drone pilot who "always watches for the kids" - attempted to rebrand drones as "Remotely Piloted Aircraft" in his exclusive interview with Huffingtong Post. His preference was more one of pride.

It goes without mentioning that all the three letter organisations have public affairs wings which carefully craft public image. Nonetheless, this approach to phrasing smacks more of Republican branding guru Frank Luntz than of an agency charged with protecting America and at times killing to do it. It also suggests that the CIA is more concerned with manipulating public opinion than in responding to often valid concerns.

After controversy surrounding of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the attention to political will is not surprising.

Former government intelligence analyst turned freelance reporter Joshua Foust summed up the importance of political will to Business Insider months ago when he said, "The outcry over extraordinary rendition - which was how President Bush went about capturing and interrogating a lot of these suspected individuals - was incredibly unpopular ... abroad [and] in the US Frankly, killing people polls better, and it polls strongly across the aisle."

Foust was talking about the use of drone strikes as opposed to capture, a preference of the executive office he said was fuelled by the growing sense of outrage over Gitmo and indefinite detention.

One way or another, the Post covered an internal debate which highlights the hardest truth of war: how to explain its necessity to the people.

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