Good soldiers get promoted, and Otto Reich, the designated assistant
secretary of state for Latin America, was a good soldier--a veteran
of the Reagan-Bush administration's Iran-contra scandal.
Reich's nomination bodes ill, first for Latin Americans who must
fear his support of the region's most extreme political forces (he
is director of the Center for
a Free Cuba in Washington), and second for Americans (particularly
journalists) who were the object of Reich's covert attentions in
Reich served the Reagan administration from 1983 to 1986 as director
of the newly created Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America
and the Caribbean. From his post in the State Department, Reich
commanded a unit of PSYOPS (psychological operations) specialists
who ran a covert domestic propaganda campaign to sell the American
people, the media and Congress on the administration's wars against
leftists in Central America.
Corporate supporters of the Republicans were instrumental. A National
Security Council staff member wrote in a 1983 memo: "A group of
public relations specialists met with [CIA Director] Bill Casey
a few days ago. ... The group included Bill Greener, the public
affairs head at Phillip Morris, and two or three others. They 'stated'
what needed to be done to generate a nationwide campaign. ... an
effective communications system inside the government. The overall
purpose would be to sell a 'new product'--Central America--by generating
That "inside" system was Reich's Office of Public Diplomacy, which
drew up an "Action Plan" to ensure "congressional passage of aid
to the Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters. ... Overall theme: The Nicaraguan
Freedom Fighters are fighters for freedom in the American tradition,
FSLN [Sandinistas] are evil. ... Audiences: U.S. Congress, U.S.
media, interest groups."
Public Diplomacy staffing was provided by the Pentagon, which assigned
to Washington five members of the Army's 4th Psychological Operations
Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In a memo to Reich, a subordinate
wrote: "Whatever you want done by your 'A-team,' just pass on to
me." He went on to praise the new "troops" including a "PSYOPS type"
who will "be looking for exploitable themes and trends, and will
inform us of possible areas for our exploitation."
Reich was a hands-on propagandist. In a memo to President Reagan,
Secretary of State George Shultz praised Reich for helping "improve
the quality of information the American people are receiving." As
an example, Shultz mentioned a spring 1984 CBS Evening News
report from El Salvador that "conveyed a deceptive image favorable
to the guerrillas." Reich paid a visit to CBS and spent hours with
the guilty CBS correspondent and CBS news executives. This was done,
Shultz wrote, not in "an effort to embarrass anyone, but simply
to try to point out flaws in the information the American people
are receiving. So far everyone at CBS has been very cordial and
cooperative with Ambassador Reich."
Shultz added that such visits have "been repeated dozens of times
over the past few months." Like when Reich visited National Public
Radio, and raged about the network's coverage of CIA's covert war
against the Sandinistas. According to NPR's Bill Buzenberg, Reich
warned NPR news editors that he had "a special consultant service
listening to all NPR programs."
A 1988 report by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, concluded:
"Senior CIA officials with backgrounds in covert operations, as
well as military intelligence and psychological operations specialists
from the Department of Defense, were deeply involved in establishing
and participating in a domestic political and propaganda operation
... designed to lobby Congress, manipulate the media and influence
domestic public opinion."
The public never heard of any of this. In the late '80s, Reich
and company got a pass from both Congress and a cowed media. Let's
not repeat that mistake. Otto Reich's nomination is one that all
defenders of a free press should oppose.