2nd January 2001

Depleted Uranium Watch

Psy-Ops and Depleted Uranium

Piotr Bein, piotr.bein@imag.net

Vancouver, Canada

New cases of victims of depleted uranium (DU) weapons come to light from countries that sent soldiers for NATO peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo. Yet, NATO continues to deny any danger to either soldiers or civilians in areas where DU was used. Continued denial and distortions of truth, particularly from Pentagon and the British Ministry of Defence, raise suspicions of a systematic cover-up. As in the demonization of Serbs over the past decade, special services of NATO working in collusion with mainstream media exert an effective control of public opinion.

Military information about DU has the characteristics of information warfare. Information to the public about DU weapon use and effects on life in the Balkans are one of the subjects of information operations in NATO campaign in the region. NATO used propaganda (1) to:

  • demonize the Serbs in order to justify intervention in former Yugoslavia;
  • exaggerate Serb atrocities before the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia; 
  • cover-up own military blunders in Yugoslavia; and
  • induce overthrow of “unfriendly” government in Yugoslavia and press for economic “reforms”.

Information Operations

Information warfare is one of four instruments of power – diplomatic, informational, military, and economic – that nations wield to influence events and actions during peace and conflict. Behavioural science and the use of mass media and high technology are contemporary devices now used in war. The military employs them through Information Operations, as laid out, for example, in the US Field Manual 100-6 (2

  • Information warfare and operations of US Department of Defense (DoD) targets foreign nations and groups, including foreign governments. DoD actions, “convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning; and to intelligence systems and leaders at all levels.” (3
  • DoD management of the foreign perceptions, “combines truth projection, operation security, cover and deception, and psychological operations.” 
  • In NATO, Psychological Operations (PsyOp) mean, “planned psychological activities in peace and war directed to enemy, friendly and neutral audiences in order to influence attitudes and behavior affecting the achievement of political and military objectives.” 

A companion of PsyOp is Public Affairs (PA), which “provides objective reporting without intent to propagandize” and disseminates information internationally. (4) Information warfare uses propaganda – white (telling the truth), gray (ambiguous) or black (lying) – often through Public Relations (PR). In Selling a conflict – the ultimate PR challenge NATO spokesman during Kosovo conflict Jamie Shea told a Switzerland forum that “he won the war” by carrying out daily briefings in a PR style. By doing so, Shea and his employers lost all credibility, (5) but it was not the first use of PR at a high level in the Balkan conflict. 

American PR firm Rudder Finn arranged a protest of the Jewry against alleged “Serb” death camps in Bosnia. Once the Jewry protested, the rest of the world believed the atrocity was authentic. (6) The PR stunt was highly successful, regardless of whether the originators were the warring factions of former Yugoslavia unfriendly to Serbia, NATO, some other group or a combination. The most convincing proof that Serb “death” camps were a hoax is in a video (7) filmed in one of the camps by a crew from Radio and Television of Serbia next to reporters of the ITN press giant. ITN publicized around the world images of the camp presented like a WW2 Nazi concentration camp. 

The journalist profession in the West compromised the ethical code for NATO campaigns, failed to verify information and seldom reported the other side of each story. (12) It means a deep control of the media by military-government Information Operations. Pop-culture is also exploited. American movies contain subtle messages that influence our perceptions. One famous author of historical fiction compared atrocious barbarians from Roman times to contemporary Serbs. 

The Supreme US Commander General Dwight Eisenhower was responsible for drafting a plan for integrating most every aspect of civic life with the military. His last presidential speech in 1946 warned against growth of the military-industrial complex. Today, half of American federal taxes during peacetime go into military spending, including information operations. The military-government-industry complex battles for our minds, using mass media as the vehicle for delivery of doctored information. 

How it Works

Information operations prepared the world for NATO engagements in Iraq and the Balkans by demonizing the leaders and their people. These campaigns subordinated mass media through Public Affairs of Psychological Operations, which, 

“are based on projection of truths and credible message [that serve to discredit] adversary propaganda or misinformation against the operations of US/coalition forces [which] is critical to maintaining favorable public opinion.” (2) 

To understand how PsyOp work in conjunction with other special services and mass media, it is instructive to consider the case of Račak “massacre” of January 15th, 1999. US ambassador William Walker and Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) staged the event. Walker was the head of Kosovo Verification Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who supposedly monitored compliance of both sides to ceasefire. While the Yugoslav forces complied, KLA operated unchecked.

In June 2000, Dr. Helena Ranta, the head of the Finnish forensic team investigating Račak incident for NATO, told me that the bodies had no signs of execution, were brought from other locations and that NATO made her final report secret. Had it proved Serb crime, the report would receive prompt publicity. Instead, it was made secret to hide lack of proofs, just like the “evidence” brought before the NATO “court” in Hague by “witnesses” of a “massacre” of thousands of Bosnian Moslems in Srebrenica. 

KLA leader Hashim Thaci admitted in a March 24th, 2000, BBC interview that a KLA unit operated at Racak and many soldiers lost their life in battles with Yugoslav forces. KLA intentionally killed 4 Serb policemen in order to enliven the conflict and covertly killed Albanian peasants to win sympathy for the separatist cause from the West. Madeleine Albright admitted in the same BBC programme that Račak incident needed preparation and was vivified in order to keep pressure on European allies to intervene militarily.

The Račak case indicates the following information warfare elements: 

  • Mission: exert pressure on European allies to intervene militarily against “Milosevic”. 
  • Target audience: foreign governments and public opinion. 
  • Psychological objectives: i) cohesion of European allies, ii) reinforce atrocious stereotype of Serbs.
  • Timing: before Ramboulliet “negotiations”. 
  • Theme: another “Serb” atrocity in Kosovo. 
  • Partners: US department of state, KLA, OSCE. 
  • Development: covert action, mass media. 
  • Filtering: select “friendly” media, ban Serb media from the site of the “massacre”.
  • Blunders: i) mistakes in staging an execution; ii) admissions by Albright and Thaci to BBC; iii) secret final report. 
  • Damage control: deny the final scientific report by making it secret.

The media supported NATO’s Račak propaganda against facts, logic and ethics. On the 1st anniversary of the Račak “massacre” BBC News began a story with an usual statement that Serb forces are guilty of the atrocity. The truth was hidden at the end: Dr. Ranta’s team was very close to determining what happened. A reader must have wondered at this point, given the beginning of the story. Most people read only headlines and by-lines. Between lie and truth, BBC placed Thaci’s opinion that Račak was a turning point that misled the West’s military intervention. The story is typical for thousands of others dispatches on the Balkan conflict in Western media since early 1990s. The story contained no voice from Yugoslav and Byelorussian investigators, who examined evidence at Račak before the Finns. After experiencing a few messages of this type, the reader or TV viewer begins to perceive them as obviously biased against the Serbs. 

Reflecting on September 2000 “democratic” elections in Yugoslavia, University of Berkeley professor emeritus in history Raymond Kent wrote, “the Serbs are suddenly transformed from a nation of neo-Nazi ‘subhumans’ into a ‘brave and valiant people,’ a decade of carefully nurtured Serbophobia lurks in the background. A host of people in government, politics, intellectual journals, scribal and audio-visual media have gained in careers and prominence through hate-mongering against the Serbs. This will not be given up easily.” (8

Kent alluded to the infiltration of media by the power complex, “As an outgrowth of deceit and disinformation needed to justify military interventions abroad, an unusually intimate relationship of the major scribal and audio visual media and the administration has emerged in the shaping of foreign policy. While a ‘patriotic mutuality’ of government and media was commonplace in major wars, it never loomed as large in peacetime as in the last decade while focusing on the Balkans and the Yugoslav tragedy.”

Dutch paper Trouw reported that PsyOp officers worked at two leading US news channels during the Kosovo war. A liberal US commentator Alexander Cockburn remarked, “In the Kosovo conflict [...] CNN’s screen was filled with an unending procession of bellicose advocates of bombing, many of them retired US generals.” However, the few interns seen at CNN and NPR don’t explain the systematic, decade-long bias across the mass media in NATO countries. The infiltration must be subtler. In fact, the story in Trouw may have been a PsyOp trick designed to divert public attention from permanent ties of the media with the power complex.

PA involves press releases, media briefings and statements by the military. In 1998 Dynamic Response exercises of NATO peacekeeping SFOR, several military agencies and commanders were involved in preparation and delivery of a message, which “must be clearly communicated and correctly interpreted by potential adversaries.” After-action reviews showed that former warring faction “leaders in attendance and those watching the event through the media received the intended message loud and clear.” (9

Integrated efforts of several types of special services, for example, at the Račak “massacre” or at the October 2000 election coup in Belgrade, are possible with structures like US Special Operations. It is a joint command that can assemble teams of experts in different fields from the different services as the mission requires. The commanders decide who are the right people for a mission and what units, including “friendly” terrorist organizations, British Special Air Services or US Delta Commandos, should be used in addition to PA and PsyOp. Attacks on anti-DU activist, Dr. Doug Rokke, former Pentagon expert on DU, may be steered by Special Operations in a broader campaign of “fighting” the truth about DU

Countering PsyOp on DU

Six months before Desert Storm, a report from Science Applications International Corporation wrote about DU weapons, “Short-term effects of high doses can result in death, while long-term effects of low doses have been implicated in cancer.” US General Accounting Office report GAO/NSIAD-93-90 of 1993 stated, “Inhaled insoluble [DU] oxides stay in the lungs longer and pose a potential cancer risk due to radiation. Ingested DU dust can also pose both a radioactive and toxicity risk.” A 1995 report of the US Army Environmental Policy Institute warned, “If DU enters the body, it has the potential to generate significant medical consequences.” 

If DU was benign, why did not Pentagon disclose locations of DU use in the Balkans? Public verification could end the suspicions, and allow NATO to retain an effective armour-piercer. Information Operations (with help from Special Operations) chose a different approach for obvious reasons. The Balkan DU case has the following information warfare features. 

  • Mission: i) maintain tactical advantage over enemy’s armour; ii) suppress government-industry-military liability, including storage of DU waste and past uses of DU weapons in the Gulf, Bosnia and on testing ranges; iii) maintain a terrorist weapon against enemies. 
  • Target audience: domestic and foreign public opinion. 
  • Psychological objectives: alienate, dilute and delay global public opposition to DU. 
  • Timing: i) until US and international laws ban the military use of DU; or, ii) until a world tribunal sentences persons responsible, whichever comes first. 
  • Theme: “As harmless as a handful of dirt from your backyard.” – Pentagon; “Radiaiton level no higher than a household smoke alarm.” – British MoD.
  • Partners: US and British departments of defense, DU industry. 
  • Development: i) communication through spokesmen, “scientific” reports and mass media; ii) intimidation of key anti-DU activists with “special” methods. 
  • Filtering: emphasize “friendly” reports, suppress independent research results. 
  • Blunders: i) contradictory own reports; ii) delays in divulging location of DU use over Yugoslavia; and, iii) failure to warn and protect NATO and UN forces, foreign workers and local civilians. 
  • Damage control: i) suppress scientific evidence; ii) deceive by emphasis on toxic effects if DU was ingested, but harmless radioactivity of DU in solid form; iii) change emphasis to possible other causes of Gulf and Balkan syndromes.

How effective is the propaganda? A director of a respectable US institute wrote me recently that DU risk is not high because DU, a heavy metal, cannot disperse far. In fact, upon oxidation of a DU bullet after impact, or through corrosion of unexploded DU shell or shrapnel, the heavy metal turns into microscopic particles that disperse easily with any movement of air or water. One needs only one particle to get sick.

The primary goal of anti-DU campaigns during US, British and NATO military operations should be to warn local population that might be affected. Long before international and Yugoslav NGOs managed to prepare an anti-DU warning brochure in Serbian language, Robert Fisk, Scott Peterson and others have already described how Kosovo children played with the DU shells while DU targets were salvaged. To my knowledge, no organization prepared any material in Albanian.

Present US and NATO means more "humanitarian interventions" wherever and whenever globalisation interests call for use of force to subdue states and destabilize regions. Prohibited weapons such as DU are indiscriminately used against civilians by NATO. Western NGOs and concerned citizens should stand-by with money and organizational resources necessary to issue and disseminate DU brochures and posters, ads for local newspapers, radio and TV and other “products” (to use PsyOp jargon) to any region of the world in any language on a short notice. 

Long-term, nuclear misinformation de-bunking campaigns raise public awareness with socially just meaning of “truth projection”, “objective reporting,” “national,” and “strategic” objectives. 


Public information about the effects of DU weapons used in the Balkans fall within information warfare of NATO campaign in the region. Information operations target foreign and domestic groups, including foreign governments and intelligence, in an attempt to influence their perceptions and actions towards support of own national and strategic goals. Distortions and half-truths about the post-combat hazards of DU weapons flow from the objectives of “military advantage” over enemy’s armour and military installations, which stem from objectives of “national” and “strategic” interests disguised under “globalization” rhetoric of “human rights” and “freeing the economies”. 

DU ammunition did not secure any military advantage in the Kosovo crisis, but DU contaminated the environment. The necessity to use slow-moving and low-altitude A-10 and Apache against Serb tanks and mobile missile launches spelled disaster to US equipment. Thousands of DU rounds went into mock-ups of Serb armour and butchered refugees when “Serb” armour was suspected in convoys. Yugoslav army left the battlefields practically intact. Unexploded DU shells, shrapnel and invisible DU dust greeted hundreds of thousands of returning refugees, KLA and illegal newcomers from Albania, as well as tens of thousands of NATO and UN peacekeepers, humanitarian workers and Western “re-builders” of former Yugoslavia. Only the Western groups were informed about potential risk, albeit with delay. 

The efects of DU on Balkan battlefields are similar to the Gulf War syndrome from the 1991 war in Iraq, where DU was used on a massive scale for the first time. Evidence is also mounting about the risk of DU poisoning of aircraft mechanics who never went to the Persian Gulf or the Balkans, but became contaminated and sick from DU counterweights they handled. 

Potential for multi-billion dollar litigation by veterans and by civilian authorities in the Persian Gulf hamper publication of the truth. Cleanups of DU contamination on battlefields, shooting ranges and at DU storage sites throughout the world would also be extremely costly. It is in self-interests of the military, the government and the defence industry to continue attempts at “changing emphasis”, deception, half-truths, and straight lying about DU.

US and NATO strategy proves counterproductive. Moral credit of the United States was tarnished in Western Europe. The same regards majority of former Soviet block people who invested great hopes in a better world spearheaded by the US and NATO. USA is harming its own national long-term interests and is letting down millions of needy people in the process. Opposition to joining NATO and European Union rose dramatically in Slav countries after NATO attacked Yugoslavia. In Poland it is expressed by about 60 to 70% of the population.

The US and NATO would not give up DU “military advantage” voluntarily, though an alternative exists in expensive tungsten. The military does not calculate full social costs and has no incentive to switch to a more benign material. Cheap DU was incorporated into the sandwich armour of the newest American tank to make it “harder”. The problem concerns both DU ammunition and DU used in flying bombs and aircraft, including civilian applications.

Public must take a vigorous stand to protect present and future generations of all life endangered by DU. Propaganda is a weak point of the military-government-industry complex who lost credibility through repeated blunders and lies. However, the public does not question mainstream media messages and does not have capacity to seek, analyse and understand information about DU. Alternative information is generally rejected. Government-military-industry information warriors exploit this in their operations. Bonaparte’s assertion that “the sword is always beaten by the mind” is challenging if one considers how the mind can be influenced by black and grey propaganda. The public’s self-preservation instinct that came to fruition during successful protests against nuclear mania gives hope for countering DU propaganda. 

Domination of biased messages undermines freedom of opinion and the right to know the truth. The public is manipulated with fabricated truth. Demonizing a nation to justify aggression and covering up information regarding crimes against humanity are crimes themselves. There are indications of distorting recent medical reports from NATO member countries about the cause of illness in soldiers from Balkan campaigns. This effort will likely be growing, as medical DU experts expect the incidence of the Balkan syndrome to rise sharply in the next few months. 

The degree of protection received by unconventional information on DU will be a major working test of freedom and democracy. Continuing exposure of truth to the public should hopefully begin a desirable change, both in public perceptions and in the participatory processes. 

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Sources Cited

1 www.most.org.pl/zb/internet/nato/index.html

2 Headquarters, Department of the Army, Field Manual 100-6: Information Operations, USGPO, Washington DC, 27 August 1996

3 Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Defense, JCS Publication 1, Glossary Department of Defense Military and Associated Terms, 1987.

4 Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 3-53, Joint Doctrine for Psychological Operations, USGPO, Washington DC, 10 July 1996

5 Neue Zurcher Zeitung, March 30, 2000

6 Jacques Merlino, It Is Not Good To Tell The Truth About Yugoslavia, A. Michel, Paris, 1993

7 Judgement can be ordered here.

8 R. K. Kent, Nationalisms and the absolute corruptibility of imagined absolute power, October 7, 2000

9 Arthur N. Tulak, Information Operations in Support of Demonstrations and Shows of Force.

10 www.vorstadtzentrum.net/cgi-bin/joesb/news/viewnews.cgi?category=all&id=969989108

11 George Coryell, General spreads his wings, says farewell to arms, The Tampa Tribune, October 27, 2000.

12 Philip Hammond and Edward S. Herman (editors), Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis, Pluto Press, London, 2000

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