A whistleblower who has worked on that program says yes, and he wants you to know exactly what has been going on.
The first towards truth is to be informed.
If I told you that the Defense Department was using taxpayer dollars to learn how to influence people with religious beliefs in order to control those beliefs, would it really surprise you?
Would you think that I am a tin foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist?
Would you care if I told you that the program was aimed at controlling fundamentalist Muslims?
How about fundamentalist Christians?
The first step toward truth is to be informed.
Here’s the backstory. In 2012, Arizona State University’s Center for Strategic Communication or CSC was awarded a $6.1 million dollar research grant by DARPA or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The goal of the project according to ASUʼs website is to “study the neurobiology of narrative comprehension, validate narrative theories and explore the connection between narrative and persuasion.”
A lot of technical talk there, so let’s dig into the details.
The CSC program is actually about creating narratives, using effective communication, largely video, to control the thought process of groups of people. And ultimately to be able to trigger narratives through magnetic stimulation. At its core, the program is focused on how to win the narrative against Muslim extremism. It’s a fairly interesting concept.
According to documents leaked to us, this project integrates insights from three mutually-informing theoretical terrains.
In short, the goal of the program is to combat and change religious narratives because of their role in “extremist behavior.” The whistleblower who revealed this program to us worked for several years on the program. They asked not to be identified.
Ben: What were you told about the proposal as you began working through it?
Whistleblower: Yeah, I thought that it was benign. They told me it was about trying to figure out what parts of the brain are affected by narrative persuasion. Just to figure it out just for academic reasons. So we looked at narrative transportation which is basically how an individual is transported into a narrative, how they understand it…kind of like when you read a good book you get really enthralled with it.
At its core, the program attempts to map the brain to determine which portions of the brain allow you to accept a narrative presented to you. It’s called narrative theory.
Mapping this network will lead to a fuller understanding of the influence narrative has on memory, emotion, theory of mind, identity and persuasion, which in turn influence the decision to engage in political violence or join violent groups or support groups ideologically or financially.
You see, the project is focused on the belief that the reason Muslims in the Middle East are swayed to religious violence is not because of the reality of what is going on around them per se, but because they are believing a local or a regional narrative.
Ben: The local and regional narrative then is that the brain automatically assumes things because of a narrative we’ve been taught since our childhood, is that it?
Whistleblower: Right yeah, that’s true. We call those master narratives. So in America we have this “rags to riches” master narrative where if you work really hard you can become successful and make a ton of money. So in the Middle East, they always use the example of the Pharaoh. That’s the master narrative that’s in the Qur’an, where there’s this corrupt leader that, you know, is really bad for society. And they use the example of Sadat, who was assassinated. When the assassin killed him, he said, “I have killed the Pharaoh, I have killed the Pharaoh.” So they assume that he was relying upon this Islamic master narrative to fuel his actions.
So how does the program change this? Again a lot of technical speak here so stay with me. But it’s broken into three phases.
Phase I is to map the Narrative Comprehension Network using a set of stimuli designed from the point of view of two different religious cultures.
Phase II will test hypotheses generated in Phase I, adding two additional manipulations of narrative validity and narrative transportation.
Phase III, it investigates possibilities for literally disrupting the activity of the NCN through Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.
Ben: Phase III is fairly interesting. I noticed in the documentation it says let’s not talk too much about this because who knows if we’ll ever get there. But when you do read what Phase III is it is a little surprising, it’s called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. This is not something that’s science fiction; it’s not something they’ve cooked up. This is a real technique that’s already been used in the past, correct?
Whistleblower: Yes, it started out in the psychiatry field when people were depressed and when you’re depressed certain parts of your brain are not functioning correctly. So they created this technology, which is basically a big magnet, and you put it on their brain and it turns off that part of the brain that’s bad or wrong, and it would help them with their depression for several weeks to a month, and they’d go back and do it again. So this technology has been around for ten or fifteen years.
Ben: So it’s very high tech propaganda, what we’re talking about.
Whistleblower: High tech and validated propaganda, yes. So if they’re able to turn off a part of the brain and get rid of that master narrative that will make you not believe in a particular statement, they would have validated this propaganda. So if they turn off portion X, they know that the propaganda is going to work, and the individual is going to believe whatever is being told to them.
So why do all this? It’s because the project is based on the idea that despite the good work of the U.S. in the Middle East, the message of the work is not being received.
“The frequent rejection of US messaging by local populations in the Middle East, despite US insistence on the objective truth of the US message, illustrates the narrative paradigm at work. The well documented ‘say-do gap’ between US messages and US actions is seen by some as contributing to a lack of narrative validity in stories produced by the US. Similarly, stories of US aid do not ring true in a culture wherein Christian foreigners, since the 11th Century, have been invaders and sought to destroy and rule.”
So how to fix this?
Ben: How do you move someone from simply watching a video or seeing a video all the way down that line to behavior? It’s a pretty powerful tool if you’re able to do that.
Whistleblower: Right, so they think that maybe an extremist statements or a video like Al Qaeda puts out will lead to some individuals doing a suicide bombing, for example. So they’re trying to look at this video or the statements and take away a part of your brain that will think that it fits in with your culture or master narrative and that will hopefully lead you to not do these extremist, violent acts.
So what you need to know is that this program boils down to one central idea. If people aren’t reaching the conclusions the U.S. government would like them to reach, there must be a way to force them to accept these narratives.
Remember that the claim is that the U.S. despite giving aid is viewed in the Middle East as invaders. That, according to the program research is the product of embedded narrative, not a result of action.
So the view of the U.S. as invaders in countries where we have standing armies, dozens of military bases, the U.S. paying off drug lords in Afghanistan or regional warlords in Iraq or where we consistently bomb via drone strike in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia or where we fund dictators until those dictators are overthrown and then attempt to fund the rebels, who end up becoming dictators.
All of that has nothing to do with the U.S. view of Muslims in the Middle East because clearly they are missing the fact that the U.S. gives aid.
The next step, control the narrative and if necessary, use magnetic stimulation to force people to accept the view of the U.S. that we desire them to have.
After all, aren’t extremist Muslims dangerous? Extremist Christians? See the problem with the question is who gets to define extremist? Who decides if religious beliefs are inherently dangerous?
And if we believe that government should have the power to control how the extremist thinks… wouldn’t they have the authority to decide how and what we all think?
Sources: We cannot post the leaked documents from the program here because ASU has claimed intellectual property infringement.