John Rendon's Long, Strange Trip in the Terror Wars

John Rendon
John Rendon

In his hippie youth as a Merry Prankster, Stewart Brand bounced around San Francisco in Ken Kesey's day-glo bus, dousing people with LSD-laced Kool-Aid at the legendary Acid Tests. Those were strange days, but his latest trip is also bizarre. Brand and his Long Now Foundation are bringing to San Francisco John Rendon, the elusive head of the Rendon Group, one of the CIA's favorite PR firms.

John Rendon is the self-described "information warrior” who, under contract with the CIA, named and nurtured the infamous Iraqi National Congress. INC leader Ahmed Chalabi was a Rendon protégé embraced by the Project for a New American Century and other advocates of war with Iraq. Rendon and Chalabi probably did as much as anyone to deceive the US into war.

John Rendon usually stays in the shadows, but he’ll be riding high with Stewart Brand this Friday, July 14, 7:00 PM at San Francisco's Herbst Theater.

Sheldon Rampton and I described some of the Rendon Group's activities in our 2003 book, Weapons of Mass Deception, and we go into further detail in our new book, The Best War Ever, which will be published in September. The Iraqi National Congress was the source for much of the false and deceptive propaganda on Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, which they planted in the press with help from Judith Miller of the New York Times and other obliging journalists. Ahmed Chalabi has subsequently fallen out of official favor with the US, but he is currently serving in the Iraqi government and is very friendly with Iran, a real bummer for his patrons in the Bush Administration.

Stewart Brand is a serious guy these days, and his endorsement of John Rendon as a guru in the "global war on terror" is for real. Brand finds Rendon "exceptionally informed, astute, and engaged. ... It should be a hell of a talk." Brand says Rendon wants the US "to deepen its thinking and activities against terror“ and Rendon's talk is titled "Long-term Policy to Make the War on Terror Short."

Some small bit of public enlightenment could occur at Rendon's appearance if he is thoroughly grilled by critics in the audience about his lucrative career as an information warrior before he slips back into the shadows. But Rendon is first and foremost a PR guy, and dodging questions and spinning an audience are his stock in trade. His San Francisco gig looks like a set-up for more hallucinations, delusions and self-deceptions. Merry Prankster meets Mis-Information Warrior; what a long, strange trip it's been in the never-ending, secretive, dirty, spy-infested, mis-named and mis-handled war on terror.


My article above quotes [[Stewart Brand]]. The quotes are from Brand's letter below announcing Rendon's talk. Also, you can help read and help edit and write an article about Stewart Brand on SourceWatch at: John Stauber -------------- From: Stewart Brand <sb AT> Date: July 10, 2006 2:14:19 PM CDT To: Subject: [SALT] The long game against terror, FRIDAY, July 14 (for forwarding) As "senior communications consultant" to the current administration and every White House and Defense Department leadership since President Carter, John Rendon, head of The Rendon Group, has been in the thick of combatting terrorism for decades. In his view, the US needs to deepen its thinking and activities against terror from tactical to strategic--- from short-term reactive to long-term systemic. "Long-term Policy to Make the War on Terror Short," John Rendon, Herbst Theater, San Francisco, 7pm, Friday, July 14. The lecture starts promptly at 7:30pm. Admission is free ($10 donation always welcome, not required). The Rendon Group specializes in studying public opinion and media activities worldwide, in real time, and in devising appropriate responses. Some media characterize John Rendon as a right-wing information warrior, but it that is not my experience of him, and it belies his background as a campaigner for Michael Dukakis, Jimmy Carter, and John Kerry. What characterizes Rendon to me is that he is exceptionally informed, astute, and engaged. It should be a hell of a talk. The Herbst Theater is at Van Ness and McAllister in the War Memorial Veterans Building, adjoining the San Francisco Civic Center. This is one of a monthly series of Seminars About Long-term Thinking organized by The Long Now Foundation, usually on second Fridays. If you would like to be notified by email of forthcoming talks, please contact Simone Davalos--- simone AT, 415-561-6582--- or go to: . You are welcome to forward this note to anyone you think might be interested. --[[Stewart Brand]] -- Stewart Brand -- sb AT The Long Now Foundation - Seminars & downloads:

Since this appears to be the few venues on earth where these issues are discussed intelligently, it might be useful to go into some detail about the kind of work the Rendon Group actually does since that seems to have been left out of the narrative. I don't know Rendon's background or training, but essentially what he offers the government is a privatized version of psychological warfare operations, something I'm fairly certain Lt. Brand has more than a passing acquaintance with. Some of Rendon's greatest hits: * Created the propaganda agaist Manuel Noriega which greased the chute for the Bush I adminstration invasion/civilian massacre in Panama in 1989. * Produced the carefully choreographed lie-fest that sold Americans on the idea of dying to liberate Kuiwait. (The false "babies taken out of incubators" story.) * Marketed falsified atrocity stories to get the US involved on the side of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a terrorist organization which supported itself through drug trafficking and extortion (Source: Interpol) and against the sovereign state of Yugoslavia. "I am an information warrior and a perception manager" Rendon stated matter of factly in a talk at the US Air Force Academy in 1996. Like Brand, Rendon is a part of a group of amoral technicians in the tradition of Edward Bernays who've decided that democracy is a bad idea and working covertly on behalf of the existing power structure, however that power structure chooses to conduct itself, is the wise path. Though fighter planes and battleships get most of the glory, the military makes a significant investment in psychological warfare operations and considers it an essential element in its efforts. During World War I, the British taught the US that US civilians were a fit and proper target for such operations. This lesson was greatly expanded upon by the boatloads of Nazis who were embraced by US intelligence after World War II. The CIA and other intelligence organizations absorbed the Nazi world view and their tactics and have used them liberally around the world and at home ever since. Brand's chemical warfare operation against US civilians - the mass dosing of an activist, anti-war generation with LSD - was, quite frankly one of the masterpieces of psychological operations of the Cold War era. It was all the more remarkable because he carried it out in broad daylight and, to date at least, has been able to maintain the illusion he is an intellectual with no particular political loyalties. His immensely cynical presentation of John Rendon as a source of refreshing and insightful insights into the "war on terror" - itself a joke to anyone who has made even a casual inquiry into it - was pushing his luck.

Remember the quote "Information wants to be free."? That's one of Brand's famous oblique observations that comes to mind for me both in considering this topic and in considering work like Stauber's that tries to tell us what's going on inside the machine so we can better understand how to free ourselves from its control. Rendon's presentation and the Q&A, arguments, hostility, heckling, etc. that followed both on the Long Now site and here are really interesting on so many levels. I disagree with the assessment that it's cynical or that it's supposed to be refreshing. It is insightful, not toward the "war on terror", but toward how much we outside the beltway resemble those "on the street" in Islamic countries to insiders like Rendon, Freidman, etc., and how much disconnect there is between us and them (more than should be, less than could be). I'm not sure if it's reassuring or frightening that Rendon believes that the US should, to use Clinton's words "realize that we can't keep killing all our enemies or putting them in jail, so we need to start making some friends." But it's apparent that this idea has its adherents in high places, and that sometimes they don't do the best job putting it to work. In a way I'm grateful to Rendon for showing up and sharing his opinions. I for one found them interesting mainly because he knows a lot more than I do about what's going on. I'm definitely grateful to John Stauber and those who jumped at the chance to participate for the sake of democracy in America. I hope there can be more dialogues like this, chaos and all, but I wonder how much we can advance the cause of peace and greater mutual understanding this way. That's up to us I guess.

From: [[Stewart Brand]] <sb AT> Sent: Jul 14, 2006 10:39 AM To: Subject: [SALT] John Rendon TONIGHT, July 14 (for forwarding) Oz has many wizards. Tonight one is stepping from behind the curtain to speak in public. John Rendon is head of The Rendon Group, a private firm that provides global communications consulting to the current leadership of the Department of Defense and the White House, as well as that of previous administrations back to President Carter. In his view, the US needs to engage terrorism from a much longer time perspective than it has so far--- to think and act strategically instead of just tactically. This may be a growing general problem in American governance. "Long-term Policy to Make the War on Terror Short," John Rendon, Herbst Theater, San Francisco, 7pm, TONIGHT, Friday, July 14. The lecture starts promptly at 7:30pm. Admission is free ($10 donation certainly welcome, not required). A note on the question format... The largest audience for the Seminars About Long-term Thinking is online, via downloads of the audio or video recording--- 50,000 a month. Thus questions are written on cards provided (bring a pen), sifted by Kevin Kelly and me, and read by one of us on stage. I know there will be questions about Iraq, and I'll get to those, but I'll start with questions related to the substance of Rendon's talk. (Readability counts--- short, pithy, and legible survives the sifting best.) The Herbst Theater is at 401 Van Ness (& McAllister) in the War Memorial Veterans Building, adjoining the San Francisco Civic Center. This is one of a monthly series of Seminars About Long-term Thinking organized by The Long Now Foundation, usually on second Fridays. If you would like to be notified by email of forthcoming talks, please contact Simone Davalos--- simone AT, 415-561-6582--- or go to: . You are welcome to forward this note to anyone you think might be interested. --Stewart Brand --

Oz indeed has many wizards. I wonder how many people have ever read - and thought about - [[Stewart Brand]]'s resume. Finding a complete copy is not as easy as it used to be, but the pairing of Brand and Rendon is quite natural. Here's the resume: * Graduate of Stanford where he absorbed the gospel of population control (including the always unstated part: "for the Third World") * Joined the Army after graduation where he was an enthusiastic officer stationed at the Pentagon. He once called his military experience the most formative of his life - after Prep School. * "Dropped out" of the Army and began roaming the country visiting college campuses and Indian reservations, posing as (we're all posers, aren't we?) an artist interested in hallucinagens and electronic art. Means of support? Unknown. * Latched onto the Pranksters - after Ken Kesey demonstrated a natural talent for disrupting anti-war gatherings (See "Kool Aid Acid Test") Means of support? Unknown. * When Kesey was arrested on the roof of Brand's North Beach apartment and jailed, Brand took over the Pranksters and changed its direction radically culminating in what was up to that point the largest mass dosing of a civilian population with LSD. Means of support? Unknown. * This event, the Trips Festival, received massive, positive PR from the mainstream press. * Immediately after the Trips Festival, the Bay Area was flooded with high quality LSD, much of it rumored to be manufactured with the support of the CIA which already had significant experience with the drug - as did the US Army. * You can read the history books to see what the effect this tidal wave of drugs had on the Bay Area peace movement which was at the time by far the largest and most coherent in the nation. It was disruptive to say the least. * After his Trips Festival experience (who funded it?), Brand landed a job at SRI, the pro-war think tank where he met Peter Schwartz, a member of the original class of the Peace Corps. Schwartz later translated his Africa experience into a position at Shell Oil in its intelligence department. * The Whole Earth Catalog followed. When you strip it down to its bare essentials. it glorified drug use and recommended dropping out and living off the land (with advice often so bad, it virtually guaranteed failure.) Its publications were mostly silent on Vietnam, overtly supportive of Big Oil (via articles by Brand himself), and contained intricately detailed descriptions of the organizational structures of various protest groups (Who paid for the research on these?) * Brand later became a cheerleader for Nicolas Negroponte's MIT Media Lab, the direct descendant of MIT's Center for International Studies, a CIA-funded operation which sent grad students to various Third World nations to study their communications systems in preparation for their destabilization. * The Negroponte family made its money hauling oil and other commodities in Europe. * Brother John Negroponte is currently head of all US intelligence and it is widely believed he was a US point man for atrocities carried out in Central America during the Iran-Contra era. * Nicholas Negroponte wrote the check that started Wired Magazine. Brand and Schwartz were regular contributors. Wired basically took the magazine Mondo 2000, wrung every drop of progressive social thought from it and injected mass quantities of "Liberarian" thought - i.e. ignore politics, the market will sort it all out for the best etc. Upon seeing the first copy Timothy Leary commented: "It looks like a CIA version of Mondo 2000.) * The founding editor of Wired was a man who during his undergraudate days sued his college, Columbia University, for permitting anti-war demonstrations. (Who paid for the lawyers?) Among other gems, he was quoted as saying that global poverty is not a problem worth worrying about. * Brand and Schwartz founded the Global Business Network, a Big Oil friendly organization wrapped in "cool" artists and cutting edge thinkers That's the resume. Brand sure has an odd knack for showing up in the right place at the right time with the right stuff, doesn't he? Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times? A remarkable career to say the least, but in the service of what?

----- Original Message ----- From: [[Stewart Brand]] To: Sent: Saturday, July 15, 2006 12:40 PM Subject: [SALT] Only connect (John Rendon talk) I think that people were expecting a silver-tongued devil, an accomplished spin-meister, arrogant but charming, who would dance them into some new nuanced state of understanding. What they got instead from [[John Rendon]] was an earnest, soft-spoken message of such directness and scope that it apparently came across to some in the audience as dissembling. Polarization rules in Washington these days, Rendon said, and in the country. Moderates are made voiceless. Civilized discourse is nearly impossible. And everyone is consumed with the pace of the news cycle, displacing any sense of the long view. Meanwhile in the world the US has a severe "credibility deficit," especially with the people in other nations. He said that his organization, The [[Rendon Group]], has done detailed research on how the United States is perceived in Islamic countries. The universal message from Muslims was, "You look at us but you do not see us." As for whether they felt positive or negative about the US, three groups emerged. Those who had some direct or even indirect contact with American people felt largely positive about the US. Those with more distant contact thought of the US only in terms of its corporations, such as [[McDonald]]'s, and had a more negative view. Those with no contact at all thought of the US strictly in terms of its government, and had the most negative view of all. "This is the key," Rendon said. "The strength and credibiliity of the American people must be reflected in our government." "There are really two campaigns against terror," Rendon said (he doesn't like the term "war on terror"). The one being conducted against existing terrorists by the military and intelligence people, and by 76 countries, is going pretty well. But a second campaign, against potentialterrorists, terrorists that we are creating, is barely understood. "When we say that our war is with 'Islamic fundamentalists,' 1.2 billion people think we mean them." "We need to turn Islamic street into an active ally, not a passive observer." He gave an example of the kind of advice he gives US policy makers. When we focussed all our public attention on terrorist individuals, such as Bin Laden and Mulla Omar, we made just heroes of them. Focussing on the various named groups of terrorists has the same effect. But focus on specific terrorist tactics--- such stopping a bus and then shooting everyone with a certain kind of name (as happened in Iraq)--- puts world attention on something that might lead to changes of mind. Rendon's greatest fear is that the US could go isolationist at the very time we need most to engage the rest of the world, when we need for people everywhere "to feel that we care more about them than their own governments do." For that strategic-level approach to policy he had a number of specific proposals: -- Let the third year of high school be mandatory overseas. -- US newspapers should partner out to the world, swapping journalists. -- College alumni programs should emphasize international students. -- Humanitarian assistance needs to be more enduring, as with Peace Corps programs. -- There should be a global endowment for education, and a global endowment for health care. -- Getting a visa to visit the US should be made welcoming instead of humiliating, as it is now. -- The US government needs to engage overseas "more as an enabler than as an actor." -- We need to be a better example of democracy by encouraging a convergent rather than divisive public discourse here at home. It comes down to "networks and narratives," Rendon concluded. Five years from now what will be the narrative about the current five years taught in schools throughout the Islamic world and elsewhere? "The nature of that narrative will determine whether the conflict winds down in seven years or so, or it goes on for a hundred years." I'll add one thing that emerged from the long and sometimes contentious questioning from the audience (download the audio this week for the full exercise). One question was, "Since weapons of mass destruction turned out to be nonexistent in Iraq, what is America's REAL agenda there and in the so-called war on terror? Is it oil, wealth, power, or what?" Rendon had nothing very satisfactory to offer in reply. At dinner after the talk, Danny Hillis suggested to Rendon what might be the root cause of the mutual bafflement. "People see a lot of seemingly irrational behavior and they assume there must be some hidden agenda driving it. What they don't realize is that having an agenda requires long-term thinking, and there isn't any going on." That is pretty much John Rendon's point. When US policy consists mainly of a sequence of short-term reactions, the aggregate result is massive frustration. --[[Stewart Brand]] -- Stewart Brand -- sb AT The Long Now Foundation - Seminars & downloads:

Phillips Exeter and Stanford grad, airborne-certified Army officer and troop trainer, Pentagon dweller, high profile drug impressario who somehow managed to never ran afoul of the law, SRI employee, friend and colleague to countless spooks and on and on... It`s hard to imagine naivete on Brand`s part. So what was the point of the Rendon exercise? To sell the story that what is going on in Iraq (and the US) is the result of a poorly thought-out series of knee-jerk reactions, not the part of a deliberate strategy. In other words, an exercise in misdirection. Brand`s track record in this regard: * When there was a strong and growing wide scale peace movement, Brand showed up in the Bay Area with barrels full of LSD and `drop out` advice. * When the online world emerged explosively from the realm of hobbyists and academics into a medium used daily by masses of people, Brand & friends put themselves in place to shape the media`s discussion of what was a potentially explosive social phenomenon. In its early days, Wired Magazine was THE source of `reporting` on Internet culture and in this niche functioned in much the same way Fox News does today... the steady propagation of free-market-uber-alles politics and no real reporting (They didn`t even feature Marc Andreessen and Netscape until 1995!) * Now the US is engaged in massive, systemic civil rights violations at home and a no-win war abroad that is draining our treasury, blackening our reputation, and snuffing out the lives of thousands of our young people - and what does Brand do? He takes active steps to help sell the fairy tale that it`s all the result of clueless bumbling made possible by divisive politics in Washington. Preposterous, especially coming from a military man. FACT: The concept of Homeland Security and the regulations found in the Patriot Act were already in print and ready to go long before 911 occured. FACT: During the 1990s, the US military invested considerable time and resources in extensive training exercises involving street-to-street urban warfare on a scale never before seen in US history. FACT: The US military spent the entire 1990s methodically destroying Iraq`s infrastructure, indirectly killing tens of thousands of civilians and reducing the country to poverty and institutional defenselessness. FACT: In violation of basic military doctrine, not to mention common sense, when the US invaded Iraq, Iraqi weapons depots were left unsecured for weeks and in some cases months permitting insurgents to help themselves to one of the biggest stockpiles of conventional weapons on earth. FACT: Rather than employ former Iraqi military after the invasion, a process we are thoroughly familiar with (to the extreme of moving thousands of ex-Nazis to the US and hiring the entire biowarefare staff of the Japanese military after WWII), Iraqi military personnel were rendered unemployed and even actively persecuted. Before the invasion, I predicted that an attempt to occupy Iraq would result in `1,000 Belfasts.` This outcome had to be at least one of the possible scenarios considered by the Pentagon. Yet, for whatever reason, the US military acted in such a way that virtually insured that a large, well trained, well armed and strongly motivated insurgency came into being during the occupation. Why? Blundering? Political devisiveness in Washington? I doubt it. The current state of affairs in Iraq is a huge money maker for the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about, the same group that 'blundered' us into the Vietnam War. Comparing Brand's early career - former gung ho Cold War military man showing up in the Bay Area with containers loads of free LSD for the masses - with his his most recent project, indicates to me that there is tremendous consistency in his career path. Give him credit. He`s good at what he does. A few random points: * The idea that the Army would have moved an airborne-certified officer and troop trainer to the Pentagon to work as a photojournalist is remarkable. * The US Army and CIA had been testing LSD and other substances for over a decade before the Trips Festival. They could have reasonably predicted the effect of unleashing container loads of acid on the Bay Area. LSD had a massively disrupting effect on the Bay Area's anti-war movement. It also helped discredit the young as drug freaks. The Trips Festival was the 'product launch' for LSD to the American consumer. The 'coincidence' that this festival was planned and promoted by a former US military officer is remarkable. * And finally, this odd bit of trivia: Brand and John Negroponte were classmates at Phillips Exeter.

Anybody who has taken an interest in Ahmad Chalabi, John Rendon, Judith Miller and their links to Paul Moran, the Australian news cameraman killed in Iraq, may be interested in my interpretation of the story – a screenplay based on the life of Paul Moran. For more details see I have also written a background article on Paul Moran’s involvement with the WMD affair. If this is of interest, email me at for a copy. I am a freelance journalist who has spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East, and knew Paul Moran well.