A long-held desire of the technocratic worldview involves manipulation and control of a national and even international body politic. “This planetary consciousness,” Zbigniew Brzezinski observes, brings into closer view a single indivisible humanity united by the soft tyranny of depersonalized and omnipresent coercion. “The sense of proximity, the immediacy of suffering,” he wrote at the height of the Cold War, “the globally destructive character of modern weapons all help to stimulate an outlook that views mankind as a community.” In the perceived absence of such a powerful monolithic threat, mass-mediated tragedy and terror increasingly fulfill a similarly unifying purpose and means to conjure and augment broader political projects.
More so than ever the population witnesses major catastrophic events such as the recent mass shootings in Tucson Arizona, Aurora Colorado, and Newtown Connecticut, and the Boston Marathon bombing through the two-dimensional (audio-visual) lens of major news outlets and social media platforms. A less-examined aspect of this development is how United States law enforcement and intelligence agencies operating under the Department of Homeland Security utilize such media to create and promote news of designer tragedies capable of generating a potent emotional response from the citizenry.
Moreover, the vicariously imagined trauma of such events provides a window of public acquiescence wherein government officials may shape popular sentiment and introduce restrictive legislative programs (stricter gun control in the case of Tucson, Aurora and Newtown) or forthright militarized oppression (the rescinding of posse comitatus and Fourth Amendment protections in the case of the Boston Marathon Bombing) that under normal circumstances would be rejected by the citizenry.
In addition to providing the basis for introducing unpopular policies and practices, mediated spectacles and a digitally interconnected population allow for the precise measurement of public sentiment and reaction to such crises, thereby producing information that is essential for the police state’s continued roll out and effective operation. As social scientist Armand Mattelart argues, such interconnectivity brings to fruition the long held ambition among modern social engineers to regiment the population–a pursuit that can be traced at least to the crude practices of phrenology and anthropometry.
In this vein, the government’s manufacture of tragedy or terror to manipulate the mass mind is hardly a new phenomenon. For example, Operation Gladio sought to control Europe’s political landscape throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and the military and intelligence entities behind it targeted the civilian population with mass shootings and bombings to further their vision. Such projects arguably laid the groundwork for Western governments’ more recent operations including 9/11 and the London 7/7/2005 bombings used to propel the “war on terror.”
With a broadly credulous public increasingly bound to the system of digital networked communication and the 24-hour corporate-driven news cycle, conveying the impression of catastrophe and terror is easily achieved. Indeed, the development and fine tuning of a uniquely-conceived apparatus in this regard has been underway for decades in the US, having come into more formal public view over the past several years.
In 2006 President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13047, mandating the DHS to develop a new national emergency alert system for the digital era that would further streamline an already centralized communication network. This new framework encompasses traditional broadcast communication with newer cellular transmission and web-based platforms. The system’s design was delegated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency which in 2011 announced the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).
In times of crisis IPAWS “provides public safety officials with an effective way to alert and warn the public about serious emergencies using the Emergency Alert System, Wireless Emergency Alerts, NOAA Weather Radio, and other public alerting systems from a single interface,” the FEMA explains. The new infrastructure “embodies a modernization and integration of the nation’s alert and warning infrastructure and will save time when time matters most, protecting life and property.”
IPAWS was introduced alongside the deployment of a digital transmission architecture that was largely the initiative of the US public broadcasting industry. Indeed, behind the relentless move toward digital broadcast was an intricate and far-reaching apparatus under which the body politic may be united in temperament and purpose through crisis and catastrophe, and where a hierarchized network of information dissemination among officials and major media has made possible designer events that are perceived as real by the broader public at the lower reaches of this communicative pyramid.
In contrast to its analog forebear the digital transmission framework possesses the “dual use opportunity” envisioned by the Bush administration in 2006. John Lawson, President of the Association of Public Television Stations oversaw the $1.1 billion fundraising campaign undertaken by public broadcasting outlets for the transition to digital. His observations are especially revealing in terms of recognizing the system’s capacities and scope.
Our infrastructure is becoming the backbone of a network of networks that can deliver instant warnings to people wherever they are or whatever they’re doing. Initially this will be a government to government and government to media system. [author’s emphasis] Eventually it will be a warning system for all hazards that can reach practically all devices. You can receive some form of alert on your cell phone or your Blackberry at your kid’s soccer match, or while you’re listening to satellite or broadcast radio, or surfing the net, or watching any of the 500 channels on TV. You’ll be able to receive al—some [sic] form of emergency message almost simultaneously.
…We can send data packets—it’s called data casting. This system, because it’s broadcast, is completely bottleneck-free. It’s totally scalable. It avoids the congestion we saw here and in New York on 9/11 with phone calls and cell phone calls. It can reach a million receivers just as easily as it can reach one receiver, no matter what you’re doing …
Here’s the other point about Digital EAS [Emergency Alert System] and it speaks to the interoperability that the White House has embraced. In the pilot project these packets, these data files, these messages that originated from DHS, were sent out over the air by WETA. They were received by other networks– cellphone companies, pager companies, other broadcasters, cable companies—and retransmitted simultaneously.
Once it’s all packets you can do that—you can move this content around seamlessly. Testing that concept was one of the key goals of the DEAS project. And we established here in the national capital region proof of performance that the concept worked. We had numerous partners in the test in the commercial and television and radio industries, and we plainly established an interoperability was possible which in turn supported one of the key components of the President’s Executive Order. [author’s emphasis]
Lawson’s overview of the DEAS suggest how such a system, used in conjunction with FEMA’s IPAWS, provides the basis for a multifaceted real time orchestration of a mass casualty event that includes careful synchronization with major news media. Indeed, as discussed further below, National Public Radio is among the IPAWS nework’s 22 “dissemination groups” that includes an array of electronic broadcast outlets and consortia. 
As a principal element of its “interoperability” IPAWS uses a Common Alerting Protocol—”a digital format for exchanging emergency alerts that allows a consistent alert message to be disseminated simultaneously over many different communications systems.” This may be used in conjunction with the Geo-Targeted Alert System, another component of IPAWS that can issue alerts and warnings targeted to specific geographic areas. Alongside “Smart 911” and “Reverse 911” technologies capable respectively of profiling individuals and distributing emergency and crisis information to networks of first responders, media outlets, hospitals, and the broader public on a “need to know” basis, the IPAWS system is an all-inclusive network for orchestrating and broadly publicizing staged or authentic crisis events.
Mediating an Integrated Capstone Event
IPAWS and Digital EAS working in coordination with broadcast and social media constitute an apparatus that can effectively control important elements of the broader public’s perceptions and sentiment. FEMA’s Integrated Capstone Event (ICE) is a comprehensive exercise involving a “multi-disciplined response” of federal, state, and local emergency responders and emergency response students reacting in unison to a common mass casualty event. According to FEMA, “Each scenario focuses on the foundations of CDP training—incident management, mass casualty response, and emergency response to a catastrophic natural disaster or terrorist act.”
“The ICE is a unique training approach in which students from the various courses work together in a single end-of-course exercise. ICE events may include students from up to ten different disciplines —ranging from law enforcement to healthcare. The students interact, communicate, and respond to a full-impact mass casualty incident.
IPAWS and the digital transmission system are required for tiered, real time stage management of such a simulated mass casualty event that integrates dozens of state and local agencies under the coordination of FEMA to carry out the event for training purposes. Given the acute hierarchical management of such an event—one that can potentially involve close alliance with news media outlets themselves—in addition to its lifelike qualities, only minor tweaking would be required to present such an exercise to the broader public as one that is actually occurring.
To what degree are major news media potentially involved in such events? In the case of the December 14 school massacre in Newtown Connecticut law enforcement and public officials may have in some instances been informed of the event by representatives of regional and national news media on the scene prior to the alleged shooting. At a symposium held on April 22, 2013 at Columbia University’s Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, titled Sandy Hook and Beyond, remarks from journalists alongside law enforcement and civilian officials suggest the unusual features of the event’s development. For example, Connecticut State Police Lieutenant J. Paul Vance recalled, “The first call I got about the shooting was from a member of the press referencing an ‘incident’.” Newtown’s mayor E. Patricia Llorda similarly recollected, “When I arrived at the [Sandy Hook] firehouse, the media was already there.”
Tweets by National Public Radio’s Andy Carvin from Columbia University Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma’s Sandy Hook and Beyond event.
Bill Leukhardt, Hartford Courant reporter and stepfather of slain Sandy Hook Elementary teacher Lauren Rousseau, likewise explained how the first notification he received was a phone call taken at his Danbury residence from the Courant newsroom. “I got a call saying there’s been some incident at a school,” Leukhardt remembers. “Here’s the address … I was assigned to go there. When I got there it was shortly after ten. I think the murders occurred about nine-thirty. By that time [there was] a large contingent of police and reporters there. It was a tumultuous scene.” The distance from Danbury to Newtown is twelve miles–about 19 minutes by car. Assuming Leukhardt proceeded to Sandy Hook without delay, the Courant’s call must have come no later than 9:45AM, at which time the police had not yet secured the crime scene.
Along these lines, before police even arrived at Sandy Hook Elementary, one prominent Newtown resident oberved “the chief of police in his official car, headed to the Sandy Hook school.” Moments later the same individual receives “a news report text from the Hartford Courant, that said police were responding to incident on Dickenson Drive” where Sandy Hook Elementary is located.
There are further indications that in terms of knowledge and communication, news media were on par with or ahead of most every government or law enforcement entity. For example, at 9:53 AM, which according to the official scenario was no more than ten minutes after police arrived and the shooting ceased, the Associated Press published a story, “Official with Knowledge of Connecticut School Shooting Says 27 Dead, Including 18 Children.” The AP and Washington Post initially ran the story on their websites but retracted it shortly thereafter.
The available data related to both Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon bombing culled from social media platforms such as Twitter exhibit numerous inconsistencies that, taken as a whole, cannot be easily explained away through the official version of each event. Social media activity surrounding the April 15, 2013 Boston bombing similarly suggests law enforcement coordination with media outlets prior to the two bombs being detonated on Boylston Street. A foremost piece of evidence–widely circulated in alternative media–is a Tweet from the Boston Globe news staff suggesting when and where the Boston Police Department would detonate explosives “as part of bomb squad activities.” Subsequent Tweets describing the scale of carnage reverberated in major media outlets, underlining the event’s severity and scale.
Further, the date stamp on many of the Tweets posted by journalists reporting from Sandy Hook on December 14 precede the purported 9:35AM time of the shooting–in some cases by several hours, and there are inconsistencies with the date stamps on such posts. The unusual publication of the detailed Associated Press story moments after the event transpired is similarly confusing.
One explanation is that DHS agencies worked in coordination with news organizations to orchestrate a “Tweet timeline” that perhaps even involved appropriating news organizations and journalists’ individual Twitter accounts. A feature of the Twitter platform called “Tweet Later allows you to keep the tweets flowing even if you’re not in front of your computer or iPhone,” one observer explains.
If you know you’re going to be stuck on an airplane that doesn’t have Net access, you can timestamp a tweet that say “Stuck on an airplane that doesn’t have Net access” and have it go live at the time you’re on the plane. Alternatively, you can use Tweet Later to send yourself auto reminders … Timestamped tweets can go out at a specific time or set to go evenly throughout the day.
Such a feature may also be strategically used in an event planned around certain pivot times to coordinate social media while conveying to the broader public a greater semblance of authenticity. Conversely, in the event of potential foreknowledge Tweets that are timestamped clumsily may be posted at unusual or inopportune times. For example, the aforementioned Associated Press Tweet referencing the Sandy Hook story that went live at 9:53AM may have been timestamped for 11:53AM or sometime thereafter when more information had been disclosed by law enforcement authorities. Likewise the Boston Globe tweet timestamped for 12:53PM referencing the bomb’s detonation may have been set at a time before Boston police rescheduled such a drill.
The US government and its private sector partners have developed a complex, pyramid-like communication system, the ostensible purpose of which is to “protect life and property.” To some degree this may be true.. Yet it is also no doubt capable of essentially generating traumatic events in association with broadcast and social media outlets, and even health care providers to exert rapid influence over the body politic.
A greater understanding of IPAWS and Digital EAS and the rationales guiding such strategic frameworks can place Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Boston, and probable future mass casualty events in an entirely different light. Questions concerning, for example, why common first responder-emergency management protocols were so seriously breached at Newtown and Boston, or why government officials in Connecticut have become so tight-fisted with basic crime-related evidence pertaining to Sandy Hook, may be explained through a broader critical perspective.
The US government has the demonstrable means and motives to develop and carry out mass casualty events for larger political ends, and historically it has exhibited little compunction in proceeding with such measures. Indeed, in addition to Operation Gladio, in the verifiable plans for Operation Northwoods and incidents such as Tonkin Gulf or the sinking of the USS Liberty American military and political leaders have demonstrated their capacity to undermine and deceive the public in order to further what are frequently harmful and disastrous policy agendas. Much like the case with 9/11, interrogation and analysis focusing on government culpability in such maneuvers will not be entertained in privately-owned mainstream media outlets. This is now even more so the case as such media have become an essential element of the emergency response and gradated communication-public relations mechanism.
The recent instances of mass traumatization realized through the communication networks now intertwined with everyday existence via social media also involve social conditioning toward a perpetual sense of mortal danger and crisis. This is already a common life experience for the inhabitants of countries occupied by US military or proxy forces, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Palestine. Such terror is similarly felt in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries routinely terrorized by US drones.
In the homeland the trauma is administered in a more subtle fashion. The US public would be well served to recognize that it likely has more in common with those foreign peoples than it does with its own government and the transnational corporations that government so dutifully serves. Consenting to such manufactured realities provides the illusion of security while further rationalizing the militarized police state at home and abroad.
 Zbigniew Brzezinski, Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, New York: Viking, 1970, 59, 60.
 Armand Mattelart, The Globalization of Surveillance: The Origin of the Securitarian Order, trans. by Susan Gruenheck Taponier and James A. Cohen, Cambridge: Polity, 2010.
 With regard to gun control specifically, the poorly investigated and dubious circumstance surrounding the Dunblane Scotland school massacre and Port Arthur Australia mass shooting—both occurring in the spring of 1996—suggest events that were intended to prompt sufficient public sentiment and calls to further restrict gun ownership.
 US President George W. Bush Executive Order 13407: Public Alert and Warning System (PDF), June 26, 2006.
 “Integrated Public Alert and Warning System,” Federal Emergency Management Agency, fema.gov, lasted updated June 13, 2013.
 “IPAWS Partner Organizations” (PDF), FEMA.gov, n.d.
 “Common Alerting Protocol,” FEMA.gov, last updated June 18, 2012.
Shannon Arledge, “Integrated Capstone Event Merges Four Mass Casualty Response Courses,” FEMA.gov, last updated May 28, 2013.
 The interview portion including Vance and Llorda is no longer available on the Dart Center’s Sandy Hook and Beyond webpage, http://dartcenter.org/content/symposium-sandy-hook-and-beyond, last checked July 2, 2013.
 Andy Carvin is NPR’s senior strategist for social media and “online communities.”Carvin was also an early advocate of citizen journalism’s mobile phone podcasting—what he terms “mobcasting.” “Andy Carvin,” Wikipedia, accessed June 16, 2013.
 Bruce Shapiro interview with Bill Leukhardt, Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, Columbia University, April 22, 2013.
 Thomas B. Scheffy, “Joel Faxon Has Been Part of the Gun Debate in His Hometown,” Connecticut Law Tribune, December 21, 2012.
“Official With Knowledge of Sandy Hook Shooting Says 27 Dead, Including 18 Children,” Associated Press, December 14, 2012. In March this author contacted Newtown Bee Associate Editor Shannon Hicks to inquire whether the numerous photographs she claims to have taken in the parking lot of Sandy Hook Elementary as police arrived would be shared with law enforcement or be made publicly available. “The photos I took on 12/14 have not been shared with anyone,” Hicks said in response. “We have no plans to do so, either.” It seems especially unusual that such important evidence related to the most serious mass shooting in the country’s history would not have been turned over immediately to law enforcement. If such photos were taken as Hicks claims and in fact exist, would they reveal visual proof of extensive media preparation and thus potential foreknowledge? Shannon Hicks to James Tracy, March 25, 2013, email in possession of author.
 Jennifer Lake, “Sandy Hook Early Birds,” jenniferlake.wordpress.com, May 1, 2013.
 Ibid. When this author addressed such inconsistencies in the official Sandy Hook narrative in the weeks following the event the reaction by major news outlets was strongly condemnatory. Yet very few reports and commentaries seriously considered the evidence presented.
 John Chow, “How to Timestamp Your Twitter Tweets,” johnchow.com, November 19, 2008.
Professor James F. Tracy is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University. James Tracy’s work on media history, politics and culture has appeared in a wide variety of academic journals, edited volumes, and alternative news and opinion outlets. James is editor of Union for Democratic Communication’s Journal Democratic Communiqué and a contributor to Project Censored’s forthcoming publication Censored 2013: The Top Censored Stories and Media Analysis of 2011-2012. Additional writings and information are accessible at memoryholeblog.com.