Combine the potential erosion of faith in video authenticity with the so-called “CNN effect” and the stage is set for deception to move the world in new ways. Livingston describes the CNN effect as the ability of mass media to go beyond merely reporting what is happening to actually influencing decision-makers as they consider military, international assistance and other national and international issues. “The CNN effect is real,” says James Currie, professor of political science at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington. “Every office you go into at the Pentagon has CNN on.” And that means, he says, that a government, terrorist or advocacy group could set geopolitical events in motion on the strength of a few hours’ worth of credibility achieved by distributing a snippet of well-doctored video.
With experience as an army reservist, as a staffer with a top-secret clearance on the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, and as a legislative liaison for the Secretary of the Army, Currie has seen governmental decision-making and politicking up close. He is convinced that real-time video manipulation will be, or already is, in the hands of the military and intelligence communities. And while he has no evidence yet that any government or nongovernment organization has deployed video manipulation techniques, real-time or not, for political or military purposes, he has no problem conjuring up disinformation scenarios. For example, he says, consider the impact of a fabricated video that seemed to show Saddam Hussein “pouring himself a Scotch and taking a big drink of it. You could run it on Middle Eastern television and it would totally undermine his credibility with Islamic audiences.”
For all the heavy breathing, however, some experts remain unconvinced that real-time video manipulation poses a real threat, no matter how good the technology gets. John Pike, an analyst of the intelligence community for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., says the credibility risks are simply too great for governments or serious organizations to get caught attempting to spoof the public. And for the organizations that would be willing to risk it, says Pike, the news folks-knowing just what the technology can do-will become increasingly vigilant.