Israeli forces, disguised as Americans, are part of the multinational force fighting Iraq. The Pentagon has sent thousands of Egyptian women to the gulf to serve as prostitutes for U.S. soldiers and sailors. U.S. forces also have been dumping nuclear waste in the Saudi desert.
All of these "facts" have come from Baghdad since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
U.S. officials say that since Wednesday the government of Saddam Hussein has accelerated its disinformation campaign, planting false reports picked up by news media outlets throughout the Islamic world, especially in Pakistan, Algeria, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and, of course, in Iraq.
Other "facts" put out by Western sources seemed more believable, but were proven incorrect: 10 Iraqi jets downed in dogfights early on; 50 Iraqi tanks and crews defected to Egyptian troops, and the "defection" of six Iraqi helicopters even before the war began.
In war, distilling truth amid the confusions, distortions and deliberate lies is always difficult.
Yesterday, the British Broadcasting Corp., citing unspecified Western sources, said that Saddam sent his family and other senior officials to Mauritania. The report, picked up by the world's major news outlets, was denied by a government official there and by the U.S. Embassy in the north African country. French officials confirmed that Iraqi planes landed there -- which may have been what triggered the report -- but said they doubted that Saddam's family was aboard.
Such problems can be worsened by the 24-hour-a-day demand for answers by competing networks and newspapers, a competition that increases the likelihood that some of the news reaching the public is not thoroughly checked.
U.S. officials acknowledge that some false reports by government officials are broadcast or printed, but they insist the government is not engaged in a disinformation campaign -- spreading deliberate lies for policy purposes. Misinformation and erroneous reports are simply inevitable, they say.
A classic case -- "the Great Tamale Debate" -- came 13 months ago in the invasion of Panama, when a soldier found a white powdery substance in a home belonging to former dictator and alleged drug dealer Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. Senior U.S. officers reported the discovery of 50 pounds -- soon to become 50 kilos -- of cocaine at Noriega's house.
An embarrassed Pentagon later conceded that the "cocaine" turned out to be tamales.
"Mistakes happen," said Todd Leventhal, a policy officer on disinformation at the U.S. Information Agency. "Sometimes it gets into the press."
The disinformation coming from Baghdad is predictable, Leventhal said, since it attempts to sow dissension in the allied coalition and rally anti-American or anti-Israeli support.
For example, an Iraqi army newspaper and Yemeni radio have said Pakistani soldiers in the multinational force balked at orders from U.S. forces and killed 72 U.S. soldiers, with five Pakistanis dying in the battle, Leventhal said. Radio Baghdad also reported that the multinational force is bombing religious and cultural sites, he said.
Yesterday evening, in a press release released here and on state-run Baghdad radio, an Iraqi military spokesman claimed that 64 Israeli warplanes had flown to Saudi Arabia to join the allied coalition, an operation the spokesman called a "Zionist invasion of the Holy Places in Saudi Arabia."
The Iraq government, as expected, has claimed it downed aircraft in numbers wildly higher than the allied reports. While the United States reports eight allied aircraft shot down, Iraq reports 94 planes have been downed and that five pilots have been captured.
When pressed by CNN correspondent Peter Arnett for evidence or interviews, the Iraqi information minister said the pilots would be made available "soon."
The United States is no stranger to disinformation, especially in wartime, said Roy Godson, a professor at Georgetown University who specializes in intelligence. The biggest disinformation campaign officially launched probably was the effort to convince Germany in 1945 that the D-Day landings were not going to be in Normandy.
Various administrations have been tripped up in massive deception campaigns, such as the secret massive bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War or the efforts to hide the Iran-contra arms for hostages deal.
But Godson said democracies generally do not engage in disinformation in part because "they tend not to be good at it and because people have the ability to check out" falsehoods much more easily than in nations run by dictators.
As a U.S. official put it: "We really don't get engaged in disinformation. It's not that we're necessarily better and purer" than other countries, "it doesn't work, so it is not only immoral but impractical."
"Lots of disinformation," Godson said, such as that from the Baghdad government, "falls on deaf ears unless people are inclined to believe it. We tend to believe that which we want to believe. So Moslems inclined to believe the worst of the United States" would accept such assertions that AIDS was "made in the USA" or that "Americans are defiling holy places."
William Drozdiak of the Washington Post Foreign Service contributed to this report from Paris.