IRAQ: Pentagon Audit Clears Propaganda Effort

An American military propaganda campaign that planted favorable news articles in the Iraqi news media did not violate laws or Pentagon regulations, but it was not properly supervised by military officials in Baghdad, an audit by the Pentagon Inspector General has concluded.

The report said that the secret program, run by the military in conjunction with the Lincoln Group, a Washington contractor, was lawful and that it did not constitute a "covert action" designed to influence the internal political conditions of another country.

By law, only intelligence operatives, not the military, are authorized to carry out covert actions, and the government is authorized to deny publicly any knowledge of these activities.

But the audit concluded that military officials in Baghdad violated federal contracting guidelines by failing to keep adequate records about the Lincoln Group's first propaganda contract - for $10.4 million, signed in September 2004.

A copy of the report's executive summary was released by the inspector general's office on Thursday, and other unclassified materials elaborating on its findings were provided to The New York Times by other government officials in response to a request.

The report found that contract officers "did not retain adequate documentation to verify expenditures," nor did they keep records about whether the contract went through the normal procedures for competitive bidding.

As a result, the report concluded, the inspector general could not determine whether the contract was properly awarded. Since that contract has expired, however, the inspector general did not recommend any punishment for the violations.

Since winning its first "strategic communications" contract in 2004, the Lincoln Group has secured more than 20 contracts from the Pentagon worth tens of millions of dollars.

The company came under scrutiny late last year when news reports disclosed that Lincoln Group employees were working with the military to write favorable news articles about American operations in Iraq.

Under the terms of the contract, members of a military information operations task force would write summaries of news events and editorials, called storyboards, which Lincoln Group employees would translate into Arabic and pay Iraqi newspapers to publish.

The inspector general's report concluded that the Lincoln Group successfully placed hundreds of these articles in the Iraqi news media.

Despite criticism of the operation from within the Pentagon and from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, a military investigation in Iraq completed this year found that the propaganda program was not in violation of Pentagon policy.

In recent months, the Lincoln Group has won a string of new contracts for work both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last month, the company was awarded a two-year, $12.4 million contract to monitor English and Arabic news outlets for military officials in Baghdad and to produce talking points and public relations material for American commanders there.

A statement from the company released on Thursday said that the Lincoln Group's work is performed "ethically and effectively" and that the company "continues to win contracts because of the firm's performance in hostile and challenging environments."

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, said in a statement on Thursday that the inspector general's report "shows that the Pentagon cannot account for millions paid to the Lincoln Group for their propaganda program."

"Broader policy questions remain about whether the administration's manipulation of the news in Iraq contradicts our goal of a free and independent media there," said Mr. Kennedy, who had requested the inspector general's investigation.

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