IRAQ: Pentagon's Information Campaign under Fire

On Capitol Hill inquiries have been launched into everything from the Pentagon's use of prewar intelligence to bolster the case for the war to the Defense Department's reliance on public relations firms to shape the images and messages of war.
Publisher Name: 
The Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Six months after U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad in April 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put his name on a 73-page directive to the U.S. military to employ the news media, public opinion and the Internet as weapons of war.

Now, however, the Pentagon's use of information, in war and at home, may be backfiring. Citing U.S. efforts to establish and control news outlets within Iraq and to control information at home, an increasingly skeptical Congress, media and public are examining how the Bush administration and Pentagon made the case for the war in Iraq, and whether civilian and uniformed leaders used false or misleading information to influence the public's support for military operations abroad.

"I think the possibility's there" for deception, said Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., whose district runs adjacent to Army and Marine bases that have deployed tens of thousands of personnel to Iraq and Afghanistan. "We should have asked more questions before the war."

Rumsfeld and other administration officials have denied misleading the public or using false information or intelligence to build the case against Iraq. But surveys suggest the public has grown increasingly skeptical of the administration's case for war. A New York Times/CBS News poll found more than half of those questioned early this month said Congress wasn't asking enough questions about the administration's policies on Iraq.

Using public relations companies

On Capitol Hill, Jones is among many who have raised questions and launched inquiries into everything from the Pentagon's use of prewar intelligence to bolster the case for the war to the Defense Department's reliance on public relations firms to shape the images and messages of war.

Jones, who now questions his vote for the war, is examining the role of the Rendon Group, which has won more than $56 million in Defense Department contracts since Sept. 11, 2001, to track foreign media and help foreign governments relay messages consistent with U.S. goals. He wants to hold hearings to examine the Pentagon's public relations efforts.

Another review is under way in the Senate over the administration's use of intelligence to make the case for war, especially within the Pentagon. Still another review, by the Pentagon's inspector general, is examining the influence of one of Rumsfeld's former aides over the use of prewar intelligence.

The most recent accusations of media manipulation -- a Los Angeles Times report that the U.S. military has been using a Washington public relations firm, the Lincoln Group, to pay Iraqi newspapers to run favorable stories -- are still unresolved.

Keeping up with Arab media

The use of information, and the media, has often been an integral part of warfare. Defense Department officials say U.S. forces have had difficulty rebutting the images and messages that Al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents have used on Arab satellite channels to bolster their cause.

"The enemies against the legitimate Iraqi government are utilizing the information domain to their best advantage," said a Defense Department official involved in information operations, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They're targeting America's will against efforts to stay in Iraq."

The Information Operations Roadmap, which Rumsfeld signed in October 2003, says the U.S. must "keep pace with emerging threats and ... exploit new opportunities afforded by innovation and rapidly developing information technologies."

The plan provides the architecture for the use of information and intelligence in military operations, shaping how commanders should use everything from the Internet, the services' public affairs offices and psychological operations to shape the outcome of battles and win converts. It also warns that in today's global news environment, psychological warfare operations that are meant to fool an enemy could easily get picked up and reported by the news media.

Pentagon denies charges

Within weeks after U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad in April 2003, employees of a Pentagon contractor, SAIC Corp., complained that the supposedly independent Iraqi TV network they were hired to help create for the new government was becoming a propaganda organ of the U.S.-led civilian authority and the military.

"There were some pretty solid plans and papers drawn up to establish a democratic media," said Don North, a former NBC journalist who was hired to help create the network. "Once we got there, it started changing.

"It was always difficult to know who was really pulling the strings, but I don't think it was the military on the scene. I think it was from the Pentagon or even the White House."

In a lengthy 2003 study, retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner cited 50 stories in U.S. publications based on information that the Pentagon disseminated even though it knew that the information was false.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said such claims are ridiculous.

"Anyone who is alleging that we are providing intentionally false information to the news media, that's just absurd, wrong, misguided, pick your adjective," he said. "We just don't do that."

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