WASHINGTON - Three private contractors hired by the U.S. military to help make commercials, write news stories and produce TV shows aimed at foreign countries will tell the truth -- not lies, said the Army officer overseeing the contracts.
This week, the Tampa-based Special Operations Command hired two Virginia companies and one Washington firm to develop media campaigns overseas.
Some critics and military experts complain that psychological operations or warfare, known as psyops, often uses deception and disinformation to discourage enemy forces and populations. They worry that military propaganda could bounce back to U.S. audiences via the Internet and satellite television networks.
But Col. J Col. Jim Treadwell, who leads the Joint Psychological Operations Support Element, said, "We're going to use the truth to get the message to the people." "Lies just don't work," he said.
Any message his group or the contractors produce will be based on the truth, said Treadwell, during a telephone interview Friday, reacting to a Media General News Service story about the contracts.
"I've never approved a product that was meant to deceive," said Treadwell, former commander of the Army's only active-duty psychological operations unit.
The goal of the media campaign is to help top regional commanders, like the U.S. Central Command that oversees forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, plan and execute advertising and information campaigns. The products will target foreign countries and be in the native languages, he added.
The special operations headquarters hired Virginia units of Science Applications International Corp. and SYColeman Inc. and the Washington-based Lincoln Group Corp. Each firm will receive a minimum of $250,000 this year and more money for follow-up orders from the military.
Hiring private contractors was Treadwell's idea. The military does not have enough people to handle the work and he hopes to use private industry's talents, he said.
A fan of international television commercials, Treadwell said, "I really want to tap into the (media's) creative genius."
While the contracts potentially could total $100 million, Treadwell said his office currently does not have a large budget, and he doesn't anticipate spending the entire amount during the five-year contract. He estimated each firm would likely receive $1 million or less the first year.
Asked why the military did not use its own media relations staff to disseminate stories, spokesman Col. Sam Taylor said military public affairs officers focus on domestic media while psyops personnel target foreign audiences.
The risk is minimal that messages meant for international eyes and ears only would flow back to U.S. audiences, he said.
But, propaganda expert Nancy Snow said the Internet and worldwide access to satellite news networks increases the chance such messages might be picked up and used in the American news media.
"It's very difficult to control the message or the target of the information," said Snow, an assistant professor at California State University-Fullerton.
James W. Crawley is a national correspondent in Media General's Washington Bureau.
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