US: PR joins fight for hearts and minds

Governments turn to private firms

A NEW business in military public relations that is worth millions of dollars is emerging as consultants are being drafted into the battle for the world's 'hearts and minds'.

Advertisers, media experts and public relations companies are being recruited to adapt their opinion management skills to the business of modern warfare.

The United States Government is thought to have earmarked at least $400 million (£213 million) since the terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001, to enlist private companies to supply skills and ideas for an information war, covering propaganda and psychological operations (psyops).

Typical of the contracts being offered is one for $20 million that the US Defence Department is allocating to monitor Middle Eastern media and promote positive coverage of the US.

One leading consultant is the Renton Group, which has been awarded contracts worth $56 million since 9/11. Others include Science Applications International and SYColeman, a subsidiary of L-3 Communications, which is rumoured to be a bid target for BAE Systems, of Britain.

This is part of a broader outsourcing of the military, with companies awarded contracts to provide logistics, transport and security in active war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, leading experts have told The Times that the outsourcing of information warfare is losing the United States support in its War on Terror. About a dozen propaganda and psyops specialists met at Cliveden, Berkshire, last week to discuss how America and its allies can use strategic communications more effectively in the War on Terror.

These advisers are bringing corporate ideas to the military. Rebranding is one example, with Operation Enduring Freedom replaced by Operation Iraqi Freedom, then the War on Terror and, finally, the 'Long War'. This may be the same conflict, but the name changes reflect changing goals.

Another corporate idea is the use of the chief executive as the voice of persuasion during a crisis. This year, President Bush has taken a higher profile to explain where the War on Terror is going.

Nancy Snow, of the University of Southern California, who is a former propagandist for the US State Department, said: 'There has been too much emphasis on having the President as persuader-in-chief and it isn't working because he lacks credibility, especially abroad.'

The information war experts also pointed out that private companies were motivated by the need to win short-term contracts, while military goals were long term.

The Lincoln Group, thought to have won contracts worth at least $100 million, has been criticised for attempting to generate positive press coverage in Iraq by paying Iraqi journalists, which has led citizens to trust neither good-news stories about the Americans nor members of the Iraqi press.

Phil Taylor, of Leeds University, an adviser to the US and British governments, said: 'The fundamental mistake the American Government is making is assuming that corporate skills developed to sell ideas, through advertising and public relations, can be applied to win the peace. It is the difference between selling an idea and selling values. We should be explaining what sort of people we are, rather than telling Muslims to be more like us.'

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