Saturday, July 01, 2006


original posting: 20 feb. 2002


Pentagon Propaganda Plan Is Undemocratic, Possibly Illegal

February 19, 2002

The New York Times reported today that the Pentagon�s Office of
is �developing plans to provide news items, possibly even
ones, to foreign media organizations� in an effort �to influence public
sentiment and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries.�

The OSI was created shortly after September 11 to publicize the U.S.
government�s perspective in Islamic countries and to generate support
the U.S.�s �war on terror.� This latest announcement raises grave
that far from being an honest effort to explain U.S. policy, the OSI
be a profoundly undemocratic program devoted to spreading
and misleading the public, both at home and abroad. At the same time,
involving reporters in disinformation campaigns puts the lives of
journalists at risk.

Despite the OSI�s multi-million-dollar budget and its mandate to
propagandize throughout the Middle East, Asia and Western Europe, �even
many senior Pentagon officials and Congressional military aides say
know almost nothing about its purpose and plans,� according to the
The Times reported that the OSI�s latest announcement has generated
opposition within the Pentagon among those who fear that it will
the Defense Department�s credibility.

Tarnished credibility may be the least of the problems created by the
OSI�s new plan to manipulate media-- the plan may compromise the free
of information that democracy relies on. The government is barred by
from propagandizing within the U.S., but the OSI�s new plan will likely
lead to disinformation planted in a foreign news report being picked up
U.S. news outlets. The war in Afghanistan has shown that the 24-hour
cycle, combined with cuts in the foreign news budgets across the U.S.,
make overseas outlets like Al-Jazeera and Reuters key resources for

Any �accidental� propaganda fallout from the OSI�s efforts is troubling
enough, but given the U.S. government�s track record on domestic
propaganda, U.S. media should be pushing especially hard for more
information about the operation�s other, intentional policies.

According to the New York Times, �one of the military units assigned to
carry out the policies of the Office of Strategic Influence� is the
Army�s Psychological Operations Command (PSYOPS). The Times doesn�t
mention, however, that PSYOPS has been accused of operating
as recently as the Kosovo war.

In February 2000, reports in Dutch and French newspapers revealed that
several officers from the 4th PSYOPS Group had worked in the news
at CNN's Atlanta headquarters as part of an �internship� program
in the final days of the Kosovo War. Coverage of this disturbing story
scarce (see, but after
issued an Action Alert on the story, CNN stated that it had already
terminated the program and acknowledged that it was �inappropriate.�

Even if the PSYOPS officers working in the newsroom did not directly
influence news reporting, the question remains of whether CNN may have
allowed the military to conduct an intelligence-gathering mission
the network itself. The idea isn�t far-fetched-- according to
Newsletter (2/17/00), a rear admiral from the Special Operations
told a PSYOPS conference that the military needed to find ways to "gain
control" over commercial news satellites to help bring down an
"informational cone of silence" over regions where special operations
taking place. One of CNN�s PSYOPS �interns� worked in the network�s
satellite division
. (During the Afghanistan war the Pentagon found a
direct way to �gain control��it simply bought up all commercial
images of Afghanistan, in order to prevent media from accessing them.)

It�s worth noting that the 4th PSYOPS group is the same group that
the National Security Council's now notorious Office of Public
(OPD), which planted stories in the U.S. media supporting the Reagan
Administration's Central America policies during the 1980s. Described
by a
senior U.S. official as a "vast psychological warfare operation of the
kind the military conducts to influence a population in enemy
(Miami Herald, 7/19/87), the OPD was shut down after the Iran-Contra
investigations, but not before influencing coverage in major outlets
including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post
(Extra!, 9-10/01).

The OPD may be gone, but the Bush administration�s recent recess
appointment of former OPD head Otto Reich as assistant secretary of
for Western Hemisphere affairs is not reassuring. It suggests, at best,
troubling indifference to Reich�s role in orchestrating the OPD�s
deception of the American people.

Indeed, as the Federation of American Scientists points out, �the Bush
Administration�s insistent efforts to expand the scope of official
have now been widely noted as a defining characteristic of the Bush
presidency� (Secrecy News, 2/18/02). The administration�s refusal to
disclose Enron-related information to the General Accounting Office is
perhaps the most publicized of these efforts; another is Attorney
John Ashcroft�s October 12 memo urging federal agencies to resist
Of Information Act requests.

In addition, the Pentagon�s restrictive press policies throughout the
in Afghanistan have been an ongoing problem. Most recently, Washington
Post reporter Doug Struck claims that U.S. soldiers threatened to shoot
him if he proceeded with an attempt to investigate a site where
had been killed; Struck has stated that for him, the central question
raised by the incident is whether the Pentagon is trying to �cover up�
actions and why it won�t �allow access by reporters to determine what
they're doing here in Afghanistan� (CBS, �The Early Show,� 2/13/02).

Taken together, these incidents and policies should raise alarm bells
media throughout the country.
Democracy doesn�t work if the public does
not have access to full and accurate information about its government.


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