Global Policy Forum

Pentagon Propaganda Shop Lives on, 'LA Times' Reports

Editor and Publisher
December 1, 2004

The Pentagon in 2002 was forced to shutter its controversial Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) when it became known that the office planned to plant false news stories in the media. But now officials say that much of its mission, including using misinformation in the Iraq war and the war on terrorism, has been taken over by other offices within the government, the Los Angeles Times reported today. "Some of the ongoing efforts include having U.S. military spokesmen play a greater role in psychological operations in Iraq, as well as planting information with sources used by Arabic TV channels such as Al Jazeera to help influence the portrayal of the United States," the Times revealed.

It cited an incident on Oct. 14 when a Marine spokesman announced, via CNN, the start of the Fallujah offensive, which did not actually happen for another three weeks. The idea was to see in advance how the insurgents would respond. The Times referred to this as just one of the "psy-op" episodes so far. "These efforts have set off a fight inside the Pentagon over the proper use of information in wartime," the newspaper reported. "Several top officials see a danger of blurring what are supposed to be well-defined lines between the stated mission of military public affairs -- disseminating truthful, accurate information to the media and the American public -- and psychological and information operations, the use of often-misleading information and propaganda to influence the outcome of a campaign or battle. "Several of those officials who oppose the use of misleading information spoke out against the practice on the condition of anonymity."

A senior defense official told the newspaper: "The movement of information has gone from the public affairs world to the psychological operations world," one senior defense official said. "What's at stake is the credibility of people in uniform. "Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita, however, said that "everybody understands that there's a very important distinction between information operations and public affairs. Nobody has offered serious proposals that would blur the distinction between these two functions."

A key recent development, according to the Times, was the decision by commanders in Iraq in mid-September to combine public affairs, psychological operations, and information operations into a "strategic communications" office. The paper obtained an organizational chart of the newly created office, which it said is run by Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, who answers directly to Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

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