A three-year government investigation has found no wrongdoing by Bush-era Pentagon officials when they gave war briefings to retired military analysts who served as TV and radio commentators.
The probe by the Pentagon inspector general was in response to a 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning article in the New York Times that implied the former military officers, some of whom worked for or were defense contractors, received financial favors in return for their commentary and were tools in a propaganda campaign.
Sources familiar with the IG’s final report said it will say officials broke no rules or laws when they provided information briefings, some from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The IG also found no evidence that any analyst or his defense contractor employer received favorable treatment or procurement contracts because of his work as an on-air commentator, according to the sources.
“The report basically says the Pentagon activities were in compliance with [Department of Defense] directives and instructions,” a government official familiar with the findings told The Washington Times. In terms of financial favors, “they didn’t find any evidence of that,” the source said.
The IG report is expected to be released in coming weeks. It is the second IG probe into the allegations raised by the New York Times, and then by congressional Democrats.
The first probe, released in January 2009, essentially drew the same conclusions, saying that briefings were “conducted in accordance with [Defense Department] policies and regulations.”
The 2009 report added: “We found no indication that partisanship was operative during the interchanges with [retired military analysts] and found no evidence that the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs personnel sought to somehow avoid portraying DoD [the Defense Department] as a source for the information provided. Rather, the briefings were open and transparent.”
The second IG report could end years of charges and government investigations pushed by Democrats. The toxic atmosphere left many retired military officers feeling they had been accused of committing crimes without any proof. Pentagon officials have said the briefings were similar to sessions with reporters, columnists and think-tank scholars to convey the administration’s point of view.
The swirl of charges began April 20, 2008, when the New York Times published a front-page story with the headline “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand.” The story implied, but did not outright charge, that analysts received contracting favors.
“Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show,” the story said.
It said Rumsfeld aides “used [their] control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.”
Across the front page were photos of a who’s who of prominent retired officers: Thomas McInerney, the late Wayne Downing, Kenneth Allard and Bo Scales.