- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

The Pentagon's new Office of Strategic Influence is proposing several measures to blunt radical Islamic messages, including countering Iranian propaganda broadcast in Afghanistan and enticing Muslim children away from teachings of hate and holy wars.
But Bush administration officials who support the new information office, known as OSI, fear it will be disbanded by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Mr. Rumsfeld said yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "I think the person who's in charge is debating whether it should even exist in its current form, given all the misinformation and adverse publicity that it's received."
Administration officials say media reports about OSI plans to plant false news stories in the foreign press may have so damaged its reputation that Mr. Rumsfeld will have little choice but to cancel the project. The sources contended there were no plans to put out bogus stories and that the office's draft charter made no mention of such schemes.
One source described the charter's theme as "getting the truth to places where the truth is scarce. … Planting false news stories was never part of the plan."
Instead, they said, OSI wants to team with the State Department and CIA in countering disinformation from radical clerics and from rogue nations such as Iraq and Iran during President Bush's open-ended war on terrorism.
"OSI wants to get the truth into Iraq and Iran," said one senior administration policy-maker, referring to two-thirds of what Mr. Bush has labeled the "axis of evil." The president also included North Korea in that group.
For the moment, Iraq and Iran are the most troublesome in the war on terrorism. Iran, according to U.S. intelligence sources, has embarked on a campaign to destabilize the interim regime in Afghanistan of Hamid Karzai. Iraq continues to pursue nuclear weapons and supports terrorist groups that the United States suspects have ties to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
Administration officials gave two examples of projects OSI wanted to execute.
Iran, they say, is setting up radio transmission centers from which to broadcast anti-Karzai propaganda in Afghanistan. Iranian agents are also in western Iraq buying the loyalties of various warlords who run large chunks of the country and command small armies. OSI would mount an information campaign of its own to counter Iranian messages, said U.S. officials, who declined to give specifics on how it would be done.
"The Iranian objective is to destabilize Afghanistan," said one administration source. "The Iranian special operations people and the intelligence people in the western part of Afghanistan are really causing problems there."
On another front, the Office of Strategic Influence wants to help draw students away from the Muslim world's network of "madrassas" the schools where hard-line Muslim clerics teach children to hate the West and join a holy war, or jihad. Scores of madrassas are spread across eastern Pakistan. The United States views the region as a haven for sympathizers of bin Laden.
The madrassas are funded in part by large donations from wealthy Saudi Arabians, according to U.S. intelligence reports. The free education provided by madrassas is attractive to poor Afghans and Pakistanis, who have no public education alternative.
"They are really nothing more than terror training camps," said the administration source. "All they teach is the Koran and jihad and hate."
OSI, working with the State Department, would attempt to finance and equip centrist clerics to attract students away from the madrassas. One idea is to provide the students with Internet access so they could be exposed to more tolerant religious views.
The office also would attempt to provide Iraqi citizens with news reports and information on dictator Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush's Cabinet has reached agreement on the need to oust Saddam from power and wants the mission accomplished before the end of the president's first term in 2005.
Mr. Rumsfeld authorized OSI's creation after the September 11 terrorist attack and after Mr. Bush's declaration of a broad, global war against terrorism. The defense secretary wanted an office that could coordinate battlefield propaganda to disrupt the enemy and provide information to soothe concerns of innocent civilians. On a wider scale, he wants to be able to rebut propaganda spewed by radical Islamic leaders.
The task of setting up OSI fell to Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy. He turned to an old friend, Air Force Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden, to assemble a 15-member team and draft a plan of action. Gen. Worden is an astrophysicist by training who played a key role in developing missile defense systems in the 1980s.
Gen. Worden has briefed Mr. Rumsfeld on his draft charter, which seemed on the way to approval. But administration sources say Gen. Worden has run into opponents at the Pentagon who do not want the Defense Department involved in the type of information broadcasts traditionally done by the State Department and its Voice of America program.


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