- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

Instead of making the critical case for action against predator regimes in Iran, Iraq and North Korea, the Bush administration has been mired on the defensive over reports that some PR geniuses in the Pentagon had come up with the idea of a campaign to plant false stories in the press in an effort to "help" the war on terror. The New York Times reported Tuesday that folks in the Department of Defense (DOD) were putting together plans "to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations as part of a new effort to influence public sentiment and policy-makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries." While the United States has engaged in information warfare against foreign enemies, most recently against the Taliban in Afghanistan, this campaign (which Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld rightly emphasizes that he wants no part of) proposed broadening disinformation efforts to include friendly nations in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
The Times reported that the campaign was to be conducted by a small DOD entity called the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI). The office, headed by Air Force Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden, was created in the wake of the September 11 attacks in response to concerns that the United States might lose the war on terror. In reality, this propaganda godsend for al Qaeda and its apologists (which Mr. Rumsfeld forcefully knocked down in his appearance yesterday on "Meet the Press") was more likely to transform these concerns into a self-fulling prophecy than to achieve anything useful for the American war effort. The campaign was said to include covert efforts directed at the Internet and foreign media, among them "black" campaigns utilizing disinformation and "white" ones involving the use of truthful press releases. One proposal called for planting news items with foreign media organizations that were unconnected in any obvious way to the Pentagon. A second scheme called for sending electronic mail messages attacking hostile regimes to foreign leaders and journalists. According to the Times, DOD even agreed to send $100,000 a month to the Rendon Group, a Washington-based "international consulting" firm run by John W. Rendon Jr., a former campaign aide to President Jimmy Carter. (Here's hoping that whoever gets the Pentagon's war on terror consulting business proves more successful than Mr. Rendon and the other folks who ran Mr. Carter's re-election campaign were in 1980.)
The Pentagon, which found itself reeling from the negative publicity surrounding OSI, immediately tried to distance itself from the fiasco. "The role of OSI has not been defined yet," a spokesman said late last week, adding that OSI is "basically, a work in progress" and that its staff are "trying to find out what they want to do." Unfortunately, all they seem to have done is sow confusion and mistrust on our side. Mr. Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard B. Cheney noted last week that there is a huge distinction to be made between this sort of silliness and engaging in tactical deception on the battlefield. A good example of this, they point out, was during the 1991 Gulf War, when the military spent considerable time rehearsing amphibious operations, causing Iraq to tie up many of its soldiers defending the beach in Kuwait City. As a result, the Iraqis were ill-prepared to stop an allied attack that occurred much further inland. That's an important distinction that's likely to be blurred thanks to the propaganda fiasco created by OSI.

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