- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

After being relentlessly pilloried over a Feb. 19 front-page story in the New York Times suggesting that the Defense Department has been putting together an international "disinformation" campaign to help the war on terror, the Pentagon announced yesterday that it would shut down the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), the featured target of the story. While this public relations fiasco was taking place and the administration was being eaten alive by the mainstream media, the Pentagon's assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, Tori Clarke, and her minions were uncharacteristically quiet, leaving OSI's defenders to twist in the wind and wage a desperate almost invisible back-door campaign to defend their mission.

But an article by Rowan Scarborough, published in Monday's editions of The Washington Times, suggested that OSI, which was set up by Douglas J. Feith, the highly respected U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, and Air Force Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden, could have actually played a key role in aiding the war on terror by counteracting false, anti-American propaganda being spewed out from places like Baghdad, Tehran and Pyongyang. Administration officials contended that there were no plans to put out false stories, emphasizing that OSI's draft charter made no mention of such a scheme. One source told The Washington Times that OSI was designed to "get the truth" to places like Iran and Iraq.

OSI, which was to work with the State Department, would have attempted to finance moderate clerics' efforts to persuade students to avoid the "madrassas," or religious schools. This was to include providing them with Internet access so that they would be exposed to more tolerant views. The office would have also provided Iraqi citizens with news reports and factual information about Saddam Hussein's bloody regime in Iraq. Essentially all of this relevant material was omitted from the original story in the New York Times.

Why did the Pentagon do such a poor job of communicating this factual information to the public? Well, one Pentagon source told Slate magazine's Scott Shuger that Mrs. Clarke "put the Times onto the story because she viewed the OSI as a threat to her operation." Mrs. Clarke will surely deny that this is the case. But it is undeniably true that her shop did an awful job in telling the public the truth about OSI. And it is hardly the first time in recent weeks that the Pentagon public relations machine has provided a propaganda windfall for America's enemies witness the mindless dissemination of photos of al Qaeda and Taliban operatives being escorted to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, sans explanation. That incident subjected the United States to mindless sanctimony and vitriol from Europe.

In short, this would appear to be the second recent page-one debacle visited on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by his PR folks. It would appear to be time for some major changes in Mrs. Clarke's shop.

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