- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday reluctantly announced the shutdown of the short-lived Office of Strategic Influence, blaming inaccurate press reports for ending a legitimate counterpropaganda operation.
Mr. Rumsfeld said "inaccurate speculation and assertions" in the press made it impossible for OSI, as it was known, to carry out its mission in President Bush's war on terrorism.
"I guess not withstanding the fact that much of the thrust of the criticism and the cartoons and the editorial comment has been off the mark, the office has clearly been so damaged that it's pretty clear to me that it could not function effectively," he said. "So it's being closed down."
Mr. Rumsfeld said he met yesterday with Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, who decided to terminate the 15-member office.
Press reports last week said OSI, whose operational plan had not yet been approved by Mr. Rumsfeld, wanted to plant false news stories in the foreign press to confuse or mislead terrorists.
OSI supporters inside the administration said such proposals never existed. Instead, the office, which was created shortly after the September 11 attacks, planned programs to counter radical Islamic propaganda. It also wanted to coordinate information programs already run by the military, such as psychological warfare and information pipelines to civilians caught up in war.
Mr. Rumsfeld said planting false news stories is the sort of "activities that the department has in fact not done, is not doing and would not condone."
Efforts to counter terrorist diatribes will continue. "We'll just do them in a different office," the defense secretary said.
One proposed OSI program would have the Pentagon help the Pakistani government shut down a network of madrassas schools where radical clerics teach children a hate-ridden version of the Koran, the Muslim holy book. U.S. officials view madrassas, which are funded in part by Saudi Arabian money, as nothing more than terrorist training schools.
OSI also wanted to mount a campaign to blunt Iranian radio broadcast in western Afghanistan designed to destabilize the interim government of Hamid Karzai.
"The Iranian objective is to destabilize Afghanistan," said an administration official. "The Iranian special operations people and the intelligence people in the western part of Afghanistan are really causing problems there."
OSI developed enemies inside the administration, including officials in the Pentagon office of public affairs, who saw it as infringing on their turf and feared it would hurt the department's credibility.
Some conservative activists had mounted a last-ditch effort to save the office, but its future turned bleaker on Monday when Mr. Bush denounced any Pentagon effort to deceive the public.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr., a former Reagan administration defense official who heads the Center for Strategic Policy, said OSI itself is the victim of disinformation.
"It is a terrible shame," he said, "that one of the most effective acts of disinformation in the war on terrorism has been perpetrated for the purpose of destroying an organization that was not going to engage in disinformation, but did in fact have very important functions to perform to ensure the success of the war."
He added, "As Secretary Rumsfeld has said, those are important functions. I hope that they will all be continued, and I hope that it will be done nearly as well."
OSI supporters contended the press coverage took on a life of its own, even though there was no evidence that the office planned to plant false news stories and its draft charter made no mention of such an operation.
The office was headed by Air Force Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden, an astrophysicist by training who played a key role in President Reagan's missile-defense program in the 1980s.

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