Fwd: Pentagon Readies Efforts to Sway Sentiment Abroad

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    February 19, 2002
    Pentagon Readies Efforts to Sway Sentiment Abroad


    WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 The Pentagon is developing 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, military officials said.

    The plans, which have not received final approval from the Bush
    administration, have stirred opposition among some Pentagon officials
    who say they might undermine the credibility of information that is
    openly distributed by the Defense Department's public affairs officers.

    The military has long engaged in information warfare against hostile
    nations for instance, by dropping leaflets and broadcasting messages
    into Afghanistan when it was still under Taliban rule.

    But it recently created the Office of Strategic Influence, which is
    proposing to broaden that mission into allied nations in the Middle
    East, Asia and even Western Europe. The office would assume a role
    traditionally led by civilian agencies, mainly the State Department.

    The small but well-financed Pentagon office, which was established
    shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was a response to concerns
    in the administration that the United States was losing public support
    overseas for its war on terrorism, particularly in Islamic countries.

    As part of the effort to counter the pronouncements of the Taliban,
    Osama bin Laden and their supporters, the State Department has already
    hired a former advertising executive to run its public diplomacy office,
    and the White House has created a public information "war room" to
    coordinate the administration's daily message domestically and abroad.

    Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, while broadly supportive of the
    new office, has not approved its specific proposals and has asked the
    Pentagon's top lawyer, William J. Haynes, to review them, senior
    Pentagon officials said.

    Little information is available about the Office of Strategic Influence,
    and even many senior Pentagon officials and Congressional military aides
    say they know almost nothing about its purpose and plans. Its
    multimillion dollar budget, drawn from a $10 billion emergency
    supplement to the Pentagon budget authorized by Congress in October, has
    not been disclosed.

    Headed by Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden of the Air Force, the new office
    has begun circulating classified proposals calling for aggressive
    campaigns that use not only the foreign media and the Internet, but also
    covert operations.

    The new office "rolls up all the instruments within D.O.D. to influence
    foreign audiences," its assistant for operations, Thomas A. Timmes, a
    former Army colonel and psychological operations officer, said at a
    recent conference, referring to the Department of Defense. "D.O.D. has
    not traditionally done these things."

    One of the office's proposals calls for planting news items with foreign
    media organizations through outside concerns that might not have obvious
    ties to the Pentagon, officials familiar with the proposal said.

    General Worden envisions a broad mission ranging from "black" campaigns
    that use disinformation and other covert activities to "white" public
    affairs that rely on truthful news releases, Pentagon officials said.

    "It goes from the blackest of black programs to the whitest of white," a
    senior Pentagon official said.

    Another proposal involves sending journalists, civic leaders and foreign
    leaders e-mail messages that promote American views or attack unfriendly
    governments, officials said.

    Asked if such e-mail would be identified as coming from the American
    military, a senior Pentagon official said that "the return address will
    probably be a dot-com, not a dot- mil," a reference to the military's
    Internet designation.

    To help the new office, the Pentagon has hired the Rendon Group, a
    Washington-based international consulting firm run by John W. Rendon
    Jr., a former campaign aide to President Jimmy Carter. The firm, which
    is being paid about $100,000 a month, has done extensive work for the
    Central Intelligence Agency, the Kuwaiti royal family and the Iraqi
    National Congress, the opposition group seeking to oust President Saddam

    Officials at the Rendon Group say terms of their contract forbid them to
    talk about their Pentagon work. But the firm is well known for running
    propaganda campaigns in Arab countries, including one denouncing
    atrocities by Iraq during its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

    The firm has been hired as the Bush administration appears to have
    united around the goal of ousting Mr. Hussein. "Saddam Hussein has a
    charm offensive going on, and we haven't done anything to counteract
    it," a senior military official said.

    Proponents say the new Pentagon office will bring much-needed
    coordination to the military's efforts to influence views of the United
    States overseas, particularly as Washington broadens the war on
    terrorism beyond Afghanistan.

    But the new office has also stirred a sharp debate in the Pentagon,
    where several senior officials have questioned whether its mission is
    too broad and possibly even illegal.

    Those critics say they are disturbed that a single office might be
    authorized to use not only covert operations like computer network
    attacks, psychological activities and deception, but also the
    instruments and staff of the military's globe- spanning public affairs

    Mingling the more surreptitious activities with the work of traditional
    public affairs would undermine the Pentagon's credibility with the
    media, the public and governments around the world, critics argue.

    "This breaks down the boundaries almost completely," a senior Pentagon
    official said.

    Moreover, critics say, disinformation planted in foreign media
    organizations, like Reuters or Agence France-Presse, could end up being
    published or broadcast by American news organizations.

    The Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency are barred by law from
    propaganda activities in the United States. In the mid-1970's, it was
    disclosed that some C.I.A. programs to plant false information in the
    foreign press had resulted in articles published by American news

    Critics of the new Pentagon office also argue that governments allied
    with the United States are likely to object strongly to any attempts by
    the American military to influence media within their borders.

    "Everybody understands using information operations to go after
    nonfriendlies," another senior Pentagon official said. "When people get
    uncomfortable is when people use the same tools and tactics on

    Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public
    information, declined to discuss details of the new office. But she
    acknowledged that its mission was being carefully reviewed by the

    "Clearly the U.S. needs to be as effective as possible in all our
    communications," she said. "What we're trying to do now is make clear
    the distinction and appropriateness of who does what."

    General Worden, an astrophysicist who has specialized in space
    operations in his 27-year Air Force career, did not respond to several
    requests for an interview.

    General Worden has close ties to his new boss, Douglas J. Feith, the
    under secretary of defense for policy, that date back to the Reagan
    administration, military officials said. The general's staff of about 15
    people reports to the office of the assistant secretary of defense for
    special operations and low-intensity conflict, which is under Mr. Feith.

    The Office for Strategic Influence also coordinates its work with the
    White House's new counterterrorism office, run by Wayne A. Downing, a
    retired general who was head of the Special Operations command, which
    oversees the military's covert information operations.

    Many administration officials worried that the United States was losing
    support in the Islamic world after American warplanes began bombing
    Afghanistan in October. Those concerns spurred the creation of the
    Office of Strategic Influence.

    In an interview in November, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the
    Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained the Pentagon's desire to broaden its
    efforts to influence foreign audiences, saying:

    "Perhaps the most challenging piece of this is putting together what we
    call a strategic influence campaign quickly and with the right emphasis.
    That's everything from psychological operations to the public affairs
    piece to coordinating partners in this effort with us."

    One of the military units assigned to carry out the policies of the
    Office of Strategic Influence is the Army's Psychological Operations
    Command. The command was involved in dropping millions of fliers and
    broadcasting scores of radio programs into Afghanistan encouraging
    Taliban and Al Qaeda soldiers to surrender.

    In the 1980's, Army "psyop" units, as they are known, broadcast radio
    and television programs into Nicaragua intended to undermine the
    Sandinista government. In the 1990's, they tried to encourage public
    support for American peacekeeping missions in the Balkans.

    The Office of Strategic Influence will also oversee private companies
    that will be hired to help develop information programs and evaluate
    their effectiveness using the same techniques as American political
    campaigns, including scientific polling and focus groups, officials said.

    "O.S.I. still thinks the way to go is start a Defense Department Voice
    of America," a senior military official said. "When I get their
    briefings, it's scary."

    Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

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