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Rumsfeld Says He May Drop New Office of Influence
By ERIC SCHMITT
ASHINGTON, Feb. 24 The Pentagon may eliminate a new office intended to
influence public opinion and policy makers overseas, Defense Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld said today. Proposals from the new agency, the Office
of Strategic Influence, have caused an uproar in Congress and elsewhere
in the government.
Its director, Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden of the Air Force, has proposed
that the office coordinate activities ranging from public press releases
to secret "information warfare" in friendly as well as unfriendly
countries, military officials said. In the past, such secret operations
included the spreading of inaccurate or misleading information.
Mr. Rumsfeld today reiterated comments he made last week after The New
York Times reported the office's existence and proposed activities: he
said the military would not be permitted to tell lies to promote American
policies or views. But he said today that the disclosures about the
office's potential activities may have doomed its credibility.
"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," Mr. Rumsfeld said on the NBC News program "Meet the
Distancing himself from the office, which reports to Douglas J. Feith,
the under secretary of defense for policy, Mr. Rumsfeld said he would
leave its fate in the hands of his top lieutenants. He said he had "never
even seen the charter for the office."
But the office's assistant for operations, Thomas A. Timmes, a former
Army colonel and psychological operations officer, said at a recent
industry conference that General Worden had briefed Mr. Rumsfeld on the
purpose and goals of the office at least twice, and that Mr. Rumsfeld had
given his general support.
The office, which has a secret multimillion-dollar budget and a staff of
about 15, had started planning its activities and coordinating with the
National Security Council, the State Department and other federal
Top aides to Mr. Rumsfeld have confirmed that he supported the broad
mission of the Office of Strategic Influence, but they said he had not
approved any of the classified proposals that were circulating at lower
levels of the Pentagon, the ones that have stirred up heated internal
"We're into the frustrating part of ironing out differences within our
family," Colonel Timmes told those attending the conference, on Feb. 8 in
The new office was formed after the Sept. 11 attacks to coordinate
disparate information operations geared toward assisting the military
overseas. Administration officials, including Mr. Rumsfeld, have voiced
concern that the United States was losing public support overseas for its
war on terrorism, particularly in Islamic countries.
"The Afghan people were being told that the food rations we were dropping
were poison, and they weren't," Mr. Rumsfeld said on the CBS News program
"Face the Nation," adding: "And the Taliban and the Al Qaeda were lying
about it, and we needed to find ways to tell these people of Afghanistan
that they could eat that food. Millions of these were dropped."
Mr. Rumsfeld continued, "There are lots of things that we have to do to
direct people where they can get humanitarian assistance. So we need to
be in the business of communicating that kind of information. But this
department is not in the business of misinforming people."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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