U.S. Lies to Sell War on Terror
February 20, 2002
The Pentagon has opened a new propaganda office that plans to blend fact with fiction and plant “disinformation” in media outlets in order to sell the “War on Terror” to foreign audiences. As part of a global effort to influence public opinion and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries, the Pentagon is developing plans for a new information agency, the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), to plant false news items in foreign media organizations.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reportedly loves to cite the celebrated dictum of the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: “In wartime truth is so precious she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Claiming that foreign critics of the U.S.-led war on terrorism have been misinformed, Rumsfeld said that “we need to do a better job to make sure that people are not confused as to what this is about.”
The Pentagon’s OSI office, which was established shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was a response by the Bush administration to the widely acknowledged fact that the United states was losing public support overseas for its war on terrorism, particularly in Islamic countries. Headed by Brigadier General Simon P. Worden of the Air Force, the OSI is circulating classified proposals calling for aggressive propaganda campaigns that use not only the foreign media and the Internet, but also covert operations. The OSI will reportedly employ disinformation techniques, used widely during World War II by Britain and the United States to spread false information within otherwise accurate news releases.
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. One proposal reportedly involves sending journalists, civic leaders and foreign leaders e-mail messages that promote the administration’s views or attack unfriendly governments. The messages would be distributed through outside Internet sources to conceal their origin. A senior Pentagon official told the New York Times: “the return address will probably be a dot-com, not a dot-mil,” a reference to the military’s Internet designation.
The OSI’s main target for propaganda will be Islamic countries in the Middle East and Asia, the campaign may also be directed at Western Europe, where the Bush administration’s strategy to fight terrorism has been widely criticized. Although the military regularly engages in propaganda warfare against hostile nations during war, the OSI will expand the military’s propaganda mission into allied nations in the Middle East, Asia and even Western Europe. Although the Pentagon and the CIA are barred by law from propaganda activities in the United States, disinformation planted in foreign media organizations, could end up being published or broadcast by American news organizations.
The new office “rolls up all the instruments within the Department of Defense (DOD) to influence foreign audiences,” its assistant for operations, Thomas A. Times, a former Army colonel and psychological operations officer, said at a conference. “DOD has not traditionally done these things.”
There are misgivings within the Pentagon of venturing into an area traditionally the domain of the CIA and the State Department. The main fear is that by feeding slanted and possibly false information to foreign government officials and the international media, the OSI might undermine the credibility of the Pentagon’s official press department. Several senior officials at the Pentagon have questioned whether the OSI’s mission is too broad and possibly even illegal, according to the New York Times article. One Defense Department official said: “We shouldn’t be in that business. Leave the propaganda leads to the CIA, the spooks. If we get the reputation for spreading false information, then what is anyone to believe and not believe that comes out of this building?” Other officials fear the initiative, once revealed might weaken support for the U.S. among its allies.
One of the military units assigned to carry out the policies of the OSI is the Army’s Psychological Operations Command. The command was involved in dropping millions of flyers and broadcasting scores of radio programs into Afghanistan encouraging Taliban and al Qaeda soldiers to surrender.
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