Thousands of South Koreans wave U.S. and South Korea flags during a pro-U.S. rally in October.
A $300 million Pentagon psychological warfare operation includes plans
for placing pro-American messages in foreign media outlets without disclosing
the U.S. government as the source, one of the military officials in charge of
the program says.
Run by psychological warfare experts at the U.S. Special Operations
Command, the media campaign is being designed to counter terrorist ideology
and sway foreign audiences to support American policies. The military wants
to fight the information war against al-Qaeda through newspapers, websites,
radio, television and "novelty items" such as T-shirts and bumper
The program will operate throughout the world, including in allied
nations and in countries where the United States is not involved in armed conflict.
•Cost: Up to $100 million per contractor, $300 million total
•Contractors: SYColeman of Washington; Lincoln Group of Washington;
Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego
•Awarded: June 7
•Length: Five years
•Purpose: "For media approach planning, prototype product development,
commercial quality product development, product distribution and dissemination,
and media effects analysis."
Source: Department of Defense
The description of the program by Mike Furlong, deputy director of the Joint Psychological
Operations Support Element, provides the most detailed look to date at the Pentagon's
The three companies handling the campaign include the Lincoln Group, the company
being investigated by the Pentagon for paying Iraqi newspapers to run pro-U.S.
stories. (Related story: Contracts
for pro-U.S. propaganda)
Military officials involved with the campaign say they're not planning to place
false stories in foreign news outlets clandestinely. But the military won't
always reveal its role in distributing pro-American messages, Furlong says.
"While the product may not carry the label, 'Made in the USA,' we will
respond truthfully if asked" by journalists, Furlong told USA TODAY in
a videoconference interview.
He declined to give examples of specific "products," which he said
would include articles, advertisements and public-service announcements.
The military's communications work in Iraq has recently drawn controversy with
disclosures that Lincoln Group and the U.S. military secretly paid journalists
and news outlets to run pro-American stories.
White House officials have expressed concern about the practice, even when
the stories are true.
National security adviser Stephen Hadley said President Bush was "very
troubled" by activities in Iraq and would stop them if they hurt efforts
to build independent news media in Iraq. The military started its own probe.
It's legal for the government to plant propaganda in other countries but not
in the USA. The White House referred requests for comment about the contracts
to the Pentagon, where officials did not respond.
Special Operations Command awarded three contracts worth up to $100 million
each for the media campaign in June. Besides the Lincoln Group, the contractors
are Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) of San Diego and SYColeman
SAIC and Lincoln Group spokesmen declined to comment on the contract. Rick
Kiernan, a spokesman for SYColeman, says its work for Special Operations Command
is "more in the world of advertising."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has emphasized that Washington must promote
its message better. "The worst about America and our military seems to
so quickly be taken as truth by the press and reported and spread around the
world," he said last week.
The Iraq example may cause Arabs to doubt any pro-American messages, says Jumana
al-Tamimi, an editor for the Gulf News, an English-language newspaper published
in the United Arab Emirates.
Placing pro-U.S. content in foreign media "makes people suspicious of
the open press," says Ken Bacon, a Clinton administration Pentagon spokesman
who heads the non-profit group Refugees International.
No contractor for the global program has made a final product, Furlong says.
Approval will come from Rumsfeld's office and regional commanders. Some of the
development work is classified.
"Sometimes it's not good to signal ... what your plans are," he says.
Contributing: Barbara Slavin