U.S. Is Said to Pay to Plant Articles in Iraq Papers
- WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 - Titled "The Sands Are Blowing Toward a
Democratic Iraq," an article written this week for publication in
the Iraqi press was scornful of outsiders' pessimism about the
"Western press and frequently those self-styled 'objective'
observers of Iraq are often critics of how we, the people of Iraq,
are proceeding down the path in determining what is best for our
nation," the article began. Quoting the Prophet Muhammad, it pleaded
for unity and nonviolence.
But far from being the heartfelt opinion of an Iraqi writer, as its
language implied, the article was prepared by the United States
military as part of a multimillion-dollar covert campaign to plant
paid propaganda in the Iraqi news media and pay friendly Iraqi
journalists monthly stipends, military contractors and officials
The article was one of several in a storyboard, the military's term
for a list of articles, that was delivered Tuesday to the Lincoln
Group, a Washington-based public relations firm paid by the
Pentagon, documents from the Pentagon show. The contractor's job is
to translate the articles into Arabic and submit them to Iraqi
newspapers or advertising agencies without revealing the Pentagon's
role. Documents show that the intended target of the article on a
democratic Iraq was Azzaman, a leading independent newspaper, but it
is not known whether it was published there or anywhere else.
Even as the State Department and the United States Agency for
International Development pay contractors millions of dollars to
help train journalists and promote a professional and independent
Iraqi media, the Pentagon is paying millions more to the Lincoln
Group for work that appears to violate fundamental principles of
In addition to paying newspapers to print government propaganda,
Lincoln has paid about a dozen Iraqi journalists each several
hundred dollars a month, a person who had been told of the
transactions said. Those journalists were chosen because their past
coverage had not been antagonistic to the United States, said the
person, who is being granted anonymity because of fears for the
safety of those involved. In addition, the military storyboards have
in some cases copied verbatim text from copyrighted publications and
passed it on to be printed in the Iraqi press without attribution,
documents and interviews indicated.
In many cases, the material prepared by the military was given to
advertising agencies for placement, and at least some of the
material ran with an advertising label. But the American authorship
and financing were not revealed.
Military spokesmen in Washington and Baghdad said Wednesday that
they had no information on the contract. In an interview from
Baghdad on Nov. 18, Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, a military spokesman,
said the Pentagon's contract with the Lincoln Group was an attempt
to "try to get stories out to publications that normally don't have
access to those kind of stories." The military's top commanders,
including Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of
staff, did not know about the Lincoln Group contract until
Wednesday, when it was first described by The Los Angeles Times,
said a senior military official who was not authorized to speak
Pentagon officials said General Pace and other top officials were
disturbed by the reported details of the propaganda campaign and
demanded explanations from senior officers in Iraq, the official
When asked about the article Wednesday night on the ABC News
program "Nightline," General Pace said, "I would be concerned about
anything that would be detrimental to the proper growth of
Others seemed to share the sentiment. "I think it's absolutely wrong
for the government to do this," said Patrick Butler, vice president
of the International Center for Journalists in Washington, which
conducts ethics training for journalists from countries without a
history of independent news media. "Ethically, it's indefensible."
Mr. Butler, who spoke from a conference in Wisconsin with Arab
journalists, said the American government paid for many programs
that taught foreign journalists not to accept payments from
interested parties to write articles and not to print government
propaganda disguised as news.
"You show the world you're not living by the principles you profess
to believe in, and you lose all credibility," he said.
The Government Accountability Office found this year that the Bush
administration had violated the law by producing pseudo news reports
that were later used on American television stations with no
indication that they had been prepared by the government. But no law
prohibits the use of such covert propaganda abroad.
The Lincoln contract with the American-led coalition forces in Iraq
has rankled some military and civilian officials and contractors.
Some of them described the program to The New York Times in recent
months and provided examples of the military's storyboards.
The Lincoln Group, whose principals include some businessmen and
former military officials, was hired last year after military
officials concluded that the United States was failing to win over
Muslim public opinion. In Iraq, the effort is seen by some American
military commanders as a crucial step toward defeating the Sunni-led
Citing a "fundamental problem of credibility" and foreign opposition
to American policies, a Pentagon advisory panel last year called for
the government to reinvent and expand its information programs.
"Government alone cannot today communicate effectively and
credibly," said the report by the task force on strategic
communication of the Defense Science Board. The group recommended
turning more often for help to the private sector, which it said
had "a built-in agility, credibility and even deniability."
The Pentagon's first public relations contract with Lincoln was
awarded in 2004 for about $5 million with the stated purpose of
accurately informing the Iraqi people of American goals and gaining
their support. But while meant to provide reliable information, the
effort was also intended to use deceptive techniques, like payments
to sympathetic "temporary spokespersons" who would not necessarily
be identified as working for the coalition, according to a contract
document and a military official.
In addition, the document called for the development of "alternate
or diverting messages which divert media and public attention"
to "deal instantly with the bad news of the day."
Laurie Adler, a spokeswoman for the Lincoln Group, said the terms of
the contract did not permit her to discuss it and referred a
reporter to the Pentagon. But others defended the practice.
"I'm not surprised this goes on," said Michael Rubin, who worked in
Iraq for the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 and
2004. "Informational operations are a part of any military
campaign," he added. "Especially in an atmosphere where terrorists
and insurgents - replete with oil boom cash - do the same. We need
an even playing field, but cannot fight with both hands tied behind
Two dozen recent storyboards prepared by the military for Lincoln
and reviewed by The New York Times had a variety of good-news themes
addressing the economy, security, the insurgency and Iraq's
political future. Some were written to resemble news articles.
Others took the form of opinion pieces or public service
One article about Iraq's oil industry opened with three paragraphs
taken verbatim, and without attribution, from a recent report in Al
Hayat, a London-based Arabic newspaper. But the military version
took out a quotation from an oil ministry spokesman that was
critical of American reconstruction efforts. It substituted a more
positive message, also attributed to the spokesman, though not as a
The editor of Al Sabah, a major Iraqi newspaper that has been the
target of many of the military's articles, said Wednesday in an
interview that he had no idea that the American military was
supplying such material and did not know if his newspaper had
printed any of it, whether labeled as advertising or not.
The editor, Muhammad Abdul Jabbar, 57, said Al Sabah, which he said
received financial support from the Iraqi government but was
editorially independent, accepted advertisements from virtually any
source if they were not inflammatory. He said any such material
would be labeled as advertising but would not necessarily identify
the sponsor. Sometimes, he said, the paper got the text from an
advertising agency and did not know its origins.
Asked what he thought of the Pentagon program's effectiveness in
influencing Iraqi public opinion, Mr. Jabbar said, "I would spend
the money a better way."
The Lincoln Group, which was incorporated in 2004, has won another
government information contract. Last June, the Special Operations
Command in Tampa awarded Lincoln and two other companies a
multimillion-dollar contract to support psychological operations.
The planned products, contract documents show, include three- to
five- minute news programs.
Asked whether the information and news products would identify the
American sponsorship, a media relations officer with the special
operations command replied, in an e-mail message last summer,
that "the product may or may not carry 'made in the U.S.' signature"
but they would be identified as American in origin, "if asked."
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington for this article,
and Kirk Semple and Edward Wong from Baghdad.