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U.S. to Fund Pro-American Publicity in Iraqi Media

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    U.S. to Fund Pro-American Publicity in Iraqi Media By Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus Washington Post Friday, October 3, 2008; Page A01
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 3, 2008
      U.S. to Fund Pro-American Publicity in Iraqi Media
      By Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus
      Washington Post
      Friday, October 3, 2008; Page A01

      By Karen DeYoung and Walter
      Washington Post Staff
      Friday, October 3, 2008; Page A01

      The Defense
      ment+of+Defense?tid=informline> will pay private U.S. contractors in
      Iraq up to $300 million over the next three years to produce news
      stories, entertainment programs and public service advertisements for
      the Iraqi media in an effort to "engage and inspire" the local
      population to support U.S. objectives and the Iraqi government.

      This Story

      U.S. to Fund Pro-American Publicity in Iraqi

      Attacks Belie Steps on

      From CFR: Awaiting Elections in War-Weary

      The new contracts -- awarded last week to four companies -- will
      expand and consolidate what the U.S.
      rces?tid=informline> calls "information/psychological operations" in
      Iraq far into the future, even as violence appears to be abating and
      U.S. troops have begun drawing down.

      The military's role in the war of ideas has been fundamentally
      transformed in recent years, the result of both the
      tid=informline>'s outsized resources and a counterinsurgency doctrine
      in which information control is considered key to success. Uniformed
      communications specialists and contractors are now an integral part
      of U.S. military operations from Eastern Europe to Afghanistan and


      Iraq, where hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on such
      contracts, has been the proving ground for the transformation. "The
      tools they're using, the means, the robustness of this activity has
      just skyrocketed since 2003. In the past, a lot of this stuff was
      just some guy's dreams," said a senior U.S. military official, one of
      several who discussed the sensitive defense program on the condition
      of anonymity.

      The Pentagon still sometimes feels it is playing catch-up in a
      propaganda market dominated by al-
      tid=informline>, whose media operations include sophisticated Web
      sites and professionally produced videos and audios featuring Osama
      tid=informline> and his lieutenants. "We're being out-communicated by
      a guy in a cave," Secretary Robert M.
      tid=informline> often remarks.

      But Defense Department officials think their own products have become
      increasingly imaginative and competitive. Military and contractor-
      produced media campaigns, spotlighting killings by
      insurgents, "helped in developing attitudes" that led Iraqis to
      reject al-Qaeda in
      tid=informline> over the past two years, an official said. Now that
      the insurgency is in disarray, he said, the same tools "could
      potentially be helpful" in diminishing the influence of neighboring

      U.S.-produced public service broadcasts and billboards have touted
      improvements in government services, promoted political
      reconciliation, praised the Iraqi military and encouraged Iraqi
      citizens to report criminal activity. When national euphoria broke
      out last year after an Iraqi singer won a talent contest in Lebanon,
      the U.S. military considered producing an Iraqi version of "American
      tid=informline>" to help build nonsectarian nationalism. The idea was
      shelved as too expensive, an official said, but "we're trying to
      think out of the box on" reconciliation.

      One official described how part of the program works: "There's a
      video piece produced by a contractor . . . showing a family being
      attacked by a group of bad guys, and their daughter being taken off.
      The message is: You've got to stand up against the enemy." The
      professionally produced vignette, he said, "is offered for airing on
      various [television] stations in Iraq. . . . They don't know that the
      originator of the content is the U.S. government. If they did, they
      would never run anything."

      "If you asked most Iraqis," he said, "they would say, 'It came from
      the government, our own government.' "

      The Pentagon's solicitation for bids on the contracts noted that
      media items produced "may or may not be non-attributable to coalition
      forces." "If they thought we were doing it, it would not be as
      effective," another official said of the Iraqis. "In the Middle East,
      they are so afraid they're going to be Westernized . . . that you
      have to be careful when you're trying to provide information to the

      The Army's counterinsurgency manual, which Gen. David H.
      s?tid=informline> co-wrote in 2006, describes information operations
      in detail, citing them among the "critical" military activities "that
      do not involve killing insurgents." Petraeus, who became the top U.S.
      commander in Iraq early last year, led a "surge" in combat troops and
      information warfare.

      Some of the new doctrine emerged from Petraeus's own early experience
      in Iraq. As commander of the 101st Airborne
      e+Division?tid=informline> in northern Nineveh province in 2003, he
      ensured that war-ravaged radio and television stations were brought
      rapidly back on line. At his urging, the first TV programs
      included "Nineveh Talent Search" and a radio call-in show hosted by
      his Arabic interpreter, Sadi Othman, a Palestinian American.

      Othman, a former New York cabdriver employed by Reston-based SOS
      International, remained at Petraeus's side during the general's
      subsequent Iraq deployments; the company refers to him as a senior
      adviser to Petraeus.

      This Story
      U.S. to Fund Pro-American Publicity in Iraqi Media
      Attacks Belie Steps on Reconciliation
      From CFR: Awaiting Elections in War-Weary Iraq
      SOSi has been one of the most prominent communications contractors
      working in Iraq, winning a two-year $200 million contract in 2006
      to "assist in gathering information, conducting analysis and
      providing timely solutions and advice regarding cultural, religious,
      political, economic and public perceptions."

      "We definitely believe this is a growth area in the DOD," said Julian
      Setian, SOSi's chief operating officer. "We are seeing more and more
      requests for professional assistance in media-related strategic
      communications efforts, specifically in gauging of perceptions in
      foreign media with regard to U.S. operations."

      The four companies that will share in the new contract are SOSi, the
      Washington-based Lincoln Group, Alexandria-based MPRI and Leonie
      Industries, a Los Angeles contractor. All specialize in strategic
      communications and have done previous defense work.

      Defense officials maintained that strict rules are enforced against
      disseminating false information. "Our enemies have the luxury of not
      having to tell the truth," Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman
      told a congressional hearing last month. "We pay an extremely high
      price if we ever even make a slight error in putting out the facts."

      Contractors require security clearances, and proof that their teams
      possess sufficient linguistic abilities and knowledge of Iraqi
      culture. The Iraqi government has little input on U.S. operations,
      although U.S. officials say they have encouraged Iraqis to be more
      aggressive in molding public support.

      The Pentagon is sensitive to criticism that it has sometimes blurred
      the lines between public-affairs activities and unattributed
      propaganda. As information operations in Iraq expanded, some senior
      officers warned that they risked a return to psychological and
      deception operations discredited during the Vietnam War.

      In 2006, the Pentagon's inspector general found that media work that
      the Lincoln Group did in Iraq was improperly supervised but legal.
      The contractor had prepared news items considered favorable to the
      U.S. military and paid to place them in the Iraqi media without
      attribution. Then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters
      that his initial reaction to the anonymous pay-to-publish program
      was "Gee, that's not what we ought to be doing."

      On Aug. 21, the day before bids on the new contract were closed, the
      solicitation was reissued to replace repeated references to
      information and psychological operations with the term "media

      Senior military officials said that current media placement is done
      through Iraqi middlemen and that broadcast time is usually paid. But
      they said they knew of no recent instance of payment to place
      unattributed newspaper articles. The officials maintained that news
      items are now a minor part of the operation, which they said is
      focused on public service promotions and media monitoring.

      But a lengthy list of "deliverables" under the new contract proposal
      includes "print columns, press statements, press releases, response-
      to-query, speeches and . . . opinion editorials"; radio
      broadcasts "in excess of 300 news stories" monthly and 150 each on
      sports and economic themes; and 30- and 60-minute broadcast
      documentary and entertainment series.

      Contractors will also develop and maintain Web sites; assess news
      articles in the Iraqi, U.S. and international media; and determine
      ways to counter coverage deemed negative, according to the contract
      solicitation the government posted in May. Polls and focus groups
      will be used to monitor Iraqi attitudes under a separate three-year
      contract totaling up to $45 million.

      While U.S. law prohibits the use of government money to direct
      propaganda at U.S. audiences, the "statement of work" included in the
      proposal, written by the U.S. Joint Contracting Command in Iraq,
      notes the need to "communicate effectively with our strategic
      audiences (i.e. Iraqi, pan-Arabic, International, and U.S. audiences)
      to gain widespread acceptance of [U.S. and Iraqi government] core
      themes and messages."

      Lawmakers have often challenged the propriety of the military's
      information operations, even when they take place outside the United
      States. The Pentagon itself has frequently lamented the need to
      undertake duties beyond combat and peacekeeping, and Gates has
      publicly questioned the "creeping militarization" of tasks civilians
      traditionally perform.

      In 2006, President Bush put the State Department in charge of the
      administration's worldwide "strategic communications," but the size
      of the military's efforts dwarf those of the diplomats. State
      estimates it will spend $5.6 million on public diplomacy in Iraq in
      fiscal 2008. A provision in the fiscal 2009 Defense Authorization
      Bill has called for a "close examination" of the State and defense
      communications programs "to better formulate a comprehensive

      Some inside the military itself have questioned the effectiveness of
      the defense program. "I'm not a huge fan" of information operations,
      one military official said, adding that Iraqi opinions -- as for most
      people -- are formed more by what they experience than by what they
      read in a newspaper, hear on the radio or see on billboards.

      "A lot of money is being thrown around," he said, "and I'm not sure
      it's all paying off as much as we think it is."



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