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