Pentagon: Planting Stories in Iraqi Press Was Within Law

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A U.S. military propaganda program used in the Iraq war was legal under the rules for psychological operations, a Pentagon investigation has concluded.

A classified Defense Department inspector general’s report said regulations were followed when the military paid to have favorable stories about coalition forces planted in Iraqi newspapers, according to the unclassified executive summary obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

“Psychological operations are a central part of information operations and contribute to achieving the … commander’s objectives,” the summary said. They are aimed at conveying “selected, truthful information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions … reasoning, and ultimately, the behavior of governments” and other entities, it said.

It faulted only one contract, saying the military hadn’t maintained required documentation.

Republican and Democratic critics had complained that secretly planting stories set a bad example in a country where the U.S. was trying to establish democracy and a free press.

“We concluded that (commanders in Iraq) complied with applicable laws and regulations in their use of a contractor to conduct psychological operations and their use of newspapers as a way to disseminate information,” the executive summary says.

The office of the inspector general completed the report Oct. 6. It was being redacted so an unclassified version could be released publicly. Meanwhile, a copy was forwarded to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy,a Democrat, who had requested the review.

Kennedy said the report showed that the Pentagon cannot account for millions of dollars paid to the Lincoln Group and that contracting rules were not followed. “Broader policy questions remain about whether the administration’s manipulation of the news in Iraq contradicts our goal of a free and independent press there,” he said.

The inspector general looked at three contracts, valued at $37.3 million and awarded to the Washington-based Lincoln Group for services from October 2004 through last month.

The contractor not only placed articles to influence Iraqis but also worked to “respond rapidly to counter anti-coalition propaganda,” the summary said.

The Lincoln Group was mired in controversy last year when it became known that it had been part of a U.S. military operation to run positive stories about U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.

U.S. officials said last month that the public relations company has been awarded a multimillion-dollar media contract to monitor English and Arabic media outlets and produce talking points, speeches and other material for U.S. forces in Iraq.

After the program was disclosed, the Senate Armed Services Committee summoned defense officials for a briefing. Its chairman, Republican Sen. John Warner, said he was concerned about anything that would erode the independence of Iraq’s media.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was among those who questioned the practice and said it should be reviewed, adding that it is important for the United States to be seen as supporting a free press overseas.

Others have defended the program as a necessary tool in the war on terror, saying it is critical to get the accurate message out to the Iraqis about what the U.S. is doing in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said the military must use “nontraditional means” to get its message out in the face of widespread disinformation campaigns by insurgents.

Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, did an initial review earlier this year and found the Lincoln Group did not violate its contract with the military.

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