From Sat Mar 2 20:00:32 2002
Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2002 08:38:09 -0600 (CST)
Organization: South Movement
From: Dave Muller <>
Subject: [southnews] Media watchdogs troubled by Pentagon disinformation
Article: 134433
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Media watchdogs troubled by possible Pentagon propaganda

By Lauren Gelfand, AFP, 19 February 2002

US media watchdogs reacted with dismay today to news that a little-known Pentagon office was considering influencing international opinion on the war on terrorism, with a broad campaign possibly including planting false stories in foreign media.

Should the proposals offered by the cloistered and well-funded Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) be approved by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it bodes ill for both US journalists and perception of US operations abroad, several experts said.

Setting out to deliberately lie or 'spread misinformation' can't have anything but a terrible impact down the road for any nation that claims to be an open and democratic society, said Freedom Forum analyst Paul McMasters.

The only thing more dangerous than reacting in panic is to set out on a deliberate policy of lying and deception, where it is next to impossible for ordinary people, Americans or otherwise, to know what is the truth and what is a lie.

Air Force General Simon Worden was quietly installed as the head of the OSI, established after the September 11 terror attacks, to wage a campaign to shape international opinion, defence officials said today, confirming a report by the New York Times.

The office envisions its mission as ranging from overt public diplomacy to the covert use of disinformation such as false stories to wage a secret propaganda war, Pentagon officials said.

This is terrible, said Reed Irvine, the founder of the conservative watchdog Accuracy In Media.

It's true that Winston Churchill said the truth was so precious it should be guarded with a bodyguard of lies, but there is no justification for this. There are great disadvantages in the (US) government copying the communists and the old Soviet Union in the battle of disinformation.

That foreign media outlets are the potential vehicles for deliberate misinformation is not surprising, said Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting analyst Peter Hart, as foreign media have generally been more skeptical of the war in their coverage.

And it's readily acknowledged by anyone paying attention to this, from the White House point of view, that there is some effort to undo some of that.

Revelations of the existence and function of the Office of Strategic Influence are only the latest on the Bush administration's campaign to obfuscate the US war on terror and manipulate media coverage, noted McMasters.

Warnings to news agencies from US officials not to air full interviews with top terror suspect Osama bin Laden; a request from Secretary of State Colin Powell to the emir of Qatar to monitor the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera network; and pressure on federally-funded Voice of America not to air an interview with a Taliban official are all part of the same campaign, he said.

That, combined with the real, heightened attention to secrecy... at the Pentagon and the unprecedented restrictions on press covering the war... means that essentially, Americans are being asked to trust their government while government at the same time is saying emphatically that it does not trust the American public, he said.

Such policies could also put US journalists in harm's way while they are reporting overseas even more than they are now, McMasters added.

There is already the perception among some abroad that American journalists are instruments of American foreign policy, in league with government agencies, he said, pointing to the kidnap of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl in Pakistan as an extreme example.

Journalists, both American and foreign, either working in the United States or abroad, will have to redouble efforts to ensure that the integrity of (our) work is more important than any other propaganda campaign, said Hart.

Journalists in other countries are on notice now, to be even more skeptical of official and unofficial claims coming from American sources, he added.