Selling the Afghan War | The Nation


Selling the Afghan War

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Based on other speeches he has made over the years, Rendon seems to view the media as a chief target and semi-hostile force. He has said that media presence in combat zones has at times created security risks, and that for journalists, "getting it first is more important than getting it right." He recommends that PR practitioners court and spin "people who are likely to appear as 'network analysts.' Your messages will receive instant confirmation."

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Ken Silverstein
Ken Silverstein is a Washington, DC–based investigative reporter.

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TRG's first national security assignment came in 1989, when company staffers fanned out in collaboration with Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama. After Manuel Noriega was overthrown, TRG offered "crisis management and operational support" to the new US-backed government and "courted the international press and overseas radio stations to make the cause real to other governments and to give hope to Panamanians."

TRG's next assignment came the following year, when it supported the Kuwaiti government in exile after the Iraqi invasion. Rendon and his staffers set up a TV production house in London that specialized in publicizing atrocities carried out by Saddam Hussein's troops. After the Iraqi Army was driven from Kuwait, TRG distributed the miniature American flags that the population of Kuwait City waved to greet American troops (and TV network news crews).

In Haiti TRG worked for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide beginning a few weeks before the 1994 invasion by US troops that returned him to power. "A team of local and Washington-based communications specialists offered round-the-clock services, including media monitoring and outreach," says TRG's website.

TRG's biggest operation may have been its CIA-funded $23 million covert PR campaign against Saddam Hussein, which got under way following the Gulf War. Rendon's staff produced news and skits for two CIA-run radio stations, as well as videos and comic books. The goal was to embarrass Saddam and encourage the defection of Iraqi army officers.

TRG later helped run PR campaigns for the Iraqi National Congress, the US-backed group that is seeking to oust Saddam. One of its projects was a touring "atrocity exhibition" of photographs and documents that highlighted the horrible nature of Saddam's regime. TRG also sought to build international support for continued economic sanctions against Iraq, even as reports of civilian suffering and mass starvation were beginning to attract widespread attention, concern and consternation.

Colonel McClellan says TRG will supplement the Pentagon's own outreach efforts and the work of the Army's 4th Psychological Operations Group, which is based at Fort Bragg and is now conducting operations in Afghanistan and the surrounding region. "[TRG] has a track record that shows it has the right capabilities," he says. "We need to find the right terms to communicate our message, but so far we haven't been able to do so."

Others speak less favorably of TRG's track record. Warren Marik, a former CIA agent who helped run anti-Saddam operations, once told the Washington Post that Rendon's operations were completely ineffective. In their book Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, Andrew and Patrick Cockburn cite one disgruntled Rendon staffer, Francis Brooke, who told of the firm paying college-age kids to write radio propaganda broadcasts for $100 a day out of a Washington office. Brooke described TRG's London operations as a room full of employees "who had difficulty in culturally adapting to London, let alone the Middle East." Others have said that Rendon used the CIA's money to travel by Concorde and to pay for other frills that did little to advance the cause for which they were hired.

Hence, Rendon and his crew of Information Warriors will apparently be well fed and cared for as they hunker down to plot strategy in the months ahead. Winning hearts and minds in the Arab world and the sympathies of the overseas press may take longer.

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