On Friday, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon Inspector General’s audit of a secret Pentagon Iraqi propaganda program contracted to the Lincoln Group (which calls itself “a strategic communications & pubic relations firm providing insight & influence in challenging & hostile environments”) had cleared the Pentagon of violating laws or its own regulations So challenging and hostile was the Iraqi environment, it seems, that the Lincoln Group spent its time using U.S. military personnel to create good “news” stories, having them translated into Arabic, and then secretly paying bribes to members of the newly “free” Iraqi media to publish them as Iraqi-generated news reports.
According to a brief summary of the investigation released by the Inspector General’s office, “Psychological operations are planned to convey selected, truthful information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately, the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of Psychological Operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to U.S. objectives.”
Get that mouthful? Now, all you have to do is translate it into Arabic and bribe an Iraqi news editor to publish it. Think of your goal as messing up a few more Iraqi minds when it comes to “objective reasoning.”
The New York Times, which saw some of the other unclassified documents in the investigation, summarized the clearing of the Pentagon of illegal activity this way: “The report said that the secret program, run by the military in conjunction with the Lincoln Group, a Washington contractor, was lawful and that it did not constitute a ‘covert action’ designed to influence the internal political conditions of another country.”
Now, to a normal human being, a secret Pentagon operation to produce propaganda pieces–call it “selected, truthful information,” if you wish–and slip them into the Iraqi press for a price might sound remarkably like a “‘covert action’ designed to influence the internal political conditions of another country.”
Though I haven’t seen the full documentation myself, I do have a theory about why the Inspector General might have cleared the five-pointed bureaucracy of illegality. The Bush administration has always been more focused on American than Iraqi public opinion. After all, Iraq is just a place where “stuff happens.” The goal of administration officials was always to win the war at home above all else. With that in mind, perhaps the Pentagon hired the Lincoln Group to slip those good-news pieces into the Iraqi media not to influence Iraqis, but Americans. Perhaps the hope was that the “free” Iraqi media would be the royal route back to the American press. And, of course, if that’s the conclusion the Inspector General came to, then influencing the “internal political conditions of another country” obviously doesn’t apply. We’re not another country. We’re the original country, the only one that matters.
Oh, by the way, the IG’s audit did dun the Pentagon for not retaining “adequate documentation to verify expenditures” or explain how the Lincoln Group got its initial $10.4 dollar contract in the first place. But, the Times tells us, since that contract had already expired, the inspector general “did not recommend any punishment for the violations.” And the Lincoln Group is now back at work for the Pentagon in Iraq.