The Obama administration has decided to close a Pentagon information office accused of spouting propaganda.
The Defense Department office for support to public diplomacy received strong criticism from people inside and outside the military for straying beyond its guidelines late in the Bush administration, violating Pentagon rules for accuracy and openness.
Michele Flournoy, Obama’s undersecretary of defense for policy, made the decision to close the office, Defense Department officials told The New York Times.
“Because of the history of the office, we needed a fresh start in how we integrate the critical function of strategic communications across the board,” a senior Pentagon official told The Times.
The Bush administration formed the office in 2007 to mesh the Pentagon’s overseas dissemination of information with other government entities: the White House, the State Department and embassies.
But U.S. military officers in Afghanistan complained last year that sheets of “talking points” the office gave them for answering questions on issues such as civilian casualties amounted to pure propaganda.
They said the Afghan public wouldn’t believe them and refused to use the canned material.
Going forward, the White House and State Department will take the lead in dispensing information abroad, and the Pentagon will play a supporting role.
Controversy over Pentagon information efforts isn’t new. In 2002, the Defense Department closed its Office of Strategic Influence, predecessor to the office shuttered by Flournoy, amid accusations that its efforts to shape foreign opinion would hurt the military’s reputation.
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