Gen. David Petraeus has ordered an investigation into allegations that U.S. troops specializing in psychological operations were ordered to manipulate members of Congress visiting Afghanistan into supporting the deployment of more troops and more money for the war effort.
|Gen. David Petraeus
The methods were used against such well-known members of Congress as Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who caucuses with the Democrats, according to Rolling Stone magazine, which broke the story.
Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, ordered the investigation, The Washington Post reported today.
The information operations (IO) unit based at Camp Eggers in Kabul employed psy-ops on member of Congress for four months last year, Rolling Stone reported. The orders came from Lt. Gen. William Caldwell and contradict a host of federal laws and Defense Department regulations that bar the use of propaganda and psychological tactics against Americans, the magazine reported.
“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” the officer in charge of the operation, Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, told Rolling Stone. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”
Holmes was disciplined for complaining about the orders. A spokesman for Caldwell denied the “assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors," the magazine said.
Others allegedly singled out in the campaign include Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.; Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., and Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The general and his staff wanted the psy-ops team to provide an analysis of pressure points that could be used to get more funds for the war and information on how the congressmen could be manipulated without their knowledge, Holmes told the magazine.
The general’s chief of staff wanted to know, "How do we get these guys to give us more people?" and “What do I have to plant inside their heads?"
Holmes eventually e-mailed a judge advocate general lawyer to seek advice. Capt. John Scott told him the “short answer is that IO doesn’t do that.” He later added that using information operations “to influence our own folks is a bad idea and contrary to IO policy” and recommended that Holmes get a lawyer, Rolling Stone reported.
Holmes was investigated on the orders of Col. Joe Buche, Caldwell’s chief of staff. The ensuing report accused him of drinking, wearing civilian clothes without permission, and having an inappropriate relationship with one of his staff. Holmes and the staffer, Maj. Laural Levine, both denied the charges but were formally reprimanded, Rolling Stone reported.
As to the success of the operation, Rolling Stone concluded there was “no way to tell what, if any, influence it had on American policy.”
However, the story noted that, in January 2011, Caldwell’s command asked for $2 billion to train 70,000 Afghan troops. “Among the biggest boosters in Washington to give Caldwell the additional money? Sen. Carl Levin, one of the senators whom Holmes had been ordered to target,” Rolling Stone reported.
Levin said he has “strongly and repeatedly advocated for building up Afghan military capability because I believe only the Afghans can truly secure their nation’s future. I have never needed any convincing on this point,” the Post said.
The author of the Rolling Stone article, Michael Hastings, also is responsible for the controversial 2010 piece on Afghan Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal entitled, “Runaway General.” The article won a Polk Award and led to McChrystal’s dismissal.
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