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Pentagon: We Won't Lie

Wednesday, 20 February 2002 12:00 AM

"We have an enormous stake in our credibility, and we are going to preserve that," said Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith.

"When DOD officials speak to the public they tell the truth. Despite some of the reports ... defense officials don't lie to the public. We are confident that the truth serves our interests in the broadest sense of our national security and specifically in this war.

"We are going to preserve our credibility and the purity of statements that defense officials make to the public," Feith said. "We are also going to preserve our option about misleading the enemy ... we are going to preserve our ability to undertake operations for tactical purposes to mislead the enemy."

Speaking to troops protecting the Winter Olympic Games in Utah, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also vowed to deal honestly with the public, a pledge he has made before.

"Government officials, the Defense Department, this secretary and the people that work with me tell the American people and the people of the world the truth," Rumsfeld said.

But Feith refused to rule out the possibility that private lobbying or public relations firms with more legal latitude would spread misinformation on the Pentagon's behalf.

The New York Times reported Tuesday on the creation of the office. According to the Times the Pentagon has hired the Washington-based Rendon Group for about $100,000 a month to help OSI. Under consideration is a plan to send out e-mail messages on behalf of OSI but using an apparently commercial rather than military Internet address, obscuring the identity of the sender.

The Office of Strategic Influence was first conceived of in November as a central place that could oversea the contents of radio broadcasts, leaflets and to put out information to counter Taliban propaganda. The office has not yet been stood up as the "mission" is still being debated between the Pentagon, CIA, State Department and National Security Council, Feith said.

He portrayed the office's primary mandate as being in support of battlefield operations: the creation of leaflets, the text of radio broadcasts over enemy airwaves, and the monitoring and countering of enemy propaganda, for instance.

OSI will create "the kinds of messages that encourage enemy forces to surrender," he said.

Even that narrow mission is drawing fire in the military. Tactical operations are the purview of military officers assigned to different geographic areas of the world. They are the acknowledged experts and bear the brunt of responsibility if something goes wrong on their battlefields. They have also been traditionally vested with the responsibility to craft their own "information operations" campaign, a broad approach that includes public affairs, computer network attacks and battlefield propaganda.

The creation of OSI could diminish the control each commander has on his battlefield, snaring tactical decisions in a political Pentagon bureaucracy.

More troubling to some Pentagon old hands, however, is the notion that the Pentagon would become embroiled in "strategic" communications and occasionally deception, something that has been firmly under the control of the State Department and CIA.

With the war in Afghanistan often coming down to one side's word against the other on the treatment of prisoners, erroneous bombs and civilian casualties, the Pentagon can ill afford to be seen trying to influence news and perceptions.

"Clearly there is nothing more important than our credibility when discussing military matters with the public, media, allies or anyone else," a defense official told United Press International.

The Defense Department's own "Principles of Information," the guiding document for public affairs officers, prohibits censorship or propaganda.

"It is Department of Defense policy to make available timely and accurate information so that the public, the Congress, and the news media may assess and understand the facts about national security and defense strategy," states the document. "Propaganda has no place in DOD public affairs programs."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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We have an enormous stake in our credibility, and we are going to preserve that, said Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith. When DOD officials speak to the public they tell the truth. Despite some of the reports ... defense officials don't lie to the public....
Wednesday, 20 February 2002 12:00 AM
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