On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times revealed that the U.S. military "is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq." -- Based on interviews with "U.S. military officials and documents," the story in the Los Angeles Times revealed (though it did not comment upon) a great divide between those who found the practice outrageous, and those who accept it as a matter of course, like Daniel Kuehl, an Information Operations expert at National Defense University at Ft. McNair in Washington. -- Kuehl said he did "not believe that planting stories in Iraqi media was wrong," the L.A. Times reported. -- For Kuehl, the basic question is about cost-effectiveness, not morality. -- He said: "I don't think that there's anything evil or morally wrong with it. I just question whether it's effective." -- On Thursday, the New York Times followed up with a more intellectually coherent front-page story, describing "a multimillion-dollar covert campaign to plant paid propaganda in the Iraqi news media and pay friendly Iraqi journalists monthly stipends." -- Here's how it works: The Pentagon contracts with a company called the Lincoln Group to translate into Arabic articles it writes, and then to submit them to Iraqi media without revealing the Pentagon's role. -- Unlike the L.A. Times, the N.Y. Times did not publish any quotations from defenders of the practice, though some world-weary cynics reported being "not surprised." -- Both papers noted that earlier this year the Bush administration was found to have violated the law by producing fake news reports that were later used on U.S. TV stations with no indication they were government products. -- We have converging in this story two distinct phenomena. -- On the one hand, the U.S. military adopted in the 1990s a postmodern "Information Operations" doctrine that views information almost uniquely as a tool of war; this doctrine represents an historic shift. -- Its immediate antecedents go back to the 1980s, and of course its ultimate roots lie even deeper. -- And on the other hand, since 2001 the United States has been governed by an administration that has adopted a systematic, Machiavellian politics of deceit. -- Some of the most vehement opposition to this doctrine can be found inside the U.S. military -- just as some of the most impassioned defenders of constitutional democracy can be found there as well, in people who take seriously the oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic" -- the oath taken by all enlisted personnel of the U.S. armed forces, the National Guard, all U.S. attorneys, all U.S. Senators and Representatives, and all Cabinet secretaries....
The Conflict in Iraq
U.S. MILITARY COVERTLY PAYS TO RUN STORIES IN IRAQI PRESS
By Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi
** Troops write articles presented as news reports. Some officers object to the practice. **
Los Angeles Times
November 30, 2005
WASHINGTON -- As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
The articles, written by U.S. military "information operations" troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents, and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.
Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said. Records and interviews indicate that the U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles, with headlines such as "Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism," since the effort began this year.
The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group's Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.
The military's effort to disseminate propaganda in the Iraqi media is taking place even as U.S. officials are pledging to promote democratic principles, political transparency, and freedom of speech in a country emerging from decades of dictatorship and corruption.
It comes as the State Department is training Iraqi reporters in basic journalism skills and Western media ethics, including one workshop titled "The Role of Press in a Democratic Society." Standards vary widely at Iraqi newspapers, many of which are shoestring operations.
Underscoring the importance U.S. officials place on development of a Western-style media, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday cited the proliferation of news organizations in Iraq as one of the country's great successes since the ouster of President Saddam Hussein. The hundreds of newspapers, television stations, and other "free media" offer a "relief valve" for the Iraqi public to debate the issues of their burgeoning democracy, Rumsfeld said.
The military's information operations campaign has sparked a backlash among some senior military officers in Iraq and at the Pentagon who argue that attempts to subvert the news media could destroy the U.S. military's credibility in other nations and with the American public.
"Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it," said a senior Pentagon official who opposes the practice of planting stories in the Iraqi media.
The arrangement with Lincoln Group is evidence of how far the Pentagon has moved to blur the traditional boundaries between military public affairs -- the dissemination of factual information to the media -- and psychological and information operations, which use propaganda and sometimes misleading information to advance the objectives of a military campaign.
The Bush administration has come under criticism for distributing video and news stories in the United States without identifying the federal government as their source and for paying American journalists to promote administration policies, practices the Government Accountability Office has labeled "covert propaganda."
Military officials familiar with the effort in Iraq said much of it was being directed by the "Information Operations Task Force" in Baghdad, part of the multinational corps headquarters commanded by Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were critical of the effort and were not authorized to speak publicly about it.
A spokesman for Vines declined to comment for this article. A Lincoln Group spokesman also declined to comment.
One of the military officials said that, as part of a psychological operations campaign that has intensified over the last year, the task force also had purchased an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece.
The official would not disclose which newspaper and radio station are under U.S. control, saying that naming them would put their employees at risk of insurgent attacks.
U.S. law forbids the military from carrying out psychological operations or planting propaganda through American media outlets. Yet several officials said that given the globalization of media driven by the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, the Pentagon's efforts were carried out with the knowledge that coverage in the foreign press inevitably "bleeds" into the Western media and influences coverage in U.S. news outlets.
"There is no longer any way to separate foreign media from domestic media. Those neat lines don't exist anymore," said one private contractor who does information operations work for the Pentagon.
Daniel Kuehl, an information operations expert at National Defense University at Ft. McNair in Washington, said that he did not believe that planting stories in Iraqi media was wrong. But he questioned whether the practice would help turn the Iraqi public against the insurgency.
"I don't think that there's anything evil or morally wrong with it," he said. "I just question whether it's effective."
One senior military official who spent this year in Iraq said it was the strong pro-U.S. message in some news stories in Baghdad that first made him suspect that the American military was planting articles.
"Stuff would show up in the Iraqi press, and I would ask, 'Where the hell did that come from?' It was clearly not something that indigenous Iraqi press would have conceived of on their own," the official said.
Iraqi newspaper editors reacted with a mixture of shock and shrugs when told they were targets of a U.S. military psychological operation.
Some of the newspapers, such as Al Mutamar, a Baghdad-based daily run by associates of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, ran the articles as news stories, indistinguishable from other news reports. Before the war, Chalabi was the Iraqi exile favored by senior Pentagon officials to lead post-Hussein Iraq.
Others labeled the stories as "advertising," shaded them in gray boxes or used a special typeface to distinguish them from standard editorial content. But none mentioned any connection to the U.S. military.
One Aug. 6 piece, published prominently on Al Mutamar's second page, ran as a news story with the headline "Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism." Documents obtained by the Times indicated that Al Mutamar was paid about $50 to run the story, though the editor of the paper said he ran such articles for free.
Nearly $1,500 was paid to the independent Addustour newspaper to run an Aug. 2 article titled "More Money Goes to Iraq's Development," the records indicated. The newspaper's editor, Bassem Sheikh, said he had "no idea" where the piece came from but added the note "media services" on top of the article to distinguish it from other editorial content.
The U.S. military-written articles come in to Al Mutamar, the newspaper run by Chalabi's associates, via the Internet and are often unsigned, said Luay Baldawi, the paper's editor in chief.
"We publish anything," he said. "The paper's policy is to publish everything, especially if it praises causes we believe in. We are pro-American. Everything that supports America we will publish."
Yet other Al Mutamar employees were much less supportive of their paper's connection with the U.S. military. "This is not right," said Faleh Hassan, an editor. "It reflects the tragic condition of journalists in Iraq. Journalism in Iraq is in very bad shape."
Ultimately, Baldawi acknowledged that he, too, was concerned about the origin of the articles and pledged to be "more careful about stuff we get by e-mail."
After he learned of the source of three paid stories that ran in Al Mada in July, that newspaper's managing editor, Abdul Zahra Zaki, was outraged, immediately summoning a manager of the advertising department to his office.
"I'm very sad," he said. "We have to investigate."
The Iraqis who delivered the articles also reaped modest profits from the arrangements, according to sources and records.
Employees at Al Mada said that a low-key man arrived at the newspaper's offices in downtown Baghdad on July 30 with a large wad of U.S. dollars. He told the editors that he wanted to publish an article titled "Terrorists Attack Sunni Volunteers" in the newspaper.
He paid cash and left no calling card, employees said. He did not want a receipt. The name he gave employees was the same as that of a Lincoln Group worker in the records obtained by the Times. Although editors at Al Mada said he paid $900 to place the article, records show that the man told Lincoln Group that he gave more than $1,200 to the paper.
Al Mada is widely considered the most cerebral and professional of Iraqi newspapers, publishing investigative reports as well as poetry.
Zaki said that if his cash-strapped paper had known that these stories were from the U.S. government, he would have "charged much, much more" to publish them.
According to several sources, the process for placing the stories begins when soldiers write "storyboards" of events in Iraq, such as a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid on a suspected insurgent hide-out, or a suicide bomb that killed Iraqi civilians.
The storyboards, several of which were obtained by the Times, read more like press releases than news stories. They often contain anonymous quotes from U.S. military officials; it is unclear whether the quotes are authentic.
"Absolute truth was not an essential element of these stories," said the senior military official who spent this year in Iraq.
One of the storyboards, dated Nov. 12, describes a U.S.-Iraqi offensive in the western Iraqi towns of Karabilah and Husaybah.
"Both cities are stopping points for foreign fighters entering Iraq to wage their unjust war," the storyboard reads.
It continues with a quote from an anonymous U.S. military official:"'Iraqi army soldiers and U.S. forces have begun clear-and-hold operations in the city of Karabilah near Husaybah town, close to the Syrian border,' said a military official once operations began."
Another storyboard, written on the same date, describes the capture of an insurgent bomb-maker in Baghdad. "As the people and the [Iraqi security forces] work together, Iraq will finally drive terrorism out of Iraq for good," it concludes.
It was unclear whether those two storyboards have made their way into Iraqi newspapers.
A debate over the Pentagon's handling of information has raged since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In 2002, the Pentagon was forced to shut down its Office of Strategic Influence, which had been created the previous year, after reports surfaced that it intended to plant false news stories in the international media.
For much of 2005, a Defense Department working group has been trying to forge a policy about the proper role of information operations in wartime. Pentagon officials say the group has yet to resolve the often-contentious debate in the department about the boundaries between military public affairs and information operations.
Lincoln Group, formerly known as Iraqex, is one of several companies hired by the U.S. military to carry out "strategic communications" in countries where large numbers of U.S. troops are based.
Some of Lincoln Group's work in Iraq is very public, such as an animated public service campaign on Iraqi television that spotlights the Iraqi civilians killed by roadside bombs planted by insurgents.
Besides its contract with the military in Iraq, Lincoln Group this year won a major contract with U.S. Special Operations Command, based in Tampa, to develop a strategic communications campaign in concert with special operations troops stationed around the globe. The contract is worth up to $100 million over five years, although U.S. military officials said they doubted the Pentagon would spend the full amount of the contract.
--Mazzetti reported from Washington and Daragahi reported from Baghdad. 2.
U.S. IS SAID TO PAY TO PLANT ARTICLES IN IRAQ PAPERS
By Jeff Gerth and Scott Shane
New York Times
December 1, 2005
WASHINGTON -- Titled "The Sands Are Blowing Toward a Democratic Iraq," an article written this week for publication in the Iraqi press was scornful of outsiders' pessimism about the country's future.
"Western press and frequently those self-styled 'objective' observers of Iraq are often critics of how we, the people of Iraq, are proceeding down the path in determining what is best for our nation," the article began. Quoting the Prophet Muhammad, it pleaded for unity and nonviolence.
But far from being the heartfelt opinion of an Iraqi writer, as its language implied, the article was prepared by the United States military as part of a multimillion-dollar covert campaign to plant paid propaganda in the Iraqi news media and pay friendly Iraqi journalists monthly stipends, military contractors and officials said.
The article was one of several in a storyboard, the military's term for a list of articles, that was delivered Tuesday to the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations firm paid by the Pentagon, documents from the Pentagon show. The contractor's job is to translate the articles into Arabic and submit them to Iraqi newspapers or advertising agencies without revealing the Pentagon's role. Documents show that the intended target of the article on a democratic Iraq was Azzaman, a leading independent newspaper, but it is not known whether it was published there or anywhere else.
Even as the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development pay contractors millions of dollars to help train journalists and promote a professional and independent Iraqi media, the Pentagon is paying millions more to the Lincoln Group for work that appears to violate fundamental principles of Western journalism.
In addition to paying newspapers to print government propaganda, Lincoln has paid about a dozen Iraqi journalists each several hundred dollars a month, a person who had been told of the transactions said. Those journalists were chosen because their past coverage had not been antagonistic to the United States, said the person, who is being granted anonymity because of fears for the safety of those involved. In addition, the military storyboards have in some cases copied verbatim text from copyrighted publications and passed it on to be printed in the Iraqi press without attribution, documents and interviews indicated.
In many cases, the material prepared by the military was given to advertising agencies for placement, and at least some of the material ran with an advertising label. But the American authorship and financing were not revealed.
Military spokesmen in Washington and Baghdad said Wednesday that they had no information on the contract. In an interview from Baghdad on Nov. 18, Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, a military spokesman, said the Pentagon's contract with the Lincoln Group was an attempt to "try to get stories out to publications that normally don't have access to those kind of stories." The military's top commanders, including Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, did not know about the Lincoln Group contract until Wednesday, when it was first described by the Los Angeles Times, said a senior military official who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Pentagon officials said General Pace and other top officials were disturbed by the reported details of the propaganda campaign and demanded explanations from senior officers in Iraq, the official said.
When asked about the article Wednesday night on the ABC News program "Nightline," General Pace said, "I would be concerned about anything that would be detrimental to the proper growth of democracy."
Others seemed to share the sentiment. "I think it's absolutely wrong for the government to do this," said Patrick Butler, vice president of the International Center for Journalists in Washington, which conducts ethics training for journalists from countries without a history of independent news media. "Ethically, it's indefensible."
Mr. Butler, who spoke from a conference in Wisconsin with Arab journalists, said the American government paid for many programs that taught foreign journalists not to accept payments from interested parties to write articles and not to print government propaganda disguised as news.
"You show the world you're not living by the principles you profess to believe in, and you lose all credibility," he said.
The Government Accountability Office found this year that the Bush administration had violated the law by producing pseudo news reports that were later used on American television stations with no indication that they had been prepared by the government. But no law prohibits the use of such covert propaganda abroad.
The Lincoln contract with the American-led coalition forces in Iraq has rankled some military and civilian officials and contractors. Some of them described the program to The New York Times in recent months and provided examples of the military's storyboards.
The Lincoln Group, whose principals include some businessmen and former military officials, was hired last year after military officials concluded that the United States was failing to win over Muslim public opinion. In Iraq, the effort is seen by some American military commanders as a crucial step toward defeating the Sunni-led insurgency.
Citing a "fundamental problem of credibility" and foreign opposition to American policies, a Pentagon advisory panel last year called for the government to reinvent and expand its information programs.
"Government alone cannot today communicate effectively and credibly," said the report by the task force on strategic communication of the Defense Science Board. The group recommended turning more often for help to the private sector, which it said had "a built-in agility, credibility and even deniability."
The Pentagon's first public relations contract with Lincoln was awarded in 2004 for about $5 million with the stated purpose of accurately informing the Iraqi people of American goals and gaining their support. But while meant to provide reliable information, the effort was also intended to use deceptive techniques, like payments to sympathetic "temporary spokespersons" who would not necessarily be identified as working for the coalition, according to a contract document and a military official.
In addition, the document called for the development of "alternate or diverting messages which divert media and public attention" to "deal instantly with the bad news of the day."
Laurie Adler, a spokeswoman for the Lincoln Group, said the terms of the contract did not permit her to discuss it and referred a reporter to the Pentagon. But others defended the practice.
"I'm not surprised this goes on," said Michael Rubin, who worked in Iraq for the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 and 2004. "Informational operations are a part of any military campaign," he added. "Especially in an atmosphere where terrorists and insurgents - replete with oil boom cash - do the same. We need an even playing field, but cannot fight with both hands tied behind our backs."
Two dozen recent storyboards prepared by the military for Lincoln and reviewed by The New York Times had a variety of good-news themes addressing the economy, security, the insurgency and Iraq's political future. Some were written to resemble news articles. Others took the form of opinion pieces or public service announcements.
One article about Iraq's oil industry opened with three paragraphs taken verbatim, and without attribution, from a recent report in Al Hayat, a London-based Arabic newspaper. But the military version took out a quotation from an oil ministry spokesman that was critical of American reconstruction efforts. It substituted a more positive message, also attributed to the spokesman, though not as a direct quotation.
The editor of Al Sabah, a major Iraqi newspaper that has been the target of many of the military's articles, said Wednesday in an interview that he had no idea that the American military was supplying such material and did not know if his newspaper had printed any of it, whether labeled as advertising or not.
The editor, Muhammad Abdul Jabbar, 57, said Al Sabah, which he said received financial support from the Iraqi government but was editorially independent, accepted advertisements from virtually any source if they were not inflammatory. He said any such material would be labeled as advertising but would not necessarily identify the sponsor. Sometimes, he said, the paper got the text from an advertising agency and did not know its origins.
Asked what he thought of the Pentagon program's effectiveness in influencing Iraqi public opinion, Mr. Jabbar said, "I would spend the money a better way."
The Lincoln Group, which was incorporated in 2004, has won another government information contract. Last June, the Special Operations Command in Tampa awarded Lincoln and two other companies a multimillion-dollar contract to support psychological operations. The planned products, contract documents show, include three- to five- minute news programs.
Asked whether the information and news products would identify the American sponsorship, a media relations officer with the special operations command replied, in an e-mail message last summer, that "the product may or may not carry 'made in the U.S.' signature" but they would be identified as American in origin, "if asked."
--Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington for this article, and Kirk Semple and Edward Wong from Baghdad.