But the work of the contractor, the Lincoln Group, was not a rogue operation. Hoping to counter anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, the Bush administration has been conducting an information war that is extensive, costly and often hidden, according to documents and interviews with contractors, government officials and military personnel.
The campaign was begun by the White House, which set up a secret panel soon after the Sept. 11 attacks to coordinate information operations by the Pentagon, other government agencies and private contractors.
The military component includes:
The 1,200-strong psychological operations unit based at Fort Bragg turns out what its officers call "truthful messages" to support the United States government's objectives, though its commander acknowledges that those stories are one-sided and their American sponsorship is hidden.
Some of the propaganda includes:
- "In Iraq and Afghanistan, the focus of most of the activities, the military operates radio stations and newspapers, but does not disclose their American ties."
- "Army psychological operations units sometimes pay to deliver their message, offering television stations money to run unattributed segments or contracting with writers of newspaper opinion pieces"
- "The agency [AID] has distributed tens of thousands of iPod-like audio devices in Iraq and Afghanistan that play prepackaged civic messages, but it does so through a contractor that promises "there is no U.S. footprint." (The Ipods were "pink for women and silver for men, which could not be altered to play music or other recordings.")
- "The Pentagon, for example, took over the Taliban's radio station, renamed it Peace radio and began powerful shortwave broadcasts in local dialects, defense officials said."
- "The United States Army publishes a sister paper in Afghanistan, also called Peace. An examination of issues from last spring found no bad news."
And here are a few ideas of the Lincoln Group that were rejected...
the company looked to American popular culture for ways to influence new audiences. Lincoln proposed variations of the satirical paper "The Onion," and an underground paper to be called "The Voice," documents show. And it planned comedies modeled after "Cheers" and the Three Stooges, with the trio as bumbling wannabe terrorists.