(shock, horror)! By David Isenberg
The news of a US military operation that
pays Iraqi newspapers to run stories written by
"information operations" troops about how
wonderfully things are going in the war should not
come as a shock.
Even before the Iraq
invasion, the Pentagon planned to create its own
in-house propaganda and disinformation operation,
to be called the Office of Strategic Influence.
The program was supposedly killed after critics
pointed out how easily the phony news it created
could drift back into the domestic media.
Nevertheless, the occupation of Iraq has
put the Pentagon in the
business in a big way, with its own TV news
operation (the Pentagon Channel), a
then-coalition-controlled Iraqi TV and radio
network (now nominally in the hands of the Iraqi
government, but still powered by Pentagon dollars
and run by a US vendor) and millions of dollars to
hire public relations firms and consultants to
spin the coalition's propaganda to the Iraqi
In fact, paying off the Iraqi
media to run good news mirrors what the Bush
administration has been doing at home.
example, in the past year it was revealed that the
Bush administration paid nearly a quarter of a
million dollars to a prominent conservative
commentator, Armstrong Williams, to promote a new
education law that had been strongly supported by
President George W Bush. The Education Department
paid a public relations firm for a video that
promoted the law and appeared as a news story,
without making clear the reporter was hired as
part of the deal.
reporter and $200-an-hour gay escort, James
Guckert, aka Jeff Gannon, violated a ban on "fake"
news stories by reprinting White House news
The gist of the latest
story is that beginning this year as part of an
information offensive in Iraq, the US military
began secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish
stories written by American troops in an effort to
burnish the image of the US mission in Iraq.
Responding to the growing furor over the
disclosure, the Senate Armed Services Committee
has summoned Defense Department officials for a
briefing on the issue. "I am concerned about any
actions that may undermine the credibility of the
United States as we help the Iraqi people stand up
a democracy," said the committee's chairman, John
The White House, too, says it is
very concerned and is seeking more information.
The articles, written by the US military
troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in
Baghdad newspapers as unbiased news accounts with
the help of the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based
public relations firm located on legendary
consultant central, K St, paid by the Pentagon.
Lincoln's contract is with the Pentagon's special
ops propaganda machine - JPOSE (Joint
Psychological Operations Support Element).
In addition to paying newspapers to print
government propaganda, Lincoln has paid about a
dozen Iraqi journalists each several hundred
dollars a month. Those journalists were chosen
because their past coverage had not been
antagonistic to the United States,
officials in Washington said the payments were
made through the Baghdad Press Club; an
organization they said was created more than a
year ago by US Army officers. Members of the Press
Club are paid as much as $200 a month, depending
on how many positive pieces they produce.
A spokesman for the US military in
Baghdad, Major General Rick Lynch, responded that
"a propaganda war is under way in Iraq" as
militants were also using the media. "Conducting
these kidnappings, these beheadings, these
explosions so that he gets international coverage
to look like he has more capability than he truly
has," Lynch said.
"He is lying to the
Iraqi people. We don't lie. We don't need to lie,"
Ironically, according to the
reports, the Lincoln Group has also been paying
Ahmad Chalabi's newspaper, al-Mutamar, to reprint
pro-American propaganda. Hundreds of millions of
dollars in subsidies were lavished on Iraqi exile
Chalabi and his surrogates in the run-up to the
invasion of Iraq. Chalabi is now a deputy prime
minister. Chalabi was influential in helping boost
the Bush administration's "case" that Saddam
Hussein had a weapons of mass destruction program.
What is worth noting is the lack of
substance in the stories. One of them was titled
"Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism". That
ranks up there with the sun sets in the West and
the tide rolls in and out. It also explains why
the paper was only paid $50 for it.
in some cases the military articles placed in the
Iraqi press had copied verbatim text from
copyrighted publications and passed it on to be
printed without attribution.
stories, however, are part of a continuing and
longstanding effort to shape public opinion; more
accurately described as psychological operations
(psyops) in Iraq.
An article in the
American Prospect blog notes that in February a
couple of local staffers of President George W
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney headed to Iraq
to work with Iraqex, the company that in March
rebranded itself as The Lincoln Group to match
that of its corporate parent, the Lincoln Alliance
Corporation, a DC-based "business intelligence"
Also, famed New York ad man, Jerry
Della Femina, is on The Lincoln Group's advisory
But in late 2003 or early 2004 the
Lincoln Alliance Corp became Iraqex. In October
2004, it won a $6 million contract from the
Multi-National Corps-Iraq (formerly known as
Combined Joint Task Force-7, which had operational
control of all troops in Iraq) to design and
execute an "aggressive advertising and public
relations campaign that will accurately inform the
Iraqi people of the coalition's goals and gain
their support", according to the contract's August
2004 request for proposal.
executive vice president Christian Bailey, a
British venture capitalist, was involved with
Lead21, a Republican business organization
registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a
527 committee, which is a tax-exempt organization
that engages in political activities
graduating from Oxford University in England in
the 1990s, Bailey moved to the San Francisco area
about 1998, and in 1999, founded Express Action,
an e-commerce company he apparently later sold. In
2002, Bailey was identified as the founder and
chairman of a New York-based hedge fund called
Lincoln Asset Management. On March 1, 2003, it was
reported that Lincoln Asset Management had an
initial $100 million in commitments to underwrite
a leveraged buyout fund to acquire defense and
The Lincoln Group
is not the only firm engaged in psyops. In June,
the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon had
awarded three contracts, potentially worth up to
$300 million over five years, to companies it
hoped would inject more creativity into its
psychological operations efforts to improve
foreign public opinion about the US, particularly
SYColeman Inc of Arlington,
Lincoln Group and Science Applications
International Corp were to help develop ideas and
prototypes for radio and television spots,
documentaries, or even text messages, pop-up ads
on the Internet, podcasting, billboards and
It is worth emphasizing
that because of the security situation, US
correspondents in Iraq are rarely able to leave
the Green Zone in Baghdad or other US military
bases to engage in on-the-ground reporting, and
thus must rely, in part, on reports by Iraqis in
the Iraqi press to assess the situation on the
But the news that some of this
media are simply US military propaganda undermines
even this source of information.
Reportedly, the US military's top
commanders, including General Peter Pace, the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not
know about the Lincoln Group contract until it was
first described by The Los Angeles Times. Pentagon
officials said Pace and other top officials were
disturbed and demanded explanations from senior
officers in Iraq.
The bottom line is the
Iraqi press is neither free, nor even Iraqi.
David Isenberg, a senior analyst
with the Washington-based British American
Security Information Council (BASIC), has a wide
background in arms control and national security
issues. The views expressed are his own.