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Context of 'Mid-January 2003: Pentagon White Paper Proposes Creation of a ‘Rapid Reaction Media Team’ to Control Iraqi Media'

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Photo of Iraqi aluminum tube, misidentified as a component for a nuclear reactor.Photo of Iraqi aluminum tube, misidentified as a component for a nuclear reactor. [Source: CIA]The CIA writes at least 15 reports (only seven of which have been identified; see, e.g., June 20, 2001, June 30, 2001, September 2004-September 2006, November 24, 2001, December 15, 2001, June 14, 2001, April 10, 2001) about Iraq’s interest in purchasing 7075-T6 aluminum tubes. Several of the assessments are distributed only to high-level policy makers, including President Bush, and are not sent to other intelligence agencies for peer review. According to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigation, all the assessments rely on the same evidence and they all fail to note that the opinions of leading centrifuge experts at the Energy Department conflict with the CIA’s view. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59; New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Entifadh Qanbar, a lobbyist for the Iraqi National Congress (INC), sends a memo to the staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in which he provides information about a State Department-funded intelligence program, known as the “information-collection program,” run by the INC (see September 2004-September 2006). Qanbar, who says he is the overall manager of the group, states in the memo that under the program, “defectors, reports and raw intelligence are cultivated and analyzed,” and “the results are reported through the INC newspaper (Al Mutamar), the Arabic and Western media and to appropriate governmental, nongovernmental and international agencies.” Information is also passed on to William Luti, who will later run the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002), and John Hannah, a senior national-security aide on Cheney’s staff, who Qunbar describes as the “principal point of contact.” [Newsweek, 12/15/2003; New York Times, 2/12/2004 Sources: Memo] The memo provides a description of some of the people involved in the group and their activities. It says that the analytical group includes five analysts with a background in Iraq’s military, Iraq’s intelligence services and human rights. One person, a consultant, monitors the Iraqi government’s alleged efforts to develop banned weapons. The five analysts process information and write reports, which are sent to Al Mutamar, the INC’s newspaper, as well as the US government and many mainstream news organizations. Qanbar says that the information-collection program issued 30 reports between August 2001 and June 2002, which were sent to Al Mutamar. (Al Mutamar is only available inside Iraq on the Internet; the effectiveness of other government-funded projects to disseminate propaganda inside Iraq could not be proven, and may not have ever existed.) According to the memo, the group published 28 private reports in collaboration with the INC’s headquarters in London. The memo reveals that between October 2001 and May 2002, information provided by the INC was cited in 108 articles published by a variety of English-language news publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker, CNN, Fox News, and several others. [New York Times, 2/12/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004] New York Daily News reporter Helen Kennedy will say in 2004, “The INC’s agenda was to get us into a war.” Kennedy’s name appears on Qanbar’s list. “The really damaging stories all came from those guys, not the CIA. They did a really sophisticated job of getting it out there.” Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times will say, “I think something that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is how [the INC] used the British press to plant a lot of this stuff, some of it pretty outlandish.” British journalist Jamie Dettmer points the finger the other way. “I’ve been utterly appalled by the lack of skepticism about this entire Iraq project and the war on terrorism” in the press. When Dettmer learns that his name is on the list, he shouts, “Complete bollocks!” Other journalists on the list will refuse to admit that they were duped by the INC, even though some of their stories contain extensive interviews and dramatic claims from INC sources that were later disproven. Qanbar will say, “We did not provide information. We provided defectors. We take no position on them. It’s up to you reporters to decide if they are credible or not.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Entifadh Qanbar, Memo

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Two Pentagon offices—the Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Office and the Office of Special Plans—prepare a white paper and slide presentation recommending the creation of a “Rapid Reaction Media Team” (RRMT) that would maintain control over major Iraqi media organizations while still projecting an Iraqi “face.” The first phase of the one-to-two-year “strategic information campaign” would last six months and cost $51 million. The paper states that the “RRMT concept focuses on USG-UK [“USG” stands for US government] pre-and post hostilities efforts to develop programming, train talent, and rapidly deploy a team of US/UK media experts with a team of ‘hand selected’ Iraqi media experts to communicate immediately with the Iraqi public opinion upon liberation of Iraq.” The “hand-picked” Iraqi experts would help “select and train the Iraqi broadcasters and publishers (‘the face’) for the USG/coalition sponsored information effort,” the paper explains. Media stories produced by this campaign would be based on US-approved information and would focus on topics like “the De-Baathification program”; “recent history telling (e.g., ‘Uncle Saddam,’ History Channel’s ‘Saddam’s Bomb-Maker,’ ‘Killing Fields,’ etc.)”; US government-approved “Democracy Series”; “Environmental (Marshlands re-hydration)”; “Mine Awareness”; “Re-starting the Oil”; “Justice and rule of law topics”; “War Criminals/Truth Commission”; “prisoners and atrocity interviews”; “Saddam’s palaces and opulence,” and “WMD (weapons of mass destruction) disarmament.” For its “Entertainment and News Magazine programming,” the plan says the media should do stories on “Hollywood,” “Arab country donations,” and “Sports.” According to the paper, “having professional US-trained Iraqi media teams immediately in place to portray a new Iraq (by Iraqis for Iraqis) with hopes for a prosperous, democratic future, will have a profound psychological and political impact on the Iraqi people.” It is not clear whether or not this particular plan is implemented. However, after the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon will contract a firm called the Lincoln Group to plant stories in the Iraqi media (see September 2004-September 2006) and will purchase an Iraqi newspaper and take control of an Iraqi radio station, using them to disseminate pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. [US Department of Defense, 1/2003 pdf file; Inter Press Service, 5/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Office of Special Plans, Office of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

The US Department of Defense awards at least three contracts, valued at $37.3 million, to a small Washington-based firm called the Lincoln Group to plant stories in the Iraqi press. [Associated Press, 10/19/2006; New York Times, 10/20/2006] The stories—written by US “information troops,” but presented as unbiased news reports written by independent journalists—“trumpet the work of US and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout US-led efforts to rebuild the country,” according to the Los Angeles Times. [Los Angeles Times, 11/30/2005] Though the articles, referred to as “storyboards” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2006] , reportedly seem factual they are one-sided and filtered to exclude information critical of the US or the Iraqi government. “Absolute truth [is] not an essential element of these stories,” one senior military official tells the newspaper. The program is part of an effort to shape public opinion about the US occupation and the Iraqi government. As of the end of November 2005, dozens of articles, with headlines such as “Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism” (see August 6, 2005), have been printed by the Iraq presses. The campaign is operated by the Information Operations Task Force in Baghdad, under the command of Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines. Employees or subcontractors of the Lincoln Group, posing as freelance reporters or advertising executives, deliver the articles to Iraqi media organizations. One of the Iraqi media outlets that runs the stories is Al Mutamar, a Baghdad-based daily run by associates of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi. According to Luay Baldawi, the paper’s editor-in-chief, Al Mutamar will “publish anything.” Articles from the military are sent to Baldawi’s paper via the Internet and are often unsigned. “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.” Baldawi runs the articles as news reports, indistinguishable from other news stories. The propaganda campaign is not supported by everyone at the Pentagon. One senior Pentagon official tells the Los Angeles Times: “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.” The Defense Department’s program appears to undermine the work of another US government program in Iraq being run by the State Department. That program trains Iraqi reporters in basic journalism skills and Western media ethics and includes one workshop titled “The Role of Press in a Democratic Society.” Another problem with the propaganda campaign, critics point out, is that US law prohibits the military from conducting psychological operations or planting propaganda in the US media. But as several officials concede to the Los Angeles Times, stories in the foreign press inevitably “bleed” into the Western media and influences US news. “There is no longer any way to separate foreign media from domestic media. Those neat lines don’t exist anymore,” one private contractor who does information operations work for the Pentagon tells the paper. [Los Angeles Times, 11/30/2005]

Entity Tags: Al Mutamar, Luay Baldawi, Information Operations Task Force, John R. Vines, Lincoln Group, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Al Mutamar, a Baghdad-based daily run by associates of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, runs a news article titled “Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism” prominently on the newspaper’s second page. According to Luay Baldawi, the paper’s chief editor, the paper receives no money to run the story. However, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Al Mutamar was paid $50. [Los Angeles Times, 11/30/2005]

Entity Tags: Al Mutamar, Luay Baldawi

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

An internal review written by Navy Admiral Scott R. Van Bushkirk concludes that a Defense Department program that plants pro-US stories (see September 2004-September 2006) in the Iraqi press is not violating any US laws. [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2006] In a Pentagon press briefing on March 3, 2006, Army Gen. George W. Casey tells reporters, “By and large, it found that we were operating within our authorities and responsibilities.” The Defense Department has no intention of ending the program, Casey adds. [US Department of Defense, 3/3/2006; Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Scott R. Van Buskirk, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defends a Pentagon program that has been planting pro-US stories (see September 2004-September 2006) in the Iraqi press. “The US military command, working closely with the Iraqi government and the US embassy, has sought nontraditional means to provide accurate information to the Iraqi people in the face of aggressive campaign of disinformation. Yet this has been portrayed as inappropriate; for example, the allegations of someone in the military hiring a contractor, and the contractor allegedly paying someone to print a story—a true story—but paying to print a story. For example, the resulting explosion of critical press stories then causes everything, all activity, all initiative, to stop, just frozen. Even worse, it leads to a chilling effect for those who are asked to serve in the military public affairs field.” [Council of Foreign Relations, 2/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

The Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General completes an audit of three contracts awarded to the Lincoln Group (see September 2004-September 2006) to plant stories in the Iraqi media that were favorable of the US occupation. An unclassified summary of the investigation’s classified report states, “Psychological operations are a central part of information operations and contribute to achieving the… commander’s objectives,” which are aimed at disseminating “selected, truthful information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions… reasoning, and ultimately, the behavior of governments” and other entities. In addition to criticism that efforts to manipulate the press undermine the US’s stated aim of establishing a democracy in Iraq, critics have also contended that the program violated US law prohibiting the military from conducting covert operations. Only the CIA has a legal pass to engage in such activities. However, the inspector general’s report concludes that commanders in Iraq “complied with applicable laws and regulations in their use of a contractor to conduct psychological operations and their use of newspapers as a way to disseminate information.” The only problem identified in the report is that the Lincoln Group violated federal contracting guidelines by failing to provide “adequate documentation to verify expenditures” for the company’s first contract. [Associated Press, 10/19/2006; New York Times, 10/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (DoD), Lincoln Group

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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