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Context of 'February 19, 2002: New York Times Breaks Story on Office of Strategic Influence'

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The New York Times is the first to report that the Office of Strategic Influence, a secret Pentagon office established shortly after the September 11 attacks (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), is “developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations as part of a new effort to influence public sentiment and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries.” The article reports that many inside the government are opposed to these plans. “[S]everal senior officials have questioned whether its mission is too broad and possibly even illegal,” the Times says. “[T]hey are disturbed that a single office might be authorized to use not only covert operations like computer network attacks, psychological activities, and deception, but also the instruments and staff of the military’s globe-spanning public affairs apparatus.” Critics are also concerned that “disinformation planted in foreign media organizations, like Reuters or Agence France-Presse, could end up being published or broadcast by American news organizations.” [New York Times, 2/19/2002] The Washington Post similarly reports that discussions on the use of disinformation “have sparked widespread concern inside the Defense Department among officials who feel that the new office, by seeking to manipulate information and even knowingly dispense false information, could backfire and discredit official Pentagon statements.” [Washington Post, 2/25/2002] News of the Defense Department’s initiative causes an immediate public outcry and the Pentagon denies that it is considering plans to disseminate disinformation. “The Department of Defense, this secretary and the people that work with me tell the American people and the people of the world the truth,” Donald Rumsfeld insists. [Washington Post, 2/21/2002] Jim Wilkinson, deputy White House communications director and head of the Coalition Information Center (CIC) war room, likewise states, “The president is a plain-spoken, truthful man and he expects that same high standard from every public affairs spokesperson in the government.” [Washington Post, 2/25/2002] Some of the most strenuous objections center around the use of the Army’s Psychological Operations unit to carry out OSI programs. [Rich, 2006, pp. 32] Rumsfeld, facing mounting criticism, closes the office a few days later (see February 26, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, James R. Wilkinson, US Department of the Army, Office of Strategic Influence

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The Pentagon announces the existence of the new Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), which “was quietly set up after September 11.” The role of this office is to plant false stories in the foreign press, phony e-mails from disguised addresses, and other covert activities to manipulate public opinion. The new office proves so controversial that it is declared closed six days later. [CNN, 2/20/2002; CNN, 2/26/2002] It is later reported that the “temporary” Office of Global Communications will be made permanent (it is unknown when this office began its work). This office seems to serve the same function as the earlier OSI, minus the covert manipulation. [Washington Post, 7/30/2002] Defense Secretary Rumsfeld later states that after the OSI was closed, “I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.” [US Department of Defense, 11/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Pentagon, US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Office of Strategic Influence, Office of Global Communications

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announces the closure of the Office of Strategic Influence (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), after news of the Pentagon propaganda initiative causes a public stir (see February 19, 2002). “The office has clearly been so damaged that it is pretty clear to me that it could not function effectively,” he tells reporters. “So it is being closed down.” Asked if he instructed Rumsfeld to close the office, President Bush says: “I didn’t even need to tell him this. He knows how I feel about this.” [New York Times, 2/27/2002] Nine months later, Rumsfeld says that after the OSI was closed, “I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.” [US Department of Defense, 11/18/2002] Much of its operations are apparently shifted to another unit called the Information Operations Task Force. Some operations are farmed out to the Rendon Group, a private public relations firm with extensive experience marketing wars and foreign policy for Republican administrations (see May 1991 and Late May 2001). [Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 189]

Entity Tags: John Rendon, Office of Strategic Influence, Rendon Group, Donald Rumsfeld, Information Operations Task Force, James R. Wilkinson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

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