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

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President George H. W. Bush signs a covert “lethal finding” authorizing the CIA to spend a hundred million dollars to “create the conditions for removal of Saddam Hussein from power.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] The CIA forms the Iraqi Opposition Group within its Directorate of Operations to implement this policy. [Ritter, 2005, pp. 128] Awash in cash, the agency hires the Rendon Group to influence global political opinion on matters related to Iraq. According to Francis Brooke, an employee of the company who’s paid $22,000 per month, the Rendon Group’s contract with the CIA provides it with a ten percent “management fee” on top of whatever money it spends. “We tried to burn through $40 million a year,” Brooke will tell the New Yorker. “It was a very nice job.” The work involves planting false stories in the foreign press. The company begins supplying British journalists with misinformation which then shows up in the London press. In some cases, these stories are later picked up by the American press, in violation of laws prohibiting domestic propaganda. “It was amazing how well it worked. It was like magic,” Brooke later recalls. Another one of the company’s tasks is to help the CIA create a viable and unified opposition movement against Saddam Hussein (see June 1992). This brings the Rendon Group and Francis Brooke into contact with Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (see After May 1991). The CIA will soon help Chalabi and Rendon create the Iraqi National Congress (INC) to further the goal of toppling Hussein. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Author and intelligence expert James Bamford will later say, “Chalabi was a creature of American propaganda to a large degree. It was an American company, the Rendon Group, that—working secretly with the CIA—basically created his organization, the Iraqi National Congress. And put Chalabi in charge basically.… From the very beginning Chalabi was paid a lot of money from the US taxpayers. The CIA paid him originally about 350,000 dollars a month, to Chalabi and his organization.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Rendon Group, Iraqi Opposition Group, James Bamford, George Herbert Walker Bush, Francis Brooke, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Newly hired Defense Department public relations chief Victoria Clarke (see May 2001) begins a series of regular meetings with a number of Washington’s top private PR specialists and lobbyists. The group is tasked with developing a marketing plan for the upcoming war in Iraq. It is remarkably successful in securing press cooperation to spread its message (see August 13, 2003 and After May 31, 2001).
Bipartisan Makeup - Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will later write, “The group was filled with heavy-hitters and was strikingly bipartisan in composition.” The group, later informally dubbed “the Rumsfeld Group,” is made up of, among others, PR executives John Rendon and Sheila Tate, Republican political consultant Rich Galen, and Democratic operative Tommy Boggs (brother of NPR’s Cokie Roberts and a PR consultant for the Saudi royal family; St. Clair believes Boggs may have had a hand in the decision to redact 20+ pages concerning the Saudis from Congress’s report on the intelligence failures leading to the 9/11 attacks—see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). The direct involvement, if any, of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is unclear.
Rendon's Involvement - John Rendon, the head of the Rendon Group, is a noteworthy veteran of the 1990-91 PR efforts to market the Gulf War (see August 11, 1990), has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians and lobbying groups, and was instrumental in creating Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see May 1991). Rendon, already under contract with the Pentagon to help market the US bombing of Afghanistan, is one of the key players in marketing the upcoming Iraq invasion. Though Rendon refuses to discuss his work for the Pentagon, St. Clair believes he will be partially or completely responsible for some of the invasion’s signature events, including the toppling of the statue of Hussein in Firdos Square by US troops and Chalabi associates (see April 9, 2003), and video-friendly Iraqi crowds waving American flags as US Army vehicles roll by. Rendon explains his role like this: “I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician. I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.” The Pentagon defines “perception management” as “actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning.” St. Clair adds, “In other words, lying about the intentions of the US government.” One of the biggest instances of Pentagon “perception management” is the Office of Strategic Influence (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), also developed by Rendon. [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Tommy Boggs, Iraqi National Congress, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), “The Rumsfeld Group”, Jeffrey St. Clair, Sheila Tate, John Rendon, US Department of Defense, Rich Galen, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Office of Strategic Influence

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The Pentagon creates a secret office to coordinate military information operations aimed at improving the United States’ image abroad. The office, named the Office of Strategic Influence, or OSI, is headed by Brigadier General Simon P. Wordon [New York Times, 2/19/2002] , an astrophysicist with experience in space operations and missile defense. [Washington Post, 2/20/2002] His assistant is Thomas A. Timmes. [New York Times, 2/19/2002] Worden reports to Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith. [Rich, 2006, pp. 32] OSI is a small, but well-funded operation and there are reportedly plans to provide it with an annual budget of as much as $100 million. [New York Times, 2/19/2002; London Times, 2/20/2002; New York Times, 2/27/2002] Many of OSI’s functions are contracted to private public relations firms such as the Rendon Group, whose client list includes the CIA, the Kuwaiti royal family, and the Iraqi National Congress. [Rich, 2006, pp. 32] Soon after the office is formed, a proposal is floated to produce and disseminate disinformation. The New York Times will report: “[T]he new office has begun circulating classified proposals calling for aggressive campaigns that use not only the foreign media and the Internet, but also covert operations.… One of the office’s proposals calls for planting news items with foreign media organizations through outside concerns that might not have obvious ties to the Pentagon.… General Worden envisions a broad mission ranging from ‘black’ campaigns that use disinformation and other covert activities to ‘white’ public affairs that rely on truthful news releases.… ‘It goes from the blackest of black programs to the whitest of white,’ a senior Pentagon official said.… Another proposal involves sending journalists, civic leaders and foreign leaders e-mail messages that promote American views or attack unfriendly governments.” [New York Times, 2/19/2002] When OSI’s classified proposals are leaked to the press (see February 19, 2002), White House officials say they are “furious” that the use of disinformation is being considered and then a few days later announce that the office has been shut down (see February 26, 2002). [Washington Post, 2/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Office of Strategic Influence, Douglas Feith, Rendon Group, US Department of Defense, Thomas A. Timmes, Simon P. Wordon

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

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

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

Barry Sussman.Barry Sussman. [Source: Nieman Watchdog]Former Washington Post editor Barry Sussman, the head of the Nieman Watchdog project at Harvard University, asks a number of pertinent questions about the recently exposed Pentagon propaganda operation that used retired military officers to manipulate public opinion in favor of the Iraq occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Sussman notes that “[t]he story has implications of illegal government propaganda and, possibly, improper financial gains,” and asks the logical question, “So what happened to it?” It is receiving short shrift in the mainstream media, as most newspapers and almost all major broadcast news operations resolutely ignore it (see April 21, 2008, April 24, 2008, and May 5, 2008). Sussman asks the following questions in hopes of further documenting the details of the Pentagon operation:
bullet Does Congress intend to investigate the operation?
bullet Do the three presidential candidates—Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Republican John McCain, have any comments (see April 28, 2008)?
bullet Since the law expressly forbids the US government to, in reporter David Barstow’s words, “direct psychological operations or propaganda against the American people,” do Constitutional attorneys and scholars have any opinions on the matter? Was the operation a violation of the law? Of ethics? Of neither?
bullet Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created the Office of Strategic Influence in 2001 (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), which was nothing less than an international propaganda operation. Rumsfeld claimed the office had been closed down after the media lambasted it, but later said the program had continued under a different name (see February 20, 2002). Does the OSI indeed still exist?
bullet Did the New York Times wait an undue period to report this story? Could it not have reported the story earlier, even with only partial documentation? Sussman notes: “Getting big stories and holding them for very long periods of time has become a pattern at the Times and other news organizations. Their rationale, often, is that the reporting hasn’t been completed. Is reporting ever completed?”
bullet Many of the military analysts cited in the story have close ties to military contractors and defense firms who make handsome profits from the war. Is there evidence that any of the analysts may have financially benefited from promoting Pentagon and Bush administration policies on the air? Could any of these be construed as payoffs? [Barry Sussman, 4/23/2008]

Entity Tags: Free Press, Office of Strategic Influence, Nieman Watchdog, Donald Rumsfeld, David Barstow, Barry Sussman, Barack Obama, John McCain, US Department of Defense, New York Times, Hillary Clinton

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

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