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The Pentagon sends a group of retired military generals and other high-ranking officers—part of its team of “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) on a carefully arranged tour of Iraq (see Summer 2003). The idea is to have the analysts counter the negative images being reported from Iraq about the upsurge in violence from the burgeoning insurgency. The Pentagon also wants the analysts to present a positive spin on Iraq in time to bolster President Bush’s request to Congress for $87 billion in emergency war financing. The group includes four analysts from Fox News, the Pentagon’s go-to media outlet for promulgating its propaganda and spin, one analyst from CNN and ABC, and several prominent members of research groups whose opinion articles appear regularly in the editorial pages of the largest US newspapers. The Pentagon promises that the analysts will be given a look at “the real situation on the ground in Iraq.”
Two Very Different Views of Reality - While the situation is rapidly deteriorating for the US—the American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, later writes that the US only has “about half the number of soldiers we needed here,” and has told Bush, “We’re up against a growing and sophisticated threat” at a dinner party that takes place on September 24, while the analysts are in Iraq (see September 24, 2003)—the story promoted by the analysts is starkly different. Their official presentation as constructed on a minute-by-minute basis by Pentagon officials includes a tour of a model school, visits to a few refurbished government buildings, a center for women’s rights, a mass grave from the early 1990s, and a tour of Babylon’s gardens. Mostly the analysts attend briefings, where one Pentagon official after another provide them with a very different picture of Iraq. In the briefings, Iraq is portrayed as crackling with political and economic energy. Iraqi security forces are improving by the day. No more US troops are needed to combat the small number of isolated, desperate groups of thugs and petty criminals that are spearheading the ineffective insurgency, which is perpetually on the verge of being eliminated. “We’re winning,” a briefing document proclaims. ABC analyst William Nash, a retired general, later calls the briefings “artificial,” and calls the tour “the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq,” a reference to former Republican governor George Romney’s famous claim that US officials had “brainwashed” him into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965. Yet Nash, like the other analysts, will provide the talking points the Pentagon desires to his network’s viewers. Pentagon officials worry, for a time, about whether the analysts will reveal the troubling information they learn even on such a well-groomed and micromanaged junket, including the Army’s use of packing poorly armored Humvees with sandbags and Kevlar blankets, and the almost laughably poor performance of the Iraqi security forces. One Fox analyst, retired Army general Paul Vallely, later says, “I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south.” But the Pentagon has no need to worry about Vallely or any of the other analysts. “You can’t believe the progress,” Vallely tells Fox News host Alan Colmes upon his return. Vallely predicts that the insurgency would be “down to a few numbers” within months. William Cowan, a retired Marine colonel, tells Fox host Greta Van Susteren, “We could not be more excited, more pleased.” Few speak about armor shortages or poor performances by Iraqi security forces. And all agree with retired general Carlton Shepperd’s conclusion on CNN: “I am so much against adding more troops.”
'Home Run' - The Iraq tour is viewed as what reporter David Barstow will call “a masterpiece in the management of perceptions.” Not only does it successfully promote the administration’s views on Iraq, but it helps fuel complaints that “mainstream” journalists are ignoring what administration officials and war supporters call “the good news” in Iraq. “We’re hitting a home run on this trip,” a senior Pentagon official says in an e-mail to the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers and Peter Pace. The Pentagon quickly begins planning for future trips, not just to Iraq but to Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay (see June 24-25, 2005) as well. These trips, and the orchestrated blitz of public relations events that follow, are strongly supported by the White House.
Countering 'Increasingly Negative View' of Occupation - Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita will later explain that a “conscious decision” was made to use the analysts to counteract what Di Rita calls “the increasingly negative view of the war” coming from journalists in Iraq. The analysts generally have “a more supportive view” of the administration and the war; and the combination of their military expertise and their tremendous visibility make them ideal for battling what Di Rita and other Pentagon and administration see as unfairly negative coverage. On issues such as troop morale, detainee interrogations, inadequate equipment, and poorly trained Iraqi forces, Di Rita will say the analysts “were more likely to be seen as credible spokesmen.”
Business Opportunities - Many of the analysts are not only in Iraq to take part in the Pentagon’s propaganda efforts, but to find out about business opportunities for the firms they represent. They meet with civilian and military leaders in Iraq and Kuwait, including many who will make decisions about how the $87 billion will be spent. The analysts gather inside information about the most pressing needs of the US military, including the acute shortage of “up-armored” Humvees, the billions needed to build new military bases, the dire shortage of translators, and the sprawling and expensive plans to train Iraqi security forces. Analysts Cowan and Sherwood are two of the analysts who have much to gain from this aspect of their tour. Cowan is the CEO of a new military firm, the wvc3 Group. Sherwood is the executive vice president of the firm. The company is seeking contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to supply body armor and counterintelligence services in Iraq. The company has a written agreement to use its influence and connections to help Iraqi tribal leaders in Al-Anbar province win reconstruction contracts from the Americans. “Those sheiks wanted access to the CPA,” Cowen later recalls, referring to the Coalition Provisional Authority. And he is determined to provide that access. “I tried to push hard with some of Bremer’s people to engage these people of Al-Anbar,” he recalls. Fox military analyst Charles Nash, a retired Navy captain, works as a consultant for small companies who want to land fat defense contracts. As a military analyst, he is able to forge ties with senior military leaders, many of whom he had never met before. It is like being “embedded” with the Pentagon leadership, he will recall. He will say, “You start to recognize what’s most important to them…. There’s nothing like seeing stuff firsthand.” An aide to the Pentagon’s chief of public relations, Brent Krueger, will recall that he and other Pentagon officials are well aware of their analysts’ use of their access as a business advantage. Krueger will say, “Of course we realized that. We weren’t naïve about that…. They have taken lobbying and the search for contracts to a far higher level. This has been highly honed.” (Di Rita will deny ever thinking that analysts might use their access to their business advantage, and will say that it is the analysts’ responsibility to comply with ethical standards. “We assume they know where the lines are,” he will say.) (Barstow 4/20/2008)
The New York Times receives 8,000 pages of Pentagon e-mail messages, transcripts and records through a lawsuit. It subsequently reports on a systematic and highly orchestrated “psyops” (psychological operations) media campaign waged by the Defense Department against the US citizenry, using the American media to achieve their objectives. At the forefront of this information manipulation campaign is a small cadre of retired military officers known to millions of TV and radio news audience members as “military analysts.” These “independent” analysts appear on thousands of news and opinion broadcasts specifically to generate favorable media coverage of the Bush administration’s wartime performance. The group of officers are familiar faces to those who get their news from television and radio, billed as independent analysts whose long careers enable them to give what New York Times reporter David Barstow calls “authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.” However, the analysts are not nearly as independent as the Pentagon would like for Americans to believe. Barstow writes: “[T]he Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse—an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.… These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.”
Administration 'Surrogates' - The documents repeatedly refer to the analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who can be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.” According to the records, the administration routinely uses the analysts as, in Barstow’s words, “a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents.” When news articles revealed that US troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor (see March 2003 and After), a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues, “I think our analysts—properly armed—can push back in that arena.” In 2005, Ten analysts were flown to Guantanamo to counter charges that prisoners were being treated inhumanely; the analysts quickly and enthusiastically repeated their talking points in a variety of television and radio broadcasts (see June 24-25, 2005).
Ties to Defense Industry - Most of the analysts, Barstow writes, have deep and complex “ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.” The analysts and the networks almost never reveal these business relationships to their viewers; sometimes even the networks are unaware of just how deep those business connections extend. Between then, the fifty or so analysts “represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.” Some of the analysts admit to using their special access to garner marketing, networking, and business opportunities. John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including from Iraq. In company promotional materials, Garrett says that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Garrett’s access and experience helps him “to know in advance—and in detail—how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies. Garrett calls this an inevitable overlap between his various roles, and says that in general, “That’s good for everybody.”
Exclusive Access to White House, Defense Officials - The analysts have been granted unprecedented levels of access to the White House and the Pentagon, including:
hundreds of private briefings with senior military officials, including many with power over contracting and budget matters;
private tours of Iraq;
access to classified information;
private briefings with senior White House, State Department, and Justice Department officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Conversely, analysts who do not cooperate take a risk. “You’ll lose all access,” says CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist Jeffrey McCausland.
Quid Pro Quo - Fox News analyst and retired Army lieutenant colenel Timur Eads, who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a rapidly growing military contractor, later says, “We knew we had extraordinary access.” Eads confirms that he and other analysts often held off on criticizing the administration for fear that “some four-star [general] could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’” Eads believes that he and the other analysts were misled about the Iraqi security forces, calling the Pentagon’s briefings about those forces’ readiness a “snow job.” But Eads said nothing about his doubts on television. His explanation: “Human nature.” Several analysts recall their own “quid pro quo” for the Pentagon in the months before the invasion (see Early 2003). And some analysts were far more aboveboard in offering quid pro quos for their media appearances. Retired Army general Robert Scales, Jr, an analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio, and whose consulting company advises several firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, asked for high-level Pentagon briefings in 2006. In an e-mail, he told officials: “Recall the stuff I did after my last visit. I will do the same this time.”
Repeating White House Talking Points - In return, the analysts have, almost to a man, echoed administration talking points about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, even when some of them believed the information they were given was false or inflated. Some now acknowledge they did so—and continue to do so—for fear of losing their access, which in turn jeopardizes their business relationships. Some now regret their participation in the propoganda effort, and admit they were used as puppets while pretending to be independent military analysts. Bevelacqua says, “It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.’” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, calls the campaign a sophisticated information operation aimed, not at foreign governments or hostile populaces, but against the American people. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he says (see Late 2006). The Pentagon denies using the military analysts for propaganda purposes, with spokesman Bryan Whitman saying it was “nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people.” It is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department,” Whitman says. And other analysts, such as McCausland, say that they never allowed their outside business interests to affect their on-air commentaries. “I’m not here representing the administration,” McCausland says. Some say they used their positions to even criticize the war in Iraq. But according to a close analysis of their performances by a private firm retained by the Pentagon to evaluate the analysts, they performed to the Pentagon’s complete satisfaction (see 2005 and Beyond).
Enthusiastic Cooperation - The analysts are paid between $500 and $1,000 per appearance by the networks, but, according to the transcripts, they often speak as if the networks and the media in general are the enemy. They often speak of themselves as operating behind enemy lines. Some offered the Pentagon advice on how to outmaneuver the networks, or, as one said to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some alerted Pentagon officials of planned news stories. Some sent copies of their private correspondence with network executives to the Pentagon. Many enthusiastically echoed and even added to administration talking points (see Early 2007). (Barstow 4/20/2008) Several analysts say that based on a Pentagon briefing, they would then pitch an idea for a segment to a producer or network booker. Sometimes, the analysts claim, they even helped write the questions for the anchors to ask during a segment. (Barstow 4/21/2008)
Consequences and Repercussions - Some of the analysts are dismayed to learn that they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents, and some deny that their Pentagon briefings were anything but, in the words of retired Army general and CNN analyst David Grange, “upfront information.” Others note that they sometimes disagreed with the administration on the air. Scales claims, “None of us drink the Kool-Aid.” Others deny using their access for business gain. Retired general Carlton Shepperd says that the two are “[n]ot related at all.” But not all of the analysts disagree with the perception that they are little more than water carriers for the Pentagon. Several recall being chewed out by irate defense officials minutes after their broadcasts, and one, retired Marine colonel Wiliam Cowan of Fox News, recalls being fired—by the Pentagon, not by Fox—from his analyst position after issuing a mild criticism of the Pentagon’s war strategies (see August 3-4, 2005). (Barstow 4/20/2008)
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