Profile: Rendon Group
Rendon Group was a participant or observer in the following events:
Nine days after Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton creates a front organization, “Citizens for a Free Kuwait,” almost entirely funded by Kuwaiti money. Hill & Knowlton’s point man with the Kuwaitis is Craig Fuller, a close friend and political adviser to President Bush (see July 23, 1986). Veteran PR reporter Jack O’Dwyer will later write, “Hill & Knowlton… has assumed a role in world affairs unprecedented for a PR firm.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007] Citizens for a Free Kuwait is one of about twenty PR and lobbying groups formed by the Kuwaiti government. Other American PR firms representing these groups include the Rendon Group and Neill & Co. Citizens for a Free Kuwait will spread a false story of Kuwaiti babies being killed in their incubators by Iraqi troops, a story that will help inflame US public opinion and win the Bush administration the authority to launch an assault against Iraq (see October 10, 1990). Another public relations and lobbying effort includes a 154-page book detailing supposed Iraqi atrocities, entitled The Rape of Kuwait, that is distributed to various media outlets and later featured on television talk shows and in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The Kuwaiti embassy also buys 200,000 copies of the book for distribution to American troops. Hill & Knowlton will produce dozens of “video news releases” that are offered as “news stories” to television news broadcasters throughout America; the VNRs are shown on hundreds of US television news broadcasts, usually as straight news reports without being identified as the product of a public relations firm. [Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007]
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]
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), headed by Masud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), headed by Jalal Talabani, meet in Vienna along with nearly 200 delegates from dozens of Iraqi opposition groups to form an umbrella organization for Iraqi dissident groups. [Federation of American Scientists, 8/8/1998; New Yorker, 6/7/2004] The event is organized by the Rendon Group, which has been contracted by the CIA to organize the wide spectrum of Iraqi dissidents into a unified movement against Saddam Hussein. Rendon names the group the “Iraqi National Congress” (INC). The CIA pays the Rendon Group $326,000 per month for the work, funneled to the company and the INC through various front organizations. [ABC, 2/7/1998; CounterPunch, 5/20/2004; Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005 Sources: Unnamed former CIA operative] Thomas Twetten, the CIA’s deputy directorate of operations, will later recall: “The INC was clueless. They needed a lot of help and didn’t know where to start.”
[New Republic, 5/20/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 296-297] Rendon hires freelance journalist Paul Moran and Zaab Sethna as contract employees to do public relations and “anti-Saddam propaganda” for the new organization. [SBS Dateline, 7/23/2003]
After founding the Iraqi National Congress (INC), Ahmed Chalabi approaches the CIA for help in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. The agency, hoping Chalabi can provide useful intelligence, gives the organization millions of dollars to set up a “forgery shop” inside an abandoned schoolhouse in the Kurdish town of Salahuddin. The INC promptly sets about creating phony mockups of Iraqi newspapers filled with stories of Hussein’s abuses. “It was something like a spy novel,” CIA agent Robert Baer will later recall. “It was a room where people were scanning Iraqi intelligence documents into computers, and doing disinformation. There was a whole wing of it that he did forgeries in.… He was forging back then, in order to bring down Saddam.” Carla Bonini, an Italian reporter, will later recall: “When I visited [Chalabi] in London, he told me, ‘You can have anything you want.’ It was like a shopping mall for intelligence.” Bonini quickly learns that Chalabi’s information, although often sensational, is virtually useless. None of it can be independently confirmed, and most of it turns out to be fabrications. One of the documents fabricated by the INC is a copy of a purported letter to Chalabi from President Clinton’s National Security Council. The letter requests Chalabi’s help in a plot to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Baer believes Chalabi’s intent is to trick the Iranians into believing that the Americans will kill Hussein, thus inspiring them into joining a plot against the dictator. According to Francis Brooke, a Rendon Group employee working with the INC, Chalabi did not create the forged letter. “That would be illegal,” he says. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 125]
Ahmed Chalabi creates a militia army of about 1,000 fighters in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq and bribes tribal leaders in the city of Mosul to support a planned rebellion against Saddam Hussein (see November 1993). He is also hosting members of Iranian intelligence who promise that when the operation is launched, Iran will simultaneously hit Iraq from the south. But the CIA learns that Baathist officials have caught wind of the plot and the CIA instructs agent Robert Baer to tell Chalabi that “any decision to proceed will be on your own.” Chalabi, who has no military experience, decides to go through with the plot anyway. But the operation quickly flounders when over 100 INC fighters are killed by Iraqi forces, many more of Chalabi’s fighters desert, the bribed Iraqi tribal leaders stay home, and the Iranians do nothing. The CIA is furious that it funded the operation, which becomes known within the agency as the “Bay of Goats.” [CounterPunch, 5/20/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 126] CENTCOM commander General Anthony Zinni has similar feelings. “It got me pretty angry,” he recalls. “They were saying if you put a thousand troops on the ground, Saddam’s regime will collapse, they won’t fight. I said, ‘I fly over them every day, and they shoot at us. We hit them, and they shoot at us again. No way a thousand forces would end it.’ The exile group was giving them inaccurate information. Their scheme was ridiculous.” Zinni had warned Congress that Chalabi’s invasion plan was “pie in the sky, a fairy tale,” but was ignored. [Unger, 2007, pp. 160-161]
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]
The Pentagon secretly awards the Rendon Group a $16.7 million contract to test public opinion and track and analyze foreign news reports in places like Cairo; Istanbul; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Jakarta, Indonesia. One of Rendon’s main targets will be Al Jazeera. The contract specifies that Rendon will track “the location and use of Al Jazeera news bureaus, reporters and stringers, both regionally and globally. The… effort will provide a detailed content analysis of the station’s daily broadcast. TRG [The Rendon Group] will also chart event-related regional media coverage to identify the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances.” Rendon will land many more contracts from the Pentagon over the next few years including ones that call on the firm to plant television news segments in the foreign media promoting US positions and to “push” stories favorable to the US. According to Rendon, in some cases the firm helps “foreign governments to correct things that are bad or wrong in the news cycle, and amplify those things that are not bad.” [New Republic, 5/20/2002; Chicago Tribune, 11/13/2005]
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]
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