We know there’s good news from Iraq, because U.S. propagandists plant it in the Iraqi press! Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi write in today’s Los Angeles Times:
As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
The articles, written by U.S. military “information operations” troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.
Every day we do get more and more like the old Soviet Union, don’t we? Note this:
U.S. law forbids the military from carrying out psychological operations or planting propaganda through American media outlets. Yet several officials said that given the globalization of media driven by the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, the Pentagon’s efforts were carried out with the knowledge that coverage in the foreign press inevitably “bleeds” into the Western media and influences coverage in U.S. news outlets.
Who’s in charge of this effort, you ask?
The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group’s Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.
The Lincoln Group bills itself as a “strategic communications and public relations firm providing insight & influence in challenging & hostile environments.” Macho propaganda. According to Source Watch, Lincoln Group and two other firms received contracts from the Pentagon to conduct “psychological operations” in Iraq. The contracts combined could add up to as much as $300 million over five years.
On a related note, Lincoln Group Executive Vice President Chrstian Bailey was also New York City co-chair of the 2004 Republican National Convention. See also Billmon from last June–great background stuff. (I wrote about Lincoln Group last June also, but the post was one of about ten days’ worth of content my old web host “lost.” I should probably investigate.) Anyway, according to Billmon,
According to Oâ€™Dwyerâ€™s Newsletter, a PR industry tip sheet, the Lincoln Group was formerly known as Iraqex, but changed its name in March to match that of its corporate parent, the Lincoln Alliance Corporation, a DC-based “business intelligence” firm. …
… in October 2004, the firm was awarded a one-year $6 million contract from the Pentagon to do PR work for the military in Iraq, with three six-months options for another $12.2 million. O’Dwyer editor Kevin McCauley was quoted as calling it “a blockbuster — in terms of dollars — for PR . . . Those are big numbers, even if one is operating in a war zone.”
From the beginning, Iraqex/Lincoln Group has been strangely tight-lipped about its work in Iraq, refusing to talk to the press except through its own hired mouthpiece, who had this to say to the industry trade mag PR Week (11/14/04):
“For various different security reasons, we can’t disclose information except to say we are very qualified to work on the ground in Iraq,” [the spokesman] said. “We have more experience working in Iraq than any other firm or organization anywhere in the world.”
Puffery aside, though, some details of Iraqex’s operations have made it into the press, such in as this story from the Chicago Tribune (“Word Warriors, 2/4/05), which inadvertently highlighted the fact that the most experienced firm in Iraq has a penchant for hiring GOP political hacks with absolutely no experience in Iraq:
When [Jonathan Blessing] and another political consultant who had been working for the Bush campaign in Illinois heard about an opportunity to work for a company doing public relations in Iraq, the two jumped at the chance . . .
Blessing and Swift are working for a private company called Iraqex, a subcontractor for the U.S. Department of Defense . . . Swift worked for the Bush-Cheney campaign in Illinois, and Blessing worked for the state GOP.
Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into Iraqex’s hiring policies — other than that the company clearly knows the buttered side of the bread from the dry. But things get more interesting when we look at the Lincoln Group’s corporate parent, Lincoln Alliance.
Lincoln is, if anything, even more shadowy than Iraqex, as is the relationship between the two. The Lincoln Group’s website — while offering virtually no info about the firm’s history, owners or officers, does mention that it was formed in 1999 — long before Iraqex was even a gleam in Christian Bailey’s youthful eye. And it clearly has interests that extend far beyond trying to spin the latest collateral damage in Iraq.
Billmon goes on to speculate what those “interests” might be, and it’s fascinating stuff. But now let’s go back to the Los Angeles Times — apparently, the State Department has been running workshops on how to be a free-press, American-style journalist, and the revelations about planted news stories are embarrassing.
“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,” said a senior Pentagon official who opposes the practice of planting stories in the Iraqi media.
And they aren’t just planting stories:
Military officials familiar with the effort in Iraq said much of it was being directed by the “Information Operations Task Force” in Baghdad, part of the multinational corps headquarters commanded by Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were critical of the effort and were not authorized to speak publicly about it.
A spokesman for Vines declined to comment for this article. A Lincoln Group spokesman also declined to comment.
One of the military officials said that, as part of a psychological operations campaign that has intensified over the last year, the task force also had purchased an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece.
And Big Brother loves you, too.