Pentagon military analyst program

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John Stauber on PBS NewsHour debating the Pentagon military analyst program
PBS NewsHour covers the Pentagon pundit story


The Pentagon military analyst program was revealed in David Barstow's Pulitzer Prize winning report appearing April 20, 2008 on the front page of the New York Times and titled Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand.

Background of Pentagon War Propagandists in the US TV Networks

The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld covert propaganda program was launched in early 2002 by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke. The idea was to recruit "key influentials" to help sell a wary public on "a possible Iraq invasion." Former NBC military analyst Kenneth Allard called the effort "psyops on steroids." [1]

Eight thousand pages of the documents relative to the Pentagon military analyst program were made available by the Pentagon in PDF format online May 6, 2008 at this website:

Text-searchable versions of the documents are available via the SourceWatch page Pentagon military analyst program: Documents.

"Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as 'message force multipliers' or 'surrogates' who could be counted on to deliver administration 'themes and messages' to millions of Americans 'in the form of their own opinions.' ... Don Meyer, an aide to Ms. Clarke, said a strategic decision was made in 2002 to make the analysts the main focus of the public relations push to construct a case for war." [emphasis added] Clarke and her senior aide, Brent T. Krueger, eventually signed up more than 75 retired military officers, who appeared on television and radio news shows as military analysts, and/or penned newspaper op/ed columns. The Pentagon held weekly meetings with the military analysts, which continued as of April 2008, when David Barstow reported on the program in the New York Times, later winning a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting. [1]

The program proved successful and was expanded to issues besides the Iraq War. "Other branches of the administration also began to make use of the analysts. Mr. Gonzales, then the attorney general, met with them soon after news leaked that the government was wiretapping terrorism suspects in the United States without warrants, Pentagon records show. When David H. Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his early acts was to meet with the analysts." [1]

On April 25, 2008, Pentagon spokesperson Robert Hastings said "the briefings and all other interactions with the military analysts had been suspended indefinitely pending an internal review." [2] Hastings "could not say ... how long this review might take. 'We'll take the time to do it right,'" he told Stars and Stripes. Hastings, who became the principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs in March 2008, also said "he is unaware of the Defense Department's ... activities with retired military analysts" before that time. [3] The following week, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told Reuters the suspension is "temporary" and "he does not think the program violated any laws." [4]

Keeping doubts to themselves

Many of the analysts were also lobbyists for defense contractors, and boasted of their Pentagon access to potential clients. This financial conflict discouraged the analysts from questioning or criticizing the Pentagon's claims. [1]

Timur J. Eads, a Fox analyst, program participant and lobbyist for military contractor Blackbird Technologies "said he had at times held his tongue on television for fear that 'some four-star could call up and say, "Kill that contract."' For example, he believed Pentagon officials misled the analysts about the progress of Iraq’s security forces. 'I know a snow job when I see one,' he said. He did not share this on TV." [1]

At least two analysts -- Robert S. Bevelacqua and Robert L. Maginnis -- doubted the Administration's case for war with Iraq, but kept their reservations to themselves. Both had attended "a briefing in early 2003 about Iraq’s purported stockpiles of illicit weapons." Maginnis "concluded that the analysts were being 'manipulated' to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public." [1]

The analysts were also reluctant to be critical, fearing they would lose their high-level Pentagon access. The Pentagon tracked what the analysts said, via a six-figure contract with Omnitec Solutions. As William V. Cowan learned, there were repercussions for analysts who didn't follow the Pentagon's suggested talking points. He was fired from the Pentagon analysts group after saying on Fox News that the United States was "not on a good glide path right now" in Iraq. [1]

Pentagon-funded trips

In addition to the meetings, the Defense Department paid for some analysts to travel to Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, encouraging them to counter negative press with Pentagon talking points. "Eventually the effort involved officials from Washington to Baghdad to Kabul to Guantánamo and back to Tampa, Fla., the headquarters of United States Central Command," reported the Times. [1]

The trips included: [1]

Public relations ties

In addition to Victoria Clarke, a former Hill & Knowlton executive, Allison Barber was copied on emails about the program. [1] At the time, Barber was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Liaison and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Internal Communications. She launched the controversial pro-war program America Supports You, as well as the Pentagon Channel, the Defense Department's New Media Operation and the speakers bureau program called "Why We Serve." [5] Barber had previously run her own PR firm; upon leaving the Pentagon, she returned to her firm, Sodenta. [6]

In an April 2006 email, Dallas B. Lawrence, the Defense Department's director of community relations and public liaison, informed Barber and others that members of the military analysts program were writing op/eds and appearing on television to respond to some retired generals' criticism of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Barber responded: [1]

Great work, dallas. [sic]
I wanted everyone to see what you can pull off. Way to go Ab

Early indications

The military analyst program was first reported on by the New York Times in April 2006, though its scope at the time was unclear. At the time, Rumsfeld was coming under increased criticism and pressure to resign. [7]

"The Defense Department has issued a memorandum to a group of former military commanders and civilian analysts that offers a direct challenge to the criticisms made by retired generals about Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld," reported Mark Mazzetti and Jim Rutenberg. "The one-page memorandum was sent by e-mail on Friday to the group, which includes several retired generals who appear regularly on television, and came as the Bush administration stepped up its own defense of Mr. Rumsfeld." [7]

The Times story added, "It is not uncommon for the Pentagon to send such memorandums to this group of officers, whom they consider to be influential in shaping public opinion. But it is unusual for the Pentagon to issue guidance that can be used by retired generals to rebut the arguments of other retired generals." [7]

Reaction of media outlets that featured the analysts

One of the analysts mentioned in Barstow's original story was Robert H. Scales Jr., who appeared on programs for both NPR and Fox News programs. Barstow noted that Scales, "whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.'Recall the stuff I did after my last visit,' he wrote. 'I will do the same this time.'"[1] In 2003 Scales co-founded a "defense consulting company" Colgen, which boasts that it is "America's Premier Landpower Advocate".[8]

A little over a week after the New York Times story ran, NPR Ombudsman, Alicia C. Shepard, wrote in her blog that when the story broke "emails began flying trying to assess the damage and determine how to proceed. NPR waited until Wednesday on Talk of the Nation to first discuss this issue publicly. The Bryant Park Project followed up the next day with two pieces on how the media was ignoring The Times' story."[9] Shepard noted "since February 2003, he has been on NPR 67 times, most often (28 appearances) on All Things Considered (ATC). The latest was March 28, when he gave ATC listeners an assessment of the fifth anniversary of the war ... Only once in December 2006 was Scales' relationship to Colgen mentioned."[9]

Shepard disagreed with the suggestion of a number of NPR listeners who wanted the media organization to stop doing interviews with Scales. "Rather than toss Scales off the air and lose his practical and scholarly knowledge of the Army, in the future NPR should always be transparent and identify him as a defense consultant with Colgen. NPR's audience can evaluate what Scales says through that lens. NPR should also append a note to each archived Scales' appearances that indicates he is also a defense consultant with Colgen. What also is needed, and I believe NPR will now begin doing, is a more careful vetting of all experts before they go on air," she wrote.[9] NPR have developed new guidelines for "vetting guests" which state "Ask the guest if he/she has any conflicts of interest. You can modify the question to be more descriptive; any financial, political, personal or other conflicts of interest. In some cases, the appearance of conflict of interest obvious to some, may not be obvious to the guest. For example, has the guest made any trips paid for by an organization having an interest in this story?" [10]

Investigations

On May 23, 2008, the Defense Department Inspector General's Office announced it would investigate the Pentagon pundits program. "The inspector general's office said its inquiry would specifically look at whether special access to Pentagon leaders 'may have given the contractors a competitive advantage,'" reported the New York Times. The same week, the Government Accountability Office "said it had already begun looking into the program and would give a legal opinion on whether it violated longstanding prohibitions against spending government money to spread propaganda to audiences in the United States." [11]

On May 22, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment (PDF) to the Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2009 that "would make permanent a domestic propaganda ban that until now has been enacted annually in the military authorization bill; the Senate is still working on its version of the bill." The bill, which was sponsored by Representative Paul Hodes, would also require the Defense Department Inspector General and GAO to investigate the program. [11]

The Federal Communications Commission is also investigating the Pentagon pundit program. "FCC chairman Kevin Martin already said the commission is looking into complaints about the program lodged by key legislators including House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.)," reported Broadcasting & Cable. "The legislators said the program may violate the FCC's sponsorship-identification rules by not informing viewers of the analysts' ties to the White House or various companies that do business with the DOD." [12]

On October 2, 2008, the FCC sent letters of inquiry to "five television networks and 19 former military officers," reported Associated Press. CBS News and ABC News confirmed that they received letters. [13] The letters were sent in response to a complaint filed with the agency by Representatives John Dingell and Rosa DeLauro. Several of the pundits named in the New York Times expose of the Pentagon pundit program were employees of or lobbyists for military contractors. [14] The FCC letter to the pundits "suggests that TV stations and networks may have violated two sections of the Communications Act of 1934 by not identifying the ties to the Pentagon." The agency is asking the pundits "to respond to the allegations of wrongdoing within 30 days," or by early November 2008. [15]

On January 14, 2009, the Pentagon's Office of Inspector General released its report (pdf) on the pundit program. The report absolved the Pentagon of any wrong-doing, finding that the covert attempt to influence U.S. public opinion was not propaganda, and that the pundits did not use their high-level Pentagon access to unfairly benefit the military contractors for which they consulted. However, several people key to the Pentagon pundit program -- including its originator, Victoria Clarke, and her successor at the Pentagon, Lawrence DiRita, along with network news executives -- declined to be interviewed for the report. The report also contained obvious inaccuracies -- for instance, listing retired General Barry McCaffrey and other pundits "with easily documented connections" to military contractors as people without contractor ties. Democratic members of Congress "expressed concerns about the scope, methodology and accuracy of the report," noted the New York Times. Representative Hodes called the Pentagon report "a whitewash" and "the parting gift of the Pentagon to the [former] president [Bush]." [16]

Program participants

From the New York Times story and associated documents, along with other sources as indicated: [1][17]

In addition, Wesley Clark is named in the Pentagon pundit documents, as a Fox News analyst, who's against the war in Iraq and in favor of dialog with Iran. [24]. He also appears in a picture accompanying Barstow's Times article on the program, but is not mentioned in the text. [1] Clark is also mentioned in the documents as a potential person to invite to take part in the propaganda effort. [25] Clark has "claimed publicly that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, he was pressured by the Bush administration to link the attacks directly to Iraq. When pressed on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes show, Clark refused to name White House names and instead fingered a public policy think tank in Canada. 'I personally got a call from a fellow in Canada who is part of a Middle Eastern think tank who gets inside intelligence information. He called me on 9/11,' Clark said. When asked who in the White House contacted him, Clark responded that he was 'not going to go into those sources.'" [26]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 David Barstow, "Behind Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand," New York Times, April 20, 2008.
  2. David Barstow, "Pentagon Suspends Briefings for Analysts," New York Times, April 26, 2008.
  3. Jeff Schogol, "Pentagon halts feeding of information to retired officers while issue is reviewed," Stars and Stripes, April 26, 2008.
  4. Kristin Roberts, "Pentagon suspends retired military analyst program," Reuters, April 28, 2008.
  5. "America Supports You - Allison Barber," America Supports You website, accessed November 2007.
  6. "Approach," Sodenta website, accessed February 2009.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Mark Mazzetti and Jim Rutenberg, "Pentagon Memo Aims to Counter Rumsfeld Critics," New York Times, April 16, 2006.
  8. Colgen, accessed April 2008.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Alicia C. Shepard, "NPR, New York Times and Sourcing Military Experts," NPR Ombudsman column, April 28, 2008.
  10. Ellen Weiss, Vice-President for News, NPR, "National Public Radio follow-up policy on vetting guests", NPR, April 22, 2008.
  11. 11.0 11.1 David Barstow, "2 Inquiries Set on Pentagon Publicity Effort," New York Times, May 24, 2008.
  12. John Eggerton, "Amendment Targets Embedded-Analyst Program: Defense Authorization Bill Amendment Would Include Inspector General of Defense Department, Government Accountability Office in FCC Investigation of Program," Broadcasting & Cable, May 29, 2008.
  13. Joelle Tessler, "FCC examining TV networks, military analysts," Associated Press, October 9, 2008.
  14. Diane Farsetta, "What the Pentagon Pundits Were Selling on the Side: Propaganda Meets Corporate Lobbying," PR Watch, May 2, 2008.
  15. Paul Bedard, "FCC Probes Pentagon Analysts," U.S. News & World Report blog "Washington Whispers," October 6, 2008.
  16. David Barstow, "Inspector General Sees No Misdeeds in Pentagon’s Effort to Make Use of TV Analysts," New York Times, January 16, 2009.
  17. "Joint Staff E-mails Redacted," Department of Defense, documents and files released to New York Times regarding the Pentagon's military analyst program.
  18. Allard, Kenneth (2006). Warheads: Cable News and the Fog of War. City: US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1591140072. 
  19. Daniel Benaim, Priyanka Motaparthy & Vishesh Kumar, "TV's Conflicted Experts," The Nation, April 21, 2003.
  20. "A conversation with Joseph W. Ralston and William F. Kernan about Iraq," Charlie Rose show, March 31, 2003.
  21. Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis, "Keeping Our Best Army Coalition Relevant by Transforming Together," Army, September 2003.
  22. "A conversation with Joseph W. Ralston and William F. Kernan about Iraq," Charlie Rose show, March 31, 2003.
  23. "Speaker Biography: Maj. Gen. Donald W. Shepperd, USAF (Ret.)", accessed April 2008.
  24. "06-F-1532PAResearchandAnalysis pt2," pp. 23, 25-26.
  25. "BarstowE-mailRelease3154-3777 pt1," p 5.
  26. "Clark Alleges White House Pushed CNN to Fire Him," Fox News, August 26, 2003.

External resources

External articles