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Rendon Group

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The Rendon Group is a secretive public relations firm that has assisted a number of U.S. military interventions in nations including Argentina, Colombia, Haiti, Iraq, Kosovo, Panama and Zimbabwe. Rendon's activities include organizing the Iraqi National Congress, a PR front group designed to foment the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

In a 1998 speech to the National Security Conference (NSC), company founder John Rendon described himself as "an information warrior, and a perception manager. This is probably best described in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, when he wrote 'When things turn weird, the weird turn pro.'"

"Through its network of international offices and strategic alliances," the Rendon Group website boasted in 2002, "the company has provided communications services to clients in more than 78 countries, and maintains contact with government officials, decision-makers, and news media around the globe."

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Rendon Group has garnered more than $56 million in Pentagon work since September 2001. [1]

John Rendon and the Democratic Party

John Rendon began his career as an election campaign consultant to Democratic Party politicians. According to Franklin Foer, "He masterminded Michael Dukakis's gubernatorial campaign in 1974; worked as executive director of the Democratic National Committee in the Jimmy Carter era; managed the 1980 Democratic convention in New York; and subsequently worked as chief scheduler for Carter's reelection campaign." James Bamford reports Rendon and his younger brother Rick went into consulting in 1981.[2] In the mid-1980s, he began working for clients in the Caribbean and other places outside the United States. His "career took an unlikely turn in Panama, where his work with political opponents of Manuel Noriega kept him in the country straight through the 1989 American invasion. As U.S. forces quickly invaded and quickly pulled out, he helped broker the transition of power." This in turn led to contacts with the CIA, and in 1990 the government-in-exile of Kuwait hired him to help drum up support for war in the Persian Gulf to oust Iraq's occupying army.[3]

Pentagon work

John Rendon "insists that information is terrain and someone will occupy it, either the adversary, a third party, or US." [4]

Vetting reporters requesting embeds

In August 2009, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported that Rendon was vetting reporters requesting to embed with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as part of a $1.5 million media-management contract for the Pentagon. [1] The firm produced profiles of the reporters, grading reporters' past coverage as "positive," "neutral" or "negative," even sometimes suggesting how to "neutralize" expected negative future coverage or how to design embeds to "result in favorable coverage." [2] In some cases, the profiles prompted military officials to reject reporters' embed requests. [3]

After the series of exposés, the Pentagon announced that it was terminating the Rendon contract. Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith told Stars and Stripes, "As the senior U.S. communicator in Afghanistan, it was clear that the issue of Rendon's support to US forces in Afghanistan had become a distraction." [4] In a statement on the firm's site, Rendon maintains that its profiles did not rank reporters, and weren't "provided as the basis for accepted or rejecting a specific journalist's inquiries." The statement doesn't mention that the profiles suggested how to shape reporters' future coverage. [5]

A second statement on the firm's site reads, in part: "Background briefings on content generated by journalists comprised roughly 10% of the work requested from us by the client. The vast majority of our work was focused on wider analysis of the impact of operations on national, regional and global media coverage against mission objectives as a function of content analysis. This was used to provide critical feedback on measures of effectiveness, attitudes and sentiments as reflected in the media (not directed towards the reporter) and to track and measure perceptions of violent extremist elements as reflected in the media (again not directed at the reporter)." This statement also doesn't address the firm's recommendations on how to shape reporters' future coverage. [6]

Organizing for combat

"In the Pentagon, in addition to the normal public affairs structure, the Special Plans Office was deeply involved in this effort, supported (with information) by the Iraqi National Congress. There was the Rendon Group, headed by John Rendon who gave media advice to OSD, the Joint Staff and the White House. Finally, there were connections to large PSYOPS activities.

"The Rendon Group worked for the Government of Kuwait during the Gulf I. John Rendon proudly tells that it was he who shipped small American flags to Kuwait for the citizens to wave as troops entered Kuwait City. He suggested the same technique for [the war in Iraq], but the Joint Staff information operations office turned down the idea.

"The Rendon Group worked for both OSD and the Joint Staff during this war. John Rendon says he was part of the daily 9:30 phone calls with the key information players to set themes." [5]

Office of Strategic Influence

The New York Times reported in February 2002 that the U.S. Pentagon was using the Rendon Group to assist its new propaganda agency, the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI). However, the OSI was publicly disbanded following a backlash when Pentagon officials said the new office would engage in "black" propaganda (disinformation).[6][7]

Joint Chiefs of Staff

O'Dwyer's PR Daily reported in June 2003 that Rendon had gone to work for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, providing "strategic communications counsel, media analysis and consultation support services" to the Joint Chiefs, combatant commanders and top military advisors.[8]

Strategic Command

In April 2005, O'Dwyer's PR Daily reported that Rendon "is winding down its current $8.2M contract" with the U.S. Department of Defense's Strategic Command (STRATCOM). Rendon had been "handling foreign media analysis for about 15 months," with a whopping "56 staffers handling the account." [9]

Rendon's work for STRATCOM included "analyz[ing] foreign media coverage and handl[ing] strategic communications for its operations and the so-called [Global War on Terror|global war on terrorism]," according to O'Dwyer's. Specific tasks include tracking "media in broadcast, print and online in Arabic, Urdu, Pashtu" and other languages, as well as "building databases of key communicators and media outlets, analyzing the perception of U.S. actions and communication, and identifying vulnerabilities." [10]

Defenselink.mil reported in its September 27, 2005, press release on new contracts that the Rendon Group won a year-long $6.4 million dollar contract with the Army for "Strategic Communications Operations Support" in Baghdad. [11]

Kuwait

According to Rendon's web site, it "established a full-scale communications operation for the Government of Kuwait, including the establishment of a production studio in London producing programming material for the exiled Kuwaiti Television." Rendon also provided media support for exiled government leaders and helped Kuwaiti officials after the war by "providing press and site advance to incoming congressional delegations and other visiting US government officials."

Rendon's work in Kuwait continued after the war itself had ended. "If any of you either participated in the liberation of Kuwait City ... or if you watched it on television, you would have seen hundreds of Kuwaitis waving small American flags," John Rendon said in his speech to the NSC. "Did you ever stop to wonder how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American flags? And for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries? Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs."

Iraq

Rendon was also a major player in the CIA's effort to encourage the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In May 1991, then-President George Bush, Sr. signed a presidential finding directing the CIA to create the conditions for Hussein's removal. The hope was that members of the Iraqi military would turn on Hussein and stage a military coup. The CIA did not have the mechanisms in place to make that happen, so they hired the Rendon Group to run a covert anti-Saddam propaganda campaign. Rendon's postwar work involved producing videos and radio skits ridiculing Saddam Hussein, a traveling photo exhibit of Iraqi atrocities, and radio scripts calling on Iraqi army officers to defect.

A February 1998 report by Peter Jennings cited records obtained by ABC News which showed that the Rendon Group spent more than $23 million dollars in the first year of its contract with the CIA. It worked closely with the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an opposition coalition of 19 Iraqi and Kurdish organizations whose main tasks were to "gather information, distribute propaganda and recruit dissidents." According to ABC, Rendon came up with the name for the Iraqi National Congress and channeled $12 million of covert CIA funding to it between 1992 and 1996. Writing in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh says the Rendon Group was "paid close to a hundred million dollars by the CIA" for its work with the INC.[12]

ClandestineRadio.com, a website which monitors underground and anti-government radio stations in countries throughout the world, credits the Rendon Group with "designing and supervising" the Iraqi Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) and Radio Hurriah, which began broadcasting Iraqi opposition propaganda in January 1992 from a US government transmitter in Kuwait. According to a September 1996 article in Time magazine, six CIA case officers supervised the IBC's 11 hours of daily programming and Iraqi National Congress activities in the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Arbil. According to a Harvard graduate student from Iraq who helped translate some of the radio broadcasts into Arabic, the program was poorly run. "No one in-house spoke a word of Arabic," he says. "They thought I was mocking Saddam, but for all they knew I could have been lambasting the US government." The scripts, he adds, were often ill conceived. "Who in Iraq is going to think it's funny to poke fun at Saddam's mustache," the student notes, "when the vast majority of Iraqi men themselves have mustaches?"[13] In any case, the propaganda campaign came to an abrupt end on August 31, 1996, when the Iraqi army invaded Arbil and executed all but 12 out of 100 IBC staff workers along with about 100 members of the Iraqi National Congress.

Afghanistan

Newspapers reported in October 2001 that the Pentagon had awarded Rendon a four-month, $397,000 contract to handle PR aspects of U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan. Rendon and Pentagon officials declined to discuss details of the firm's work, which reportedly included monitoring international news media, conducting focus groups, creating a web site about the US campaign against terrorism, and recommending "ways the US military can counter disinformation and improve its own public communications." [14]

In October 2001, Karen P. Hughes, then counselor to President George W. Bush, "worked with PR specialist John Rendon to create the Coalition Information Center (CIC), which Laura Flanders describes as a 'fast-response network [with offices in Washington, London, and Islamabad] set up to respond to anti-US news that appears anywhere in the world.'" [15]

The New York Times reported in April 2004, "The United States has hired a Washington-based communications company, the Rendon Group, to bolster Mr. Karzai's communications office. And in a brief huddle at the palace, Mr. Khalilzad and the head of intelligence, Amrullah Saleh, discussed how the Afghan people regarded the government -- and, as Mr. Khalilzad put it, 'things we could do to help the standing of the government without working through the government.'"[16]

A December 2005 Chicago Tribune story profiled Rendon's work in Afghanistan, including a $1.4 million contract awarded in early 2004, "to help Afghan President Hamid Karzai with media relations"; a $3.9 million contract in late 2004, to "hire and train five Afghan media specialists and support all counternarcotics publicity"; and a third contract, under consideration in late 2005, "a three-year deal to work on counternarcotics public relations." Yet, seven months after the first contract began, Karzai and then-U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, complained that Rendon was getting "too much money for not enough work." [17]

Colombia

The Rendon Group's work for the Colombian Ministry of Defense received attention in the spring of 2004. As coordination with the U.S.'s Plan Colombia, Rendon had created a deck of playing cards depicting Colombian "narco-terrorists" otherwise known as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and two other antigovernment groups. The State Department blocked the distribution of the cards, saying that they were a poor fit in Colombia. [18]

Empower Peace

In 2003, Rendon launched a web site called "Empower Peace," through which they called on young people throughout the world to "help us develop an International Youth Pledge of Peace." Does this mean they've joined the anti-war protests? Not exactly. Empower Peace wants people "not to refer the current political situation going on in the world today but rather focus and emphasize on the importance of breaking down cultural barriers in order to achieve peace." [19]

"The EmpowerPeace website didn't last long. The reason, [Samuel] Gardiner suspects, is that its creation probably violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which bans the domestic dissemination of government propaganda." [20]

Overspending?

Franklin Foer reports that Rendon has been dogged throughout his career "by complaints of profligate spending--even charged with being the PR equivalent of the Pentagon's $400 toilet seat. In 1995 CIA accountants demanded an audit of his work. As ABC reported in 1998, Rendon's own records show he spent more than $23 million in the first year of his contract to work with the INC. Several of his operatives in London earned more than the director of Central Intelligence--about $19,000 per month. Rendon shot across the Atlantic on the Concorde, while his subordinates flew on open business-class tickets. According to one of those subordinates, 'There was no incentive for Rendon to hold down costs.'" Others have complained that his work is often inept and ineffective. However, he continues to win contracts because he is "superbly networked" with friends in high places in Washington."[21]

(An anonymous contributor to SourceWatch has commented on some of Foer's claims in the above paragraph, stating, "The audit found that all Rendon accountings were in order. The person you reference here was paid a salary plus the government rate per diem..the total of which was $19,000. His salary was less than $7,000 per month. At the time, British Air offered a special...buy a business ticket and fly one way on the Concorde at no additional cost.")

In September 2004, Rendon and state officials came under scrutiny in Massachusetts, when it was revealed that the PR firm was awarded "more than $14,000 in [Massachusetts'] anti-terrorism funds to videotape the August 2002 graduation ceremonies for 122 new State Police troopers." Thomas Kiley, the lawyer for Massachusetts' former secretary of public safety, defended the contract. "It's the first post-9/11 class and the training of that class focused on anti-terrorism," said Kiley, who called the graduation ceremony a "highly visible law enforcement event."[22]

Influencing Vieques vote

In July 2005, Judicial Watch released documents it had obtained throught the Freedom of Information Act that indicate that the Rendon Group billed the U.S. Navy $1.6 million for work in 2001 to influence a vote on whether part of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques would continue to serve as a bombing range. Rendon was to "develop methods and tracking procedures to increase support among citizens in Vieques to support and vote in the 6 November 2001 referendum for the option of continued Navy training at Vieques."[23]

Personnel

  • John Rendon
  • Rick Rendon - in the Boston office
  • Linda Flohr, a CIA covert operations veteran, worked for the Rendon Group at one point before returning to the government, where she is now a top anti-terrorism official at the White House's National Security Council.
  • Francis Brooke worked in the mid-1990s on the Rendon Group's anti-Iraq campaign in London at a salary of $19,000 a month. He subsequently became the chief assistant in Washington to Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress.
  • Paul Moran, a freelance TV cameraman who was killed in Iraq by a suicide bomber during the war in Iraq in 2003, also worked as a freelance contractor for the Rendon Group.

Clients

Clients of the Rendon Group have included a number of foreign nations, as well as major corporations. Known specific clients have included:

In Massachussetts, Rendon has worked for the Massachusetts Port Authority, the Governor's Highway Safety Bureau, the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.[24]

Contact information

The Rendon Group, Inc.
1875 Connecticut Avenue N.W., Suite 414
Washington, D.C. 20009
Telephone: (202) 745-4900
Fax: (202) 745-0215
Email: slibby AT rendon.com
http://www.rendon.com/

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. Charlie Reed, "Journalists' recent work examined before embeds," Stars and Stripes, August 24, 2009.
  2. Charlie Reed, Kevin Baron and Leo Shane III, "Files prove Pentagon is profiling reporters," Stars and Stripes, August 27, 2009.
  3. Leo Shane III, "Army used profiles to reject reporters," Stars and Stripes, August 29, 2009.
  4. Kevin Baron, "Military terminates Rendon contract," Stars and Stripes, August 31, 2009.
  5. "TRG Comment on Recent Reporting About Our Work in Afghanistan," Rendon Group website, dated August 26, 2009.
  6. "The Rendon Group Responds to Inaccurate Reports," Rendon Group website, dated September 3, 2009.

External resources

External articles