Shocked (or Not?) at PR and PsyOps in Iraq

After the Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon, through the Lincoln Group, was planting "favorable stories about the war and the rebuilding effort" in Iraqi newspapers, military spokespeople "offered a mixed message" about the program. It's "an important part of countering misinformation ... by insurgents," Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said, from Iraq. Gen. Peter Pace, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed concern that it could "be detrimental to the proper growth of democracy" in Iraq. Media organizations weren't so conflicted. The International Center for Journalists' vice-president called the program "indefensible" and the World Press Freedom Committee's director called it "unacceptable." But, as the Washington Post wrote, "such information warfare is not new to Iraq." In fact, the Lincoln Group's "payments to sympathetic 'temporary spokespersons' who would not necessarily be identified as working for the coalition" is a standard PR technique.


Rozen [ notices the following passage] in a [ Knight Ridder story]:

Under military rules, information operations are restricted to influencing the attitudes and behavior of foreign governments and people. One form of information operations - psychological warfare - can use doctored or false information to deceive or damage the enemy or to bolster support for American efforts.

Many military officials, however, said they were concerned that the payments to Iraqi journalists and other covert information operations in Iraq had become so extensive that they were corroding the effort to build democracy and undermining U.S. credibility in Iraq. They also worry that information in the Iraqi press that's been planted or paid for by the U.S. military could "blow back" to the American public. ...

On at least one occasion, psychological warfare specialists have taken a group of international journalists on a tour of Iraq's border with Syria, a route used by Islamic terrorists and arms smugglers, one of the officials said. ...

The result is a "fuzzing up" of what's supposed to be a strict division between public affairs, which provides factual information about U.S. military operations, and information operations, which can use propaganda and doctored or false information to influence enemy actions, perceptions and behavior....

Rozen comments: "In plain language: Rumsfeld is using psyops specialists and information warfare specialists on US journalists, and by extension, the American public."

[[Richard Edelman]] has written a [ strongly-written criticism] of the Lincoln Group on his blog: "This is utterly unacceptable behavior. In no way does this describe public relations. It is pay for play and a PR firm based in the US is doing it. ... If a free media is a central aspect of a democratic society, then we cannot allow our PR industry to impede its development. It is a perversion of our business, an intentional blurring of a clear demarcation between paid and earned media."

Comments posted in response range from agreement with his statement to various defenses of pay for play, on grounds such as "everyone does it," "it's been going on for years," Edelman is engaged in "faux outrage," "we're at war, so ethics are irrelevant," "propaganda in the land of our enemies is a legitimate weapon of war," etc.