By a voice vote, the U.S. Congress passed an amendment last week to the Defense Authorization Act for FY2009, forbidding the U.S. Department of Defense to engage in "propaganda purposes within the United States not otherwise specifically authorized by law." Probably more important is that the amendment requires an investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study and report back to Congress on "the extent to which the Department of Defense has violated the prohibition on propaganda" already established in previous laws passed by Congress. The amendment was prompted by an April 20 report in the New York Times exposing the Pentagon military analyst program through which the Pentagon lobbied for war by cultivating former military officers who became regulars on Fox News, CNN and the broadcast networks. As Diane Farsetta and Sheldon Rampton have argued previously, the Pentagon pundit program broke existing laws which forbid government officials from engaging in "publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by the Congress."
Eight thousand pages of documents related to the Pentagon's illegal propaganda campaign, known as the Pentagon military analyst program, are now online for the world to see, although in a format that makes it impossible to easily search them and therefore difficult to read and dissect. This trove includes the documents pried out of the Pentagon by David Barstow and used as the basis for his stunning investigation that appeared in the New York Times on April 20, 2008.
The Pentagon launched its covert media analyst program in 2002, to sell the Iraq war. Later, it was used to sell an image of progress in Afghanistan, whitewash the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and defend the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping, as David Barstow reported in his New York Times expose.
But the pundits weren't just selling government talking points. As Robert Bevelacqua, William Cowan and Carlton Sherwood enjoyed high-level Pentagon access through the analyst program, their WVC3 Group sought "contracts worth tens of millions to supply body armor and counterintelligence services in Iraq," reported Barstow. Cowan admitted to "push[ing] hard" on a WVC3 contract, during a Pentagon-funded trip to Iraq.
Then there's Pentagon pundit Robert H. Scales Jr. The military firm he co-founded in 2003, Colgen, has an interesting range of clients, from the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Operations Command, to Pfizer and Syracuse University, to Fox News and National Public Radio.
Of the 27 Pentagon pundits named publicly to date, six are registered as federal lobbyists. That's in addition to the less formal -- and less transparent -- boardroom to war-room influence peddling described above. (There are "more than 75 retired officers" who took part in the Pentagon program overall, according to Barstow.)
The Pentagon pundits' lobbying disclosure forms help chart what can only be called a military-industrial-media complex. They also make clear that war is very good for at least some kinds of business.
Almost two weeks after the New York Times reported on the Penatgon's military analyst program to sell controversial policies such as the invasion of Iraq, the broadcast television news outlets implicated in the program are hoping to tough out the scandal by refusing to report it.
The Pentagon military analyst program unveiled in last week's exposé by David Barstow in the New York Times was not just unethical but illegal. It violates, for starters, specific restrictions that Congress has been placing in its annual appropriation bills every year since 1951. According to those restrictions, "No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by the Congress."
As explained in a March 21, 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service, "publicity or propaganda" is defined by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to mean either (1) self-aggrandizement by public officials, (2) purely partisan activity, or (3) "covert propaganda." By covert propaganda, GAO means information which originates from the government but is unattributed and made to appear as though it came from a third party.
Five days after its military analyst program was exposed by the New York Times, the Pentagon announced that "briefings and all other interactions with the military analysts had been suspended indefinitely pending an internal review." Pentagon spokesperson Robert Hastings "could not say ... how long this review might take.