U.S. Is Said to Pay to Plant Articles in Iraq Papers – New York Times

New York Times

By JEFF GERTH and SCOTT SHANE

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 – Titled “The Sands Are Blowing Toward a Democratic Iraq,” an article written this week for publication in the Iraqi press was scornful of outsiders’ pessimism about the country’s future.

“Western press and frequently those self-styled ‘objective’ observers of Iraq are often critics of how we, the people of Iraq, are proceeding down the path in determining what is best for our nation,” the article began. Quoting the Prophet Muhammad, it pleaded for unity and nonviolence.

But far from being the heartfelt opinion of an Iraqi writer, as its language implied, the article was prepared by the United States military as part of a multimillion-dollar covert campaign to plant paid propaganda in the Iraqi news media and pay friendly Iraqi journalists monthly stipends, military contractors and officials said.

The article was one of several in a storyboard, the military’s term for a list of articles, that was delivered Tuesday to the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations firm paid by the Pentagon, documents from the Pentagon show. The contractor’s job is to translate the articles into Arabic and submit them to Iraqi newspapers or advertising agencies without revealing the Pentagon’s role. Documents show that the intended target of the article on a democratic Iraq was Azzaman, a leading independent newspaper, but it is not known whether it was published there or anywhere else.

Even as the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development pay contractors millions of dollars to help train journalists and promote a professional and independent Iraqi media, the Pentagon is paying millions more to the Lincoln Group for work that appears to violate fundamental principles of Western journalism.

In addition to paying newspapers to print government propaganda, Lincoln has paid about a dozen Iraqi journalists each several hundred dollars a month, a person who had been told of the transactions said. Those journalists were chosen because their past coverage had not been antagonistic to the United States, said the person, who is being granted anonymity because of fears for the safety of those involved. In addition, the military storyboards have in some cases copied verbatim text from copyrighted publications and passed it on to be printed in the Iraqi press without attribution, documents and interviews indicated.

In many cases, the material prepared by the military was given to advertising agencies for placement, and at least some of the material ran with an advertising label. But the American authorship and financing were not revealed.

Military spokesmen in Washington and Baghdad said Wednesday that they had no information on the contract. In an interview from Baghdad on Nov. 18, Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, a military spokesman, said the Pentagon’s contract with the Lincoln Group was an attempt to “try to get stories out to publications that normally don’t have access to those kind of stories.” The military’s top commanders, including Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, did not know about the Lincoln Group contract until Wednesday, when it was first described by The Los Angeles Times, said a senior military official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Pentagon officials said General Pace and other top officials were disturbed by the reported details of the propaganda campaign and demanded explanations from senior officers in Iraq, the official said.

When asked about the article Wednesday night on the ABC News program “Nightline,” General Pace said, “I would be concerned about anything that would be detrimental to the proper growth of democracy.”

Others seemed to share the sentiment. “I think it’s absolutely wrong for the government to do this,” said Patrick Butler, vice president of the International Center for Journalists in Washington, which conducts ethics training for journalists from countries without a history of independent news media. “Ethically, it’s indefensible.”

Mr. Butler, who spoke from a conference in Wisconsin with Arab journalists, said the American government paid for many programs that taught foreign journalists not to accept payments from interested parties to write articles and not to print government propaganda disguised as news.

“You show the world you’re not living by the principles you profess to believe in, and you lose all credibility,” he said.

The Government Accountability Office found this year that the Bush administration had violated the law by producing pseudo news reports that were later used on American television stations with no indication that they had been prepared by the government. But no law prohibits the use of such covert propaganda abroad.

The Lincoln contract with the American-led coalition forces in Iraq has rankled some military and civilian officials and contractors. Some of them described the program to The New York Times in recent months and provided examples of the military’s storyboards.

The Lincoln Group, whose principals include some businessmen and former military officials, was hired last year after military officials concluded that the United States was failing to win over Muslim public opinion. In Iraq, the effort is seen by some American military commanders as a crucial step toward defeating the Sunni-led insurgency.

Citing a “fundamental problem of credibility” and foreign opposition to American policies, a Pentagon advisory panel last year called for the government to reinvent and expand its information programs.

“Government alone cannot today communicate effectively and credibly,” said the report by the task force on strategic communication of the Defense Science Board. The group recommended turning more often for help to the private sector, which it said had “a built-in agility, credibility and even deniability.”

The Pentagon’s first public relations contract with Lincoln was awarded in 2004 for about $5 million with the stated purpose of accurately informing the Iraqi people of American goals and gaining their support. But while meant to provide reliable information, the effort was also intended to use deceptive techniques, like payments to sympathetic “temporary spokespersons” who would not necessarily be identified as working for the coalition, according to a contract document and a military official.

In addition, the document called for the development of “alternate or diverting messages which divert media and public attention” to “deal instantly with the bad news of the day.”

Laurie Adler, a spokeswoman for the Lincoln Group, said the terms of the contract did not permit her to discuss it and referred a reporter to the Pentagon. But others defended the practice.

“I’m not surprised this goes on,” said Michael Rubin, who worked in Iraq for the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 and 2004. “Informational operations are a part of any military campaign,” he added. “Especially in an atmosphere where terrorists and insurgents – replete with oil boom cash – do the same. We need an even playing field, but cannot fight with both hands tied behind our backs.”

Two dozen recent storyboards prepared by the military for Lincoln and reviewed by The New York Times had a variety of good-news themes addressing the economy, security, the insurgency and Iraq’s political future. Some were written to resemble news articles. Others took the form of opinion pieces or public service announcements.

One article about Iraq’s oil industry opened with three paragraphs taken verbatim, and without attribution, from a recent report in Al Hayat, a London-based Arabic newspaper. But the military version took out a quotation from an oil ministry spokesman that was critical of American reconstruction efforts. It substituted a more positive message, also attributed to the spokesman, though not as a direct quotation.

The editor of Al Sabah, a major Iraqi newspaper that has been the target of many of the military’s articles, said Wednesday in an interview that he had no idea that the American military was supplying such material and did not know if his newspaper had printed any of it, whether labeled as advertising or not.

The editor, Muhammad Abdul Jabbar, 57, said Al Sabah, which he said received financial support from the Iraqi government but was editorially independent, accepted advertisements from virtually any source if they were not inflammatory. He said any such material would be labeled as advertising but would not necessarily identify the sponsor. Sometimes, he said, the paper got the text from an advertising agency and did not know its origins.

Asked what he thought of the Pentagon program’s effectiveness in influencing Iraqi public opinion, Mr. Jabbar said, “I would spend the money a better way.”

The Lincoln Group, which was incorporated in 2004, has won another government information contract. Last June, the Special Operations Command in Tampa awarded Lincoln and two other companies a multimillion-dollar contract to support psychological operations. The planned products, contract documents show, include three- to five- minute news programs.

Asked whether the information and news products would identify the American sponsorship, a media relations officer with the special operations command replied, in an e-mail message last summer, that “the product may or may not carry ‘made in the U.S.’ signature” but they would be identified as American in origin, “if asked.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington for this article, and Kirk Semple and Edward Wong from Baghdad.

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Ex-Powell aide: Bush ‘too aloof’ – Nov 29, 2005

President was detached during Iraq postwar planning, Wilkerson says

Tuesday, November 29, 2005; Posted: 11:57 a.m. EST (16:57 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff says President Bush was “too aloof, too distant from the details” of post-war planning, allowing underlings to exploit Bush’s detachment and make bad decisions.

In an Associated Press interview Monday, former Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson also said that wrongheaded ideas for the handling of foreign detainees after Sept. 11 arose from a coterie of White House and Pentagon aides who argued that “the president of the United States is all-powerful,” and that the Geneva Conventions were irrelevant.

Wilkerson blamed Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and like-minded aides. Wilkerson said that Cheney must have sincerely believed that Iraq could be a spawning ground for new terror assaults, because “otherwise I have to declare him a moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard.”

Wilkerson suggested his former boss may agree with him that Bush was too hands-off about Iraq.

“What he seems to be saying to me now is the president failed to discipline the process the way he should have and that the president is ultimately responsible for this whole mess,” Wilkerson said.

He said Powell now generally believes it was a good idea to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but may not agree with either the timing or execution of the war. Wilkerson said Powell may have had doubts about the extent of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein but was convinced by then-CIA Director George Tenet and others that the intelligence girding the push toward war was sound.

Powell was widely regarded as a dove to Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s hawks, but he made a forceful case for war before the United Nations Security Council in February, 2003, a month before the invasion. At one point, he said Saddam possessed mobile labs to make weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

Wilkerson criticized the CIA and other agencies for allowing mishandled and bogus information to underpin that speech and the whole administration case for war.

He said he has almost, but not quite, concluded that Cheney and others in the administration deliberately ignored evidence of bad intelligence and looked only at what supported their case for war.

A newly declassified Defense Intelligence Agency document from February 2002 said that an al Qaeda military instructor was probably misleading his interrogators about training that the terror group’s members received from Iraq on chemical, biological and radiological weapons. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi reportedly recanted his statements in January 2004. (Full Story)

A presidential intelligence commission also dissected how spy agencies handled an Iraqi refugee who was a German intelligence source. Codenamed Curveball, this man who was a leading source on Iraq’s purported mobile biological weapons labs was found to be a fabricator and alcoholic.

On the question of detainees picked up in Afghanistan and other fronts on the war on terror, Wilkerson said Bush heard two sides of an impassioned argument within his administration. Abuse of prisoners, and even the deaths of some who had been interrogated in Afghanistan and elsewhere, have bruised the U.S. image abroad and undermined fragile support for the Iraq war that followed.

Cheney’s office, Rumsfeld aides and others argued “that the president of the United States is all-powerful, that as commander in chief the president of the United States can do anything he damn well pleases,” Wilkerson said.

On the other side were Powell, others at the State Department and top military brass, and occasionally then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Wilkerson said.

Powell raised frequent and loud objections, his former aide said, once yelling into a telephone at Rumsfeld: “Donald, don’t you understand what you are doing to our image?”

WHY HELLO, BIG BROTHER.

Miami Police Take New Tack Against Terror

By CURT ANDERSON
Associated Press Writer

Miami police announced Monday they will stage random shows of force at hotels, banks and other public places to keep terrorists guessing and remind people to be vigilant.

Deputy Police Chief Frank Fernandez said officers might, for example, surround a bank building, check the IDs of everyone going in and out and hand out leaflets about terror threats.

“This is an in-your-face type of strategy. It’s letting the terrorists know we are out there,” Fernandez said.

The operations will keep terrorists off guard, Fernandez said. He said al-Qaida and other terrorist groups plot attacks by putting places under surveillance and watching for flaws and patterns in security.

Police Chief John Timoney said there was no specific, credible threat of an imminent terror attack in Miami. But he said the city has repeatedly been mentioned in intelligence reports as a potential target.

Timoney also noted that 14 of the 19 hijackers who took part in the Sept. 11 attacks lived in South Florida at various times and that other alleged terror cells have operated in the area.

Both uniformed and plainclothes police will ride buses and trains, while others will conduct longer-term surveillance operations.

“People are definitely going to notice it,” Fernandez said. “We want that shock. We want that awe. But at the same time, we don’t want people to feel their rights are being threatened. We need them to be our eyes and ears.”

Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU of Florida, said the Miami initiative appears aimed at ensuring that people’s rights are not violated.

“What we’re dealing with is officers on street patrol, which is more effective and more consistent with the Constitution,” Simon said. “We’ll have to see how it is implemented.”

Mary Ann Viverette, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said the Miami program is similar to those used for years during the holiday season to deter criminals at busy places such as shopping malls.

“You want to make your presence known and that’s a great way to do it,” said Viverette, police chief in Gaithersburg, Md. “We want people to feel they can go about their normal course of business, but we want them to be aware.”