The Man Who Sold the War
Meet John Rendon, Bush's general in the propaganda war

The road to war in Iraq led through many unlikely places. One of them was a
chic hotel nestled among the strip bars and brothels that cater to
foreigners in the town of Pattaya, on the Gulf of Thailand.

On December 17th, 2001, in a small room within the sound of the crashing
tide, a CIA officer attached metal electrodes to the ring and index fingers
of a man sitting pensively in a padded chair. The officer then stretched a
black rubber tube, pleated like an accordion, around the man's chest and
another across his abdomen. Finally, he slipped a thick cuff over the man's
brachial artery, on the inside of his upper arm.

Strapped to the polygraph machine was Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a
forty-three-year-old Iraqi who had fled his homeland in Kurdistan and was
now determined to bring down Saddam Hussein. For hours, as thin mechanical
styluses traced black lines on rolling graph paper, al-Haideri laid out an
explosive tale. Answering yes and no to a series of questions, he insisted
repeatedly that he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam's men to
secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The illegal
arms, according to al-Haideri, were buried in subterranean wells, hidden in
private villas, even stashed beneath the Saddam Hussein Hospital, the
largest medical facility in Baghdad.

It was damning stuff -- just the kind of evidence the Bush administration
was looking for. If the charges were true, they would offer the White House
a compelling reason to invade Iraq and depose Saddam. That's why the
Pentagon had flown a CIA polygraph expert to Pattaya: to question al-Haideri
and confirm, once and for all, that Saddam was secretly stockpiling weapons
of mass destruction.

There was only one problem: It was all a lie. After a review of the sharp
peaks and deep valleys on the polygraph chart, the intelligence officer
concluded that al-Haideri had made up the entire story, apparently in the
hopes of securing a visa.

The fabrication might have ended there, the tale of another political
refugee trying to scheme his way to a better life. But just because the
story wasn't true didn't mean it couldn't be put to good use. Al-Haideri, in
fact, was the product of a clandestine operation -- part espionage, part PR
campaign -- that had been set up and funded by the CIA and the Pentagon for
the express purpose of selling the world a war. And the man who had long
been in charge of the marketing was a secretive and mysterious creature of
the Washington establishment named John Rendon.

Rendon is a man who fills a need that few people even know exists. Two
months before al-Haideri took the lie-detector test, the Pentagon had
secretly awarded him a $16 million contract to target Iraq and other
adversaries with propaganda. One of the most powerful people in Washington,
Rendon is a leader in the strategic field known as "perception management,"
manipulating information -- and, by extension, the news media -- to achieve
the desired result. His firm, the Rendon Group, has made millions off
government contracts since 1991, when it was hired by the CIA to help
"create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power." Working under
this extraordinary transfer of secret authority, Rendon assembled a group of
anti-Saddam militants, personally gave them their name -- the Iraqi National
Congress -- and served as their media guru and "senior adviser" as they set
out to engineer an uprising against Saddam. It was as if President John F.
Kennedy had outsourced the Bay of Pigs operation to the advertising and
public-relations firm of J. Walter Thompson.

"They're very closemouthed about what they do," says Kevin McCauley, an
editor of the industry trade publication O'Dwyer's PR Daily. "It's all
cloak-and-dagger stuff."

Although Rendon denies any direct involvement with al-Haideri, the defector
was the latest salvo in a secret media war set in motion by Rendon. In an
operation directed by Ahmad Chalabi -- the man Rendon helped install as
leader of the INC -- the defector had been brought to Thailand, where he
huddled in a hotel room for days with the group's spokesman, Zaab Sethna.
The INC routinely coached defectors on their stories, prepping them for
polygraph exams, and Sethna was certainly up to the task -- he got his
training in the art of propaganda on the payroll of the Rendon Group.
According to Francis Brooke, the INC's man in Washington and himself a
former Rendon employee, the goal of the al-Haideri operation was simple:
pressure the United States to attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein.

As the CIA official flew back to Washington with failed lie-detector charts
in his briefcase, Chalabi and Sethna didn't hesitate. They picked up the
phone, called two journalists who had a long history of helping the INC
promote its cause and offered them an exclusive on Saddam's terrifying cache
of WMDs.

For the worldwide broadcast rights, Sethna contacted Paul Moran, an
Australian freelancer who frequently worked for the Australian Broadcasting
Corp. "I think I've got something that you would be interested in," he told
Moran, who was living in Bahrain. Sethna knew he could count on the trim,
thirty-eight-year-old journalist: A former INC employee in the Middle East,
Moran had also been on Rendon's payroll for years in "information
operations," working with Sethna at the company's London office on Catherine
Place, near Buckingham Palace.

"We were trying to help the Kurds and the Iraqis opposed to Saddam set up a
television station," Sethna recalled in a rare interview broadcast on
Australian television. "The Rendon Group came to us and said, 'We have a
contract to kind of do anti-Saddam propaganda on behalf of the Iraqi
opposition.' What we didn't know -- what the Rendon Group didn't tell us --
was in fact it was the CIA that had hired them to do this work."

The INC's choice for the worldwide print exclusive was equally easy: Chalabi
contacted Judith Miller of The New York Times. Miller, who was close to I.
Lewis Libby and other neoconservatives in the Bush administration, had been
a trusted outlet for the INC's anti-Saddam propaganda for years. Not long
after the CIA polygraph expert slipped the straps and electrodes off
al-Haideri and declared him a liar, Miller flew to Bangkok to interview him
under the watchful supervision of his INC handlers. Miller later made
perfunctory calls to the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, but despite
her vaunted intelligence sources, she claimed not to know about the results
of al-Haideri's lie-detector test. Instead, she reported that unnamed
"government experts" called his information "reliable and significant" --
thus adding a veneer of truth to the lies.

Her front-page story, which hit the stands on December 20th, 2001, was
exactly the kind of exposure Rendon had been hired to provide. AN IRAQI
headline. "An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer,"
Miller wrote, "said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities
for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private
villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a
year ago." If verified, she noted, "his allegations would provide ammunition
to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr.
Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to
stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so."

For months, hawks inside and outside the administration had been pressing
for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq. Now, thanks to Miller's story, they could
point to "proof" of Saddam's "nuclear threat." The story, reinforced by
Moran's on-camera interview with al-Haideri on the giant Australian
Broadcasting Corp., was soon being trumpeted by the White House and repeated
by newspapers and television networks around the world. It was the first in
a long line of hyped and fraudulent stories that would eventually propel the
U.S. into a war with Iraq -- the first war based almost entirely on a covert
propaganda campaign targeting the media.

By law, the Bush administration is expressly prohibited from disseminating
government propaganda at home. But in an age of global communications, there
is nothing to stop it from planting a phony pro-war story overseas --
knowing with certainty that it will reach American citizens almost
instantly. A recent congressional report suggests that the Pentagon may be
relying on "covert psychological operations affecting audiences within
friendly nations." In a "secret amendment" to Pentagon policy, the report
warns, "psyops funds might be used to publish stories favorable to American
policies, or hire outside contractors without obvious ties to the Pentagon
to organize rallies in support of administration policies." The report also
concludes that military planners are shifting away from the Cold War view
that power comes from superior weapons systems. Instead, the Pentagon now
believes that "combat power can be enhanced by communications networks and
technologies that control access to, and directly manipulate, information.
As a result, information itself is now both a tool and a target of warfare."

It is a belief John Rendon encapsulated in a speech to cadets at the U.S.
Air Force Academy in 1996. "I am not a national-security strategist or a
military tactician," he declared. "I am a politician, a person who uses
communication to meet public-policy or corporate-policy objectives. In fact,
I am an information warrior and a perception manager." To explain his
philosophy, Rendon paraphrased a journalist he knew from his days as a
staffer on the presidential campaigns of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter:
"This is probably best described in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, when he
wrote, 'When things turn weird, the weird turn pro.'"

John Walter Rendon Jr. rises at 3 a.m. each morning after six hours of
sleep, turns on his Apple computer and begins ingesting information --
overnight news reports, e-mail messages, foreign and domestic newspapers,
and an assortment of government documents, many of them available only to
those with the highest security clearance. According to Pentagon documents
obtained by Rolling Stone, the Rendon Group is authorized "to research and
analyze information classified up to Top Secret/SCI/SI/TK/G/HCS" -- an
extraordinarily high level of clearance granted to only a handful of defense
contractors. "SCI" stands for Sensitive Compartmented Information, data
classified higher than Top Secret. "SI" is Special Intelligence, very secret
communications intercepted by the National Security Agency. "TK" refers to
Talent/Keyhole, code names for imagery from reconnaissance aircraft and spy
satellites. "G" stands for Gamma (communications intercepts from extremely
sensitive sources) and "HCS" means Humint Control System (information from a
very sensitive human source). Taken together, the acronyms indicate that
Rendon enjoys access to the most secret information from all three forms of
intelligence collection: eavesdropping, imaging satellites and human spies.

Rendon lives in a multimillion-dollar home in Washington's exclusive
Kalorama neighborhood. A few doors down from Rendon is the home of former
Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara; just around the corner lives current
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. At fifty-six, Rendon wears owlish glasses
and combs his thick mane of silver-gray hair to the side, Kennedy-style. He
heads to work each morning clad in a custom-made shirt with his monogram on
the right cuff and a sharply tailored blue blazer that hangs loose around
his bulky frame. By the time he pulls up to the Rendon Group's headquarters
near Dupont Circle, he has already racked up a handsome fee for the
morning's work: According to federal records, Rendon charges the CIA and the
Pentagon $311.26 an hour for his services.

Rendon is one of the most influential of the private contractors in
Washington who are increasingly taking over jobs long reserved for highly
trained CIA employees. In recent years, spies-for-hire have begun to replace
regional desk officers, who control clandestine operations around the world;
watch officers at the agency's twenty-four-hour crisis center; analysts, who
sift through reams of intelligence data; and even counterintelligence
officers in the field, who oversee meetings between agents and their
recruited spies. According to one senior administration official involved in
intelligence-budget decisions, half of the CIA's work is now performed by
private contractors -- people completely unaccountable to Congress. Another
senior budget official acknowledges privately that lawmakers have no idea
how many rent-a-spies the CIA currently employs -- or how much unchecked
power they enjoy.

Unlike many newcomers to the field, however, Rendon is a battle-tested
veteran who has been secretly involved in nearly every American shooting
conflict in the past two decades. In the first interview he has granted in
decades, Rendon offered a peek through the keyhole of this seldom-seen world
of corporate spooks -- a rarefied but growing profession. Over a dinner of
lamb chops and a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape at a private Washington club,
Rendon was guarded about the details of his clandestine work -- but he
boasted openly of the sweep and importance of his firm's efforts as a
for-profit spy. "We've worked in ninety-one countries," he said. "Going all
the way back to Panama, we've been involved in every war, with the exception
of Somalia."

It is an unusual career twist for someone who entered politics as an
opponent of the Vietnam War. The son of a stockbroker, Rendon grew up in New
Jersey and stumped for McGovern before graduating from Northeastern
University. "I was the youngest state coordinator," he recalls. "I had
Maine. They told me that I understood politics -- which was a stretch, being
so young." Rendon, who went on to serve as executive director of the
Democratic National Committee, quickly mastered the combination of political
skulduggery and media manipulation that would become his hallmark. In 1980,
as the manager of Jimmy Carter's troops at the national convention in New
York, he was sitting alone in the bleachers at Madison Square Garden when a
reporter for ABC News approached him. "They actually did a little piece
about the man behind the curtain," Rendon says. "A Wizard of Oz thing." It
was a role he would end up playing for the rest of his life.

After Carter lost the election and the hard-right Reagan revolutionaries
came to power in 1981, Rendon went into business with his younger brother
Rick. "Everybody started consulting," he recalls. "We started consulting."
They helped elect John Kerry to the Senate in 1984 and worked for the
AFL-CIO to mobilize the union vote for Walter Mondale's presidential
campaign. Among the items Rendon produced was a training manual for union
organizers to operate as political activists on behalf of Mondale. To keep
the operation quiet, Rendon stamped CONFIDENTIAL on the cover of each of the
blue plastic notebooks. It was a penchant for secrecy that would soon
pervade all of his consulting deals.

To a large degree, the Rendon Group is a family affair. Rendon's wife,
Sandra Libby, handles the books as chief financial officer and "senior
communications strategist." Rendon's brother Rick serves as senior partner
and runs the company's Boston office, producing public-service announcements
for the Whale Conservation Institute and coordinating Empower Peace, a
campaign that brings young people in the Middle East in contact with
American kids through video-conferencing technology. But the bulk of the
company's business is decidedly less liberal and peace oriented. Rendon's
first experience in the intelligence world, in fact, came courtesy of the
Republicans. "Panama," he says, "brought us into the national-security

In 1989, shortly after his election, President George H.W. Bush signed a
highly secret "finding" authorizing the CIA to funnel $10 million to
opposition forces in Panama to overthrow Gen. Manuel Noriega. Reluctant to
involve agency personnel directly, the CIA turned to the Rendon Group.
Rendon's job was to work behind the scenes, using a variety of campaign and
psychological techniques to put the CIA's choice, Guillermo Endara, into the
presidential palace. Cash from the agency, laundered through various bank
accounts and front organizations, would end up in Endara's hands, who would
then pay Rendon.

A heavyset, fifty-three-year-old corporate attorney with little political
experience, Endara was running against Noriega's handpicked choice, Carlos
Duque. With Rendon's help, Endara beat Duque decisively at the polls -- but
Noriega simply named himself "Maximum Leader" and declared the election null
and void. The Bush administration then decided to remove Noriega by force --
and Rendon's job shifted from generating local support for a national
election to building international support for regime change. Within days he
had found the ultimate propaganda tool.

At the end of a rally in support of Endara, a band of Noriega's Dignity
Battalion -- nicknamed "Dig Bats" and called "Doberman thugs" by Bush --
attacked the crowd with wooden planks, metal pipes and guns. Gang members
grabbed the bodyguard of Guillermo Ford, one of Endara's vice-presidential
candidates, pushed him against a car, shoved a gun in his mouth and pulled
the trigger. With cameras snapping, the Dig Bats turned on Ford, batting his
head with a spike-tipped metal rod and pounding him with heavy clubs,
turning his white guayabera bright red with blood -- his own, and that of
his dead bodyguard.

Within hours, Rendon made sure the photos reached every newsroom in the
world. The next week an image of the violence made the cover of Time
OPPOSITION, AND THE U.S. TURNS UP THE HEAT. To further boost international
support for Endara, Rendon escorted Ford on a tour of Europe to meet British
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Italian prime minister and even the
pope. In December 1989, when Bush decided to invade Panama, Rendon and
several of his employees were on one of the first military jets headed to
Panama City.

"I arrived fifteen minutes before it started," Rendon recalls. "My first
impression is having the pilot in the plane turn around and say, 'Excuse me,
sir, but if you look off to the left you'll see the attack aircraft circling
before they land.' Then I remember this major saying, 'Excuse me, sir, but
do you know what the air-defense capability of Panama is at the moment?' I
leaned into the cockpit and said, 'Look, major, I hope by now that's no
longer an issue.'"

Moments later, Rendon's plane landed at Howard Air Force Base in Panama. "I
needed to get to Fort Clayton, which was where the president was," he says.
"I was choppered over -- and we took some rounds on the way." There, on a
U.S. military base surrounded by 24,000 U.S. troops, heavy tanks and Combat
Talon AC-130 gunships, Rendon's client, Endara, was at last sworn in as
president of Panama.

Rendon's involvement in the campaign to oust Saddam Hussein began seven
months later, in July 1990. Rendon had taken time out for a vacation -- a
long train ride across Scotland -- when he received an urgent call.
"Soldiers are massing at the border outside of Kuwait," he was told. At the
airport, he watched the beginning of the Iraqi invasion on television.
Winging toward Washington in the first-class cabin of a Pan Am 747, Rendon
spent the entire flight scratching an outline of his ideas in longhand on a
yellow legal pad.

"I wrote a memo about what the Kuwaitis were going to face, and I based it
on our experience in Panama and the experience of the Free French operation
in World War II," Rendon says. "This was something that they needed to see
and hear, and that was my whole intent. Go over, tell the Kuwaitis, 'Here's
what you've got -- here's some observations, here's some recommendations,
live long and prosper.'"

Back in Washington, Rendon immediately called Hamilton Jordan, the former
chief of staff to President Carter and an old friend from his Democratic
Party days. "He put me in touch with the Saudis, the Saudis put me in touch
with the Kuwaitis and then I went over and had a meeting with the Kuwaitis,"
Rendon recalls. "And by the time I landed back in the United States, I got a
phone call saying, 'Can you come back? We want you to do what's in the

What the Kuwaitis wanted was help in selling a war of liberation to the
American government -- and the American public. Rendon proposed a massive
"perception management" campaign designed to convince the world of the need
to join forces to rescue Kuwait. Working through an organization called
Citizens for a Free Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government in exile agreed to pay
Rendon $100,000 a month for his assistance.

To coordinate the operation, Rendon opened an office in London. Once the
Gulf War began, he remained extremely busy trying to prevent the American
press from reporting on the dark side of the Kuwaiti government, an
autocratic oil-tocracy ruled by a family of wealthy sheiks. When newspapers
began reporting that many Kuwaitis were actually living it up in nightclubs
in Cairo as Americans were dying in the Kuwaiti sand, the Rendon Group
quickly counterattacked. Almost instantly, a wave of articles began
appearing telling the story of grateful Kuwaitis mailing 20,000 personally
signed valentines to American troops on the front lines, all arranged by

Rendon also set up an elaborate television and radio network, and developed
programming that was beamed into Kuwait from Taif, Saudi Arabia. "It was
important that the Kuwaitis in occupied Kuwait understood that the rest of
the world was doing something," he says. Each night, Rendon's troops in
London produced a script and sent it via microwave to Taif, ensuring that
the "news" beamed into Kuwait reflected a sufficiently pro-American line.

When it comes to staging a war, few things are left to chance. After Iraq
withdrew from Kuwait, it was Rendon's responsibility to make the victory
march look like the flag-waving liberation of France after World War II.
"Did you ever stop to wonder," he later remarked, "how the people of Kuwait
City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able
to get hand-held American -- and, for that matter, the flags of other
coalition countries?" After a pause, he added, "Well, you now know the
answer. That was one of my jobs then."

Although his work is highly secret, Rendon insists he deals only in "timely,
truthful and accurate information." His job, he says, is to counter false
perceptions that the news media perpetuate because they consider it "more
important to be first than to be right." In modern warfare, he believes, the
outcome depends largely on the public's perception of the war -- whether it
is winnable, whether it is worth the cost. "We are being haunted and stalked
by the difference between perception and reality," he says. "Because the
lines are divergent, this difference between perception and reality is one
of the greatest strategic communications challenges of war."

By the time the Gulf War came to a close in 1991, the Rendon Group was
firmly established as Washington's leading salesman for regime change. But
Rendon's new assignment went beyond simply manipulating the media. After the
war ended, the Top Secret order signed by President Bush to oust Hussein
included a rare "lethal finding" -- meaning deadly action could be taken if
necessary. Under contract to the CIA, Rendon was charged with helping to
create a dissident force with the avowed purpose of violently overthrowing
the entire Iraqi government. It is an undertaking that Rendon still
considers too classified to discuss. "That's where we're wandering into
places I'm not going to talk about," he says. "If you take an oath, it
should mean something."

Thomas Twetten, the CIA's former deputy of operations, credits Rendon with
virtually creating the INC. "The INC was clueless," he once observed. "They
needed a lot of help and didn't know where to start. That is why Rendon was
brought in." Acting as the group's senior adviser and aided by truckloads of
CIA dollars, Rendon pulled together a wide spectrum of Iraqi dissidents and
sponsored a conference in Vienna to organize them into an umbrella
organization, which he dubbed the Iraqi National Congress. Then, as in
Panama, his assignment was to help oust a brutal dictator and replace him
with someone chosen by the CIA. "The reason they got the contract was
because of what they had done in Panama -- so they were known," recalls
Whitley Bruner, former chief of the CIA's station in Baghdad. This time the
target was Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the agency's successor of
choice was Ahmad Chalabi, a crafty, avuncular Iraqi exile beloved by
Washington's neoconservatives.

Chalabi was a curious choice to lead a rebellion. In 1992, he was convicted
in Jordan of making false statements and embezzling $230 million from his
own bank, for which he was sentenced in absentia to twenty-two years of hard
labor. But the only credential that mattered was his politics. "From day
one," Rendon says, "Chalabi was very clear that his biggest interest was to
rid Iraq of Saddam." Bruner, who dealt with Chalabi and Rendon in London in
1991, puts it even more bluntly. "Chalabi's primary focus," he said later,
"was to drag us into a war."

The key element of Rendon's INC operation was a worldwide media blitz
designed to turn Hussein, a once dangerous but now contained regional
leader, into the greatest threat to world peace. Each month, $326,000 was
passed from the CIA to the Rendon Group and the INC via various front
organizations. Rendon profited handsomely, receiving a "management fee" of
ten percent above what it spent on the project. According to some reports,
the company made nearly $100 million on the contract during the five years
following the Gulf War.

Rendon made considerable headway with the INC, but following the group's
failed coup attempt against Saddam in 1996, the CIA lost confidence in
Chalabi and cut off his monthly paycheck. But Chalabi and Rendon simply
switched sides, moving over to the Pentagon, and the money continued to
flow. "The Rendon Group is not in great odor in Langley these days," notes
Bruner. "Their contracts are much more with the Defense Department."

Rendon's influence rose considerably in Washington after the terrorist
attacks of September 11th. In a single stroke, Osama bin Laden altered the
world's perception of reality -- and in an age of nonstop information,
whoever controls perception wins. What Bush needed to fight the War on
Terror was a skilled information warrior -- and Rendon was widely
acknowledged as the best. "The events of 11 September 2001 changed
everything, not least of which was the administration's outlook concerning
strategic influence," notes one Army report. "Faced with direct evidence
that many people around the world actively hated the United States, Bush
began taking action to more effectively explain U.S. policy overseas.
Initially the White House and DoD turned to the Rendon Group."

Three weeks after the September 11th attacks, according to documents
obtained from defense sources, the Pentagon awarded a large contract to the
Rendon Group. Around the same time, Pentagon officials also set up a highly
secret organization called the Office of Strategic Influence. Part of the
OSI's mission was to conduct covert disinformation and deception operations
-- planting false news items in the media and hiding their origins. "It's
sometimes valuable from a military standpoint to be able to engage in
deception with respect to future anticipated plans," Vice President Dick
Cheney said in explaining the operation. Even the military's top brass found
the clandestine unit unnerving. "When I get their briefings, it's scary," a
senior official said at the time.

In February 2002, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon had hired
Rendon "to help the new office," a charge Rendon denies. "We had nothing to
do with that," he says. "We were not in their reporting chain. We were
reporting directly to the J-3" -- the head of operations at the Joint Chiefs
of Staff. Following the leak, Rumsfeld was forced to shut down the
organization. But much of the office's operations were apparently shifted to
another unit, deeper in the Pentagon's bureaucracy, called the Information
Operations Task Force, and Rendon was closely connected to this group. "Greg
Newbold was the J-3 at the time, and we reported to him through the IOTF,"
Rendon says.

According to the Pentagon documents, the Rendon Group played a major role in
the IOTF. The company was charged with creating an "Information War Room" to
monitor worldwide news reports at lightning speed and respond almost
instantly with counterpropaganda. A key weapon, according to the documents,
was Rendon's "proprietary state-of-the-art news-wire collection system
called 'Livewire,' which takes real-time news-wire reports, as they are
filed, before they are on the Internet, before CNN can read them on the air
and twenty-four hours before they appear in the morning newspapers, and
sorts them by keyword. The system provides the most current real-time access
to news and information available to private or public organizations."

The top target that the pentagon assigned to Rendon was the Al-Jazeera
television network. The contract called for the Rendon Group to undertake a
massive "media mapping" campaign against the news organization, which the
Pentagon considered "critical to U.S. objectives in the War on Terrorism."
According to the contract, Rendon would provide a "detailed content analysis
of the station's daily broadcast . . . [and] identify the biases of specific
journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances,
including the possibility of specific relationships and sponsorships."

The secret targeting of foreign journalists may have had a sinister purpose.
Among the missions proposed for the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence
was one to "coerce" foreign journalists and plant false information
overseas. Secret briefing papers also said the office should find ways to
"punish" those who convey the "wrong message." One senior officer told CNN
that the plan would "formalize government deception, dishonesty and

According to the Pentagon documents, Rendon would use his media analysis to
conduct a worldwide propaganda campaign, deploying teams of information
warriors to allied nations to assist them "in developing and delivering
specific messages to the local population, combatants, front-line states,
the media and the international community." Among the places Rendon's
info-war teams would be sent were Jakarta, Indonesia; Islamabad, Pakistan;
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Cairo; Ankara, Turkey; and Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The
teams would produce and script television news segments "built around themes
and story lines supportive of U.S. policy objectives."

Rendon was also charged with engaging in "military deception" online -- an
activity once assigned to the OSI. The company was contracted to monitor
Internet chat rooms in both English and Arabic -- and "participate in these
chat rooms when/if tasked." Rendon would also create a Web site "with
regular news summaries and feature articles. Targeted at the global public,
in English and at least four (4) additional languages, this activity also
will include an extensive e-mail push operation." These techniques are
commonly used to plant a variety of propaganda, including false information.

Still another newly formed propaganda operation in which Rendon played a
major part was the Office of Global Communications, which operated out of
the White House and was charged with spreading the administration's message
on the War in Iraq. Every morning at 9:30, Rendon took part in the White
House OGC conference call, where officials would discuss the theme of the
day and who would deliver it. The office also worked closely with the White
House Iraq Group, whose high-level members, including recently indicted
Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby, were responsible for selling the war to
the American public.

Never before in history had such an extensive secret network been 
established to shape the entire world's perception of a war. "It was not 
just bad intelligence -- it was an orchestrated effort," says Sam Gardner, a 
retired Air Force colonel who has taught strategy and military operations at 
the National War College. "It began before the war, was a major effort 
during the war and continues as post-conflict distortions."

In the first weeks following the September 11th attacks, Rendon operated at 
a frantic pitch. "In the early stages it was fielding every ground ball that 
was coming, because nobody was sure if we were ever going to be attacked 
again," he says. "It was 'What do you know about this, what do you know 
about that, what else can you get, can you talk to somebody over here?' We 
functioned twenty-four hours a day. We maintained situational awareness, in 
military terms, on all things related to terrorism. We were doing 195 
newspapers and 43 countries in fourteen or fifteen languages. If you do this 
correctly, I can tell you what's on the evening news tonight in a country 
before it happens. I can give you, as a policymaker, a six-hour break on how 
you can affect what's going to be on the news. They'll take that in a 

The Bush administration took everything Rendon had to offer. Between 2000 
and 2004, Pentagon documents show, the Rendon Group received at least 
thirty-five contracts with the Defense Department, worth a total of $50 
million to $100 million.

The mourners genuflected, made the sign of the cross and took their seats 
along the hard, shiny pews of Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church. It was 
April 2nd, 2003 -- the start of fall in the small Australian town of 
Glenelg, an aging beach resort of white Victorian homes and soft, blond sand 
on Holdback Bay. Rendon had flown halfway around the world to join nearly 
600 friends and family who were gathered to say farewell to a local son and 
amateur football champ, Paul Moran. Three days into the invasion of Iraq, 
the freelance journalist and Rendon employee had become the first member of 
the media to be killed in the war -- a war he had covertly helped to start.

Moran had lived a double life, filing reports for the Australian 
Broadcasting Corp. and other news organizations, while at other times 
operating as a clandestine agent for Rendon, enjoying what his family calls 
his "James Bond lifestyle." Moran had trained Iraqi opposition forces in 
photographic espionage, showing them how to covertly document Iraqi military 
activities, and had produced pro-war announcements for the Pentagon. "He 
worked for the Rendon Group in London," says his mother, Kathleen. "They 
just send people all over the world -- where there are wars."

Moran was covering the Iraq invasion for ABC, filming at a 
Kurdish-controlled checkpoint in the city of Sulaymaniyah, when a car driven 
by a suicide bomber blew up next to him. "I saw the car in a kind of 
slow-motion disintegrate," recalls Eric Campbell, a correspondent who was 
filming with Moran. "A soldier handed me a passport, which was charred. 
That's when I knew Paul was dead."

As the Mass ended and Moran's Australian-flag-draped coffin passed by the 
mourners, Rendon lifted his right arm and saluted. He refused to discuss 
Moran's role in the company, saying only that "Paul worked for us on a 
number of projects." But on the long flight back to Washington, across more 
than a dozen time zones, Rendon outlined his feelings in an e-mail: "The day 
did begin with dark and ominous clouds much befitting the emotions we all 
felt -- sadness and anger at the senseless violence that claimed our comrade 
Paul Moran ten short days ago and many decades of emotion ago."

The Rendon Group also organized a memorial service in London, where Moran 
first went to work for the company in 1990. Held at Home House, a private 
club in Portman Square where Moran often stayed while visiting the city, the 
event was set among photographs of Moran in various locations around the 
Middle East. Zaab Sethna, who organized the al-Haideri media exclusive in 
Thailand for Moran and Judith Miller, gave a touching tribute to his former 
colleague. "I think that on both a personal and professional level Paul was 
deeply admired and loved by the people at the Rendon Group," Sethna later 

Although Moran was gone, the falsified story about weapons of mass 
destruction that he and Sethna had broadcast around the world lived on. 
Seven months earlier, as President Bush was about to argue his case for war 
before the U.N., the White House had given prominent billing to al-Haideri's 
fabricated charges. In a report ironically titled "Iraq: Denial and 
Deception," the administration referred to al-Haideri by name and detailed 
his allegations -- even though the CIA had already determined them to be 
lies. The report was placed on the White House Web site on September 12th, 
2002, and remains there today. One version of the report even credits 
Miller's article for the information.

Miller also continued to promote al-Haideri's tale of Saddam's villainy. In 
January 2003, more than a year after her first article appeared, Miller 
again reported that Pentagon "intelligence officials" were telling her that 
"some of the most valuable information has come from Adnan Ihsan Saeed 
al-Haideri." His interviews with the Defense Intelligence Agency, Miller 
added, "ultimately resulted in dozens of highly credible reports on Iraqi 
weapons-related activity and purchases, officials said."

Finally, in early 2004, more than two years after he made the dramatic 
allegations to Miller and Moran about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, 
al-Haideri was taken back to Iraq by the CIA's Iraq Survey Group. On a 
wide-ranging trip through Baghdad and other key locations, al-Haideri was 
given the opportunity to point out exactly where Saddam's stockpiles were 
hidden, confirming the charges that had helped to start a war.

In the end, he could not identify a single site where illegal weapons were 

As the war in Iraq has spiraled out of control, the Bush administration's 
covert propaganda campaign has intensified. According to a secret Pentagon 
report personally approved by Rumsfeld in October 2003 and obtained by 
Rolling Stone, the Strategic Command is authorized to engage in "military 
deception" -- defined as "presenting false information, images or 
statements." The seventy-four-page document, titled "Information Operations 
Roadmap," also calls for psychological operations to be launched over radio, 
television, cell phones and "emerging technologies" such as the Internet. In 
addition to being classified secret, the road map is also stamped noforn, 
meaning it cannot be shared even with our allies.

As the acknowledged general of such propaganda warfare, Rendon insists that 
the work he does is for the good of all Americans. "For us, it's a question 
of patriotism," he says. "It's not a question of politics, and that's an 
important distinction. I feel very strongly about that personally. If brave 
men and women are going to be put in harm's way, they deserve support." But 
in Iraq, American troops and Iraqi civilians were put in harm's way, in 
large part, by the false information spread by Rendon and the men he trained 
in information warfare. And given the rapid growth of what is known as the 
"security-intelligence complex" in Washington, covert perception managers 
are likely to play an increasingly influential role in the wars of the 

Indeed, Rendon is already thinking ahead. Last year, he attended a 
conference on information operations in London, where he offered an 
assessment on the Pentagon's efforts to manipulate the media. According to 
those present, Rendon applauded the practice of embedding journalists with 
American forces. "He said the embedded idea was great," says an Air Force 
colonel who attended the talk. "It worked as they had found in the test. It 
was the war version of reality television, and for the most part they did 
not lose control of the story." But Rendon also cautioned that individual 
news organizations were often able to "take control of the story," shaping 
the news before the Pentagon asserted its spin on the day's events.

"We lost control of the context," Rendon warned. "That has to be fixed for 
the next war."

James Bamford is the best-selling author of "A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, 
and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies" (2004) and "Body of 
Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency" (2001). This 
is his first article for Rolling Stone.
(Posted Nov 17, 2005) 

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