Military Says It Paid Iraq Papers for News
Possible 'Improprieties' to Be Investigated
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/02/AR2005120201
454_pf.html

By Josh White and Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 3, 2005; A01

The U.S. military command in Baghdad acknowledged for the first time
yesterday that it has paid Iraqi newspapers to carry positive news about
U.S. efforts in Iraq, but officials characterized the payments as part of a
legitimate campaign to counter insurgents' misinformation.

In a statement, the command said the program included efforts, "customary in
Iraq," to purchase advertising and place clearly labeled opinion pieces in
Iraqi newspapers. But the statement suggested that the "information
operations" program may have veered into a gray area where government
contractors paid to have articles placed in Iraqi newspapers without
explaining that the material came from the U.S. military and that Iraqi
journalists were paid to write positive accounts.

"Serious allegations have been raised that suggest the process may be
functioning in a manner different than is intended or appropriate," the
statement said. Commanders are "reviewing these allegations and will
investigate any improprieties," it said.

The statement from Baghdad was the first official effort to explain the
media initiative after three days of news reports describing efforts by the
U.S. military to plant stories in Iraqi media under the guise of independent
journalism.

The episode has sparked an intense debate at the Pentagon and beyond, as
military officials in Washington said privately that they are troubled by
the situation and media experts said the program violated standard
journalistic practices.

The controversy has also fanned a debate that has been underway for months
in military circles about the role that information operations should be
playing in nontraditional conflicts such as the Iraq situation. The term
covers a wide range of activities -- some open, some not -- intent on
undermining an enemy by fooling, confusing or refuting him.

"The broader debate is whether it's acceptable for the IO community to be
doing this," said a general who has served in Iraq and has some experience
in information operations.

After a briefing from Pentagon officials yesterday, Sen. John W. Warner
(R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he remains "gravely
concerned about the situation." He said the Pentagon is looking into cases
in which there may have been "an omission" of labels in newspapers
indicating where the material came from or that it was an advertisement.

In describing the program, military officials said third parties --
including the Washington-based Lincoln Group -- were sometimes hired to
distribute the articles to newspapers to protect publishers that might have
been targeted by insurgents if they were known to accept material from the
military.

Officials said one unanswered question they have is whether the Lincoln
Group intentionally misled newspapers by presenting the articles as
freelance journalism, obscuring the fact that the material came from U.S.
armed forces.

Lincoln Group officials would not discuss specifics of the contract. Laurie
Adler, a spokeswoman for the company, said yesterday that Lincoln Group has
been promoting truthful reporting across Iraq.

"We counter the lies, intimidation, and pure evil of terror with factual
stories that highlight the heroism and sacrifice of the Iraqi people and
their struggle for freedom and security," Adler said in a written statement.
"We are encouraged by their sacrifice and proud to help them tell their side
of the story."

Officials familiar with the Lincoln Group's contract said it allows the firm
to pay to have articles placed in the Iraqi press. The contract reportedly
says nothing about disguising the origin of the articles, but some military
officers defended the practice as a necessary security measure, to protect
the Iraqi journalists used to deliver the accounts and the Iraqi news
organizations that print them.

If it were known that the journalists and the news organizations were
carrying information provided by the U.S. military, these officers said,
insurgents would surely target them. Indeed, at least two of the Iraqi
newspapers cited in initial news reports as having printed the articles in
question have since received threats from insurgents, according to military
officials.

Proponents of such tactics argue that different standards should be applied
to what is permissible in a combat zone such as Iraq than, say, in the
United States or other stable democracies. Although the idea of the military
using covert methods to get favorable information into print appears
unethical at home, the argument goes, there are mitigating circumstances
justifying such tactics in Iraq.

Warner met with several officers and civilian leaders at the Pentagon
yesterday for a briefing on the program, a meeting that yielded few details.
Warner told reporters on Capitol Hill that the program was authorized
through the U.S. Central Command and that the Lincoln Group was allowed to
provide payments for the placement of articles with the understanding that
any such material would be labeled as an advertisement originating from
coalition forces.

The material, produced by information operators and not by public affairs
officials, was reviewed by a flag officer and commanders before
distribution, and it received legal clearance in Iraq, Warner said.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a member of the Armed Services Committee,
sent a letter to the Defense Department's inspector general asking for an
investigation into the program and the Lincoln Group contract. Kennedy
called it "a devious scheme to place favorable propaganda in Iraqi
newspapers."

Top Pentagon authorities appear to have been caught off guard by the
disclosure of the Lincoln Group's activities, and the three days it has
taken for the Defense Department to produce yesterday's statement seemed to
reflect considerable uncertainty about how to respond. Several senior
Pentagon officials expressed their own frustration over waiting for an
explanation from the military command in Baghdad.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company



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