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The Office of Strategic Influence Is Gone, But Are

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Posted 10 March 2003 - 04:53 AM

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism

The Office of Strategic Influence Is Gone, But Are Its Programs In Place?

November 27, 2002

The Federation of American Scientists has pointed to a startling
revelation by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that mainstream media
have missed: In remarks during a recent press briefing, Rumsfeld suggested
that though the controversial Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) no
longer exists in name, its programs are still being carried out (FAS
Secrecy News, 11/27/02, ).

The OSI came under scrutiny last February, when the New York Times
reported (2/19/02) that the new Pentagon group was “developing plans to
provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media
organizations.” The news was met with outrage, and within a week the
Pentagon had closed down the OSI, saying that negative attention had
damaged the office’s reputation so much “that it could not operate
effectively" (AP, 2/26/02).

The plan was troubling for many reasons: It was profoundly undemocratic;
it would have put journalists’ lives at risk by involving them in Pentagon
disinformation; and it’s almost certain that any large-scale
disinformation campaign directed at the foreign press would have led,
sooner or later, to a falsified story being picked up by U.S. media. (See
Extra! Update 4/02, "Behind the Pentagon's Propaganda Plan," .)

At the time, Rumsfeld claimed that he had “never even seen the charter for
the office,” but Thomas Timmes, the OSI’s assistant for operations, said
that Rumsfeld had been briefed on its goals “at least twice” and had
“given his general support” (New York Times, 2/25/02).

Now, in remarks made at a November 18 media briefing, Rumsfeld has
suggested that though the exposure of OSI's plans forced the Pentagon to
close the office, they certainly haven't given up on its work. According
to a transcript on the Department of Defense website, Rumsfeld told

"And then there was the Office of Strategic Influence. You may recall
that. And 'oh my goodness gracious isn't that terrible, Henny Penny the
sky is going to fall.' I went down that next day and said fine, if you
want to savage this thing fine I'll give you the corpse. There's the name.
You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that
needs to be done and I have."

A search of the Nexis database indicates that no major U.S. media
outlets-- no national broadcast television news shows, no major U.S.
newspapers, no wire services or major magazines-- have reported Rumsfeld's

Rumsfeld's comments seem all the more alarming in light of analysis
presented by William Arkin in a recent Los Angeles Times opinion column
(11/24/02), in which he argues that Rumsfeld is redesigning the U.S.
military to make "information warfare" central to its functions.

This new policy, says Arkin, increasingly "blurs or even erases the
boundaries between factual information and news, on the one hand, and
public relations, propaganda and psychological warfare, on the other."
Arkin adds that "while the policy ostensibly targets foreign enemies, its
most likely victim will be the American electorate."

It is essential that media follow up this story, particularly now, as the
country faces a possible war with Iraq and reporters rely even more
heavily than usual on Pentagon information.

To read the full transcript of Rumsfeld's remarks, see:

To read William Arkin's Los Angeles Times article:

(Link expires December 1.)

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