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[] WSJ 26.2.02: Pentagon Mulls Shutting New Office Amid Concerns Over Disinformation,

Wall Street Journal
February 26, 2002

Pentagon Mulls Shutting New Office Amid Concerns Over Disinformation

By Greg Jaffe, Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is considering scrapping its new Office of Strategic Influence, which drew sharp criticism over concerns that it planned to engage in disinformation campaigns.

The office has been up and running since November -- much earlier than the Pentagon has publicly acknowledged -- coordinating communications about the Pentagon's humanitarian aid and military operations in Afghanistan, said a defense official who has done work for the office.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has asked a top Pentagon official in charge of the office "to take a very, very hard look at it" and determine "should it even exist," said Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria A. Clarke. Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, who oversees the office, will decide its future.

At the White House, President Bush said he told Mr. Rumsfeld "that we'll tell the American people the truth." Mr. Bush said he is confident the defense secretary will "handle this in the right way."

Mr. Rumsfeld said the office was still "in its early formative stage" when news of its existence appeared last week in the New York Times.

The head of the office, Brig. Gen. Pete Worden, discussed its activities earlier this month before a National Defense Industrial Association symposium that was open to the public.

Pentagon officials have described the office's broad mission as coordinating the various information operations the Pentagon conducts overseas. It grew out of the Pentagon's frustration over the early backlash in the Islamic media to the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

Pentagon officials have insisted that the office wasn't created to conduct disinformation campaigns in the foreign media. Rather, Mr. Rumsfeld said, it was designed to help spread the word about U.S. military action and humanitarian-assistance programs.

"There are lots of things that we have to do to direct people where they can get humanitarian assistance. So we need to be in the business of communicating that kind of information. But this department is not in the business of misinforming people," he said on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation."

The office consists of a staff of about 15 military officers and civilian defense officials and has a budget of several million dollars.

Pentagon officials have said the office would only put out false information to deceive an enemy about the details of an impending military action.

"We're going to preserve our option to mislead the enemy about our operations," Mr. Feith said last week at a breakfast with defense writers. "What we need to do for military operational purposes does not require defense officials lying to the public and we're not going to have defense officials lying to the public."

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