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Rumsfeld Kills Pentagon Propaganda Unit
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 27, 2002; Page A21 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld
emphatically killed the Pentagon's new Office of Strategic Influence, saying
yesterday that inaccurate news reports had damaged the new propaganda
coordination office beyond repair. Rumsfeld defended the office even as he
buried it. Even though much of the media commentary was "off the mark," he
told reporters at the Pentagon, "the office has clearly been so damaged that
it's . . . pretty clear to me that it could not function effectively, so it's
being closed down."
Pressed by reporters about whether the office would have disseminated false
information overseas, as had been reported, Rumsfeld insisted that it
wouldn't have done so. At any rate, he said, the new office's charter hadn't
been completed, "so what it was to do was an open question, even today as it
ends its very short, prominent life."
Rumsfeld added, with characteristic vigor: "The office is done. It's over.
What do you want, blood?"
The swift demise of the new office, which was created in November to better
coordinate the military's dissemination of information overseas, represents a
victory for the military public affairs community and a surprising setback
for the new "information warfare" specialty.
Military public affairs specialists had worried that the new office would
blur the line between their work of dealing with the media and the public and
the "black" world of covert operations, which sometimes involves
disseminating false information. "I'm sure that the public affairs community
is having a drink tonight," said one veteran military spokesman.
But specialists in information warfare -- which can cover anything from
dropping leaflets to hacking into foreign computers -- believed that the
Pentagon public affairs community had done a poor job in the Afghan war,
especially in putting U.S. views before foreign audiences.
"It's frustrating for us" to see the office shut down, one officer involved
in information operations said yesterday. He said the new office was mainly
involved in what might be called "defense marketing," and that only about 5
percent of its planned work would have involved covert operations.
One idea under consideration, he said, was to seek to justify U.S. actions to
the Pakistani public by putting up billboards in that country showing an
image of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11 and
indicating the death toll resulting from that day's terrorist attacks in New
York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.
"The lesson is what a lot of us have known for a long time, that truth is
always the best weapon, and everyone who works for Secretary Rumsfeld knows
that to be true," said Victoria Clarke, the Pentagon's chief spokeswoman.
Rumsfeld said that the functions of the now-defunct office would be carried
on by other Pentagon offices. "We'll just have to do it with the offices that
existed previously," he said.
The public affairs veteran predicted that the propaganda function now would
be performed by other, lower-profile offices, perhaps by private companies
working on contract. But the officer involved in information warfare said the
incident has shaken the confidence of his colleagues and has done some damage
to their emerging specialty.
At the same briefing yesterday, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, said that, with another 14 people turned over by Pakistan
over the past two days, there are now about 500 suspected members of al Qaeda
and the Taliban leadership in U.S. custody, with about 300 being held at the
U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba, and another 194 in captivity inside
Myers said he expects that the number of captives will continue to increase.
"We still have a lot of people we've not looked at completely that the
Afghans and the Pakistanis have," he said.
Rumsfeld indicated that the top U.S. priority in interrogating the detainees
is to gather intelligence, and then to deal with them in terms of possible
law enforcement actions. "We are beginning that process now," he said.
He said the U.S. government is "pretty close" to releasing the rules under
which trials might be held. Most of those rules have leaked already, and they
generally seem to resemble the U.S. military justice system, legal experts say
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