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[infowar.de] CT 13.11.05: Firm helps U.S. mold news abroad
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- Subject: [infowar.de] CT 13.11.05: Firm helps U.S. mold news abroad
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- Date: Mon, 14 Nov 2005 19:30:37 +0100
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chicagotribune.com >> Business
Firm helps U.S. mold news abroad
Pentagon also wages war of images, words
By Stephen J. Hedges
Published November 13, 2005
WASHINGTON -- In an effort to fight what it sees as an insidious propaganda
war waged by terrorists, from incendiary Web sites to one-sided television
images of the Iraq war, the Pentagon has been quietly waging its own
information battle throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.
One of its primary weapons is a controversial, secretive firm that has been
criticized as ineffective and too expensive.
The Rendon Group, directed by former Democratic Party political operative
John Rendon, has garnered more than $56 million in Pentagon work since the
Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Those contracts list such activities as tracking foreign reporters;
"pushing" news favorable to U.S. forces; planting television news segments
that promote U.S. positions; and creating a grass-roots voting effort in
Puerto Rico on behalf of the Navy, Pentagon records show.
The contracts, some of which were obtained by the watchdog group Judicial
Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that the Bush
administration is engaged in a war of images and words with Al Qaeda and
other radical groups.
Civilian and military leaders say the contracts are necessary to fight the
media wars waged by Islamic fundamentalists who control images on
television, radio and the Internet in some Arab countries.
But proponents of open government question the role of firms like The
Rendon Group, suggesting their work blurs the line between legitimate news
and propaganda. And Americans have long been nervous about the notion of
the government managing information.
To the extent that the Pentagon is attentively studying media publications,
there is nothing wrong with that, said Steven Aftergood, a secrecy expert
at the Federation of American Scientists.
"Where it gets questionable is when they start engaging in media-based
operations," Aftergood said, meaning actually distributing news items. "And
that's something that needs to be carefully circumscribed and defined in
policy, because there is no clear line between the foreign media and U.S.
The Rendon Group is perhaps best-known for its part in the controversy that
surrounded the Pentagon's short-lived Office of Strategic Influence nearly
four years ago. A February 2002 New York Times article disclosed the
office's existence and reported that the company was part of the effort,
which possibly included attempts to plant false news stories abroad.
`That was never us'
After public and congressional outcry, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
shut down the office. But John Rendon, who until now had declined to
discuss the episode, said in an interview last week that the news stories
were wrong and that his company never worked for the office.
"That wasn't us," Rendon said. "The whole notion of putting false news
stories abroad, that was never us."
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. S. Pete Worden, who directed the Office of
Strategic Influence during its short life, confirmed by e-mail that The
Rendon Group did not work for him.
"He [Rendon] is correct that he didn't work directly for my office," Worden
wrote. "Most of the actual work we did was through SAIC," or Science
Applications International Corp., a large defense contractor.
Rendon has, however, played a substantial role in the Pentagon's efforts to
track and shape media coverage of the Iraq and Afghan conflicts and the war
Rendon has at least five current contracts with the Defense Department,
according to the newly obtained records. A full list of the contracts,
provided to Judicial Watch, totals about $45million. The work began in 2000
and continues, the contracts show. They include work, supervised by the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, for the Air Force, Army, Navy and Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency.
Most recently, Rendon was awarded a $6.4 million contract in September to
track media coverage in Iraq. Rendon also won a $1.4 million contract in
2004 to advise the staff of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and a $3.9
million contract to work on a counternarcotics campaign in the Afghan
The Rendon Group's costs were an issue among CIA staff members during the
group's earlier work with the CIA and Pentagon. Rendon once received a CIA
contract of $20 million to $40 million, according to former employees, to
advise the then-London-based Iraqi National Congress and its leader, Ahmad
The Pentagon offices that work with Rendon--the Joint Chiefs of Staff and
the Office of Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict--declined to
Rendon's previous experience positioned him well for the Pentagon's new war
needs. Rendon worked in the political world until 1989, when he took a job
advising the Panamanian opposition on how to handle the media during the
U.S. invasion to oust dictator Manuel Noriega. He took similar jobs after
that, including advising the Kuwaiti government after Iraqi troops invaded
in August 1990.
When the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, Rendon already had an active Pentagon
"This is really probably the 10th or 9th time we've done this kind of work,
going all the way back to Panama," Rendon said. "Nobody else has done this."
Though Rendon declined to discuss some of his Pentagon work because it is
classified, he compared his Pentagon contracts to menus. They contain a
variety of potential tasks, he said, but the Pentagon does not necessarily
ask for all of them to be performed.
An Oct. 3, 2001, contract for $16.7 million describes Rendon's initial work
as testing public opinion and "media mapping"--tracking and analyzing news
reports in such places as Cairo; Istanbul; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Islamabad,
Pakistan; and Jakarta, Indonesia.
Monitoring Al Jazeera
The contract called for Rendon to track "the location and use of Al Jazeera
news bureaus, reporters and stringers, both regionally and globally. The .
. . effort will provide a detailed content analysis of the station's daily
broadcast. TRG [The Rendon Group] will also chart event-related regional
media coverage to identify the biases of specific journalists and
potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances."
In the interview, Rendon was wary of saying his group tracked reporters'
"Bias is a tough term," he said. "I know that we don't look at U.S.
journalists. I know that in conducting operational media analysis, we track
the nature of stories."
The contracts also raised the possibility of Rendon establishing a radio
program in Peshawar, Pakistan, to broadcast "timely, truthful and accurate
information to the people of Afghanistan." That work, Rendon said, was not
While tracking media coverage is Rendon's self-described specialty--the
firm is under government contract to do it in 34 countries--The Rendon
Group also is paid by the Pentagon to advise foreign governments on
handling the media.
Rendon said his firm has not "pushed" news favorable to the U.S. The main
advisory work, he said, "has been helping foreign governments to correct
things that are bad or wrong in the news cycle, and amplify those things
that are not bad."
Mission on Puerto Rico
Rendon became involved in shaping the relationship between the U.S.
military and local communities in 2001, when it was given a $1.6 million
Navy contract to help win over residents of Puerto Rico's Vieques island.
The Navy had used the island for aerial bombing practice for 60 years, and
residents objected to the danger and noise. When the Navy's continued use
of Vieques was scheduled for a vote in 2001, the Navy turned to Rendon to
"conduct public outreach and build grass-roots support" for the Navy's
Questions were raised about the role of the Navy in trying to influence
residents, and Judicial Watch noted that political activity by the Navy may
violate U.S. law.
Rear Adm. T.L. McCreary, the Navy's chief spokesman, said senior Navy
officers noticed the contract language in August 2001 and ordered the
activities halted. The contract was formally corrected, McCreary said, in
A senior Defense Department official who asked not to be named said the
Navy amended its contract when it learned that Rendon personnel were
promising Vieques residents that backing the Navy's position would mean
future U.S. development dollars. The Navy, the official said, did not have
authority to make such pledges.
Rendon denied that his staff promised anything like that. Instead, he said,
the contract changed when the Navy decided that an island referendum on the
issue was not a good idea.
The Navy, he said, was trying to "open a dialogue . . . into the community
so that people would know what was going on from the Navy, and not
necessarily have to depend on outside parties to characterize the Navy's
Under a 2001 decision by President Bush, the Navy quit using Vieques as a
bombing range in 2003.
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