may plant fake news
Plan part of battle for public opinion in Muslim
February 20, 2002
BY SALLY BUZBEE
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is working on a plan to influence public
opinion in hostile and friendly nations to help the war against
terrorism -- a still-developing effort that some say could spread
false information at home and abroad.
The Office of Strategic Influence, set up after the Sept. 11 attacks,
has proposed placing news items -- false if need be -- with foreign
news organizations, a defense official said Tuesday on condition
The office is considering having an outside organization distribute
the information so it would not be apparent that it came from the
Defense Department, the official said.
The Bush administration worries it is losing public support overseas,
especially among Muslims who believe the United States is hostile
"This is a battle for minds," Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz said Tuesday in a speech to defense contractors.
"Our victory on the ground in Afghanistan has already changed
substantially how this conflict is perceived, even in the Muslim
Wolfowitz did not comment on the proposed campaign, and top U.S.
officials have not yet approved it.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the department
is aware of the Pentagon office but declined to discuss its functions.
Asked about State Department policy, Boucher said, "We provide
accurate and truthful information."
The government has used covert tactics -- including disinformation
-- to undermine foreign governments in the past. But most have been
super-secret CIA operations against Iraq and Cuba. Such covert action
by the CIA requires presidential authority and cannot be conducted
The military also has long conducted wartime psychological operations
such as dropping leaflets and broadcasting messages, as it did when
fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon plans, if approved, would significantly broaden such
Critics immediately said they worried that any campaign including
lies would not only undermine U.S. credibility overseas, but circle
back and dupe Americans.
"Anything they spread overseas will come back here, because
information travels so quickly. Our own population will then hear
it and believe it," said Shibley Telhami, a Mideast specialist
at the Brookings Institution. "It will affect our decisions,
and I see that as a tremendous danger."
Ted Galen Carpenter, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute,
said he understands a desire to throw enemies off, but he added,
"Lies have a nasty way of being found out."
At the Pentagon, some officials said privately that they worried
any such campaign could hurt the credibility of military offices
that provide information to reporters.
Since Sept. 11, the State Department has begun an aggressive effort
to promote American viewpoints and policies overseas. And the White
House has set up a so-called war room to quickly respond to allegations