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Context of 'December 19, 2007: White House Wins Correction of New York Times Sub-headline in CIA Tape Destruction Dispute'

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Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke.Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke. [Source: Department of Defense]While detailed plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq are well underway, the administration realizes that the American people are not strongly behind such an invasion. They aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and unsure about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. White House and Pentagon officials decide that using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” in the national media can help change hearts and minds (see April 20, 2008). Assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria “Torie” Clarke, a former public relations executive, intends to achieve what she calls “information dominance.” The news culture is saturated by “spin” and combating viewpoints; Clarke argues that opinions are most swayed by voices seen as authoritative and completely independent. Clarke has already put together a system within the Pentagon to recruit what she calls “key influentials,” powerful and influential people from all areas who, with the proper coaching, can generate support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s agenda. After 9/11, when each of the news networks rushed to land its own platoon of retired military officers to provide commentary and analysis, Clarke saw an opportunity: such military analysts are the ultimate “key influentials,” having tremendous authority and credibility with average Americans. They often get more airtime than network reporters, Clarke notes. More importantly, they are not just explaining military minutiae, but telling viewers how to interpret events. Best of all, while they are in the news media, they are not creatures of the media. Reporter David Barstow will write in 2008, “They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.” And even those without such ties tended to support the military and the government. Retired Army general and ABC analyst William Nash will say: “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army. It is my life.”
'Writing the Op-Ed' for the War - As a result, according to Clarke’s aide Don Meyer, Clarke decides to make the military analysts the main focus of the public relations push to build a case for invading Iraq. They, not journalists, will “be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Meyer recalls. The military analysts are not handled by the Pentagon’s regular press office, but are lavished with attention and “perks” in a separate office run by another aide to Clarke, Brent Krueger. According to Krueger, the military analysts will, in effect, be “writing the op-ed” for the war.
Working in Tandem with the White House - The Bush administration works closely with Clarke’s team from the outset. White House officials request lists of potential recruits for the team, and suggests names for the lists. Clarke’s team writes summaries of each potential analyst, describing their backgrounds, business and political affiliations, and their opinions on the war. Rumsfeld has the final say on who is on the team: “Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” Krueger will say. Ultimately, the Pentagon recruits over 75 retired officers, though some only participate briefly or sporadically.
Saturation Coverage on Cable - The largest contingent of analysts is affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the networks with 24-hour cable news coverage. Many analysts work for ABC and CBS as well. Many also appear on radio news and talk broadcasts, publish op-ed articles in newspapers, and are quoted in press reports, magazine articles, and in Web sites and blogs. Barstow, a New York Times reporter, will note that “[a]t least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.”
Representing the Defense Industry - Many of the analysts have close ties with defense contractors and/or lobbying firms involved in helping contractors win military contracts from the Pentagon:
bullet Retired Army general James Marks, who begins working as an analyst for CNN in 2004 (until his firing three years later—see July 2007) is a senior executive with McNeil Technologies, and helps that firm land military and intelligence contracts from the government.
bullet Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
bullet CBS military analyst Jeffrey McCausland is a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. His team proclaims on the firm’s Web site, “We offer clients access to key decision makers.”
bullet Shortly after signing with CBS, retired Air Force general Joseph Ralston became vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen (also an analyst for CNN). The Cohen Group says of itself on its Web site, “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market—whether in the United States or abroad—requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers.”
Ideological Ties - Many military analysts have political and ideological ties to the Bush administration and its supporters. These include:
bullet Two of NBC’s most familiar analysts, retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, are on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to push for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. [New York Times, 4/20/2008] Additionally, McCaffrey is chief of BR McCaffrey Associates, which “provides strategic, analytic, and advocacy consulting services to businesses, non-profits, governments, and international organizations.” [Washington Post, 4/21/2008] Other members include senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and prominent neoconservatives Richard Perle and William Kristol. [Truthout (.org), 4/28/2008] Both McCaffrey and Downing head their own consulting firms and are board members of major defense contractors.
bullet Retired Army general Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 through 2007, shares with the Bush national security team the belief that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was due to negative media coverage, and the commitment to prevent that happening with the Iraq war. In 1980, Vallely co-wrote a paper accusing the US press of failing to defend the nation from what he called “enemy” propaganda—negative media coverage—during the Vietnam War. “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. Vallely advocated something he called “MindWar,” an all-out propaganda campaign by the government to convince US citizens of the need to support a future war effort. Vallely’s “MindWar” would use network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
bullet Ironically, Clarke herself will eventually leave the Pentagon and become a commentator for ABC News. [Democracy Now!, 4/22/2008]
Seducing the Analysts - Analysts describe a “powerfully seductive environment,” in Barstow’s words, created for them in the Pentagon: the uniformed escorts to Rumsfeld’s private conference room, lavish lunches served on the best government china, embossed name cards, “blizzard[s] of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, says: “[Y]ou have no idea. You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” Allard calls the entire process “psyops on steroids,” using flattery and proximity to gain the desired influence and effect. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’” Allard says. “It’s more subtle.”
Keeping Pentagon Connections Hidden - In return, the analysts are instructed not to quote their briefers directly or to mention their contacts with the Pentagon. The idea is always to present a facade of independent thought. One example is the analysts’ almost perfect recitation of Pentagon talking points during a fall and winter 2002 PR campaign (see Fall and Winter 2002). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Paul Vallely, Thomas G. McInerney, William S. Cohen, Wayne Downing, US Department of Defense, William Nash, William Kristol, New York Times, Joseph Ralston, Kenneth Allard, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Brent T. Krueger, Barry McCaffrey, ABC News, CNN, Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, David Barstow, Don Meyer, Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, NBC, Jeffrey McCausland, Fox News, Donald Rumsfeld, James Marks, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Bush giving his speech in front of the Statue of Liberty.Bush giving his speech in front of the Statue of Liberty. [Source: September 11 News (.com)]The Bush administration’s public relations team decides to kick off its push for a war with Iraq, and its drive to the midterm elections, with President Bush’s speech commemorating the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. After much deliberation, Ellis Island in New York Harbor is chosen as the setting for Bush’s speech; the Ellis site won out over nearby Governors Island because the senior public relations officials want the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop. “We had made a decision that this would be a compelling story either place,” White House communications director Dan Bartlett will later recall. “We sent a team out to go and look and they said, ‘This is a better shot,’ and we said okay.” Leading that team is Scott Sforza, the former ABC producer who will later oversee the May 2003 “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003 and April 30, 2008). [Rich, 2006, pp. 57-58] (Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write of Sforza, “Reagan’s team had perfected this art of stagecraft, and the man in charge for Bush, deputy communications director Scott Sforza, took it to new heights.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 82] Sforza is joined by former Fox News producer Gary Jenkins and former NBC cameraman Bob De Servi. They use three barges laden with stadium lights to illuminate the Statue of Liberty for the shoot. Former Reagan administration public relations chief Michael Deaver will later observe that the Bush team is far better at this kind of marketing presentation than the Reagan, Bush I, or Clinton public relations teams ever were. “[T]hey’ve taken it to an art form,” Deaver will say. The speech is designed to push Congress towards authorizing the war before the midterm elections (see January 19, 2002 and October 10, 2002), when, as author Frank Rich will later write, “the pressure on congressmen facing re-election to prove their war-waging machismo would be at its nastiest. Any weak sisters could expect a thrashing much like that Republicans inflicted on Democrats who had failed to vote for the ‘use of force’ resolution sought by the first President Bush after the Persian Gulf War in 1991” (see January 9-13, 1991). A senior administration official says, “In the end it will be difficult for someone to vote against it.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 57-58] In other preparatory moves for the speech, the government raises the National Threat Level from yellow to orange (see September 10, 2002), and announces the death or capture of some 2,700 al-Qaeda operatives since 9/11 (see September 10, 2002). The administration will also attempt to significantly revise its account of events on 9/11 itself (see September 11, 2002).

Entity Tags: Frank Rich, Dan Bartlett, Bob De Servi, Michael Deaver, Scott Sforza, Gary Jenkins, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

The Bush administration will later deny that it planned the “Mission Accomplished” banner that was used during Bush’s public relations event aboard the USS Lincoln (see May 1, 2003), and instead blame the banner on the crew of the Lincoln, who supposedly want to celebrate the end of their own uneventful mission. However, aside from the careful, micromanaged stagecraft used in every moment of the presentation, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will later tell reporter Bob Woodward that the banner was a Bush administration PR element. According to Rumsfeld, he had the words “mission accomplished” removed from Bush’s speech: “I took ‘mission accomplished’ out,” he will recall. “I was in Baghdad and I was given a draft of that thing and I just died. And I said, it’s too inclusive.… They fixed the speech, but not the sign.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 305] Five years later, the White House will still insist that it had nothing to do with the creation of the banner (see April 30, 2008).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

The Justice Department issues a 17-page memo which officially replaces the August 2002 memo (see August 1, 2002), which asserted that the president’s wartime powers supersede international anti-torture treaties and defined torture very narrowly, describing it as a tactic that produces pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The new memo, authored by acting chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and Acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin, is ostensibly meant to deflect criticisms that the Bush administration condones torture. In fact, the very first sentence reads, “Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.” But the White House insists that the new memo does not represent a change in policy because the administration has always respected international laws prohibiting the mistreatment of prisoners. The primary concern of the new memo is to broaden the narrow definition of torture that had been used in the August memo. Levin adopts the definition of torture used in Congressional anti-torture laws, which says that torture is the infliction of physical suffering, “even if it does not involve severe physical pain.” But the pain must still be more than “mild and transitory,” the memo says. Like the original memo, Levin says that torture may include mental suffering. But to be considered so it would not have to last for months or years, as OLC lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo had asserted two years earlier. The most contested conclusions of the August 2002 memo—concerning the president’s wartime powers and potential legal defense for US personnel charged with war crimes—are not addressed in the Levin memo. “Consideration of the bounds of any such authority would be inconsistent with the president’s unequivocal directive that United States personnel not engage in torture,” the memo says. [US Department of Justice, 12/30/2004 pdf file; Associated Press, 12/31/2004]
National Security Not a Justification for Torture - The memo also attempts to quell concerns that the administration believes national security may be used as justification for tactics that could be considered as torture. It states, “[A] defendant’s motive (to protect national security, for example) is not relevant to the question whether he has acted with the requisite specific intent under the statute.” [US Department of Justice, 12/30/2004 pdf file]
Memo Divided White House Officials - Many in the White House opposed the issuance of the memo, but were rebuffed when other administration officials said the memo was necessary to ease the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Torture Opponents Disappointed - Civil libertarians and opponents of torture within the Justice Department are sharply disappointed in the memo. While it gives a marginally less restrictive definition of the pain required to qualify as torture, and gives no legal defenses to anyone who might be charged with war crimes, it takes no position on the president’s authority to override interrogation laws and treaties, and finds that all the practices previously employed by the CIA and military interrogators were and are legal. Yoo will later write that “the differences in the opinions were for appearances’ sake. In the real world of interrogation policy, nothing had changed. The new opinion just reread the statute to deliberately blur the interpretation of torture as a short-term political maneuver in response to public criticism.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 196-197]
Secret Memo Will Allow Waterboarding; Dissidents Purged - A secret memo is completed a short time later that allows such torture techniques as waterboarding to be used again (see February 2005). The Levin memo triggers a department-wide “purge” of dissidents and torture opponents; some will resign voluntarily, while others will resign after being denied expected promotions. [Savage, 2007, pp. 197]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Jay S. Bybee, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The Justice Department issues a secret opinion that countermands and contradicts the administration’s official policy that torture is “abhorrent” and will not be practiced by US military or law enforcement officials (see December 30, 2004). The secret opinion is, the New York Times writes two years later while publicly revealing its existence, “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.” The opinion gives explicit authorization to abuse detainees with a combination of physical and psychological abuse, including head-slapping, stress positioning, simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), and prolonged exposure to intense cold. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales (see November 10, 2004) approves the memo over the objections of deputy attorney general James Comey, himself preparing to leave the Justice Department after a series of battles over the legality of torture and the domestic surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey says at the time that everyone at the department will be “ashamed” of the new opinion once the world learns of it. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Philip A. Cooney, chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, resigns. Two days earlier, the New York Times revealed he had edited reports downplaying the link between greenhouse gases and global warming. According to White House deputy spokeswoman Dana Perino, his departure is unrelated to the recent disclosure. “Phil Cooney did a great job,” she says, “and we appreciate his public service and the work that he did, and we wish him well in the private sector.” Four days later, ExxonMobil announces that Cooney will be working for the company in the fall. [New York Times, 6/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Philip A. Cooney, ExxonMobil

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

As Congress debates legislation that will outlaw “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” treatment of terrorist suspects and detainees in US custody, the Justice Department issues a secret opinion, one that few lawmakers even know exists, ruling that none of the CIA’s interrogation methods violate that standard. The Justice Department has already issued one secret opinion countermanding the Bush administration’s stated position that torture is “abhorrent” (see February 2005). Both rulings are efforts by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House officials to realign the Justice Department with the White House after an in-house revolt by many Justice officials threw administration policies on torture and domestic surveillance into doubt (see Late 2003-2005). Though the public debate on torture becomes ever more pervasive during President Bush’s second term, the two rulings will remain in effect through the end of 2007 and beyond, helping the White House give US officials the broadest possible legal latitude for abusing and torturing prisoners. As late as October 2007, the White House will insist that it has always followed US and international law in its authorization of interrogation practices. Those assurances will be countered by an array of current and former officials involved in counterterrorism (see October 3, 2007). [New York Times, 10/4/2007] In 2007, Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will say in conjunction with a lawsuit filed against the Justice Department’s interrogation practices, “These torture memos should never have been written, and it is utterly unacceptable that the administration continues to suppress them while at the same time declaring publicly that it abhors torture. It is now obvious that senior administration officials worked in concert over a period of several years to evade and violate the laws that prohibit cruelty and torture. Some degree of accountability is long overdue.” The ACLU will also note that the administration had failed to disclose the existence of the two opinions in its court filings, a failure characterized by the administration as an accidental oversight. [Harper's, 11/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Jameel Jaffer, Alberto R. Gonzales, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Army Times logo.Army Times logo. [Source: Army Times / Grantham University]An Army Times editorial says that to tell the “hard bruising truth” of the war in Iraq is to conclude that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must resign. The editorial observes, “One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and… Rumsfeld: ‘mission accomplished’ (see May 1, 2003 and April 30, 2008), the insurgency is ‘in its last throes” (see Summer 2005), and ‘back off,’ we know what we’re doing (see May 2004), are a few choice examples.” Some retired and active generals and military leaders are now beginning to speak out (see April 13-14, 2006, April 14-16, 2006, April 16, 2006, and October 5, 2006). In August, US CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid predicted the possibility of all-out civil war in Iraq (see August 3, 2006). And in mid-October, the New York Times reported on a confidential CENTCOM briefing that called the situation in Iraq “critical,” and sliding towards “chaos” (see October 18, 2006). The Army Times editorial observes that “despite the best [US] efforts… the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.” Bush has vowed to stick by Rumsfeld for the remainder of his second term. The Army Times calls that decision “a mistake.” It explains: “It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation’s current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.… Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.… Donald Rumsfeld must go.” [Army Times, 11/6/2006] The Department of Defense responds to an advance copy of the Army Times editorial a day before its official publication. The editorial is “inaccurate and misleading,” and took Abizaid’s words “out of context.” The Pentagon claims that Rumsfeld has always presented what it calls a “balanced” picture of Iraq, and has never engaged in “rosy scenarios” to mislead the public (see April 11, 2003, April 12, 2003, Summer 2005, June 25, 2005, November 1, 2005, February 17, 2006, and April 18, 2006). It goes on to call the editorial little more than a rehash of old criticisms, and chides the writer(s) for “insulting military commanders” and “attack[ing]” Rumsfeld. [US Department of Defense, 11/5/2006] Rumsfeld resigns on the same day as the editorial appears (see November 6-December 18, 2006).

Entity Tags: New York Times, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Central Command, Donald Rumsfeld, Army Times, John P. Abizaid, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The White House denies reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 authorized the use of torture against detainees suspected of terrorist connections, or superseded US anti-torture laws (see February 2005). Press secretary Dana Perino tells reporters: “This country does not torture. It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.” The existence of the 2005 memo, signed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was revealed by the New York Times. It apparently superseded a late 2004 memo that characterized torture as “abhorrent” and limited the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” (see December 30, 2004). Perino confirms the existence of the 2005 memo, but will not comment on what techniques it authorized. She merely says that the memo did not reinterpret the law. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that “neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion. Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a consistent opponent of torture, says he was “personally assured by administration officials that at least one of the techniques allegedly used in the past, waterboarding, was prohibited under the new law.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls the 2005 memo and other Justice Department memos authorizing torture “cynical attempt[s] to shield interrogators from criminal liability and to perpetuate the administration’s unlawful interrogation practices.” House Democrats want Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), to “be made available for prompt committee hearings.” Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, says: “The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer—it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach.” Perino does not comment on another secret memo that apparently concluded all of the CIA’s torture methodologies were legal (see Late 2005). [Associated Press, 10/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Brian Roehrkasse, American Civil Liberties Union, Alberto R. Gonzales, Barack Obama, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Dana Perino, Bush administration (43), Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John McCain

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In light of new disclosures that the Justice Department endorsed torture in 2005 (see October 4, 2007), President Bush says the CIA broke no laws in its interrogations of prisoners, and reiterates his oft-stated assertion that the US “does not torture people.” In a brief appearance at the White House, Bush says, “We stick to US law and our international obligations.” But when the US finds a terrorism suspect: “You bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them—because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That’s our job.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says in response: “The administration can’t have it both ways. I’m tired of these games. They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.” Rockefeller is referring to attempts by the White House and its defenders to assert that Congress knew as much about the CIA’s torture policies as did the White House, and its simultaneous refusal to turn over to Congress Justice Department and other documents used in the Bush administration’s assertions of legality. [Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The White House protests about a sub-heading in a New York Times story on the destruction of CIA videotapes showing detainee interrogations, and the New York Times admits the subheading was misleading and prints a correction. The subheading is “White House role was wider than it said” (in discussions about what to do with the tapes), but White House spokesperson Dana Perino complains. She issues a statement saying that the subheading is “pernicious and troubling,” as it indicates a conscious effort to mislead by the White House, which has not actually yet officially described its role in the tapes’ destruction except to say that President Bush thinks he was not informed. Even though it corrects the subheading, the paper notes that the White House “had not challenged the content of our story.” [New York Times, 12/19/2007; New York Times, 12/20/2007; Washington Post, 12/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Dana Perino, New York Times, White House

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard.Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times receives 8,000 pages of Pentagon e-mail messages, transcripts and records through a lawsuit. It subsequently reports on a systematic and highly orchestrated “psyops” (psychological operations) media campaign waged by the Defense Department against the US citizenry, using the American media to achieve their objectives. At the forefront of this information manipulation campaign is a small cadre of retired military officers known to millions of TV and radio news audience members as “military analysts.” These “independent” analysts appear on thousands of news and opinion broadcasts specifically to generate favorable media coverage of the Bush administration’s wartime performance. The group of officers are familiar faces to those who get their news from television and radio, billed as independent analysts whose long careers enable them to give what New York Times reporter David Barstow calls “authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.” However, the analysts are not nearly as independent as the Pentagon would like for Americans to believe. Barstow writes: “[T]he Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse—an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.… These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.”
Administration 'Surrogates' - The documents repeatedly refer to the analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who can be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.” According to the records, the administration routinely uses the analysts as, in Barstow’s words, “a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents.” When news articles revealed that US troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor (see March 2003 and After), a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues, “I think our analysts—properly armed—can push back in that arena.” In 2005, Ten analysts were flown to Guantanamo to counter charges that prisoners were being treated inhumanely; the analysts quickly and enthusiastically repeated their talking points in a variety of television and radio broadcasts (see June 24-25, 2005).
Ties to Defense Industry - Most of the analysts, Barstow writes, have deep and complex “ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.” The analysts and the networks almost never reveal these business relationships to their viewers; sometimes even the networks are unaware of just how deep those business connections extend. Between then, the fifty or so analysts “represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.” Some of the analysts admit to using their special access to garner marketing, networking, and business opportunities. John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including from Iraq. In company promotional materials, Garrett says that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Garrett’s access and experience helps him “to know in advance—and in detail—how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies. Garrett calls this an inevitable overlap between his various roles, and says that in general, “That’s good for everybody.”
Exclusive Access to White House, Defense Officials - The analysts have been granted unprecedented levels of access to the White House and the Pentagon, including:
bullet hundreds of private briefings with senior military officials, including many with power over contracting and budget matters;
bullet private tours of Iraq;
bullet access to classified information;
bullet private briefings with senior White House, State Department, and Justice Department officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Conversely, analysts who do not cooperate take a risk. “You’ll lose all access,” says CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist Jeffrey McCausland.
Quid Pro Quo - Fox News analyst and retired Army lieutenant colenel Timur Eads, who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a rapidly growing military contractor, later says, “We knew we had extraordinary access.” Eads confirms that he and other analysts often held off on criticizing the administration for fear that “some four-star [general] could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’” Eads believes that he and the other analysts were misled about the Iraqi security forces, calling the Pentagon’s briefings about those forces’ readiness a “snow job.” But Eads said nothing about his doubts on television. His explanation: “Human nature.” Several analysts recall their own “quid pro quo” for the Pentagon in the months before the invasion (see Early 2003). And some analysts were far more aboveboard in offering quid pro quos for their media appearances. Retired Army general Robert Scales, Jr, an analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio, and whose consulting company advises several firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, asked for high-level Pentagon briefings in 2006. In an e-mail, he told officials: “Recall the stuff I did after my last visit. I will do the same this time.”
Repeating White House Talking Points - In return, the analysts have, almost to a man, echoed administration talking points about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, even when some of them believed the information they were given was false or inflated. Some now acknowledge they did so—and continue to do so—for fear of losing their access, which in turn jeopardizes their business relationships. Some now regret their participation in the propoganda effort, and admit they were used as puppets while pretending to be independent military analysts. Bevelacqua says, “It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.’” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, calls the campaign a sophisticated information operation aimed, not at foreign governments or hostile populaces, but against the American people. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he says (see Late 2006). The Pentagon denies using the military analysts for propaganda purposes, with spokesman Bryan Whitman saying it was “nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people.” It is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department,” Whitman says. And other analysts, such as McCausland, say that they never allowed their outside business interests to affect their on-air commentaries. “I’m not here representing the administration,” McCausland says. Some say they used their positions to even criticize the war in Iraq. But according to a close analysis of their performances by a private firm retained by the Pentagon to evaluate the analysts, they performed to the Pentagon’s complete satisfaction (see 2005 and Beyond).
Enthusiastic Cooperation - The analysts are paid between $500 and $1,000 per appearance by the networks, but, according to the transcripts, they often speak as if the networks and the media in general are the enemy. They often speak of themselves as operating behind enemy lines. Some offered the Pentagon advice on how to outmaneuver the networks, or, as one said to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some alerted Pentagon officials of planned news stories. Some sent copies of their private correspondence with network executives to the Pentagon. Many enthusiastically echoed and even added to administration talking points (see Early 2007). [New York Times, 4/20/2008] Several analysts say that based on a Pentagon briefing, they would then pitch an idea for a segment to a producer or network booker. Sometimes, the analysts claim, they even helped write the questions for the anchors to ask during a segment. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
Consequences and Repercussions - Some of the analysts are dismayed to learn that they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents, and some deny that their Pentagon briefings were anything but, in the words of retired Army general and CNN analyst David Grange, “upfront information.” Others note that they sometimes disagreed with the administration on the air. Scales claims, “None of us drink the Kool-Aid.” Others deny using their access for business gain. Retired general Carlton Shepperd says that the two are “[n]ot related at all.” But not all of the analysts disagree with the perception that they are little more than water carriers for the Pentagon. Several recall being chewed out by irate defense officials minutes after their broadcasts, and one, retired Marine colonel Wiliam Cowan of Fox News, recalls being fired—by the Pentagon, not by Fox—from his analyst position after issuing a mild criticism of the Pentagon’s war strategies (see August 3-4, 2005). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Thomas G. McInerney, Stephen J. Hadley, Timur Eads, wvc3 Group, William Cowan, Robert Scales, Jr, US Department of Defense, Robert Bevelacqua, Robert Maginnis, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, CBS News, CNN, Carlton Shepperd, David Barstow, David Grange, Bush administration (43), Bryan Whitman, Fox News, Jeffrey McCausland, Alberto R. Gonzales, New York Times, Donald Rumsfeld, National Public Radio, Kenneth Allard, John Garrett, NBC, Rick Francona

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Bush, wearing his flight suit, before giving the ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech.Bush, wearing his flight suit, before giving the ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech. [Source: MSNBC]Reporter Helen Thomas, the grande dame of Washington reporters who is not popular with the Bush administration, asks White House spokesman Dana Perino about the five-year anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Thomas asks, “How does the president intend to commemorate ‘Mission Accomplished’ after five years of death and destruction?” Perino responds with the explanation that the banner was merely to acknowledge the completion of the mission of the aircraft carrier on which the ceremony was conducted. “President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said ‘mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission,’” Perino says. “And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.” [CBS News, 10/29/2003; White House, 4/30/2008]

Entity Tags: Helen Thomas, Dana Perino, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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