Concern At Pentagon Over 'Strategic
Influence' Disfinformation Plan


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense officials on Tuesday expressed concern over a Pentagon plan to provide news items and possibly false information directly to foreign journalists and other abroad to bolster U.S. policy and the war on terrorism.
The officials told Reuters they feared the Defense Department's shadowy new Office of Strategic Influence, sparked by Sept. 11 attacks on America and headed by an Air Force general, could damage credibility of the department's long-standing public affairs office.
"We shouldn't be in that business. Leave the propaganda leaks to the CIA, the spooks," one of the defense officials, who asked not to be identified, said in response to questions about a New York Times report on Tuesday regarding the new effort.
There was little detailed information about the new office under Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, but one official confirmed the Times report that it could include false "disinformation" as well as true reports emailed to foreign journalists, government officials and civic leaders.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has become a domestic media star in regular public press briefings at the Pentagon on the war in Afghanistan, promised two weeks after the September attacks never to lie to reporters.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke, spokeswoman for the Pentagon and Rumsfeld, confirmed that the new office had been established but said her public affairs shop was not involved in the effort.
"It is a work in progress and the mandate is still unclear," she told Reuters, declining to discuss details or to comment on any controversy that the new effort might be causing at the Pentagon.
But some other defense officials said even the suggestion of mixing clandestine activities with the traditional work of public affairs could create major questions of credibility.
One confirmed that the new office, headed by Air Force Gen. Simon Worden, was considering a broad-ranging effort, perhaps including "black" disinformation and other covert activities in addition to accurate news releases.
"The saying goes that 'all's fair in love and war'," the official told Reuters.
"But if we (the Pentagon) get the reputation for spreading false information, then what is anyone to believe and not believe that comes out of this building?"
A senior Pentagon official told the Times that one proposal being considered involved sending journalists, civic leaders and foreign officials e-mail messages that promote U.S. views or attack unfriendly governments.
"The return address will probably be a, not a <," the official was quoted as saying.
Rumsfeld vowed to reporters at a news conference on Sept. 25, two weeks after hijacked airliner strikes on the Pentagon and New York City's World Trade Center, not to lie to the media about President Bush's declared war on terrorism.
"I don't recall that I've ever lied to the press. I don't intend to," he said.
"And it seems to me that there will not be reason for it. There are dozens of ways to avoid having to put yourself in a position where you're lying.

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