I’ve been curious about the Pentagon’s psy-ops contracting operations in Iraq since last spring after a chance discussion with a Lincoln group employee during which I was informed that the company “did” public diplomacy on contract for the Pentagon. Given my previous experience as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer specializing in public diplomacy in Europe and Asia during and after the Cold War, I was intrigued. So I asked what kind of public diplomacy.
It took little probing to discover that the person hadn’t a clue as to what public diplomacy entailed and the company, as I suspected, wasn’t involved in public diplomacy but was up to its neck in dubious U.S. military psy-ops in Iraq.
Along the way, I was told that Pentagon psy-ops contracts were often not sole sourced to the Lincoln Group, far from it. SAIC (Science Applications International Corp) and SY Coleman Inc. were also part of the bigger picture. In fact, it was my understanding then that SAIC was often the largest contractor in the military’s information/psy-ops game in Iraq whereas the Lincoln Group – a junior partner and newcomer to the scene – had previously been a SAIC subcontractor so as to qualify for small parts of SAIC’s far larger contracts.
A June 11, 2005 story (pay for view) in the Washington Post, “Pentagon Funds Diplomacy Effort,” confirmed that the Pentagon had indeed awarded three contracts “potentially worth up to $300 million over five years, to companies it” hoped would “inject more creativity into its psychological operations efforts to improve foreign public opinion about the United States, particularly the military.” These contracts were let by the Joint Psychological Operations Support Element, a part of the Tampa-based U.S. Special Operations Command. The L.A. Times, which broke the story “U.S. Military Covertly Pays to Run Stories in the Iraqi Press” on November 30 indicated that the Information Task Force, which comes under the command of Army Lt. General John Vines in Baghdad, directs those psychological operations.
Psy-Ops into the breach?
This all happened when the State Department was devoid of public diplomacy leadership (Karen Hughes was still helping her son prepare for Stanford while she engaged in lucrative speaking tours around the country so only Patricia Harrison was in the Department to mind the public diplomacy store.) These private sector psy-ops contracts may also have been in response to the September 2004 Defense Science Board Report’s stinging criticisms of the administration’s inattention to its overseas image problem and the report’s imperative to “transform U.S. strategic communication,” e.g. for the administration to quit messing around and get its act together.
Yet if I – a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer – living in the middle of a New Mexico desert had learned months ago from the Washington Post on June 11 that the Lincoln Group, SAIC and SY Coleman were in line for several million dollar contracts from the Pentagon to conduct psychological operations in Iraq - euphemistically sold as public diplomacy to the unsuspecting - then why is the story now a surprise to senior Pentagon officials – like Marine Corps General Pete Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? But that’s what the Los Angeles Times, which broke this psy-ops story November 30, reported December 1.
I also have several more questions for which I’d like answers. Why has the American MSM focused exclusively on the Lincoln Group but largely ignored similar activities likely being conducted by SAIC, and SY Coleman, Inc.? An AP story “Pentagon Quizzed on Iraq Propaganda Program,” on December 2, is the first news report I’ve seen mention SAIC or SY Coleman, Inc. since June 11 – but then only in passing (paragraph 7).
Why, except for the November 13 Chicago Tribune, has the MSM ignored the Rendon Group (See the recent article in Rolling Stone on John Rendon)?
I’d also like to know where were the New York Times and Washington Post reporters and news editors when the Los Angeles Times was gathering information for and publishing this Iraqi media related psy ops story. Hibernating? Or consumed with Fitzgerald’s continuing investigation of Libbygate? Sure, they ran the story - but only after the scoop had gone to the LA Times.
And why of all America's MSM was the Chicago Tribune apparently alone to report on the Rendon Group’s psy-ops and other questionable activities. And finally, why has it taken so many months for these embarrassing tales of wasted taxpayers millions to reach the front pages of this country’s national newspapers?