On the House floor Wednesday, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-CA) called for an investigation into an alleged disinformation campaign targeting journalists who reported on Department of Defense spending on Information Operations.
“We face the disturbing possibility that a federal defense contractor that specializes in information and psychological operations may have targeted American journalists,” Johnson said. “And it may have done so using taxpayer dollars and tactics developed to counter the influence of adversaries such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”
Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker reported in February on “dubious, costly” propaganda campaigns carried out by contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reporters noted that Leonie Industries was awarded a contract from the Department of Defense, even though the company’s owners owed at least $4 million in federal taxes.
Leonie Industries is a relatively small company that specializes in cyber operations, intelligence analysis, psychological operations, and counter-IED explosives operations. The company said that due to the owner’s financial troubles, they were unable to fulfill their “personal tax obligations on time,” but have since been “faithfully paying their tax liabilities through installment plans.”
After reporting on the company, the two journalists were targeted by a online disinformation campaign apparently meant to destroy their reputation. Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts were created in their name, along with websites that purported to be owned and operated by them. Comments quickly sprung up on message boards, Yahoo! answers, Wikipedia, and blogs criticizing the two reporters’ investigation of Leonie Industries. Some comments even suggested the two journalists worked for the Taliban.
Johnson threatened to offer an amendment to cut all $122 million in funding for Information Operations in the Overseas Contingency Operations budget. But he withdrew the amendment. Instead, he called for the Department of Defense to launch an investigation and consider suspending all contracts with Leonie Industries until such an investigation is complete.
Watch video, uploaded to YouTube on May 9, below: