Up to $200m campaign enlists balls, bumper stickers in terror fight
The task order for a stealth global propaganda campaign ordered by the U.S. Special Operations Command and carried out by a Washington-based defense contractor with scant experience reveals that the Defense Department has pursued a more aggressive international "information" campaign than previously realized.
The contract awarded to the Lincoln Group -- the firm which planted false news stories in the Iraqi media -- was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by activist blogger Michael Petrelis (Petrelis Files) and provided to RAW STORY. While the program has been reported on before, the contract has never been made public before today.
Perhaps the most striking element of the contract is the emphasis on psychological operations and its open-ended scope. Valued at up to $200 million, the five-year Lincoln Group contract allows the U.S. military to deploy strategic messages -- not bound by truth -- in any non-combat theater across the globe.
When a Pentagon official was asked about the program late last year, he remarked, "While the product may not carry the label, 'Made in the USA,' we will respond truthfully if asked."
The Lincoln Group deal is one of three made with U.S. firms to assist Special Forces in psychological operations worldwide, according to previous media reports.
The Special Forces' solicitation for proposals outlines the complex calculus required of the contractor to manipulate the opinion of "foreign audiences" to "garner support for US Government (sic) policies and objectives."
Sophisticated psychological campaign
Sophisticated psychological warfare, or "psyops," is high on the list. Lincoln was tasked not only with creating messages that blend in with local environments, but also with using advanced corporate techniques -- including market research and focus groups -- to engender support for American objectives worldwide.
"Based on market research and analysis, develop and/or validate proposed themes, symbols, and messages that will elicit responses from the recipients that achieve stated goals and objectives."
In other words, citizens of countries worldwide -- even those of U.S. allies -- could be the unwitting target of a U.S. information campaign. No longer foreigners, targets are simply dubbed "recipients."
And Lincoln's Pentagon propaganda isn't just newspaper articles -- as it was in Iraq. Novelty items, including bumper stickers and balls, are a key arsenal in the Pentagon's information war on terror.
"Contractor must possess or have access to resources and facilities to include but not be limited to recording studios, film studios, voice/actor personalities, language translators, and novelty item (sic) (t-shirts, balls, bumper stickers, etc.) production as required."
Focus groups are key.
"Prototype products must include pretesting with proposed foreign audiences, or surrogates, to ensure they resonate culturally and convey the themes and messages required to meet stated goals and objectives," the request for contractors reads.
Contract omits safeguards, transparency
Michael Petrelis, the San Francisco-based blogger who filed the requests, said he felt the contract was notable more for what was left out of the contract than what was in it, noting their were few boundaries for what was acceptable and unacceptable -- such as whether psychological operations can plant false information.
Indeed, the contract itself says the contractor should be allowed "maximum flexibility."
"The management objective is to allow the contract maximum flexibility to facilitate planning, development, coordinating and excuting of media approach, product development and distribution," the contract notes. "Another objective is to maintain clear government visibility into the program schedule, performance, and risks."
That being said, it lays out no system for informing the American taxpayer of what campaigns have taken place, or any measure of their effectiveness. The Lincoln Group's subversive operations in Iraq -- which planted newspaper articles favorable to the U.S. occupation -- only came out as a result of reporting by the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.
"Where's the repository for whatever they created?" Petrelis asks. "Not spelled out in that contract."
No reporting has identified what activities the Lincoln Group has engaged in in other countries. The company has come under fire for alleged inexperience in such campaigns and ties to the Bush campaign apparatus. A Chicago Tribune article reported that Lincoln's PR workers in Iraq "included three Republican operatives who helped run the Bush campaign in Illinois and had no apparent experience in Iraq."
A corollary document released by the National Security Archive last week revealed the Pentagon's "roadmap" for foreign propaganda campaigns, which raised new concerns that potentially fictive information campaigns have polluted the American press.
In the document, titled "Information Operations Roadmap," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that information planted by the Pentagon abroad was increasingly returning to American shores and being "consumed by our domestic audience."
And while it calls for "boundaries" between psyops and the American news media, it offers no such restrictions between the potentially fictional campaigns and the foreign press.
According to the military definition of psyops, its goals include manipulating emotional and objective reasoning -- suggesting that the information campaigns are not limited to objective truth.
Psyops are defined as "planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals."
Petrelis emphasizes, as he has with previous documents copied to RAW STORY, that filing FOIA requests is the duty of citizens seeking to understand the complexities of the American democracy.
"Let's not forget how important it is for us to keep asking for documents and filing FOIAs," Petrelis remarked. His blog, Petrelis Files, is at http://petrelisfiles.com/.
Excerpts from the documents follow. Or, download them all in PDF format here, or by clicking the images.