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12/14/2004

Pentagon Disinformation

Shanker and Schmitt, Pentagon Weighs Use of Deception in a Broad Arena, NYT, 12/13/04: The Pentagon is engaged in bitter, high-level debate over how far it can and should go in managing or manipulating information to influence opinion abroad, senior Defense Department civilians and military officers say.

Such missions, if approved, could take the deceptive techniques endorsed for use on the battlefield to confuse an adversary and adopt them for covert propaganda campaigns aimed at neutral and even allied nations.

Critics of the proposals say such deceptive missions could shatter the Pentagon's credibility, leaving the American public and a world audience skeptical of anything the Defense Department and military say - a repeat of the credibility gap that roiled America during the Vietnam War.
I'm glad that someone at the Pentagon is concerned about the Department of Defense's credibility. I'm a little worried, though, that they are about 4 years too late.

As Steve Clemons explains over at The Washington Note, the DoD's credibility is already a bit damaged, by things like torture and lies. Steps that may have, at one time, restored that credibility - things like holding people accountable, promising not to do them again, and taking steps to ensure that they aren't repeated - were scoffed at. Don Rumsfeld still stands at his desk in the Pentagon, imagining himself to be living a tougher life than Gitmo detainees.

Moreover, who's to say that the DoD hasn't been waging a relentless disinformation campaign for the last four years? If one were to look back and imagine what a determined campaign might look like, how would it differ from what actually happened? The CIA or a foreign intelligence service says something that doesn't support the DoD line, so someone from Feith's office sends Ahmed Chalabi to talk to Judith Miller. A CIA analyst sticks to his guns, and gets threatened with retaliation. The CIA is purged, while DoD is glad-handed. The DoD knew, or at least exhibited reckless disregard for, facts that undercut their line. Yet they quashed them, discredited their advocates, and spread deceptions.

 

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