A secret U.S. military program that pays Iraqi newspapers to publish articles favorable to the American mission appears to violate a 2003 Pentagon directive, according to a newly declassified document released Thursday.
The information campaign run by U.S. troops in Baghdad and a Washington-based private contractor is the subject of a high-level military investigation. Last month, the top U.S. general in Iraq said a preliminary investigation into the program had found it did not violate U.S. law or Pentagon regulations.
"We concluded that we were operating within our authorities and the appropriate legal procedures. And so we have not suspended any of the processes up to now," Army Gen. George W. Casey told reporters then.
A secret directive on the Pentagon's information operations policy released Thursday, however, appears to prohibit U.S. troops from conducting psychological operations, or psy-ops, targeting the media.
"Psy-op is restricted by both DoD [Department of Defense] policy and executive order from targeting American audiences, our military personnel and news agencies or outlets," says the directive, dated Oct. 30, 2003, and signed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The document, titled "Information Operations Roadmap," was released by the National Security Archive, a research institution based at George Washington University that obtained it under the Freedom of Information Act.
A Pentagon spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.
But one senior Pentagon official said that based on the wording in the directive, the operation seemed to violate Pentagon policy.
"It's clearly a violation based on the language used in the Rumsfeld document," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly on the issue.
Since early last year, the military's Information Operations Task Force in Baghdad has used private contractor Lincoln Group to plant stories in Iraqi media about U.S. and Iraqi military and rebuilding efforts.
It also has placed reports indicating that anti-insurgent sentiment is rising among Iraqi citizens.
American troops write articles, called storyboards, which are then delivered to the Iraqi staff of Lincoln Group. The staffers then translate the storyboards into Arabic and pay newspaper editors in Baghdad to run the articles.
A military investigation of the operation led by Navy Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk should be completed soon, Pentagon officials say.
U.S. law forbids the Pentagon from conducting propaganda efforts that target U.S. audiences. Yet many in the military say that the globalization of media, driven by the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, makes it likely that information campaigns targeting foreign audiences find their way into U.S. media coverage.
That much is acknowledged in the 78-page document released Thursday, which says that "information for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and psy-op, increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience."
The directive recommends that boundaries be established to ensure that U.S. military information operations don't target U.S. audiences directly. It does not say what the boundaries should be.
The document was written to set out policy guidelines and establish the Pentagon's reasoning for elevating information operations to a "core" mission for the U.S. military, Pentagon officials say.
"Information, always important in warfare, is now critical to military success and will only become more so in the foreseeable future," the document says.