The U.S. military has removed two firms from a psychological operations contract aimed at influencing international public opinion, including one District-based company that ran into controversy last year for planting pro-U.S. articles in Iraqi newspapers.
The firms, plus a third company that will retain the contract, spent the past year developing prototypes for radio and television spots intended for use in Iraq and in other nations where the United States is combating terrorism. Unlike the reports that the District-based Lincoln Group distributed to the Iraqi press which looked to be written by independent Iraqi journalists the commander in charge of the new spots said yesterday that he wants their origins made clear.
"Certainly we would intend to accept attribution for the spots," said Col. Jack Summe, commander of the Tampa-based Joint Psychological Operations Support Element. "We will not place things under someone else's name, trying to fool people into thinking it's a true news item."
So that job for social scientists in Iraq . . . probably a no go now.
The TV and radio contract, originally worth up to $300 million over five years, had been held by three firms since last year: the Lincoln Group; San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp.; and Arlington-based SYColeman, a subsidiary of New York-based L-3 Communications Corp.See, look how well the military can do spin and damage control all on their own without those Lincoln Group PR pros!
But officials with the military's Special Operations Command decided this spring that they would be better off with just one contractor. They exercised their option to continue SYColeman's contract but not the other two. Military officials say the decision had nothing to do with last year's controversy over the Lincoln Group.
"We learned that working with three companies increases expenditures in both time and money and does not provide best value to the government," said Lt. Col. David Farlow, spokesman for the military's psychological operations unit.
To get a sense of what many in the military really thought of Lincoln Group and their efforts in Iraq look at the May/June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review and an article titled "Mind Games" by Daniel Schulman.
Before the Lincoln Group's covert campaign began sometime in early 2005, the firm (then operating as Iraqex) had been chosen to carry out a p.r. contract, worth more than $5 million, that was overseen by the coalition's public affairs staff in Baghdad. An army officer, who was involved in selecting the Lincoln Group for the contract and who worked extensively with its employees when they arrived in Iraq in November 2004, told me it had initially been hired to provide basic communications support, such as polling and media analysis, not for the clandestine placement of news stories or paying off the Iraqi press.
"In terms of their proposal, they were head and shoulders above everybody," the officer said. "The problem was they couldn't do a third of what they said they were going to do." He continued, "They were my little Frankensteins. They were sending guys over there that had absolutely no knowledge of Iraqis whatsoever. It was like the Young Republican fucking group, some guy who was working for the governor-elect in Michigan, a guy from the Beltway who was part of some Republicans for Democracy group, not a fucking clue. It was a scheme written up on a cocktail napkin in D.C. They were just completely inept." The public affairs staff became increasingly frustrated with the contractor. Some officers, including two brigadier generals, refused even to work with them. "That's when they moved under IO," the officer said. Eventually, the Lincoln Group was responsible for planting hundreds of stories in Iraqi newspapers.
I recommend reading the entire article. In it the Lincoln Group emerges not just as a bunch of inept hacks but part of a broader effort spearheaded by Donald Rumsfeld and others in the administration to muddy the longstanding military divide between psychological warfare (waged on the enemy, not the citizens at home) and the public affairs office. So contractor-created proproganda enters our news as well as the Iraqus. And democracy is sabatoged on all fronts!
In the CJR Shulman quotes a senior Public Affairs Officer recently returned from Iraq:
"Perhaps Iraq is a unique situation, but I think some of our IO efforts may have hurt our overall efforts at supporting an elected government and democratic, free institutions. Saddam fed the people propaganda for decades, should we continue to feed them propaganda and expect them to support us and/or their elected officials?"
Schulman also touches on the deeper question, what good is our proproganda when our policies and the truth on ground those policies create inflame out enemies? Abu Ghraib, Haditha, prisons without a hearing in Guantanamo Bay. Now, there's something worth pondering, something worth getting worked up over.
Please go read the whole article.
Still can't get enough of the Lincoln Group? Try these!
And just for laughs try Wonkette on the Lincoln Group