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Pentagon Launches New Office to Influence Foreign Opinion - 2002-02-19

The Pentagon has established a secretive new office that has proposed launching an extensive information campaign to influence foreign opinion in the war on terrorism.

The U.S. military has often relied on what are termed psychological operations including clandestine broadcasts and propaganda leaflet drops to demoralize enemies and sway public opinion. Both tactics have been used in the war in Afghanistan.

But now the Pentagon has also established an Office of Strategic Influence which news reports say could broaden that limited military mission by disseminating information and even disinformation on a global scale - a role usually led by civilian government agencies.

The new office was created following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Defense officials say the move reflected Pentagon concerns that the United States had to do a better job in getting its message out about U.S. goals in fighting terrorism.

A Pentagon source says the office has not yet executed any programs nor have any of its proposals been approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

But published reports say it has proposed an aggressive campaign using foreign news organizations and the Internet as well as covert operations. The office could disseminate truthful news releases but might also use disinformation.

The Pentagon press office says it knows nothing of any misinformation campaigns that are planned or under consideration by defense officials.

But defense officials say the ideas have stirred considerable debate within the government over which agencies should be doing what in the effort to sway international opinion in favor of the United States.

One defense source says the Pentagon probably would not even be involved if other agencies had been doing a better job - an apparent jab at the State Department, which has traditionally led so-called public diplomacy efforts.