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Pentagon Works to Quell Criticism Over 'Office of Strategic Influence' - 2002-02-21


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the Pentagon will not lie to the public or the press, but might use tactical deception to mislead an enemy for battlefield advantage.

Mr. Rumsfeld has moved quickly to quell a firestorm of controversy over published reports that the Pentagon is considering a global information campaign to sway public opinion that might include the planting of false stories overseas.

Speaking to reporters while visiting troops providing Olympic security at Salt Lake City Wednesday, Mr. Rumsfeld says U.S. officials will not lie. "Government officials, the Department of Defense, this secretary and the people that work with me tell the American people and the people of the world the truth," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld says the only exception might be the use of what he terms tactical deception to deceive an enemy on the battlefield, a ploy used in the past by U.S. forces. As an example, he says U.S. troops preparing an attack from one direction might make an enemy believe the attack was coming from the opposite direction.

The secretary was commenting on reports that a newly-created Pentagon Office of Strategic Influence is considering possibly deceptive moves aimed at swaying global opinion in the war on terrorism.

Earlier, the senior defense official who oversees the new office also dismissed, as inaccurate, reports suggesting the news media would be used in deception efforts.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith told a group of reporters that defense officials do not lie to the public. He also said the Pentagon is confident that the truth better serves U.S. interests in the war on terrorism. He said the Pentagon has "an enormous stake" in its credibility and he vowed to preserve it.

Mr. Feith said the main reason for creating the new office was to provide civilian oversight of information policy in military operations, including leaflet drops and airborne broadcasts like those conducted by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Critics have voiced concern that any planting of false information abroad could result in those lies getting back to Americans. Nevertheless the Bush administration apparently remains worried that U.S. actions against terrorists lack public support overseas, especially in Islamic countries.

That is why President Bush has reportedly decided to turn the administration's temporary wartime communications office into a permanent office to press the nation's global public diplomacy efforts.