Pentagon Debates Propaganda Push in Allied Nations
By THOM SHANKER and ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 — The Defense Department is considering issuing a secret directive to the American military to conduct covert operations aimed at influencing public opinion and policy makers in friendly and neutral countries, senior Pentagon and administration officials say.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has not yet decided on the proposal, which has ignited a fierce battle throughout the Bush administration over whether the military should carry out secret propaganda missions in friendly nations like Germany, where many of the Sept. 11 hijackers congregated, or Pakistan, still considered a haven for Al Qaeda's militants.
Such a program, for example, could include efforts to discredit and undermine the influence of mosques and religious schools that have become breeding grounds for Islamic militancy and anti-Americanism across the Middle East, Asia and Europe. It might even include setting up schools with secret American financing to teach a moderate Islamic position laced with sympathetic depictions of how the religion is practiced in America, officials said.
Many administration officials agree that the government's broad strategy to counter terrorism must include vigorous and creative propaganda to change the negative view of America held in many countries.
The fight, one Pentagon official said, is over "the strategic communications for our nation, the message we want to send for long-term influence, and how we do it."
As a military officer put it: "We have the assets and the capabilities and the training to go into friendly and neutral nations to influence public opinion. We could do it and get away with it. That doesn't mean we should."
It is not the first time that the debate over how the United States should marshal its forces to win the hearts and minds of the world has raised difficult and potentially embarrassing questions at the Pentagon. A nonclandestine parallel effort at the State Department, which refers to its role as public diplomacy, has not met with so much resistance.
In February, Mr. Rumsfeld had to disband the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence, ending a short-lived plan to provide news items, and possibly false ones, to foreign journalists to influence public sentiment abroad. Senior Pentagon officials say Mr. Rumsfeld is deeply frustrated that the United States government has no coherent plan for molding public opinion worldwide in favor of America in its global campaign against terrorism and militancy.
Many administration officials agree that there is a role for the military in carrying out what it calls information operations against adversaries, especially before and during war, as well as routine public relations work in friendly nations like Colombia, the Philippines or Bosnia, whose governments have welcomed American troops.
In hostile countries like Iraq, such missions are permitted under policy and typically would include broadcasting from airborne radio stations or dropping leaflets like those the military has printed to undermine morale among Iraqi soldiers. In future wars, they might include technical attacks to disable computer networks, both military and civilian.
But the idea of ordering the military to take psychological aim at allies has divided the Pentagon — with civilians and uniformed officers on both sides of the debate.
Some are troubled by suggestions that the military might pay journalists to write stories favorable to American policies or hire outside contractors without obvious ties to the Pentagon to organize rallies in support of American policies.
The current battlefield for these issues involves amendments to a classified Department of Defense directive, titled "3600.1: Information Operations," which would enshrine an overarching Pentagon policy for years to come.
Current policy holds that aggressive information tactics are "to affect adversary decision makers" — not those of friendly or even neutral nations. But proposed revisions to the directive, as quoted by senior officials, would not make adversaries the only targets for carrying out military information operations — abbreviated as "I.O." in the document, which is written in the dense jargon typical of military doctrine.
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