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No News is Bad News

A Short History of Radio Free Iraq

by LILA RAJIVA

Just as President Bush urged support for a "free, independent and responsible Iraqi media," the Los Angeles Times reported recently that the military in Iraq is spending millions on a DC- based defense contractor to plant stories favorable to the US occupation in the Iraqi media. Senior Pentagon officials, including General Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are said to have had no idea that this secret campaign was going on.

Ho hum. Is this even news? We’re told that operatives (or if you will, troops) of an Information Operations Task Force in Baghdad write news stories, called "storyboards," and deliver them to the Iraqi staff of the Lincoln Group. These staffers translate the story-boards into Arabic and then pay (i.e. bribe) newspaper editors in Baghdad to run the stories.

It’s good that the LA Times has come up with this. But had they been half as zealous in the last few years they would know that one way or another this "new" program has been around for a time, only with different names.

After the fall of Baghdad, Science Applications International Corp (SAIC), a defense contractor with no media experience, got a no-bid contract for the Iraqi Media Network (IMN) program. Seems it was picked solely for its resume as a long-time buddy of the US military. In 2002, about two thirds of its 6 billion dollar revenues came largely from the defense budget and David Kay, chief hunter for WMD, is a former Veep.

TV producer Dan North was approached to set up a public broadcast station. But North soon became disillusioned when he found that his boss, Paul Bremer couldn’t tell the difference between independent Iraqi journalism and PR for the US military. North, a veteran of Vietnam, Bosnia, Rumania, and Afghanistan and his news director, an Iraqi ex-pat, Achmed Al-Rikabi, a former Swedish producer/ reporter and BBC broadcaster, knew quite well what the Iraqis needed after years of state-controlled blather. Instead, they found themselves dishing out Bremer’s blather. The Iraqis naturally tuned out and began listening to Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. Iraqi journalists started calling the Americans "Little Saddams."

So General Pace’s stupefaction about the fake news story is touching.

And absurd. Last year, the IMN (its local name is Al Iraqiya) had a $100 million budget that came right out of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, the group in Defense that handles psy-ops.

Pace, Chief of the JCS, does not know this?

The unholy blending of psyops, information ops and military diplomacy was roundly criticized at the time even by military commanders who thought it would eventually ruin the army’s ability to communicate with the public, but it went ahead anyway in mid- September 2004 under Erv Lessel, of the Strategic Communications office, but ultimately under the Undersecretary for Defense Policy, who was at the time Douglas Feith. Feith, meanwhile, also headed the Office of Special Plans (OSP) that "stove-piped" cooked intelligence to the White House to support the war and OSP itself was simply the brand new moniker under which the defunct Office of Strategic Information (OSI) was resurrected. Formed after 9-11, OSI did nothing but plant fake stories in the international (not just Iraqi) media until it was shut down from public outrage.

But Pace knows nothing about this.

I suppose he also knows nothing about a secret 74-page directive called "Information Operations Road Map," (late 2003) that invited proposals for a "director of central Information" who would be responsible for controlling all public or secret messages across all national security and foreign policy operations. That was presented to a "senior Pentagon panel" including none other than Dough Feith.

A "senior Pentagon panel" would, one suspects, include General Pace, who is now in a swoon about the LA Times report.

There is even a whole field devoted to this blending of military and psyops. It’s called Defense Support for Public Diplomacy.

Back to the Iraqi PBS (perhaps not such a bad analogy, by the way, considering recent reports of the infiltration of PBS and the Corporation of Public Broadcasting by the pro-war faction). In January 2004, after mounting complaints about SAIC’s no-bid contract, inexperience and bias, Harris Communications, a company that specializes in designing, manufacturing and installing communications equipment and infrastructure, took over the IMN contract. It was also a no-bid contract. Harris also had no media experience except for a stint upgrading Romania’s media network. But perhaps that was enough.

Harris subcontracted the media work to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation and Al Fawares, an Iraqi owned Kuwaiti company which publishes the Al Sabah newspaper in Kuwait. Even so, under Harris (an Australian firm), American government influence was so heavy-handed that the entire staff of Al Sabah walked out and the Iraqi general director of Al Iraqiya (the Iraqi TV network) resigned after just 6 months.

But senior Pentagon officials wouldn’t know that.

They also might not know that Harris worked with CACI together in at least one aspect of US telecommunications – electronic platforms. Nearly half of all interrogators and analysts employed in January 2004 were CACI employees. (2)

That’s the same CACI which is deeply involved with Homeland Security in a majority of defense and civilian agencies, the intelligence community, 44 state governments, more than 200 cities, counties and local agencies in North America, and also contracts with government agencies in Asia-Pacific and Europe. It does not just collect information but "maps terrorist social networks." (3)

Meanwhile SAIC – which was supposedly removed for its incompetence and bias – is back again under the new program, this time sharing the Special Ops Command contract (worth 100 million) to provide media work for 5 years.

But not in Iraq, we are told. And they have nothing to do with planting fake stories, says a spokesman for the Special Ops Command.

The generals would probably believe that.

LILA RAJIVA is a free-lance journalist and author of "The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American media," (Monthly Review Press). She can be reached at: lrajiva@hotmail.com

(1) "Probe Sought Into Stories Planted in Iraqi Media," Mark Mazzetti, LA Time, December 1, 2005.

(2) Including some at Abu Ghraib, though the company has denied this. Two independent investigators are pursuing more than 40 allegations of abuse by interrogators said to be employed by CACI. ("Partnering for Human Rights: Metro Detroit attorney and high school friend give Iraqi detainees a chance to be heard," Patricia Anstett, Detroit Free Press, September 10, 2004).

(3) "CACI and Its Friends," Tim Shorrocks, The Nation, June 4, 2004. See also CACI 2003 Annual Report) "We can monitor the entire globe," says CACI’s CEO Jack London. CACI also handles the Federal Aviation Administration’s global administrative-data network, runs a data program for the Justice Department and is deeply involved in electronic information distribution, and related services for the entire Department of Justice, Defense, Transportation, DHS, Customs and Border Protection, and the Environmental Protection Agency, computer and interrogation services to the Defense Department, and other agencies.

The material and sources for this article can be found in "The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media," LILA RAJIVA, Monthly Review Press, December 2005.