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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 18:14 GMT
Pentagon plans propaganda war
Donald Rumsfeld
Secretary Rumsfeld is checking the legality of proposals
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By Tom Carver
Washington correspondent

The Pentagon is toying with the idea of black propaganda.

As part of George Bush's war on terrorism, the military is thinking of planting propaganda and misleading stories in the international media.

A new department has been set up inside the Pentagon with the Orwellian title of the Office of Strategic Influence.

It is well funded, is being run by a general and its aim is to influence public opinion abroad.

Black and white

It has been canvassing opinion within the Pentagon on what it should do.

The options range from the standard public relations stuff - doing more to explain the Pentagon's role - to more underhand tactics such as e-mailing journalists and community leaders abroad with information that undermines governments hostile to the United States.

These e-mails would come from a .com return address rather than .mil to hide the Pentagon's role.

The most controversial suggestion is the covert planting of disinformation in foreign media, a process known as black propaganda.

All this has sparked off a fierce debate within the Pentagon. The options range from "the blackest of black programmes to the whitest of white," one official told the New York Times.

Some generals are worried that even a suggestion of disinformation would undermine the Pentagon's credibility and America's attempts to portray herself as the beacon of liberty and democratic values.

Under review

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has asked a team of lawyers to check the proposals' legality.

The Pentagon is forbidden from spreading black propaganda in the American media, but there is nothing to stop an American newspaper picking up a story carried abroad.

The Pentagon is well versed in what it calls "psyops", dropping leaflets and using radio broadcasts to undermine enemy morale.

But these kind of activities have always been confined to the battlefield, such as Afghanistan.

Using covert tactics on media outlets of friendly countries is much more controversial.

See also:

13 Nov 01 | TV and Radio
The US media at war
16 Oct 01 | Media reports
Pro-US radio launched for Afghanistan
16 Oct 01 | Americas
The US war of minds
08 Oct 01 | South Asia
Propaganda war hots up
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