A look back: Select headlines from DOD Public Diplomacy and Public Relations Efforts

A few headlines from the archive that are still relevent. Don’t miss the last one about the finding about hiring Lincoln Group. Notable is the reminder of the Pentagon’s deflection of culpability because it was hired by the Baghdad-based military commanders…

Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi (4/10/2006)

The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have…

Interview with Secretary Rumsfeld on the Charlie Rose Show (2/17/2006)

Rumsfeld: "[Newspapers] used to be a dominant means of communication for people, and where they got their information. Today, people have so many different channels where they can get information. And, and we need in government to recognize that if you’re engaged in a major battle with major armies and navies competing and air forces competing, that’s one thing. The center of gravity of that war is where those battles occur. Today, we’re not competing with our major armies, navies or air forces. It’s an unconventional conflict. It is irregular warfare. It is asymmetric and the battleground is not so much out there, it is here. It is a matter of will. It is a matter of the public’s attitudes about these things. Instead of the center of gravity where the naval war is being fought, the center of gravity is in the capitals of cities all across a nations all across the world and therefore we are going to simply have to figure out ways to get arranged to cope with that. Because it’s a totally new environment and a very difficult one.

Under Secretary Feith Breakfast with Defense Writers Group (2/20/2002)

Q: [Missing initial part of question related to Office of Strategic Influence] — what is the reason why the Pentagon hasn’t decided to go that route? What is different than what the CIA does and what the State Department already does?

Feith: First of all I want to clarify that when Defense Department officials speak to the public they tell the truth, and despite some of the reports about the Office of Strategic Influence that I’ve read over the last day or two, Defense Department officials don’t lie to the public. And we are confident that the truth serves our interests in the broadest sense of national security and specifically in this war. 

The use of information in the war, in order to facilitate the work of our armed forces and help them fulfill their missions, is very important. Everybody who follows the military affairs and knows military history knows how important information can be at the operational and tactical level. 

Q: But that’s deeper than the purview of the CIA and the State Department. Why is the military getting involved in disinformation campaigns? Feith: You characterize them as disinformation campaigns. I try to be careful about distinguishing between public affairs and public diplomacy. Public diplomacy is the responsibility of a number of the agencies of the U.S. government. The State Department I believe has the lead. Public affairs work is done by every agency of the U.S. government. We are not, as I said, we are not going to endanger the credibility of our public affairs, but there’s a lot that can be done in the information, in the area of using information to facilitate our military mission that doesn’t enter the realm of public affairs or public diplomacy.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke Interview With French Television (11/8/2002)

Q: I heard that the Pentagon was hiring private companies like the [Rendon] Group. Why? What do you use the private services? 

Clarke: I don’t know about any contracts about the [Rendon] Group. I know there may the Joint Staff, our Joint Staff may have been in contact with them. I don’t know the circumstances of it. Again, we have a $369 billion budget which is pretty good, a pretty healthy budget. And underneath that we often contract out to the private sector for different circumstances. There are all sorts of guidelines and criteria about hiring outside consultants. There are a lot of functions that aren’t appropriate for, they aren’t a core mission for the military. So often those sorts of things, I’m not familiar with the contract on the [Rendon] Group so I can’t speak to that one. But it’s a fairly common practice for certain things, certain functions, to contract it out to the private sector. 

Q: What can it provide to you, the private companies? 

Clarke: It depends. I’m not familiar, for instance, with the procurement process. I’m not familiar with what it takes to actually build an airplane. But there are things that are very appropriate for the private sector to be doing. It’s not appropriate for people in this building, for instance, to be building airplanes so they work with industry to build those things. But literally thousands of contracts, all of which have a lot of scrutiny put on them in terms of the criteria and policies and what’s appropriate and what’s not. 

Q: Could you define what is public diplomacy? 

Clarke: Public diplomacy? Well, people at the State Department could define it better than I could. It is probably changing, just like everything else, the world around us is changing so much public diplomacy is probably changing. I think the shorthand of it is trying to explain to people around the world what it is the United States is about, what we’re trying to accomplish, what we stand for, what we don’t stand for. 

Q: What’s the difference between public diplomacy and propaganda? 

Clarke: The short answer is, I don’t know. I’m not very good at definitions. Propaganda has a very bad connotation in lots of different places for different reasons. Saddam Hussein is terrific at propaganda, at the worst kinds of propaganda. He takes propaganda to lies and deception, deceit of the kind that means people’s lives. So I’ll leave it to others to come up with a definition. 

Q: And in case of a war against Iraq, what will be the new challenge in terms of communication? 

Clarke: It’s a big "in case." I know we start and end every conversation around here by saying the President hasn’t made any decisions about military actions in Iraq. If he does decide and others decide that military action is the right course to pursue, the U.S. military, and I’m sure we will have, if there is military action — if there is military action — the President hasn’t made a decision — if there were to be military action it will be done with the cooperation of friends and allies in different parts of the world including that region of the world. I don’t know that it will be the biggest challenge, but I think it is the biggest priority, and that is to keep people informed. It is to keep people informed with as much news and information about what is going on. I think it will be, we will be brutally honest with them as we always have been about the risks that are involved. Any military action, any military action at all puts people’s lives at risk. Flying helicopters is risky business to start with. It’s particularly risky in wartime conditions. Airplanes, ships, etc. you’ve got equipment and people. So I think we need to be brutally honest with people about the risk involved. That’s what we do. 

Q: The target is the American people? 

Clarke: American people and around the world. Just like we constantly say what is true, that Saddam Hussein, for instance, is a threat to the region. He’s a threat to his own people. The reason we have U.S. pilots and coalition pilots flying in the no-fly zones every day is to protect the Iraqi people themselves against Saddam Hussein’s aggression. It’s a pretty stunning thing when you think about it. So he is a threat to the Iraqi people. He is a threat to the people in the region. He’s a threat to decent civilized people around the world. So I think we have an obligation — Last year at the height of activity in Afghanistan is a perfect example. We have an obligation to work closely with other countries to make sure we’re getting out as much news and information there as possible. It’s hard. It’s only 24 hours a day. 

Q: I appreciate it. What are your plans — What can you use to influence public opinion? 

Clarke: We use a variety of means of communication throughout the newsroom. We have the traditional news media which is the television networks, the newspapers, the radio, the web sites. Primary means of communicating. They just have the loudest impact, appeal, it’s the primary means of communicating with people. We also do a whole variety of outreach efforts. We meet with groups, we speak to them and answer questions about what the Department of Defense is up to, what the thoughts may be about the global war on terrorism. We sent out information. If people have said I’d like you to keep me updated on what’s going on, then via e-mail and web sites we will send them information. We respond to literally thousands of requests for information from the general public every week. They e-mail us, they send letters, they call and we respond to them as much as we can.

No Breach Seen in Work in Iraq on Propaganda (3/22/2006, subscription required)

An inquiry found that a U.S. public relations firm did not violate military policy by paying Iraqi news outlets to print positive articles…

Mr. Rumsfeld and the Pentagon’s civilian and military leaders were able to deflect direct criticism at the time because the contract had been signed by the military command in Baghdad. But the inquiry now leaves them to address whether new guidelines are needed to balance American values of a free press against the needs of commanders in the fight against insurgents in Iraq.

The question for the Pentagon is its proper role in shaping perceptions abroad. Particularly in a modern world connected by satellite television and the Internet, misleading information and lies could easily migrate into American news outlets, as could the perception that false information is being spread by the Pentagon.