Senator urges suspension of Iraq publicity contracts

Briefly, from CongressDaily:

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., on Thursday sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking him to suspend $300 million in contracts for civilians to produce pro-American news stories, entertainment programs and public service ads in Iraq until the Senate Armed Services Committee and the next administration review the contracts.

Webb’s letter follows a Washington Post story detailing the Pentagon’s decision to award four firms a combined $300 million for public information campaigns in Iraq.

“At a time when this country is facing such a grave economic crisis, and at a time when the government of Iraq now shows at least a $79 billion surplus from recent oil revenues, in my view it makes little sense for the U.S. Department of Defense to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars to propagandize the Iraqi people,” Webb wrote.

His letter underscores continued congressional concerns over military contracts for information operations. The fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill requires the next Defense secretary and president to submit a report to Congress on strategic communications and public diplomacy initiatives.

“The contracts being let seem to fly in the face of this clear statement of congressional concern,” Webb wrote.

While some details of the contract might benefit from additional review, Sen. Webb’s letter seems to indicate a failure to understand and appreciate the importance of information and perceptions to our national security, but also the cost effectiveness of informational (and cultural and educational) activities.

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