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Pentagon Moved to Fix Iraqi Media Before Invasion

by Jim Lobe

In the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon planned to create a 'Rapid Reaction Media Team' (RRMT) designed to ensure control over major Iraqi media while providing an Iraqi 'face' for its efforts, according to a 'White Paper' obtained by the independent National Security Archive (NSA) which released it Tuesday.

The partially redacted, three-page document was accompanied by a longer power point presentation that included a proposed six-month, 51 million-dollar budget for the RRMT operation, apparently the first phase in a one-to-two-year ''strategic information campaign''.

Among other items, the budget called for the hiring of two U.S. ''media consultants'' who were to be paid 140,000 dollars each for six months' work. A further 800,000 dollars were to be paid for six Iraqi ''media consultants over the same period.

Both the paper and the slide presentation were prepared by two Pentagon offices -- Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, which, among other things, specialize in psychological warfare, and the Office of Special Plans under then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith -- in mid-January, 2003, two months before the invasion, according to NSA analyst Joyce Battle.

''The RRMT concept focuses on USG-UK pre-and post hostilities efforts to develop programming, train talent, and rapidly deploy a team of U.S./UK media experts with a team of 'hand selected' Iraqi media experts to communicate immediately with the Iraqi public opinion upon liberation of Iraq,'' according to the paper.

The ''hand-picked'' Iraqi experts, according to the paper, would provide planning and program guidance for the U.S. experts and help ''select and train the Iraqi broadcasters and publishers ('the face') for the USG/coalition sponsored information effort.'' USG is an abbreviation for U.S. government.

''It will be as if, after another day of deadly agit-prop, the North Korean people turned off their TVs at night, and turned them on in the morning to find the rich fare of South Korean TV spread before them as their very own,'' the paper enthused, adding that ''a re-constituted free Iraqi domestic media can serve as a model in the Middle East where so much Arab hate-media are themselves equivalent to weapons of mass destruction.''

Whether the plan was implemented as described in the paper is not clear, although the NSA Tuesday also released an audit by the Pentagon's Inspector-General regarding two dozen, mostly non-competitive contracts totaling $122.5 million dollars awarded by the Defence Department to three defense contractors that carried out media-related activities in Iraq after the invasion.

The contractors included the Rendon Group and Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC) which received a $25 million-dollar contract to create an Iraqi Media Network whose aims appear to be roughly consistent with those laid out in the White Paper, but which largely fell apart after about six months as a result of alleged incompetence and infighting.

SAIC is the same company that hired World Bank communications staffer Shaha Ali Riza at the reported behest of then Deputy Defense Secretary (now World Bank President) Paul Wolfowitz with whom she was romantically involved. Riza worked for SAIC from March to May, 2003, as part of a ''Democracy and Governance'' team.

The third company covered by the audit is the five-year-old Lincoln Group which, among other activities, has reportedly paid millions of dollars to Iraqi newspapers to publish pro-U.S. articles since the invasion.

The RRMT was conceived as a ''quick start bridge'' between Iraq's state-controlled media network and an ''Iraqi Free Media'' which the White Paper's authors described as the long-term goal of the program.

''After the cessation of hostilities, having professional US-trained Iraqi media teams immediately in place to portray a new Iraq (by Iraqis for Iraqis) with hopes for a prosperous, democratic future, will have a profound psychological and political impact on the Iraqi people,'' according to the paper.

''The mission will be to inform the Iraqi public about USG/coalition intent and operations, to stabilize Iraq (especially preventing the trifurcation of Iraq after hostilities and to provide Iraqis hope for their future,'' it went on, noting that the RRMT will immediately ''collocate and interface with the designated CENTCOM commander in Baghdad, and begin broadcasting and printing approved USG information to the Iraqi public.'' CENTCOM stands for U.S. Central Command.

The paper lays out a number of ''major tasks'' needed to set up the RRMT and its operations and to ''translate USG policy and thematic guidance into information campaign (news and entertainment).''

Among the ''themes and messages'' to be communicated, the Paper ranked first ''the De-Baathification program'', followed by ''recent history telling (e.g., 'Uncle Saddam,' History Channel's 'Saddam's Bomb-Maker,' 'Killing Fields, etc.); USG-approved 'Democracy Series'; ''Environmental (Marshlands re-hydration)''; ''Mine Awareness''; ''Re-starting the Oil''; ''Justice and rule of law topics''; and ''War Criminals/Truth Commission.''

The plan also listed several related themes to be stressed in programming, including ''political prisoners and atrocity interviews'', ''Saddam's palaces and opulence,'' and ''WMD (weapons of mass destruction) disarmament.''

As for ''Entertainment and News Magazine programming, the plan listed at the top ''Hollywood'', followed by ''News networks''; ''Arab country donations''; and ''Sports''.

The plan also called for the production of '''on-the-shelf programming'' during the first month of the occupation, a process that included obtaining the rights to pre-existing programs, producing new programs, securing translations if produced in another language; and preparing print products, including the ''first edition of the new Iraq weekly newspaper (with section for missing persons, Shia news, Kurd news, and Sunni news, etc.)''

All but two million dollars of the total budget was to be devoted to media infrastructure and operating costs, including transmitters and studios for both radio and television and microwave links and repeaters.

The power point presentation called for the RRMT to ''identify and vet Iraqi media experts and 'anchors', and train a group of Iraqi journalists to staff the new networks.

The RRMT should also ''identify the media infrastructure that we need left intact, and work with CENTCOM targeteers to find alternative ways of disabling key sites,'' including, presumably, those media outlets whose messages were not consistent with the themes the Pentagon wished to convey.

''Evidently, the Baghdad headquarters of the Arab satellite network 'al-Jazeera was not part of 'the media infrastructure that we need left intact,''' noted the NSA's Battle, who pointed to the Apr. 8, 2003 U.S. missile attack that hit the network's Baghdad bureau, killing reporter Tariq Ayoub. The Pentagon had been extensively briefed on the bureau's location before the invasion, and the offices were well-marked as a ''TV'' facility.

Al-Jazeera's Kabul bureau which was located in a downtown office building was also destroyed by two ''smart bombs'' during the U.S. air campaign in Afghanistan in late 2001. In April, 2004, during an extended battle covered by al-Jazeera -- for Fallujah, Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush suggested attacking the network's Qatar headquarters during a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to leaked notes of the talks.

© 2007 Inter Press Service

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