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Inspector at Pentagon Says Report Was Flawed

by David Barstow

In a highly unusual reversal, the Defense Department's inspector general's office has withdrawn a report it issued in January exonerating a Pentagon public relations program that made extensive use of retired officers who worked as military analysts for television and radio networks.

Donald M. Horstman, the Pentagon's deputy inspector general for policy and oversight, said in a memorandum released on Tuesday that the report was so riddled with flaws and inaccuracies that none of its conclusions could be relied upon. In addition to repudiating its own report, the inspector general's office took the additional step of removing the report from its Web site.

The inspector general's office began investigating the public relations program last year, in response to articles in The New York Times that exposed an extensive and largely hidden Pentagon campaign to transform network military analysts into "surrogates" and "message force multipliers" for the Bush administration. The articles also showed how military analysts with ties to defense contractors sometimes used their special access to seek advantage in the competition for contracts related to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The report released in January took issue with the articles. It said investigators could not find any instance where an analyst used special access "to achieve a competitive advantage for their company." It also said there was "insufficient basis" to conclude that the program violated laws prohibiting propaganda.

The report has been the subject of controversy, with some members of Congress calling it a "whitewash" marred by obvious factual errors. For example, the report erroneously listed many military analysts as having no ties whatsoever to defense contractors. But several people who worked as aides to former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and some military analysts have cited the inspector general's report to criticize the articles.

According to Mr. Horstman's memorandum, the inspector general's office "became aware of inaccuracies" in the report shortly after it was published and soon began "an independent internal review." The internal review concluded that the report "did not meet accepted quality standards" and "relied on a body of testimonial evidence that was insufficient or inconclusive."

The review found that the former senior Pentagon officials who devised and managed the program refused to speak with the inspector general's investigators. It also found that the report's methodology was so flawed that it "would not reasonably yield evidence" to address the issue of whether analysts used their special access to gain competitive advantage.

A spokesman for the inspector general's office refused to release the internal review on Tuesday. He also declined to say whether any officials were disciplined for the flawed report. Mr. Horstman's memorandum said that no additional investigative work would be done to reissue the report because the public relations program has been terminated and the senior officials who oversaw it have left the Pentagon.

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