WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Special Operations Command has hired three firms to produce newspaper stories, television broadcasts and Web sites to spread American propaganda overseas.
The Tampa-based military headquarters, which oversees commandos and psychological warfare, may spend up to $100 million for the media campaign in the next five years.
The Pentagon backed away from a similar campaign in 2002.
In this age of the Internet and instant access, it's of great concern. If you plant false stories, how can you control where that story goes? You can't.
Nancy Snow, a propaganda expert at California State University-Fullerton
The use of contractors in psyops is a new wrinkle. But psychological warfare expert Herb Friedman said he is not surprised.
With only one active-duty and two reserve psyops units remaining, Friedman said, "The bottom line is, they don't have the manpower."
Federal law prohibits sending propaganda to Americans, and some experts worry that psychological warfare messages, especially disinformation efforts, might blow back to American audiences via the Internet and satellite news channels.
"In this age of the Internet and instant access, it's of great concern," said Nancy Snow, a propaganda expert at California State University-Fullerton. "If you plant false stories, how can you control where that story goes? You can't."
Others question whether the money could be better spent.
So far, said defense analyst William Arkin, American propaganda efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have "produced nothing positive and nothing negative." He suggested the $100 million might be better spent on guns and bullets.
Winning the contracts were Science Applications International Corp., SYColeman Inc. and Lincoln Group Corp.
SAIC, a California-based defense contractor with a major presence in McLean, Va., ran the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi Media Network, a print, radio and television operation, after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. The firm was criticized for problems and exorbitant costs and declined to bid on the contract renewal.
SYColeman, a subsidiary of L-3 Communications based in Arlington, Va., advertises it created the Army's Web site honoring the only Medal of Honor winner so far from the Iraq war.
Lincoln, based in Washington and formerly known as Iraqex, provides various services, including public relations, in Iraq.
Spokesmen for the companies referred inquiries to the Pentagon. A Pentagon spokesman referred them to the Tampa command, which said special operations officials were unavailable this week because of a symposium and trade show.
The companies will get their marching orders from a joint psychological operations support element created last year.
Each contractor will receive a minimum of $250,000 during the first year and $500,000 each subsequent year. The entire contract could total $100 million by 2010, records show.
The contract calls for the firms to produce print articles, video and audio broadcasts, Internet sites and novelty items, like T-shirts and bumper stickers, for foreign audiences.
Video products will include newscasts, hour-long TV shows and commercials.
James W. Crawley reports from Washington for Media General News Service.
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