Pentagon Used Psychological Operation on US Public, Documents Show
Figure in Bush propaganda operation remains Pentagon spokesman
In Part I
of this series, Raw Story revealed that Bryan Whitman, the current
deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations, was an
active senior participant in a Bush administration covert Pentagon
program that used retired military analysts to generate positive
wartime news coverage.
A months-long review of documents and interviews with Pentagon
personnel has revealed that the Bush Administration's military analyst
program -- aimed at selling the Iraq war to the American people --
operated through a secretive collaboration between the Defense
Department's press and community relations offices.
Raw Story has also uncovered evidence that directly ties the
activities undertaken in the military analyst program to an official US
military document's definition of psychological operations --
propaganda that is only supposed to be directed toward foreign
The investigation of Pentagon documents
and interviews with Defense Department officials and experts in public
relations found that the decision to fold the military analyst program
into community relations and portray it as "outreach" served to obscure
the intent of the project as well as that office's partnership with the
press office. It also helped shield its senior supervisor, Bryan
Whitman, assistant secretary of defense for media operations, whose
role was unknown when the original story of the analyst program broke.
In a nearly hour-long phone interview, Whitman asserted that since
the program was not run from his office, he was neither involved nor
culpable. Exposure of the collaboration between the Pentagon press and
community relations offices on this program, however, as well as an
effort to characterize it as a mere community outreach project, belie
Whitman's claim that he bears no responsibility for the program's
These new revelations come in addition to the evidence
of Whitman's active and extensive participation in the program, as Raw
Story documented in part one of this series. Whitman remains a
spokesman for the Pentagon today.
Whitman said he stood by an earlier statement in which he averred
"the intent and purpose of the [program] is nothing other than an
earnest attempt to inform the American public."
In the interview, Whitman sought to portray his role as peripheral,
noting that his position naturally demands he speak on a number of
subjects in which he isn't necessarily directly involved.
The record, however, suggests otherwise.
In a January 2005 memorandum
to active members of both offices from then-Pentagon press office
director, Navy Captain Roxie Merritt - who now leads the community
relations office -- she emphasized the necessary "synergy of outreach
shop and media ops working together" on the military analyst program.
Merritt recommended that both the press and community relations
offices develop a "hot list" of analysts who could dependably "carry
our water" and provide them with ultra-exclusive access that would
compel the networks to "weed out the less reliably friendly analysts"
on their own.
"Media ops and outreach can work on a plan to maximize use of the
analysts and figure out a system by which we keep our most reliably
friendly analysts plugged in on everything from crisis response to
future plans," Merritt remarked. "As evidenced by this analyst trip to
Iraq, the synergy of outreach shop and media ops working together on
these types of projects is enormous and effective. Will continue to
examine ways to improve processes."
In response, Lawrence Di Rita, then Pentagon public affairs chief,
agreed. He told Merritt and both offices in an email, "I guess I
thought we already were doing a lot of this."
Several names on the memo are redacted. Those who are visible read
like a who's who of the Pentagon press and community relations offices:
Whitman, Merritt, her deputy press office director Gary Keck (both of
whom reported directly to Whitman) and two Bush political appointees,
Dallas Lawrence and Allison Barber, then respectively director and head
of community relations.
Merritt became director of the office, and its de facto chief until
the appointment of a new deputy assistant secretary of defense, after
the departures of Barber and Lawrence, the ostensible leaders of the
military analyst program. She remains at the Defense Department today.
When reached through email, Merritt attempted to explain the
function of her office's outreach program and what distinguishes it
from press office activities.
"Essentially," Merritt summarized, "we provide another avenue of
communications for citizens and organizations wanting to communicate
directly with DoD."
Asked to clarify, she said that outreach's purpose is to educate the
public in a one-to-one manner about the Defense Department and
military's structure, history and operations. She also noted her office
"does not handle [the] news media unless they have a specific question
about one of our programs."
Merritt eventually admitted that it is not a function of the
outreach program to provide either information or talking points to
individuals or a group of individuals -- such as the retired military
analysts -- with the intention that those recipients use them to
directly engage with traditional news media and influence news coverage.
Asked directly if her office provides talking points for this
purpose, she replied, "No. The talking points are developed for use by
Experts in public relations and propaganda say Raw Story's findings
reveal the program itself was "unwise" and "inherently deceptive." One
expressed surprise that one of the program's senior figures was still
speaking for the Pentagon.
"Running the military analyst program from a community relations
office is both surprising and unwise," said Nicholas Cull, a professor
of public diplomacy at USC's Annenberg School and an expert on
propaganda. "It is surprising because this is not what that office
should be doing [and] unwise because the element of subterfuge is
always a lightening rod for public criticism."
Diane Farsetta, a senior researcher at the Center for Media and
Democracy, which monitors publics relations and media manipulation,
said calling the program "outreach" was "very calculatedly misleading"
and another example of how the project was "inherently deceptive."
"This has been their talking point in general on the Pentagon pundit
program," Farsetta explained. "You know, ‘We're all just making sure
that we're sharing information.'"
Farsetta also said that it's "pretty stunning" that no one,
including Whitman, has been willing to take any responsibility for the
program and that the Pentagon Inspector General's office and Congress
have yet to hold anyone accountable.
"It's hard to think of a more blatant example of propaganda than this program," Farsetta said.
Cull said the revelations are "just one more indication that the
entire apparatus of the US government's strategic communications --
civilian and military, at home and abroad -- is in dire need of review
A PSYOPS Program Directed at American Public
When the military analyst program was first revealed by The New York Times in 2008, retired US Army Col. Ken Allard described it as "PSYOPS on steroids."
It turns out this was far from a casual reference. Raw Story has
discovered new evidence that directly exposes this stealth media
project and the activities of its participants as matching the US
government's own definition of psychological operations, or PSYOPS.
The US Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command fact sheet, which states that PSYOPS should be directed "to foreign audiences" only, includes the following description:
"Used during peacetime, contingencies and declared war, these
activities are not forms of force, but are force multipliers that use
nonviolent means in often violent environments."
Pentagon public affairs officials referred to the military analysts as "message force multipliers" in documented communications.
A prime example is a May 2006 memorandum from then community relations chief Allison Barber in which she proposes sending the military analysts on another trip to Iraq:
"Based on past trips, I would suggest limiting the group to 10
analysts, those with the greatest ability to serve as message force
Nicholas Cull, who also directs the public diplomacy master's
program at USC and has written extensively on propaganda and media
history, found the Pentagon public affairs officials' use of such terms
both incriminating and reckless.
"[Their] use of psyop terminology is an ‘own goal,'"
Cull explained in an email, "as it speaks directly to the American
public's underlying fear of being brainwashed by its own government."
This new evidence provides further perspective on an incident cited by the Times.
show that the day after 14 marines died in Iraq on August 3, 2005,
James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint Chiefs,
instructed military analysts during a briefing to work to prevent the
incident from weakening public support for the war. Conway reminded the
military analysts assembled, "The strategic target remains our
population." [p. 102]
Same Strategy, Different Program
Bryan Whitman was also involved in a different Pentagon public
affairs project during the lead-up to the war in Iraq: embedding
The embed and military analyst programs shared the same underlying
strategy of "information dominance," the same objective of selling Bush
administration war policies by generating favorable news coverage and
were directed at the same target -- the American public.
Torie Clarke, the first Pentagon public affairs chief, is often
credited for conceiving both programs. But Clarke and Whitman have
openly acknowledged his deep involvement in the embed project.
Clarke declined to be interviewed for this article.
Whitman said he was "heavily involved in the process" of the embed program's development, implementation and supervision.
Before embedding, reporters and media
organizations were forced to sign a contract whose ground rules
included allowing military officials to review articles for release,
traveling with military personnel escorts at all times or remaining in
designated areas, only conducting on-the-record interviews, and
agreeing that the government may terminate the contract "at any time
and for any reason."
In May 2002, with planning for a possible invasion of Iraq already
in progress, Clarke appointed Whitman to head all Pentagon media
operations. Prior to that, he had served since 1995 in the Pentagon
press office, both as deputy director for press operations and as a
public affairs specialist.
The timing of Whitman's appointment coincided with the development
stages of the embed and military analyst programs. He was the ideal
candidate for both projects.
Whitman had a military background, having served in combat as a
Special Forces commander and as an Army public affairs officer with
years of experience in messaging from the Pentagon. He also had
experience in briefing and prepping civilian and military personnel.
provided him with a facility and familiarity in navigating military and
civilian channels. With these tools in hand, he was able to create
dialogue between the two and expedite action in a sprawling and
sometimes contentious bureaucracy.
Buried in an obscure April 2008 online New York Times Q&A with readers, reporter David Barstow disclosed:
"As Lawrence Di Rita, a former senior Pentagon official told me,
they viewed [the military analyst program] as the ‘mirror image' of the
Pentagon program for embedding reporters with units in the field. In
this case, the military analysts were in effect ‘embedded' with the
senior leadership through a steady mix of private briefings, trips and
Di Rita denied the conversation had occurred in a telephone interview.
"I don't doubt that's what he heard, but that's not what I said," Di Rita asserted.
Whitman said he'd never heard Di Rita make any such comparison between the programs.
Barstow, however, said he stood behind the veracity of the quote and the conversation he attributed to Di Rita.
Di Rita, who succeeded Clarke, also declined to answer any questions
related to Whitman's involvement in the military analyst program,
including whether he had been involved in its creation.
Clarke and Whitman have both discussed information dominance and its role in the embed program.
In her 2006 book Lipstick on a Pig, Clarke revealed that
"most importantly, embedding was a military strategy in addition to a
public affairs one" (p. 62) and that the program's strategy was
"simple: information dominance" (p. 187). To achieve it, she explained,
there was a need to circumvent the traditional news media "filter"
where journalists act as "intermediaries."
The goal, just as with the military analyst program, was not to spin a story but to control the narrative altogether.
At the 2003 Military-Media conference in Chicago, Whitman told the
audience, "We wanted to take the offensive to achieve information
dominance" because "information was going to play a major role in
combat operations." [pdf link p. 2] One of the other program's objectives, he said, was "to build and maintain support for U.S. policy." [pdf link, p. 16 - quote sourced in 2005 recap of 2003 mil-media conference]
At the March 2004 "Media at War"
conference at UC Berkeley, Lt. Col. Rick Long, former head of media
relations for the US Marine Corps, offered a candid view of the
Pentagon's engagement in "information warfare" during the Bush
"Our job is to win, quite frankly," said Long. "The reason why we
wanted to embed so many media was we wanted to dominate the information
environment. We wanted to beat any kind of propaganda or disinformation
at its own game."
"Overall," he told the audience, "we're happy with the outcome."
The Appearance of Transparency
On a national radio program just before the invasion of Iraq, Whitman claimed that embedded reporters would have a firsthand perspective of "the good, the bad and the ugly."
But veteran foreign correspondent Reese Erlich told Raw Story that
the embed program was "a stroke of genius by the Bush administration"
because it gave the appearance of transparency while "in reality, they
were manipulating the news."
In a phone interview, Erlich, who is currently covering the war in
Afghanistan as a "unilateral" (which allows reporters to move around
more freely without the restrictions of embed guidelines), also pointed
out the psychological and practical influence the program has on
"You're traveling with a particular group of soldiers," he
explained. "Your life literally depends on them. And you see only the
firefights or slog that they're involved in. So you're not going to get
anything close to balanced reporting."
At the August 2003 Military-Media conference in Chicago, Jonathan
Landay, who covered the initial stages of the war for Knight Ridder
Newspapers, said that being a unilateral "gave me the flexibility to do
my job." [pdf link p. 2]
He added, "Donald Rumsfeld told the American people that what
happened in northern Iraq after [the invasion] was a little
‘untidiness.' What I saw, and what I reported, was a tsunami of murder,
looting, arson and ethnic cleansing."
Paul Workman, a journalist with over thirty years at CBC News,
including foreign correspondent reporting on the wars in Iraq and
of the program in April 2003, "It is a brilliant, persuasive conspiracy
to control the images and the messages coming out of the battlefield
and they've succeeded colossally."
Erlich said he thought most mainstream US reporters have been
unwilling to candidly discuss the program because they "weren't
interested in losing their jobs by revealing what they really thought
about the embed process."
Now embedded with troops in Afghanistan for McClatchy, Landay told
Raw Story it's not that reporters shouldn't be embedded with troops at
all, but that it should be only one facet of every news outlet's war
Embedding, he said, offers a "soda-straw view of events." This isn't
necessarily negative "as long as a news outlet has a number of embeds
and unilaterals whose pictures can be combined" with civilian
perspectives available from international TV outlets such as Reuters
TV, AP TV, and al Jazeera, he said.
Landay placed more blame on US network news outlets than on the
embed program itself for failing to show a more balanced and accurate
But when asked if the Pentagon and the designers of the embed
program counted as part of their embedding strategy on the dismal track
record of US network news outlets when it came to including
international TV footage from civilian perspectives, he replied, "I
will not second guess the Pentagon's motives."
Brad Jacobson is a contributing investigative reporter for Raw Story. Additional research was provided by Ron Brynaert.