Pentagon Officials Won’t Confirm Bush Propaganda Program Ended

Published on
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Raw Story

Pentagon Officials Won’t Confirm Bush Propaganda Program Ended

by
Brad Jacobson

The covert Bush administration program that used retired military
analysts to generate favorable wartime news coverage may not have been
terminated, Raw Story has found.

In interviews, Pentagon officials in charge of the press and
community relations offices - which worked in partnership on the
military analyst program - equivocated on the subject of whether the
program has ended.

Last May, the Pentagon's Office of Inspector General issued a
memorandum rescinding a Bush administration investigative report on the
retired military analyst program because it "did not meet accepted
quality standards for an Inspector General work product." The
now-retracted report had exonerated officials of using propaganda and referred to the program as just "one of many outreach groups."

Yet Donald Horstman, Pentagon Inspector General deputy director, also stated in the memorandum
that his office wouldn't probe further because the "outreach program
has been terminated and responsible senior officials are no longer
employed by the Department."

Raw Story's investigation, however, has shown
that some "responsible senior officials" are still employed by the
Defense Department, including Bryan Whitman, who remains a chief
Pentagon spokesman and head of all media operations, and Roxie Merritt,
who is head of the Pentagon's community relations office.

Raw Story has discovered that Horstman's other justification for not
reopening an investigation at the time - "because the [retired military
analyst] outreach program has been terminated" - remains an open
question.

A week after David Barstow's New York Times expose on the program broke in April 2008, Whitman said the military analyst program's suspension was only "temporary."

Reiterating at the time that he thought the program was merely a way
to better inform the American public, he also said, "It's temporarily
suspended just so that we can take a look at some of the concerns."

When Raw Story asked Mr. Whitman if this program was still being run
out of the Pentagon, he first replied firmly, "No, not at this point."

But then, in what seemed an attempt to downplay his role in the
program, he quickly added, "Again, it's not one of my programs and it
would be up to the leadership of public affairs, a new assistant
secretary of defense, making any sort of determination to go forward if
they deemed it appropriate, necessary, whatever."

"It's hard for me to tell what future leadership might decide to
do," Whitman continued. "Again, since it's not part of the media
operations aspect of public affairs here, it's not a program for which
I will be making a decision about."

Raw Story also asked Roxie Merritt if she could confirm that the military analyst program has been officially terminated.

Ms. Merritt, in an email interview, first replied, "[A]t the present
time, we don't have regularly scheduled conference calls with retired
military analysts" but that "we would not, however, preclude responding
to queries for information from or provide future opportunities for
them to talk to defense leaders and program managers."

Merritt also noted that should there be regularly scheduled
conference calls with the military analysts again in the future, they
would be shared in various publicly accessible formats.

She added, though, "Obviously, there are operational security and
privacy act issues and other government regulations that must be
handled carefully, but we make every possible effort to be open and
transparent."

Asked then to confirm if, in the interim, her office has been open
to providing information on an individual basis to retired military
analysts, Merritt replied, "Sure. If asked, we would provide them with
the same information that we would provide you if you had a question
about DoD."

During the interviews, neither Whitman nor Merritt expressed concern
about the way the military analyst program was run by the Bush
administration.

Iraq then and Afghanistan now

Internal Pentagon documents
show that the military analyst program was stepped up in 2005, when US
public support for the war in Iraq began to sour. Today, as recent polls show American support for the war in Afghanistan plummeting, the Pentagon and the Obama White House are facing a similar problem.

If the military analyst program, in some form or another, is still
being run from the Pentagon, then the two most senior players in the
Bush administration propaganda project remaining at the Defense
Department, Bryan Whitman and Roxie Merritt, would be poised to step up
activities once again.

And they are not currently under the watchful eye of any direct superiors who've been brought in by the Obama administration.

While Whitman said that the future of the program would be up to the
next assistant secretary of defense, he also confirmed that that
position, which is filled by political appointment, remains vacant.

No one, he added, has even been nominated yet.

Merritt is in a similar position of enhanced authority because the
position above her has yet to be filled. Currently serving as President
Obama's director of the Pentagon office for community relations, she's
also its de facto chief until a new deputy assistant secretary of
defense for internal communications is appointed.

What's more, Merritt - whose email signature line was "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of All Who Threaten It" (p. 30) - formerly worked as Whitman's press office director at the time of the military analyst program's increased activity in 2005.

Whitman and Merritt's career civil servant status also continue to
buffer them from scrutiny regarding political or ideological
motivations, regardless of their activities in the Bush administration.

Retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, an expert in military
strategy and operations who has taught at the National War College, Air
War College and Naval War College and has been critical of Bush
administration strategy, expressed disgust at the Bush holdovers who
took part in propaganda against the American public, regardless of
whether they were political or career appointees.

Commenting on Whitman's presence in the Obama administration,
Gardiner said, "He should be so tainted with what the Bush
administration did that that in itself would be enough that he should
be gone, even if he's a career appointee."

"The list of things that Pentagon public affairs participated in
during the run-up [to the Iraq war] and immediately after the invasion
are horrendous," Gardiner continued.

But he pointed out that Whitman "serves as a career person as long
as his performance is satisfactory to his immediate superiors."

As to suggestions that Whitman be held accountable by a
congressional investigative body for his part in the military analyst
program, Gardiner noted, "Congress doesn't evaluate individual
performance of people. It evaluates the performance of organizations."

Journalist and historian Norman Solomon said he found an "unfortunate logic" to Whitman remaining at the Pentagon.

Solomon, who recently visited Afghanistan on a fact-finding mission,
told Raw Story, "A White House that sees fit to continue on with Robert
Gates might see no problem with continuing on with Bryan Whitman."

He added, "The empirical answer [to why he remains] would be that he's still useful."

Veteran foreign correspondent Reese Erlich, who is currently
independently covering the Afghanistan war, believes that "to some
extent, the Obama administration is just simply replicating all the
same mistakes of the Bush administration - particularly the war in
Afghanistan."

"And if you're going to do that," he explained in an interview with
Raw Story, "then you need propagandists who can make stuff up to make
the war seem more popular in the short run."

[Read Part I and Part II of this series.]

(Brad Jacobson is a contributing investigative reporter to Raw Story; additional research provided by Ron Brynaert)

 

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