Pentagon Pursuing New Investigation Into Bush Propaganda Program

Published on
by
Raw Story

Pentagon Pursuing New Investigation Into Bush Propaganda Program

by
Brad Jacobson

The Pentagon's Office of Inspector General is conducting a new
investigation into a covert Bush administration Defense Department
program that used retired military analysts to produce positive wartime
news coverage.

Last May, the Inspector General's office rescinded and repudiated a prior internal investigation's report
on the retired military analyst program, which had been issued by the
Bush administration, because it "did not meet accepted quality
standards for an Inspector General work product." Yet in recent
interviews with Raw Story, Pentagon officials who took part in the
program were still defending it by referencing this invalidated report.

Gary Comerford, Inspector General spokesman for the Defense
Department, told Raw Story last week that his office is conducting an
investigation into the retired military analyst program and confirmed
that the investigation began during the summer.

Asked when his office expects to conclude the investigation,
Comerford said, "As a matter of policy we do not set deadlines since
any number of variables or factors could result in a delay."

He did confirm that investigators in his office have read Raw Story's recent articles on the topic.

Congressman John F. Tierney (D-MA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, issued a press release (cache link) this past June, announcing that Pentagon Inspector General Gordon Heddell had begun the new investigation.

Yet Raw Story and Comerford could find no other news outlet that has yet reported on the matter.

Rep. Tierney confirmed that Inspector General Heddell had reassured him that he was continuing to pursue a new investigation.

"I spoke with Gordon Heddell about his investigation of the DOD
‘Pentagon Pundits' program yesterday, and he assured me that his office
is making good progress on its investigation," Tierney said in a recent
statement to Raw Story. "I again expressed my expectation that his
office pursue this investigation with all diligence and speed."

"I look forward to receiving updates on his progress as well as his
final report," Tierney added. "I, along with my staff, will remain in
close contact with the IG's office as the investigation continues."

Pentagon officials defend program by citing rescinded report

Former Pentagon public affairs chief Lawrence Di Rita and current
deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations Bryan
Whitman continue to defend the retired military analyst program by
referencing the discredited Pentagon Inspector General's report
released in the final days of the Bush administration.

In an interview with Raw Story, Di Rita, now a chief spokesperson
for Bank of America, called the Pentagon propaganda project "an
important program" and asserted that "there's nothing related to it
that's worth talking about" because the "IG's report debunked" and
"utterly invalidated" the findings of David Barstow's New York Times expose.

Di Rita then incorrectly suggested that this investigation and
report had been conducted and released by the Obama administration.

In fact, the Inspector General's report that Di Rita cited as
evidence exonerating the program and discrediting Barstow's reporting
was not only later rescinded after an internal audit but also removed from the Defense Department's website.

In a May 5, 2009 memorandum,
Pentagon Inspector General deputy director Donald Horstman wrote, "The
internal review concluded that the report did not meet accepted quality
standards for an Inspector General work product." It found inadequacies
in "the methodology used to examine RMA [retired military analysts]
relationships with Defense contractors" and "a body of testimonial
evidence that was insufficient or inconclusive."

"In particular," Horstman added, "former senior DoD officials who
devised and managed the outreach program refused our requests for an
interview" and that only "7 out of 70" military analysts were
interviewed during the investigation.

Investigators also failed to interview retired Army General and military analyst Barry McCaffrey, the conspicuous subject of David Barstow's 5,000-plus-word follow-up Times
expose on the military analyst program, whom Barstow proved
"consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that
are in line with his corporate interests."

In the internal audit's conclusion, Horstman stated expressly, "We
are notifying you of the withdrawal of this report so that you do not
continue to rely on its conclusions. The report has been removed from
our website."

Nevertheless, Di Rita flatly denied these facts when Raw Story brought them to his attention.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman -- who Raw Story revealed
was a senior official and active participant in the program - also
attempted to downplay the Bush Pentagon's report's inaccuracies and
omissions. He failed as well to acknowledge that the document has been
invalidated.

Additionally, Whitman reaffirmed his assertion that the "intent and
purpose of the [program] is nothing other than an earnest attempt to
inform the American people."

In defending the program, Whitman also cited the Government Accountability Office's report, which was released last July.

The report acknowledged that "[c]learly, DOD attempted to favorably
influence public opinion with respect to the Administration's war
policies in Iraq and Afghanistan through the RMOs [retired military
officers]," but "did not violate the ban" against domestic propaganda.

A central supporting point for drawing that conclusion, however, was
"[w]e found no evidence that DOD attempted to conceal from the public
its outreach to RMOs or its role in providing RMOs with information,
materials, access to department officials, travel, and luncheons."

The key evidence cited to support this conclusion was an April 2006 New York Times article, "Pentagon Memo Aims to Counter Rumsfeld Critics," which was based on a leak.

The article noted that the memorandum had been sent to "a group of
former military commanders and civilian analysts," offering "a direct
challenge to the criticisms made by retired generals about Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld."

But much of the article's focus was fixed on the political drama
swirling around Rumsfeld's fight to retain his job amid a growing
firestorm of criticism.

In fact, Defense Department officials at the time, such as
then-press secretary Eric Ruff, rushed to spike any notion that the
Pentagon had fed military analysts talking points. The idea that there
might be an elaborate, systematic Pentagon talking points operation
involving the retired generals was never specifically raised in the
article.

Ruff told the Times the memo was simply a "fact sheet" and that, as the Times paraphrased Ruff saying, "In no way was it meant to enlist retired officers to speak out on behalf of Rumsfeld."

Mazzetti and Rutenberg reported: "One retired general who regularly
attends the Pentagon meetings said Saturday that he found it unusual
for the Pentagon to send such a memorandum in the middle of a heated
debate, because it was almost certain to appear politically motivated."

This account also suggested to readers that supplying
Pentagon-approved talking points for the retired generals to
disseminate on the airwaves would have been out of the ordinary when,
in fact, records would later show that's exactly what was happening.

Records would also eventually reveal Pentagon officials working
behind-the-scenes to stamp out this fire before it had time to spread
and to ensure that it could be contained.

In an email (p. 117) the day after the Times
article was published, Dallas Lawrence, then director of the community
relations office, warned a colleague (whose name is redacted) that
"this is very very sensitive now. I need you to be protected. This
email directly contradicts something Larry [Di Rita] said to a
reporter, you'd have no way of knowing that unless you checked with me."

When the Defense Department's Office of the Inspector General issued
the May memorandum invalidating the Bush Pentagon's investigation of
the military analyst program, it also noted that no further probe would
occur because the program "has been terminated and responsible senior
officials are no longer employed by the Department."

Yet Raw Story's months-long investigation has revealed that some "responsible senior officials," including Whitman, are still employed by the Defense Department and that the retired military analyst program may not have been terminated.

Brad Jacobson is a contributing investigative reporter for Raw Story. Additional research was provided by Ron Brynaert.

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

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