On January 16, the Friday before Barack Obama's inauguration, the Defense Department inspector general released the report of an investigation of the Pentagon's Retired Military Analyst program. The report stated that, "the evidence in this case was insufficient to conclude" that the program had "violated statutory prohibitions on publicity or propaganda," because "the definition of propaganda in this context remains unclear."
Miriam-Webster OnLine defines propaganda as "the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person." In April 2008, an in-depth investigation by the New York Times revealed that the RMA program had employed retired military officers in a "campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance."
So all that really remains unclear in this context is why the I.G. didn't look up the definition of "propaganda." Maybe that was outside the scope of his investigation.
"Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand," by David Barstow was a watershed story for the New York Times, the paper that, more than any other mainstream media outlet, had allowed the Bush administration to use it as a conduit for the false propaganda that convinced the country of the need to invade Iraq. Where Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller cited unnamed "officials" nearly 30 times in their September 2002 article that fraudulently asserted Saddam Hussein was pursuing nuclear weapons technology, Barstow's investigative report was an exemplar of cold fact and attributed testimony.
Retired Army colonel Ken Allard, an NBC analyst, called the RMA program a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he told Barstow.
Barstow referenced internal Pentagon documents that "repeatedly refer to the military analysts as 'message force multipliers' or 'surrogates' who could be counted on to deliver administration 'themes and messages' to millions of Americans 'in the form of their own opinions.'"
Don Myer, aide to assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Torie Clarke, told Barstow that a strategic decision was made in 2002 to use the analysts as the main focus of the public relations push to argue the case for war with Iraq. Another Clarke aid, Brent T. Krueger, said the idea was to have the analysts be in effect “writing the op-ed” for the war.
In all, the program recruited more than 75 retired officers, all of them cleared by Donald Rumsfeld, the largest contingent of whom, not surprisingly, worked for FOX News.
“You could see that they were messaging,” Krueger told Barstow. “You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over… You’d look at them and say, ‘This is working.’ ”
The Pentagon "armed its analysts with talking points" and expected to hear them echoed in the media. Former Green Beret and FOX News analyst Robert S. Bevelacqua admitted, “It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’ ”
Ironically, White House spokesmodel Brian Whitman told Barstow it is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department.”
It would have been incredible to think that in another American century, but not in this one. Up until the very end of the Rumsfeld reign, the Pentagon kept its analysts on a short leash the same way it manipulated the rest of the media, by granting access to those who played ball and denying access to those who refused to.
I Cannot Tell a Lie, Unless…
Retired army general and FOX News commentator Paul E. Vallely confessed to Barstow that when the Pentagon flew him and other retired military analysts to Iraq in 2003, he immediately saw that "things were going south." On returning home, however, Vallely told Fox anchor Alan Colmes "You can't believe the progress."
Vallely's mendacity was in part motivated by his belief in the hallucination that the U.S. lost the Vietnam War because of unfavorable press coverage. Vallely and others of his generation have ingrained this mantra on younger military personnel to the point where it is now an indelible part of the American military ethos; it never occurs to any of them that with deployments of up to a half million troops and all the material support a force could possibly want over a span of more than a decade, the country couldn’t have supported the war any more than it did, and that it wasn’t bad press that caused the war to be lost, it was the lost war that caused the bad press.
Delusional as he is, we might grant Vallely virtue points for sincerity. Other analysts, though, were in the game for the money, a lot more money than the per-appearance fees they got from the news networks. Most of them were connected to military contractors and stood to profit from the war they were promoting.
Part III will describe how the Retired Military Analyst program served as a confluence of Big War, Big Message, Big Bucks, Big Brother and the Big Schmooze.