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HERAT, Afghanistan (Apr. 14, 2010) U.S. Army SPC Travis E. Olsen, of 5-158 Bravo Company, releases fliers over the village of Mangan, in Herat Province, in an effort to educate local residents of various dangers. (ISAF photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Laurie L. Wood) HERAT, Afghanistan (Apr. 14, 2010) U.S. Army SPC Travis E. Olsen, of 5-158 Bravo Company, releases fliers over the village of Mangan, in Herat Province, in an effort to educate local residents of various dangers. (ISAF photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Laurie L. Wood)  

Pentagon spending heavily on propaganda ops

The Pentagon has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on marketing and propaganda campaigns dubbed “information operations” to win over local populations in Iraq and Afghanistan, USA Today reports. The funds dedicated to information operations grew from $9 million annually in 2005 to $580 million annually in 2009, according to USA Today. Last year the funding level dropped to $202 million because of the recent withdrawal from Iraq.

The Pentagon defines information operations as “psychological operations, deception, protecting vital data, electronic warfare, and computer network defense and attack.” On average, the Pentagon spends $96 million annually, peaking in 2009 at $580 million. Spending dropped to $355 million in 2011 and $202 million in 2012 as troops withdrew from Iraq.

These operations involve a combination of radio, TV broadcasts, leaflets, newspapers and entertainment to deliver the Pentagon’s message. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon tried to promote the virtues of government to locals, report roadside bombs, and inform insurgents about how they could switch sides.

Information operations often work hand-in-hand with intelligence operations. After a sniper attack, information operations usually fills the area with anti-insurgent messages, and intelligence operatives enter neighborhoods to to gather information. After an attack on a military convoy in April 2009, information operators told local Iraqis “the true enemies of your nation are the criminals that continue to attack the brave security forces and soldiers protecting you and your families” and to report any information about insurgents so they can be arrested.

But it’s hard to estimate exactly how effective informational operations are. Rear Adm. Hal Pittman acknowledged that it’s not always clear if changes in behavior are linked to specific ad campaigns. “It’s still difficult because communications is not cause and effect,” he told USA Today.

Documents reviewed by USA Today revealed that success of an information operation is measured in terms of output, rather than effectiveness. When the government tries to determine how effective an operation is, they often turn to information operations contractors for information. The contractor reviews the effectiveness of its own operations, which is inherently a conflict of interest.

Irresponsible Contracting

The biggest beneficiary of information operations, California-based Leonie Industries, was started in 2004 by Camille Chidiac and Rema Dupont, siblings who have no experience working with the military. The company was awarded contracts worth over $130 million, $90 million of which the Army has already paid them.

The Duponts had their fair share of tax problems. USA today notes that by “early 2011, liens for more than $4 million in unpaid federal taxes had been placed on both of their homes.”

The Army, however, has praised the efforts of Leonie Industries in recent years and has given Leonie employees commendations, despite the Army’s problems with the company. USA Today notes:

“The company did not pay for heat for its Afghan employees or provide for their medical care in the cold and increasingly dangerous war zone. Army records obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act reveal that the Army threatened to drop Leonie’s contract unless it fixed the problems, which the company eventually did.”

Currently, Congress is not given a detailed account of what the money is being spent on. The Pentagon’s October 2003 Information Operations Roadmap reads, “The Department can not currently identify what is spent on I.O. or even on specific core capabilities.”

Money for the program comes from a series of hard to track accounts and is given to contractors whose identities are kept form the public and known only to Pentagon insiders.

USA Today notes:

“… the Pentagon used 172 different “contract vehicles” to provide information operations in Iraq between 2006 and 2008, according to a report by the Defense Department’s inspector general in September 2009.”

The article further notes that no documents could be found showing where the money was spent and whether it was used effectively or not. Military officials have also acknowledged that spending on the program has grown substantially, often without adequate oversight. they say that has changed, however.

Spinsters

A newsletter published by military command in Kabul said the military is still “cranking out over 1,000 hours of TV and radio programming each quarter in both attributed and unattributed fashion.”

Pittman further indicated that the U.S. prefers to use locals or non-governmental organizations to purvey the U.S. message across the country.

“The honest truth is that because we are outsiders and not Muslim, we have a lower believability and credibility rating than people within the Afghan government or Afghans,” he said. He estimates that 70 percent of messages are delivered by radio broadcast, 25 percent on television, and 5 percent in print.

The military writes the scripts, but local voices communicate them. “All of the voices, if you will, are local voices,” Pittman said. “There was never, as I recall, anything other than a local voice, somebody who people knew. They’re hearing somebody they know and trust.”

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