This is illegal.
It’s not even a close call.
Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators
By Michael Hastings, Rolling Stone
February 23, 2011 11:55 PM ET
The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.
“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”
The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops – the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors – are supposed to be used exclusively on “hostile foreign groups.” Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a “propaganda rider” that also prohibits such manipulation. “Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans,” says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s what you learn on day one.”
Holmes believed that using his team to target American civilians violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was passed by Congress to prevent the State Department from using Soviet-style propaganda techniques on U.S. citizens. But when Holmes brought his concerns to Col. Gregory Breazile, the spokesperson for the Afghan training mission run by Caldwell, the discussion ended in a screaming match. “It’s not illegal if I say it isn’t!” Holmes recalls Breazile shouting.
Please note that this took place on Barack Obama’s watch, in defense of Barack Obama’s failed Afghanistan policy.
Glenn Greenwald Update below.
The military/media attacks on the Hastings article
By Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com
Sunday, Feb 27, 2011 04:28 ET
In other words, military officials want to impugn Holmes and Hastings, but are afraid to attach their names to their claims and thus be accountable for them — exactly the way these officials seek to influence the Afghanistan war debate with covert propaganda, all without any accountability. So they instruct their media servants to disseminate their message anonymously, uncritically, and without a shred of accountability, and “journalists” like O’Donnell and Barnes then snap into line and comply. As a result, the focus of the story has been quickly shifted away from Holmes’ allegations of illegal military propaganda to whether Hastings is a bad journalist and whether Holmes has integrity: all accomplished without any of these military officials having to speak publicly or even to offer any specifics. As Hastings told me today:
The key question — which they are trying to avoid — is whether it’s legal to use an information operations cell– trained to conduct psychological operations, among other things — to influence and manipulate U.S. senators. Two lawyers told Holmes it was illegal, and other experts I spoke to said the same thing. But a few media outlets have quickly turned their focus on Holmes in an obvious attempt to discredit him. Now, General Caldwell and his people claim that what the general and his staff were doing was “innocent.” I don’t doubt Gen. Caldwell and his friends actually believe that — and that is what’s truly disturbing.
That’s what our establishment media outlets largely are for: to disseminate and amplify the messages of our most powerful political, military and financial factions without any accountability.
It’s not difficult to understand the widespread media hostility toward Hastings and the willingness — the eagerness — to trash his stories and sources using power-protecting anonymity. In an interview he gave after his McChrystal story last year, Hastings was asked about the attacks on him by fellow journalists and the risk that he would lose “access” as a result of what he published — a common refrain from journalists criticizing his reporting — and this was his response:
Look, I went into journalism to do journalism, not advertising. My views are critical but that shouldn’t be mistaken for hostile – I’m just not a stenographer. There is a body of work that shows how I view these issues but that was hard-earned through experience, not something I learned going to a cocktail party on fucking K Street. That’s what reporters are supposed to do, report the story.
In other words, he actually sees his role as being adversarial to those in power, to disclose rather than conceal the truth, and to check the conduct of government officials — the exact opposite of how most of his colleagues perceive themselves and their role. While Hastings seeks to expose the secret wrongdoing of the powerful, journalists like John Burns, Norah O’Donnell, and Julian Barnes seek to protect it, and thus scorn Hastings and offer themselves up as instruments for powerful officials to anonymously disseminate claims without scrutiny. Hastings and especially Lt. Col. Holmes courageously put their names on their statements; but the powerful military officials who apparently broke the law are able to smear them without any need to identify themselves, thanks to their reporter-servants who serve as government spokespeople masquerading as journalists.