National Security Archive reveals Pentagon aimed to control Iraqi media during war

WASHINGTON, USA (IPS/GIN) – The Pentagon was strategizing about how to control the Iraqi media during the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to a document released May 8 by the National Security Archive.

The document advises the creation of a “Rapid Reaction Media Team” designed to ensure control over major Iraqi media while providing an Iraqi “face” for its efforts. The partially redacted, three-page document was accompanied by a longer PowerPoint presentation that included a proposed six-month, $51 million budget for the media-control operation, apparently the first phase in a one-to-two-year “strategic information campaign.”


Among other items, the budget called for the hiring of two U.S. “media consultants” who would be paid $140,000 each for six months’ work. An additional $800,000 was to be paid for six Iraqi consultants during the same period. Both the paper and the slide presentation were prepared in mid-January 2003, two months before the invasion, according to National Security Archive analyst Joyce Battle. They were prepared by two Pentagon offices–Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict–which, among other things, specialize in psychological warfare. A third author of the document was the Office of Special Plans under then-undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith.

The media-team concept “focuses on [U.S./U.K.] pre- and post-hostilities efforts to develop programming, train talent and rapidly deploy a team of U.S./UK media experts with a team of ‘hand selected’ Iraqi media experts to communicate immediately with the Iraqi public opinion upon liberation of Iraq,” according to the paper.

The “hand-picked” Iraqi experts, according to the paper, would provide planning and program guidance for the U.S. experts and help “select and train the Iraqi broadcasters and publishers for the [U.S.]/coalition sponsored information effort.”

“It will be as if, after another day of deadly agit-prop [propaganda], the North Korean people turned off their TVs at night, and turned them on in the morning to find the rich fare of South Korean TV, spread before them as their very own,” the paper enthused, adding that “a re-constituted free Iraqi domestic media can serve as a model in the Middle East where so much Arab hate-media are themselves equivalent to weapons of mass destruction.”

Whether the plan was implemented as described in the paper is not clear, although the National Security Archive also released an audit by the Pentagon’s Inspector-General regarding two dozen, mostly non-competitive contracts totaling $122.5 million awarded by the defense department to three defense contractors that carried out media-related activities in Iraq after the invasion.

The contractors included the Rendon Group and Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC) which received a $25 million contract to create an Iraqi Media Network whose aims appear to be roughly consistent with those laid out in the White Paper, but which largely fell apart after about six months, as a result of alleged incompetence and infighting. SAIC is the same company that hired World Bank communications staffer Shaha Ali Riza, at the reported behest of then-deputy defense secretary (now World Bank President) Paul Wolfowitz with whom she was romantically involved. Ms. Riza worked for SAIC from March to May, 2003, as part of a “Democracy and Governance” team.

The third company covered by the audit is the five-year-old Lincoln Group which, among other activities, has reportedly paid millions of dollars to Iraqi newspapers to publish pro-U.S. articles since the invasion.

The Rapid Reaction Media Team was conceived as a “quick start bridge” between Iraq’s state-controlled media network and an “Iraqi Free Media,” which the White Paper’s authors described as the long-term goal of the program.

“After the cessation of hostilities, having professional U.S.-trained Iraqi media teams immediately in place to portray a new Iraq (by Iraqis for Iraqis) with hopes for a prosperous, democratic future, will have a profound psychological and political impact on the Iraqi people,” according to the paper.

“The mission will be to inform the Iraqi public about [U.S.]/coalition intent and operations, to stabilize Iraq (especially preventing the trifurcation of Iraq after hostilities) and to provide Iraqis hope for their future,” it went on, noting that the media team would immediately interface with the designated U.S. Central Command in Baghdad and “begin broadcasting and printing approved [U.S. government] information to the Iraqi public.”

The paper lays out a number of “major tasks” needed to set up the media team and its operations and to translate U.S. policy and thematic guidance into news and entertainment. Among the “themes and messages” to be communicated, the paper ranked first “the De-Baathification program,” followed by recent history telling such as “Uncle Saddam,” the History Channel’s “Saddam’s Bomb-Maker” and “Killing Fields.” It also gave a high ranking to a U.S.-approved “Democracy Series” and topics including marshlands re-hydration, mine awareness, “re-starting the oil, justice and the rule of law and war criminals.

The plan also listed several related themes to be stressed in programming, including “political prisoners and atrocity interviews,” “Saddam’s palaces and opulence,” and “WMD [weapons of mass destruction] disarmament.”

As for Entertainment and News Magazine programming, the plan listed at the top “Hollywood,” followed by news networks, “Arab country donations” and sports. The plan also called for the production of “on-the-shelf programming” during the first month of the occupation, a process that included obtaining the rights to pre-existing programs, producing new programs, securing translations if produced in another language; and preparing print products, including the “first edition of the new Iraq weekly newspaper.

All but $2 million of the total budget was to be devoted to media infrastructure and operating costs, including transmitters and studios for both radio and television and microwave links and repeaters. The power point presentation called for the media team to “identify and vet Iraqi media experts and ‘anchors,’ and train a group of Iraqi journalists to staff the new networks. The media team was also supposed to “identify the media infrastructure that we need left intact, and work with [U.S. Central Command] targeteers to find alternative ways of disabling key sites,” including, presumably, those media outlets whose messages were not consistent with the themes the Pentagon wished to convey.

“Evidently, the Baghdad headquarters of the Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera was not part of ‘the media infrastructure that we need left intact,’” noted the NSA’s Ms. Battle, who pointed to the April 8, 2003, U.S. missile attack that hit the network’s Baghdad bureau, killing reporter Tariq Ayoub. The Pentagon had been extensively briefed on the bureau’s location before the invasion, and the offices were well-marked as a TV facility.

Al-Jazeera’s Kabul bureau, which was located in a downtown office building, was also destroyed by two “smart bombs” during the U.S. air campaign in Afghanistan in late 2001. In April 2004, during an extended battle for Fallujah, Iraq that was covered by Al-Jazeera, U.S. President George W. Bush suggested attacking the network’s Qatar headquarters during a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to leaked notes of the talks.