Monday, January 19, 2009
The New York Times and Harper's magazine have both published reports on how the Pentagon used senior retired military officers as surrogates to not only shape the news with seemingly authoritative commentary but to "flood the zone with information” and achieve “information dominance.” Particularly after the above-the-fold New York Times story, criticism of the Pentagon program grew and the Pentagon was compelled to investigate. The Department of Defense Inspector General has published its examination of the charges on January 14th. While the report reflects a significant amount of work, the result is what government officials often understand as C.Y.A. At every turn, intentions and practice are interpreted favorably. The reports dismisses the idea that the program amounted to a "propaganda" campaign, and makes the far-fetched claim that the high-level briefings and privileged access offered to the retired brass only provided info that the retired officers could have readily have garnered by asking friends still in uniform. (Fair disclosure: I know and respect several of the retired senior officers involved in the stories. The problem with this program, which did entail doses of propaganda, is not just that the Pentagon provided privileged access to those who would "carry its water," as one Public Affairs official noted, but that the media was tacitly complicit in turning air space over to "approved" experts.)
See the Jan. 14, 2009, report.
"We consider unlikely the possibility that an RMA obtained some type of competitive advantage for a DoD contractor simply by participating in the briefings arranged as part of the Pentagon outreach program. With rare exception, information was unclassified and available for release in the public domain. It was provided openly to numerous outreach communities, not selectively to the RMAs. In our view, any “inside information” that RMAs might obtain would reasonably have been provided to them as a result of their senior rank or continuing liaison with former military associates, rather than through OASD(PA).
Similarly, any influence in the DoD acquisition process that RMAs might seek to exercise on behalf of private entities would largely depend on their expertise, entree conveyed by rank, standing in the DoD community, and continuing associations—not on the information or access obtained during a periodic OASD(PA) outreach meeting."