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Military ad for psyops against US citizens { July 30 2004 }

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Friday, July 30, 2004
Evidence of Pentagon Psychological Warfare Operations Against U.S. Citizens Surfaces in Want Ads
By Justin Rood, CQ Staff

The U.S. military’s domestic operations command says it is not planning or conducting a secret psychological warfare campaign to manipulate the opinions of American citizens, despite a U.S. Air Force document suggesting such activities might be taking place.

“We do not do information operations against the American public,” said Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kelly, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Northern Command, known as NORTHCOM, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Kelly confirmed that there is a “psyops,” or psychological warfare operations, unit at NORTHCOM but said its work is “designed to influence and deter foreign enemies from attacking the United States.”

NORTHCOM was created after the 9/11 attacks to direct military operations, including intelligence analysis, air defense and support for civilian first responders, inside the United States. It shares the military’s counterterrorism mission with the Pentagon’s Pacific Command, Central Command and Strategic Command.

The possibility of a propaganda program run out of the military’s domestic headquarters surfaced with a phrase in an online employment ad.

An advertisement for an “influence operations specialist” with a Top Secret security clearance for the U.S. Air Force appeared on the Web sites of military contractors several weeks ago.

The position would “coordinate [Air Force] inputs to NORAD-NORTHCOM influence operations,” according to the ad. It defined those operations to include “PSYOPS themes and messages for use in foreign countries, public affairs themes and messages,” as well as “deception plans.”

The same position and job description is included in Air Force contracting documents.

At first, NORTHCOM refused to discuss the existence of any such operations.

“It’s illegal to do psyops in the United States, and we don’t talk about it,” was all NORTHCOM’s Kelly would say when asked to confirm or deny that his center was involved in psychological operations. He asked to see copies of the Air Force documents.

NORTHCOM officials waited several days before commenting further. Eventually, they said that the details of the job description by the Air Force relating to NORTHCOM were erroneous.

“Psyops is an operational issue, and I can’t discuss that,” Kelly said at first. Asked later if NORTHCOM’s psyops center coordinated with its public affairs office, he said, “Trust me, there’s nobody from psyops here in my office.

“We may say the similar thing — you know, ‘The sky is blue’ — but we don’t coordinate with each other,” he added. “Psyops doesn’t come in here and say, ‘What are you saying today?’ ”

Later, however, Kelly seemed to indicate there was a modicum of coordination between the two offices.

“There’s coordination where they might say, ‘Hey guys, we’re doing this,’ and if it’s illegal it’ll be stopped,” the spokesman said. Later, he reiterated that there was no coordination between the two, and then said that that was actually a “general rule,” and that “here at NORTHCOM, there shouldn’t be any exception to the general rule.”

Regarding the job description, Kelly said that there is no division called “influence operations” at NORTHCOM, and that, as he put it, “in this case, ‘influence’ is probably the wrong word.”

U.S. Army Role

One section of the Air Force job description said the influence operations specialist was to coordinate with the Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group (POG), as well as with NORTHCOM public affairs, “deception planners” and other agencies.

Kelly said that language was only a “laundry list” of possible contacts the position might involve and meant only to prevent a future employee from balking and saying, “That’s not in my job description.”

“They threw out — that’s a laundry list,” Kelly said. “When you write a job contract, you want to throw in as much as possible of who they’re going to talk to. . . . People say, ‘That’s not in my job description,’ [so] it covers the blanket.”

Kelly said the influence operations specialist might well interact with the Army’s 4th POG, a normally secretive unit that drew attention in 2000 when it was reported that it had made arrangements with CNN and NPR to send them interns to learn the news business.

“[The job description] throws them in because, in theory, a part of information operations can deal with psyops,” the spokesman said.

As for why an influence operations specialist would need to coordinate with NORTHCOM’s public affairs office, Kelly said: “Because if something’s going on we need to know about, we can get the word out to the press.

“It says who they may be working with, but not how,” Kelly pointed out. “There may be a major network attack going on, and we need to get the word out.”

The Pentagon’s recent history with so-called influence operations has been rocky.

In February 2002, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon had created an Office of Strategic Influence to “[develop] plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations,” to influence the public and leadership of both enemy and allied countries.

Four days later, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said he shut down the office.

In December 2002, Rumsfeld reportedly considered issuing a directive on information warfare that would allow the military to conduct covert operations aimed at influencing opinion in friendly and neutral countries.

That directive, entitled “Directive 3600.1: Information Operations,” is still in draft stage, according to Pentagon sources.

SAIC a Player

Last autumn, the Pentagon awarded a $300,000 contract to Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) to design an “effective strategic influence” campaign to combat global terror.

SAIC is one of the competitors for the Air Force contract that includes the influence operations specialist position. The company would not comment on the contract or the position. Nor would Titan Corp., another competitor for the contract.

To Richard Shiffrin, the Pentagon’s former deputy general counsel for intelligence, the situation “seems strange.”

“Anything that would affect Americans, Congress, the United States — we’re very careful about that,” said Shiffrin, now a consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton.

However, he said, “one of the difficulties with this over the years has been distinguishing between public affairs and influence operations. The line isn’t so bright.”

Justin Rood can be reached via

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