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The Freedom of Information Center Rumsfeld Says Pentagon Plan Won't Include Lies
By James Dao The New York Times Feb. 20/02
ASHINGTON, Feb. 20 — Senior Pentagon and Bush administration officials responded to criticism of a new Pentagon information office today, saying government officials would not be allowed to tell lies to promote American views overseas.
But the officials left the door open to a range of secret military information activities intended to deceive adversaries, including hiring outside firms that would be authorized to spread inaccurate or misleading information overseas.
Responding to questions about the new office today, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said: "What people have to understand about this is very clear: number one, government officials, the Department of Defense, this secretary and the people that work with me tell the American people and the people of the world the truth."
"And to the extent anyone says anything that at any time proves to have been not accurate, they correct it at the earliest possible opportunity," he said during a visit with troops providing security at the Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Mr. Rumsfeld's statements were echoed in separate appearances in California by Vice President Dick Cheney and in Washington by Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy who oversees the new agency, the Office of Strategic Influence.
The new office was created following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to coordinate the military's efforts to promote American policies abroad, including in friendly nations, according to military officials.
Though its mission and plans are still being reviewed by senior Pentagon officials, its director, Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden has proposed a broad array of actions that range from issuing public news releases to waging secret information warfare. Such secret operations have in the past included activities like spreading inaccurate or misleading information, invading computer networks and broadcasting radio programs that simulate local news programs.
The office's proposals have sparked a debate within the Pentagon, where some senior officials have argued that having one organization involved with both the "black" world of secret information operations and the "white" world of public affairs will undermine the Pentagon's credibility, and therefore its message. Those critics also question whether the military should be involved with promoting American views inside allied nations, a mission traditionally led by the State Department.
Like Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Feith sought to respond to such concerns today by telling reporters at a breakfast today that "We are not going to have Defense Department officials lying to the public, neither the foreign public, nor the domestic public, nor to the press."
But Mr. Feith declined to rule out the possibility that the Pentagon might hire an outside firm that would be authorized to spread disinformation overseas.
"We are going to preserve our ability to mislead an enemy," he said.
The Pentagon has hired the Rendon Group, a Washington-based global communications firm, to assist the Office of Strategic Influence in its work, including by analyzing how different overseas media organizations cover the United States. Officials with the Rendon Group have said they are not allowed to discuss their contract with the Pentagon.
? 2002 The New York Times Company
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