Pentagon (military)

Pentagon military analyst program

The Pentagon military analyst program is an information operation of the U.S. Department of Defense that was launched in early 2002 by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke. The goal of the operation is "to spread the administrations's talking points on Iraq by briefing ... retired commanders for network and cable television appearances," where they have been presented as independent analysts; Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Pentagon's intent is to keep the American people informed about the so-called War on Terrorism by providing prominent military analysts with factual information and frequent, direct access to key military officials. The Times article suggests that the analysts had undisclosed financial conflicts of interest and were given special access as a reward for promoting the administration's point of view. On 28 April 2008, the Pentagon temporarily suspended the operation.

New York Times exposé

Details of the operation were first revealed in a lengthy New York Times exposé published in April 2008. The newpaper based its report on 8,000 email messages, transcripts and records it secured after winning a two year Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Pentagon. Within the documents the analysts were referred to as message force multipliers (q.v. force multiplication).

A number of the military analysts used by US television have extensive business interests in promoting the administration's views as employees of, or investors in, various military contractors or as lobbyists for such contractors; however, viewers have not been made aware of such ties. Peace activist Colman McCarthy had warned of the potential conflicts of interest many of the same analysts had in a Washington Post op-ed in April 2003.

The analysts were given access to hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over budget and contracting matters, taken on official tours to Iraq, and given access to classified intelligence. Some participants claimed that they were instructed not to quote their briefers directly or otherwise describe their contacts with the Pentagon.

The Times article states that: "Some analysts stated that in later interviews that they echoed the Pentagon's talking points, even when they suspected the information was false or inflated." Robert S. Bevelacqua, a critic of the Bush administration, retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst said, "It was them saying, 'We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.", although Bevelacqua himself opposed the War in Iraq during the time he claims to have been briefed by Pentagon officials. Bevelacqua left Fox under undisclosed circumstances shortly after comparing the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to Nazi Germany during World War II.

Impact and response

CBS, NBC, and Fox did not comment on the involvement of their analysts. With the exception of two mentions on PBS, there has been a de facto blackout of this story by the networks. The Times itself published "at least" nine op-eds by the analysts. Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor of the Times, said that none of the op-ed's dealt specifically with assessments of the war or any specific business entities with which the author had ties. The Pentagon also helped two of the retired commanders write an article in the Wall Street Journal, "forwarded talking points and statistics to rebut the notion" of a spreading "General's revolt" against Donald Rumsfield in April 2006 (q.v.).

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the progressive publication The Nation, urged the U.S. Congress to investigate the program, and Free Press launched an online petition also supporting such an investigation.

On 23 April, Carl Levin, chair of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, asked the Pentagon to investigate the practice.

On 24 April, Dan Rabkin published a rebuttal article in the conservative FrontPage Magazine in which he claimed Barstow's piece was an "anti-military smear masquerading as investigative journalism. Also on 24 April, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) sent letters to five network executives. Only ABC and CNN have responded so far.

On 6 May, DeLauro sent a letter together with John Dingell (D-Mich.) to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin “urging an investigation of the Pentagon’s propaganda program” to determine if the networks or analysts violated federal law. Furthermore, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) have written to Congress’s investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

On 22 May, the House passed an amendment to the annual military authorization bill that would mandate investigations of the program by both the inspector general’s office at the Defense Department and the GAO. The inspector general's office announced that it would investigate the matter, whereas the GAO announced that it had already begun doing so.

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