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Posted at 9:49 AM ET, 02/24/2011

Petraeus orders investigation after Rolling Stone reports on alleged use of psychological operations

By Melissa Bell
rolling stone
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bids farewell to the Zabul provincial governor Mohammad Ashraf Naseri after a meeting discussing the situation and needs in the province, in April 2009. A new Rolling Stone article asserts that an army unit was tasked with manipulating Mullen into providing more troops and funding for the war. (Defense Department photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, plans to investigate allegations in a Rolling Stone article that psychological operations were used by the army on members of Congress, a statement from his office said.

Sen. Reed, told MSNBC's Chris Jansing that the accusations were "very serious and disturbing" and that the Pentagon should investigate.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. said in a statement that, "For years, I have strongly and repeatedly advocated for building up Afghan military capability because I believe only the Afghans can truly secure their nation's future. I have never needed any convincing on this point."

A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army told Rolling Stone that he was asked to manipulate members of Congress visiting Afghanistan into providing more troops and funding for the war, a new article in the music magazine reports.

LTC Michael Holmes told reporter Michael Hastings that he was ordered by Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops, to perform psychological operations on visiting VIPs. When he refused, he was officially reprimanded.

The article says his unit was repeatedly pressured over a four-month period to assess how best to get Caldwell's message across to a host of visitors, including Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister; and a host of influential think tank analysts.

Caldwell sent a statement to Rolling Stone that "categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors."

Hastings wrote the June 2010 article, "Runaway General," that led to the dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then commander of the war in Afghanistan. The article recently won a 2010 George Polk award for excellence in journalism.

By Melissa Bell  | February 24, 2011; 9:49 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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That couldn't have been too difficult.

Posted by: jckdoors | February 24, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

The K Bears are winning, the T Bears are retreating, skipped state. Buy K Bonds!

Posted by: jobandon | February 24, 2011 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I think they worked on McCain because he has totally become a right wing nut.

Posted by: clintt5 | February 24, 2011 10:25 AM | Report abuse

WTH? When I was in psy-ops, that would have been illegal--you can't do that to US citizens. Or at least you couldn't then. Even if we (the enlisted) joked about it, any officers present would at least give us the stink-eye if not more.If it's true, this is incredibly heinous.

Posted by: dkp01 | February 24, 2011 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Lt Col Holmes seems to be playing to a very gullible reporter. Despite its sexy name, Psychological Operations is about telling the truth to people who have been denied it; dropping foreign language leaflets that promise (accurately) amnesty to enemy soldiers who surrender, as was done in Desert Storm. Deception is about fooling the enemy, such as was done in Desert Storm by having ships loaded with Marines maneuvering for an amphibious landing, when the main thrust was really coming over land from another direction. Any military planner knows that deception can be maintained for only a little while - the art is to maintain it, for the short period of time it matters. The notion that anybody in DoD, miltary or civilian, would attempt deception on Senators or Members of Congress is Hollywood/Michael Moore-level stupidity. What do you suppose the Senator's or Member's reaction would be when the deception was found out? Do you suppose that is what the military wants? It is articles like this that put WaPo on the level of the National Enquirer. Caveat Emptor.

Posted by: hill_marty | February 24, 2011 10:29 AM | Report abuse

wow! thanks and props to Rolling Stone, continuing to take the lead in investigative reporting.
Wash Post once carried this water but the ball has been handed off to the likes of Rolling Stone and So glad these organizations have the will and the expertise to pursue these essential stories.

Posted by: FloridaChick | February 24, 2011 10:30 AM | Report abuse

wow! thanks and props to Rolling Stone, continuing to take the lead in investigative reporting.
Wash Post once carried this water but the ball has been handed off to the likes of Rolling Stone and So glad these organizations have the will and the expertise to pursue these essential stories.

Posted by: FloridaChick | February 24, 2011 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Pretty sure it's still really, really illegal, dkp01. Once again, heads are gonna roll. Good on the LTC for standing up against this.

Posted by: joshlct | February 24, 2011 10:33 AM | Report abuse

hill_marty, that's not all psy-op is/was about. Our motto was "Because physical wounds heal." That has nothing to do with informing people to whom information was denied (although that did play a large role in peacetime operations).

Posted by: dkp01 | February 24, 2011 10:34 AM | Report abuse

T Bonds are junk. Statis tis never smooth. Waiting, waiting, waiting, only those who lived through time that was timeless knew or ever will know. Army lived heroic lives and died heroic deaths.

Posted by: jobandon | February 24, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse

It's just a magic lantern shining some total information awareness to the money lenders from the temple high on the hill.

Posted by: whocares666 | February 24, 2011 10:42 AM | Report abuse

joshlct, I agree, that LTC is one I would have been honored to serve with. I hope you're right about heads rolling.

Posted by: dkp01 | February 24, 2011 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Seems to me the setup -- whirlwind tour of a war zone, heavily micromanaged and sanitized anyway, human subjects who are in a strange and somewhat threatening environment -- has all the elements for this kind of operation, and all the potential for significant success.

Hardly matters whether the term "psyops" is more or less applicable than the term "deception". In fact, that sort of red-herring debate smacks to me of, well ... psyops. ;-)

Posted by: laboo | February 24, 2011 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Today on Wives and Compleat Angler, excuses to go fishing. Fishnets are irresistible or able to feed family for $2 and change. Love your stockings Dear!

Posted by: jobandon | February 24, 2011 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Our nation has become preoccupied with violence and brutal conduct. It is part of the self-righteousness of conservatism.

This is reason enough to de-fund the War Machine.

Posted by: gkam | February 24, 2011 11:03 AM | Report abuse

What I'd like to know is, what is it about "psy-ops" that makes it any different from "being persuasive"?

I mean, did anybody put LSD in the visitors' water supply, or cast hypnotic spells on them?

Context, please.

Posted by: enogabal | February 24, 2011 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Lifeboat needs launched, I need lunch, there's a breeze. Looking for sail. Not for sale. Kids aren't bait Sailors. Sorry to disappoint you, I wasn't seriously hurt. People are too emotional. Whole system is set up to keep you in motion.

Posted by: jobandon | February 24, 2011 11:20 AM | Report abuse

"clintt5 wrote: I think they worked on McCain because he has totally become a right wing nut."

There is a little revisionism here. About two years before the last Presidential election, the left's blogosphere propaganda machine (never to be confused with the right's talk radio propaganda machine) came after McCain in a big way expecting him to be the nominee. His Presidential bid aside - those are always a little skewed - McCain hasn't moved much; he's always been a maverick, prone to go right, moderate or left, but the propaganda from the left changed his reputation among that group. The right still does not trust him.

Posted by: longbow1 | February 24, 2011 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Psy-ops is also called propaganda. As I remember from social psychology 101, there is white, grey and black propaganda. White information comes from an identified source. Grey propaganda comes from an uncertain source. Black propaganda is labeled as coming from an enemy source. Truth is not an objective, which is why using it on your own people ist streng verboten.

Posted by: Cellophane | February 24, 2011 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Context. PO's devoted, persuaded voted. Treasury, kaput. Worker bees all female, sons of bees all begging for more. Honey, this is getting out of control. Control is overrated. Send N. Koreans rats. It's a rat eat rat world.

Posted by: jobandon | February 24, 2011 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Gray, white, black. No difference, in the end they all get roasted Kat.

Posted by: jobandon | February 24, 2011 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Surprised nobody's resurrected George Romney and his comment after a visit to Vietnam: "I was brainwashed." Destroyed his presidential bid.

Posted by: 1821 | February 24, 2011 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Oh Boy - time for the Democratic party to attack the military and intelligence services again! Watch Obama rant about the military (when he isn't attacking American Business)- Obama and the Dems will keep this recession going until their removal in 2012.

Posted by: Realist201 | February 24, 2011 11:42 AM | Report abuse

I'm surprised that nobody's recalled the comment of former Michigan governor George Romney after a 1967 visit to Vietnam: "I was brainwashed." That remark scuttled his presidential ambitions. and Richard Nixon got the Republican nomination in '68.

Posted by: 1821 | February 24, 2011 11:47 AM | Report abuse

God gave you two ears and one mouth. Clean your ears and don't eat my Honey.

Posted by: jobandon | February 24, 2011 11:54 AM | Report abuse

1) What a stupid article

2) I find it exceedingly hard to believe the LTC's statement, if it's even true.

3) Psyops wouldn't work on Reid because he's a moron.

4) Psyops is not called propaganda, that's why it's called Psyops. (another clueless person)

5) dkp01 is the newest member of the Psyop community, thanks for joining, get a clue first

6) I love that Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was one of the targets of psyops. Really, I guess he's the enemy?

7) As if this is a creditable reporter anymore. What a clown. He's just trying to stir up the pot some more to try to take down another general. What a stupid article

Posted by: gr8gozo | February 24, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Must be working since the GOP spends more for Afghanistan than USA border protection. How else can you explain $14 Billion or so for Afghanistan while cutting hundreds of millions from protecting our own borders.

$4 to $6 Trillion is the long term cost for the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

“The Pentagon reported in November (2010) that suicide rates are soaring among veterans; the backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs had reached more than 700,000 disability cases,”

“the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, including interest payments on the money borrowed for these wars and care for our wounded soldiers and veterans, is likely to total $4 trillion to $6 trillion”

Posted by: Airborne82 | February 24, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I understand that for these psychological efforts to succeed, the subject must be in a sane and stable condition. That disqualifies 95% of people in government and 100% of all members of Congress.

Posted by: fregameeate | February 24, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

As a former psyops officer, I'm glad to see so much knowledge about the true nature of psyops.
(I remember giving stink eye to enlisted making inappropriate suggestions. It was hard not to laugh and agree.)

Don't forget the great art of PR, though. Until you get into the grey areas, it's also just spin.

Posted by: Robynmarigny | February 24, 2011 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Also, get the mans rank correct, it's LTC in the Army.

The Air Force uses Lt Col.

Clueless press.

Posted by: gr8gozo | February 24, 2011 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Nearly every congressional fact finding mission is an exercise in manipulation, generally both by the congressmen and the hosts. In this case, if proven true, the hosts happened to be professionals. I agree with the comments that any staff found guilty of running a true operation on the congressmen should be disciplined, but after congress allowed 10+ years of neglect in the Afghan theater as casualties mounted and the goals remained undefined, who can be surprised at them for trying?

Posted by: SageThrasher | February 24, 2011 12:30 PM | Report abuse

omg, I guess its not a paranoid thought to think that they might use psy ops on Congress as I have wondered before when reading about some of the new technology/tactics in thought control. They can even influence your thoughts and actions from satellite.

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | February 24, 2011 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Like hypnotising chickens...

Posted by: fiveinchtaint | February 24, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

It seems like these are the facts if true would be damning:
Lt. Col. Michael Holmes was in a Psyops unit.
He and his unit were asked on how to be more persuasive to the VIPs.

Note why didn't the general go through his protocal/PR office?

Posted by: SoulCatcher | February 24, 2011 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Psycho killer.

Que'est-ce que c'est?

Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa, fa-fa-fa-fa-fa, fa!

Posted by: bs2004 | February 24, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Could it not be possible that some military factions do not want this war/any war to end? Gen Patton was always cited for remarks about how much he loved the engagements the excitment and overall aspects of war. He studied and often quoted the glories of wars past.He likewise lamented periods of inactivity.
War is a time for some to emerge from a life of stagnent boredom at some militry outpost and for a while"shine" All books I have read on other generals who engaged in wars through out history reflect Patton,s views.For an aspiring officer hoping to gain fame or promotion the time to achieve those goals only happens with a war.. During periods of war the military is in the limelight, they are praised and honored.Benefits are increased and for those not killed or injured life is pretty good and is one reason why soldiers opt to go back into harms way, its a rush and excitement not found anywhere else. Not so previliant in periods of peace. It doesn,t suprise me if some military officials might like to see the war go on for a while longer.Its not so bad when your not getting shot at.
God bless our military and may they remain strong, having said that there was a very good reason that the commander in chief is a civilian

Posted by: cliffc1 | February 24, 2011 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I would challenge the assertion by some readers that the RollingStone article was good investigative reporting. The article relied heavily on one source, Lt Col. Holmes, who clearly has a grievance with his chain of command. The issue is a serious matter though which should be thoroughly investigated. Civilian oversight of the military is important because the military’s primary mission is to serve the American people.

Posted by: cgallo2 | February 24, 2011 1:21 PM | Report abuse

The way US military is conducting Afghan war since 2001, it has to be obvious that the top leadership in charge of this war seems to have vested interest in continuing it for all the glory that can be squeezed from it. Even Defense Secretary Gates is in the same boat as the Generals in prolonging this Afghan war.

Knowing fully well Pakistani governments’ duplicity of ‘running with the hares while hunting with the hounds’, Gates has nonetheless sought to justify Pakistan’s terrorist connections, alluding to a “deficit of trust” between Washington, DC and Islamabad. Mr Gates also said there was “some justification” for Pakistan's concerns about past American policies. Gen David Patraeus, rushed in with an apologia for his Pakistani friends, by claiming that while Faisal was inspired by militants in Pakistan, he did not necessarily have contacts with the militants. Both Adm Mike Mullen and Gen Patraeus fancy themselves to be “soldier statesmen” a la Gen Dwight Eisenhower. Adm Mullen has visited Pakistan 15 times and Gen Patraeus no less frequently. Both evidently have high opinions of their abilities to persuade Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to crack down on the Haqqani network in North Waziristan and the Taliban’s Mullah Omar-led Quetta Shura.

For some diabolical reason, Gates, Mullen, Petraeus & Company has split the Taliban into the Afghan and Pakistani parts even though they are two peas of the same pod. The US military is going after the Pakistani Taliban, while it encourages the Pakistani intelligence to continue to shelter the entire top Afghan Taliban leadership in Baluchistan province. Mullah Muhammad Omar and other members of the Taliban's inner shura (council) have been ensconced for years in the Quetta area (now moved to Karachi by Pakistani ISI to shelter them from possible US drone attacks).

As General McChrystal reported in his assessment of August, 2009 to the President: ‘The Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) based in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, is the No. 1 threat to US/NATO mission in Afghanistan. At the operational level, the Quetta Shura conducts a formal campaign review each winter, after which Mullah Mohammed Omar (Afghan Taliban Chief) announces his guidance and intent for the coming year‘.

However US drones have targeted militants in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), but not the Afghan Taliban leadership operating with impunity from Baluchistan. US ground-commando raids also have spared the Afghan Taliban's command-and-control network in Baluchistan (now in Karachi).

With such Pakistan-apologists at the helm of US Afghan war, it is no wonder that Pakistan-sheltered Afghan Taliban is so successful in mounting such a spectacular comeback.

Posted by: martymartel3 | February 24, 2011 1:23 PM | Report abuse

This is ridiculous. Could you provide some factual data to back up the accusations.

Posted by: timothysmith2011 | February 24, 2011 1:38 PM | Report abuse

All the senior grade officers in Afghanistan would sell their souls for another star or a decent bribe from one or more of the top defense contractors.

All visiting VIPs and members of congress get a similar dog and pony show and their egos stroked to insure their votes and approval for this ill-fated disaster.

It is hard to believe these political prima donnas don't know they are being deceived. The entire war is one giant deception.

Posted by: alance | February 24, 2011 3:37 PM | Report abuse

It was Mad Magazine Spy vs. Spy. Now it's Sad Magazine and Terrorist vs. Terrorist.

Posted by: jobandon | February 24, 2011 7:42 PM | Report abuse

What's good for the goose is good for the gander...let's see what this new investigation produces. I hope it's not true. This type of activity is bad for the military - deception isn't the issue, it's the allegation that IO personnel were inappropriately, and perhaps illegally, used. Chief of Staff should have sought out a legal opinion; those folks are on staff for a reason. Why change from PA personnel in the lead to IO?

Posted by: lifeinthemilitary | February 27, 2011 10:24 AM | Report abuse

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