Not in the Pentagon's Pocket

The row over the New York Times's story exposing military pundits' cozy relationships with the Pentagon continues to simmer at a low temperature, thanks in part to continuing reporting by Glenn Greenwald and others. Today, I read on Glenn's site about a response from veteran combat correspondent Joe Galloway to the assertion by Donald Rumsfeld's former flak that he was part of the Pentagon's pundit team.

Never one to mince words, Joe pretty clearly refutes the allegation in his column this week. And in doing so, he recounts several anecdotes that illustrate the absurdity of the Pentagon's program:

Let the record show that Rumsfelds' folks reached out to me on these few occasions:

In early summer of 2003, half a dozen of us were invited to an off-the-record lunch with Rumsfeld in the Pentagon. The defense secretary seemed to have a poor grasp of the reality on the ground in Iraq and was still declaring that we'd do no nation-building there. He saw no insurgency, only a handful of "dead-enders".

In October 2005, DiRita called to invite me to travel with Rumsfeld to the Middle East and Australia. I declined because it conflicted with a long-booked graduation speech I was to give at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. to a class of new Air Force F-16 fighter pilots that included my nephew. DiRita was stunned that I wouldn't drop a bunch of fighter pilots to be schmoozed by his boss.

In November 2005, DiRita invited me to a "one-on-one" lunch with Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. This one I accepted. I arrived to find across the table Rumsfeld, the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace; Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Dick Cody; Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp and DiRita. We went at it hammer and tongs for an hour and a half over their conduct of the war and the errors that were costing the lives of American soldiers. As I left, I told Rumsfeld that I'd continue to point out those mistakes every week in my column.

In April 2006, DiRita sent me an e-mail telling me that my most recent column was "silly". That column had discussed an expensive war game the Pentagon conducted about a U.S. attack on a thinly disguised country that obviously was Iran.

A retired Marine general, Paul Van Riper, had been the commander of the "enemy" forces, and he used unconventional tactics to destroy the U.S. Navy flotilla in the Persian Gulf, leaving thousands of sailors and Marines dead. At that point, the commanders stopped the war game, reset everything and imposed new rules forbidding Van Riper from employing those tactics.

Van Riper walked out, furious, and requested an investigation. DiRita complained in his e-mail that I was silly to blame Rumsfeld for this and for covering up the investigators' report. After all, he wrote, Rumsfeld couldn't be expected to know retired generals several levels below him or to bear responsibility for such matters. His complaint sparked an escalating e-mail war that most reckon DiRita lost. The entire exchange was posted on the Internet and can still be found there.

So much for the Rumsfeld/DiRita outreach to their critics. They were much too busy hand-feeding horse manure to their TV generals, who in turn were feeding the same product to the American public by the cubic yard.

There's little doubt that this program violated the laws against covert propaganda operations mounted against the American public by their own government. But in this administration, there's no one left to enforce that law or any of the other laws the Bush operatives have been busy violating.

The real crime is that the scheme worked. The television network bosses swallowed the bait, the hook, the line and the sinker, and they have yet to answer for it.

By Phillip Carter |  May 20, 2008; 12:43 PM ET  | Category:  Civil-Military Relations
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I'll just repeat what I've said before - first show me that the Pentagon's outreach effort was against the law (still not done by Glenn or any congressional inquiry), second, show me how this program was absurd, given that it had resulted in short-term gains in support for the military's operations in Iraq, and third, as Joe accurately points out, the media heads have yet to talk about their culpability in this situation.

Posted by: Jason | May 20, 2008 1:42 PM

Jason: "first show me that the Pentagon's outreach effort was against the law (still not done by Glenn or any congressional inquiry),"

Go to that pretty much spells it out the illegalities in some detail. And by the way, that link came off of one of Glenn's postings about this issue. the article leads off with

"The Pentagon military analyst program unveiled in last week's exposé by David Barstow in the New York Times was not just unethical but illegal. It violates, for starters, specific restrictions that Congress has been placing in its annual appropriation bills every year since 1951. According to those restrictions, 'No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by the Congress.'"

and of course the media heads aren't going to talk about it--they are, in fact, culpable.

Posted by: psd | May 20, 2008 2:26 PM


You really should take the time to review the FOIA'd documents. A plain reading is shocking. You will find reams of paper detailing the complicity between DoD appointees like Allison Barber, Larry DiRita and Dallas Lawrence; SERVING ACTIVE DUTY officers like CAPT Roxie Merritt, LTC Mark Ballesteros, COL Gary Keck; and the hack military analysts.

I'll say again, where is the accountability for MG (ret.) Robert Scales!? This guy was described by Di Rita as a "go to, A-list" analyst and, from my review, was one of the most prolific "analysts." Still, Scales is being quoted in numerous articles and still being touted as an "expert."

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | May 20, 2008 3:35 PM

The illegality has been explained, as if any explanation were necessary . . . As with Bush´s war, FISA, torture, and soooo much more it remains to be said what exactly we are going to do about it. Me? I´m pessimistic, think we've turned the corner and ran the other way, far from what we were and are now something else.

What really amazes me is how quickly this has all taken place and how one has to go out of their way to explain what should be obvious. . .

As in this rebuttal posted at SWJ . . .

"And this is the crux of the real tragedy of this story. The American public was being peddled the administration's positions as if they were the opinions of independent analysts. The audience had an expectation that these officers were providing them with a professional's view of information about the war, strategy, operations, tactics, etc. And that trust was betrayed.

Don't get me wrong. I think the networks deserve a swift kick in the head for allowing themselves to be the unwitting Johns to DoD's pundit pimping. And this certainly won't help their reputation with the public. But, in the end, the media is not my primary concern."

Speaking from a strategic theory perspective I find it all fascinating, and I have been talking about this for some time. What happens when information becomes a weapon, when the military is turned against the people since they are seen as the main center of gravity in a war without end, one where the political purpose/interests involved dare not be made public? I suppose we'll find out.

Posted by: seydlitz89 | May 20, 2008 7:16 PM

Jason: " me that the Pentagon's outreach effort was against the law...."

Jason, I'd say this has been fairly well established. I'd also say that anyone who'd characterize what Rumsfeld and Company did as "outreach" is pretty much telegraphing his political allegiances.

Yeah, this was illegal. But we know nothing will be done about it. At best, it could be used as a "lesser included offense" if/when Rumsfeld ever appears in the dock.

But, you know, Rumsfeld and that cast he had in the Pentagon are just politicians. What's really most painful here is the realization that so many U.S. military officers were willing to sell their souls for so little.

I guess these officers all really, really needed the money. Maybe baby needed a new pair of shoes. Or something.

Posted by: Publius | May 20, 2008 11:14 PM

I have heard people make a case that it was illegal, but I am waiting for actual lawyers (sorry) to press the case. You may be right, but I'm thinking that OSD has some pretty good lawyers and they probably have some rationale as to why it isn't illegal - to wit, if the analysts weren't paid and government civilians were doing the briefings as part of their jobs, then perhaps it was within congressional constraints. I'm not a lawyer, so I'll just wait and watch when one does present a case to a judge. Which again as you note, isn't going to happen any time soon.

Posted by: Jason | May 21, 2008 8:40 AM

Jason says, "first show me that the Pentagon's outreach effort was against the law."

And when a couple of people point to where others have done this, he says, "I have heard people make a case that it was illegal," contradicting himself.

Then he moves the goal post: "but I am waiting for actual lawyers," and not just any with lawyering skills but lawyers from OSD.

And finally, he says, "I'll just wait and watch when one does present a case to a judge," which he admits, "isn't going to happen any time soon."

And that's that I guess.

Posted by: bubicarus | May 21, 2008 9:17 AM


You may not have noticed, but for some years the lawyers working for this Administration have found all sorts of reasons why the acknowledged illegalities that they have been enabling have not been illegal, from spying on Americans to torture, with illegal payoffs to "journalists" on No Child Left Unturned, for example, being just a bump in the road. The usual rationale is that during time of war, the president can do anything he wants to.

Posted by: EdA | May 21, 2008 9:37 AM

You have let Jason steer the discussion to proving the case to him, when that was obviously impossible.

So, back on point, Joe Galloway was touted as one of the war critics who was brought on board and consulted by the Pentagon. He details the extent of that consultation in his response.

So Jason, if this were just an outreach program to give these War Horses some straight info from the Boss to mull over and "balance" with the "unfair" coverage they perceived. Why did they go out and just spout the company line by way of bullet points from the briefings? Why was anyone who actually had doubts or fact checked the lie cut off from the program?

Asking Rumsfeld if there is anything he needed put out there to help is not independent analysis. It's propaganda. If you can't understand that, you should maybe stick to lighter subject matter.

Posted by: EMPY | May 21, 2008 6:18 PM

Thanks for that link, Seydlitz. What I found really interesting was that the actions of both the military and the press were excoriated by a combatant's wife, a former OIF battalion commander and a reporter.

She laid out her position, and they responded. While I doubt that's representative of the entire military or all of the free press, I thought it was telling how they were morally disgusted by what happened.

Why aren't more of us sickened by it?

Posted by: GI JOE | May 21, 2008 6:31 PM

"Why aren't more of us sickened by it?"

As in all good propaganda, it comes down to conditioning: the desired state being action by the target, or if that is the goal, inaction. In the past commercial propaganda (advertising) was way ahead of the game when compared to political propaganda, but that is no longer the case. They have in effect become indistinguishable.

Remember the Plame scandal? That particular act of gross treason went on during the whole "we're at war for our very existence" hoopla with hardly a whimper, how do you think they were able to do that anyway?

Posted by: seydlitz89 | May 21, 2008 7:04 PM

Jason wants "actual lawyers" to "present a case to a judge". Ain't gonna happen. Real lawyers won't be allowed to present the case, on the merits, because there isn't anyone who would have standing to bring a case (or, should I say, on behalf of). If, on the other hand, Jason is wanting to hear from "actual lawyers" on the alleged illegality of the propaganda program, last time I looked, Glenn Greenwald was one (although not practicing at this time).

Posted by: Marc in Denver | May 21, 2008 10:11 PM

OK, let's be anal for a moment--"flack" is a PR type. "Flak" is AAA.

Posted by: Bill the Shoe | May 22, 2008 10:51 AM

"There's little doubt that this program violated the laws against covert propaganda operations mounted against the American public by their own government."

Except, you know, there is doubt. Because it didn't.

Other than that, it's completely accurate.

Posted by: Iger | May 22, 2008 12:58 PM

"...there is doubt. Because it didn't."

Symbolic logic tells us that these assertions cannot both be true. But aside from that, where is the evidence or analysis supporting this position?



Posted by: almost drafted | May 22, 2008 5:23 PM

I am really sick of the opponents calling for Hillary to drop out and insisting she has already lost. I don't believe the game is over until the end , we have no way of knowing what the last inning holds. LET HER RUN AND PLAY THE GAME. AS OBAMA SAID AOUT MICHEELE ,LAY OFF.

Posted by: Marilyn | May 27, 2008 2:11 PM

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