BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was roundly condemned last year when he unveiled the Pentagon's new Office of Strategic Influence to feed disinformation to the foreign media. He claimed it was all a misunderstanding and supposedly scrapped the idea, but recently in the L.A. Times, military analyst and critic Bill Arkin explained that the Office of Strategic Influence is not dead but thriving under different names throughout the Pentagon. Arkin has obtained dozens of Pentagon documents that describe in detail how the military has restructured itself top to bottom to fight a global information war that could blow back into the United States.
WILLIAM ARKIN: What you have is stories that are coming out or being manufactured, supposedly for the consumption of the Islamic pubs -- stories that say, for instance, might originate in Egypt or Jordan or Algeria -- some of the countries that are - it is clear that the United States has bought off the intelligence services of, and those stories will make their way back into the U.S. It's those kinds of stories where they don't go through the same kind of rigorous checks and balances and editing and doublechecking and double-sourcing that you might have in the American media where all of a sudden things that aren't fact become fact because they get picked up in the international media and ultimately find their way back into the American public's mind.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can you give me some specific examples of how these doctrines will manipulate the American news media?
WILLIAM ARKIN:I guess on some level all I can do is point to the organizations, because we don't know yet what they are actually doing or how it has had influence. What we do know is that a deputy undersecretary of defense for special plans has been created. What we do know is that there is a special cell that has been established within that office that is responsible for deception. What we do know is that information warfare has been elevated to a mission of the U.S. strategic command. What we do know is that the Air Force has transferred all of its bombers and fighters out of the Eighth Air Force and made it solely an information operations Air Force. What we do know is that the Navy has created a Naval Network Warfare Command. What we do know is that there are new doctrines and policies which have been created by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the secretary of defense and by the individual services which trumpet deception, perception management, strategic influence operations, better control of the news media -- and those doctrines and policies, all of which have been established, signed and issued in 2001 and 2002, seem to indicate that there is a kind of blurring of the distinction between public information and psychological warfare.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Of all the new policies, programs and positions that you described in your L.A. Times piece, I think the one that was the most lurid -- although deliciously so -- is the new Air Force policy that describes information warfare's goals as: destruction, degradation, denial, disruption, deceit and exploitation --and this may be my favorite military acronym, which boils down to D5E.
WILLIAM ARKIN: It's there, Brook. On paper. The Air Force's new Strategy of Information Warfare includes all of these "D's" and somehow we are supposed to believe that the military first of all can get its act together to practice this form of "warfare" without tripping all over their information, and then second of all that somehow this is going to be practiced against Iraq or against Taliban or against North Korea or Iran -- and that it's not going to blow back into the United States.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But we don't have any proof that it will blow back, as you say. We don't know even what has come into operation yet. We simply know the Pentagon boilerplate that has fallen into your hands in the form of government documents.
WILLIAM ARKIN: You know I don't know whether or not it's blown back either, Brooke, but I have to say to you that if one looks at the causes of September 11th and thinks about the war on terrorism as this permanent Cold War, as Secretary Rumsfled describes it, this war that will be going on in more less perpetuity -- it disturbs me as an American to think that I am subject to possible disinformation and deception perpetrated by the American government in fighting that war! And so I don't think we have a good example yet of where this has all come together. My guess is that in some ways it hasn't. Pretty much so it is the case in my 20-plus years of watching the U.S. military that it is when the doctrines and the policies are first written that it takes quite some time to pull all of the pieces together and to build the competent people that are required. But the bottom line here is that we see every day, despite the fact that the Bush administration is superb at controlling information, that it has had one of the strongest anti-leak policies in modern times; that it has been ferocious about government secrecy; that there are constant controlled-leaks that come out about the Iraqi war plan. Now -- if those are indeed controlled leaks, and their intent is to influence the Iraqis into cooperating with the United Nations or to deter or scare the Iraqis about upcoming military operations, that's one thing. But if at the same time the American public has the perception that it is more important to go to war against Iraq than it might otherwise be, or that that war will be easier than it will be, then it seems to me that we are manipulating public opinion about going to war in Iraq inadvertently as part of the policy of deceiving and psyching out Saddam Hussein.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, Bill, thanks very much.
WILLIAM ARKIN: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Long time military observer and analyst Bill Arkin writes a regular column for the L.A. Times and serves as a military analyst for NBC News. [MUSIC]