Wikileaks megadump reveals US pays local Afghan media to run psyops

Among the tens of thousands of classified documents released this week by Wikileaks is evidence the US military in Afghanistan is repeating a PR blunder that led to trouble in Iraq: paying local media outlets to run "friendly stories"— in military parlance, "psychological operations."

Several reports from Army psychological operations units and provincial reconstruction teams (also known as PRTs, civilian-military hybrids tasked with rebuilding Afghanistan) show that local Afghan radio stations were under contract to air content produced by the United States. Other reports show U.S. military personnel apparently referring to Afghan reporters as "our journalists" and directing them in how to do their jobs.

Such close collaboration between local media and U.S. forces has been a headache for the Pentagon in the past: In 2005, Pentagon contractor the Lincoln Group was caught paying Iraqi newspapers to run stories written by American soldiers, causing the United States considerable embarrassment.

In one of the WikiLeaks documents, a PRT member reports delivering "12 hours of PSYOP Radio Content Programming" to two radio stations in the province of Ghazni in 2008, and paying one of them "$3,900 for Radio Content Programming air time for the month of October":

Leaked files indicate U.S. pays Afghan media to run friendly stories (Yahoo News)

More Shocked Cat.


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  1. I’m not sure why this is surprising or controversial. This seems like a basic part of the military mission in Afghanistan. $3,900 for 12 hours of programming actually seems like a pretty low rate.

    The military spends millions on air time here in the U.S. every year. Here the media runs government sourced stories for free.

  2. I’m not sure shocked kitty is appropriate here. Is there such a thing as “world-weary facepalm kitty?”

  3. Perhaps this is a good example of why classified stuff should stay classified. Such psy ops may be very effective in gaining trust from the local populace. They may are also rendered entirely ineffective if word gets out to the targeted population.

  4. Kitty must have a short memory. Karen Hughes, Bush Administration, completely faked “news” videos on everything from education dept to the war. Ring a bell?

  5. Not terribly surprising. Broadcasting propaganda in war times has been pretty standard fare since broadcasting was invented. Before that it was bullhorns and leaflets. Before that they probably just bought off the town crier or something.

    1. Broadcasting propaganda during wartime is pretty common. Broadcasting propaganda under the guise of objective journalism, to people who are ostensibly our allies is pretty F-ed up.

  6. “repeating a PR blunder that led to trouble in Iraq: paying local media outlets to run “friendly stories”

    Don’t forget, they do this in the US as well.

    “According to the Times, the Pentagon recruited over 75 retired generals to act as “message force multipliers” in support of the Iraq War, receiving special Pentagon briefings and talking points that the analysts would often parrot on national television “even when they suspected the information was false or inflated.”

    http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3349

  7. It is surprising, insofar as there are US laws forbidding the US Government from using propaganda.

    1. It is surprising, insofar as there are US laws forbidding the US Government from using propaganda.

      It is illegal to disseminate propaganda to US recipients: google for ‘Smith-Mundt Act’. It is perfectly legal to broadcast propaganda outside the US.

  8. This is not shocking or surprising. This is SOP. I love you guys & gals but don’t over saturate this with non-stories because if you find a huge juicy story that is worth the attention we’ll just yawn and not even notice it because we are bombarded with stuff like this.

    Find the ‘goods’ and I’ll be the first to scream it from the mountain top.

    Keep digging.

  9. OMG! Next thing you know we’ll find out they use guns over there! Even guns with bullets in them!

    When you fight a war, you use propaganda. It’s a tactic and a weapon, and, like all weapons, it’s neither good nor evil. And the best propaganda is true. Getting local media outlets to report accurate, even mostly accurate, stories with an anti-Taliban spin is a strange thing to get outraged about. I guess the Taliban’s propaganda operations have been more effective.

    1. Yes, anybody who thinks its wrong for the US to pound its chest about an independent press while undermining the reality of an independent press is clearly a Taliban sympathizer.

      U-S-A! U-S-A!

  10. I agree with the unsurprised here. I am still waiting for the shocking and damaging part of these disclosures. I’m sure there’s something there to be impassioned about, but this isn’t it. This is standard practice and has long been public knowledge (maybe not popular knowledge, but public knowledge nonetheless).

    My opinion is this is o.k… and far preferable to shooting people. I put foreign propaganda operations in the same category as espionage. It is not a morally admirable profession and countries would prefer people pretend not to notice, but every country does it, everyone knows every country does it, and it accepted as part of how the game is played. Especially if it avoids bloodshed.

    1. “My opinion is this is o.k… and far preferable to shooting people. ”

      Well, they do that too.
      In fact, the propaganda is complementary to the shooting, bombing, imprisoning and torturing of people. Without the shooting, bombing, imprisoning and torturing of people we wouldn’t need the propaganda in the first place.

      “Especially if it avoids bloodshed.”
      Again, you have it entirely backwards.

  11. This of course takes the opinion that what is otherwise on TV isn’t propaganda; as far as I’m concerned every commercial on television and every trash piece about improving your life through consumption is just as guilty of trying to sell values as military propaganda.

    I guess it just depends on where you draw the line, but I’m firmly against the idea that a message of “he who dies with the most shit wins” broadcast by the wealthy (networks and advertisers)in an effort to make themselves richer at the expense of society is any more natural and unforced than “America’s doing a great job in Afghanistan” broadcast by the government.

    And this, ladies and gents, is why I chose my username…

    1. …I’m firmly against the idea that a message of “he who dies with the most shit wins” broadcast by the wealthy (networks and advertisers)in an effort to make themselves richer at the expense of society is any more natural and unforced than “America’s doing a great job in Afghanistan” broadcast by the government.

      Except that in this case they aren’t presenting the message as paid ads, they are presenting it as objective journalism. It’s the difference between seeing a BP commercial during the ten o’clock news and finding out that the CBS anchor is actually on the company’s payroll.

      1. Well, that’s true to an extent but that argument also runs into problems, namely who sets the mainstream media’s agenda, and to what end?

        What I mean is every “look at how the rich live” program, or “watch these brave police officers beat the crap out of some dirty horrible lawbreakers!” fly-on-the-wall documentary, or blinged-up music video is selling an agenda that you may or may not buy into. Ever notice how TV cops almost always get their man? Or how the news almost always seems to side with big business, copyright holders and the corporation? All media is in the business of selling their own agenda, it’s just a question of to what extent and how obviously they do it.

        I don’t see the essential difference between the US government selling Democracy Inc in Afghanistan and networks in the West using their position to sell the same thing. I don’t buy into the idea that a brand new Humvee will make me happier, and I don’t think I would unquestioningly accept the obviously pro-American news if I was Afghanistani.

  12. I don’t see the essential difference between the US government selling Democracy Inc in Afghanistan and networks in the West using their position to sell the same thing.

    The difference is disclosure. When I see a Humvee commercial I know who paid for it and what their agenda is. When I see a news broadcast or read a newspaper I have a completely different expectation of their objectivity. If the US government wants to use our tax dollars to run its own TV network then they least they can do is be up-front about it.

    1. But aren’t news broadcasts and newspapers guilty of the same selection biases and agenda-pushing that you see in the sort of propaganda that governments at war push on a regular basis? It’s less overt than direct marketing, certainly, but that doesn’t mean that the bias/agenda isn’t there.

      The reason that military propaganda feels so weird to those of us in the west that are exposed to capitalist, commercial culture on a regular basis is that the techniques they use are less refined than those we are used to dealing with. The reason that Comical Ali during the Iraq war or anything that the Chinese government has produced in the last 30 years makes us giggle is that our bullshit detectors have evolved with the level of sophistication of the bullshit we’re fed every day.

      My point being that it seems weird to get upset about the US government pushing its agenda (democratic capitalism) in Afghanistan when it does the same in the US and, via Hollywood, TV, and every other type of media that you care to name, throughout the rest of the world every day.

      We’re quick to assume that the values of our society are “normal”, but they’re no more natural or valid than any other society that has ever existed or that exists in the world today. The difference is that we now have a thriving media industry to reinforce and normalise the values that whoever controls it wants to uphold.

      1. But aren’t news broadcasts and newspapers guilty of the same selection biases and agenda-pushing that you see in the sort of propaganda that governments at war push on a regular basis?

        If I learned that an American news agency was taking money from a government or private corporation in exchange for running favorable stories I’d find that equally repugnant.

        You seem to be of the mindset “there’s no such thing as completely objective journalism, so why even try?” I don’t find that attitude particularly helpful.

        1. Actually it’s less “there’s no such thing as completely objective journalism, so why even try?” than “tired of having people try to sell me crap I don’t buy into on a daily basis and confused that more people don’t object to it”.

          It’s disgusting when it happens over here, and it’s disgusting when it happens over there. I just don’t see why people object to it in Afghanistan but will happily lap up pro-corporate shilling when it’s spoon-fed to them via our own domestic media.

  13. You seem to be of the mindset “there’s no such thing as completely objective journalism, so why even try?”

    Trying: good. Pretending: bad.

  14. Is the Pentagon’s policy of outsourcing propaganda to Iraqex?The Lincoln Group (now Fulcra) with now bid, no oversight, no performance standards outrageous and disgusting? OF COURSE!
    The 2 guys Christian Bailey, (a Brit no less), and Paige Craig, a West Point drop out and ex Marine with no PR experience are now “angel investors” with the huge sums of taxpayer money they were given to spin the news. Sure, they are scum. Please keep an eye on their activities. They are masters of manipulating their backgrounds. (See Willem Marx’s article in Harper’s. He worked for them briefly as an intern in Iraq.)
    But they are no different than the thousands of lobbyists that run our government and enrich themselves legally because, like the Wall Street robber barons, they have not done anything illegal that I can see.
    They are very talented OPPORTUNISTS who simply manipulated our corrupt government/military/media complex to their advantage. WE and our “representatives” allowed this to happen. And now they are laughing all the way to the bank. Bailey even went to MIT after being exposed and sued his own company for breach of contract for $2.1M> Naturally the case was settled out of court. Undoubtedly with taxpayer money. Paige is a big tech dude in LA who loves the adrenaline rush and parties that are part of the Social Network crowd.

    KEEP THE SPOTLIGHT ON!

    Philip Wagner

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