Much was made in mid-February when a Pentagon insider leaked sketchy information about the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), a small department created after the September 11 terrorist attacks. In the leak, the OSI was essentially described a propaganda and disinformation outlet created to distribute stories mostly to the foreign press in a way to help the U.S. and allied effort in the war on terror. Consequently press reports identified the OSI as a "propaganda" operation.
Immediately the OSI became the subject of huge news stories in the mainstream press, with reporters and commentators attacking the Pentagon and White House for creating such a "secretive" office, even in wartime. Ultimately Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pulled the plug on the operation, saying the inaccurate leaks had so damaged the OSI's reputation that it would be impossible for it to fulfill its chartered duties.
The reality of what the OSI was to do was very different. "It was not going to provide disinformation or propaganda," says a senior Pentagon official with knowledge of the OSI's operation. "At the time it was in the process of blunting radical Islamic messages out of Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. Iran was beaming radio and TV propaganda broadcasts into Afghanistan at the same time U.S. forces were trying to help the Afghan people. OSI was trying to keep the words of hate that created the Taliban regime from taking hold again."
At the time of its shutdown, the OSI was also putting together plans to battle propaganda programs inside Iran and Iraq. "The office was charged with cutting through the disinformation being handed down from radical Islamic clerics in those countries, to give the people of Iran and Iraq the truth," the Pentagon official says. "Now with OSI shut down, those plans have probably been set back months."
One such project would have identified and funded moderate Islamic clerics and spread their teachings into Iran and Iraq via print, radio, TV, and the Internet.
"Whoever leaked this disinformation about OSI committed treason, plain and simple," says a senior Senate staffer on the Intelligence Committee. "OSI was in the midst of doing work on behalf of the American government on orders from the White House. It was no different than an order from a military commander to take a mountain bunker in Afghanistan. To leak information about that plan was treasonous."
Currently no formal investigation is under way into who did the leaking, although senior Pentagon officials believe the leaker may be one of their own. Reporters are interested in getting to the bottom of the story, too. When asked to comment on the OSI and the leaks about it -- the Washington Times has been posing such questions everyday for the past month -- the office of Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke has declined to answer even the most basic questions, such as who was briefed on the OSI by senior Pentagon officials.
"This was not a low-level leak," says the Intelligence staffer. "Someone over there knows what happened. The question is: Why is that person being protected?"
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