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Guest Steve Peacock

U.s. Special Forces To Create 'media' Corps

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Guest Steve Peacock

The U.S. Special Operations Command will spend up to a half-billion dollars over the next five years to develop pre-packaged media products for distribution to foreign news organizations and audiences, according to government planning documents obtained by IMC-Binghamton.

The Special Ops “Media Support” initiative, as it is known, involves the outsourcing of media-production contracts to private-sector firms, who will then disseminate U.S. government propaganda under the guise of commercial media reports and products. IMC-Binghamton discovered the documents during a routine canvassing of the federal electronic posting system (EPS), an online procurement database also known as FedBizOpps.

 

Discovery of this project comes at a time when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has stepped up his criticism of the global reach of media. During a speech he gave May 26 to the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, Rumsfeld lamented the negative impact that media and electronic personal communications had upon U.S. interests. It’s time for the U.S. to respond to such anti-American sentiments with agility and speed if it is to win the ideological war with Islamic extremists, he claimed.

 

Without elaborating, Rumsfeld told the group, “We’ll need to develop considerably more sophisticated ways of using these new means of communication that are now available to reach the many and diverse audiences.”

 

It appears that the Special Ops Media Support project is precisely what Rumsfeld intends to use “to reach the many and diverse audiences” across the globe.

 

This initiative also comes to light at a time of heightened congressional, regulatory and public outrage at the government’s distribution of Video News Releases (VNRs) to U.S. broadcasters. Many stations regularly incorporate the VNRs into their news shows – and do not identify such segments as government productions when they are aired.

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) – the nonpartisan investigative and auditing arm of Congress – has declared the use of these federally funded VNRs as illegal. GAO asserts that their use violates prohibitions against the use of appropriated tax dollars to fund government propaganda projects. The White House rejects that claim, and President Bush has said publicly that he supports th use of VNRs so long as the government source of the products is made clear to TV viewers. The Federal Communications Commission has opened a formal inquiry into the use of VNRs by U.S. media companies under its jurisdiction.

 

The newly discovered Media Support project is not designed to reach U.S. audiences, at least not directly, and thereby would fall outside of the regulatory purview of the FCC. Instead, the program’s “principal function is to support special operations forces in carrying out assigned missions to reach foreign audiences,” according to the presolicitation contract notice.

 

Nonetheless, companies expressing interest in the project also have expressed concern about being discovered by journalists – or being detained by foreign governments. The FebBizOpps documents, which contain several Q & As with unnamed, potential industry contractors, make these concerns clear.

 

One contractor, for example, sought assurances from the U.S. government that his organization and its affiliates would remain hidden from public disclosure.

 

“Will the government work with successful offerors [bidders] to protect them from U.S. and foreign media inquiries into this project?” the unidentified contractor asked. “Do we have any assurances that the government will not release company or individual names? Will the government consult the contractor in case FOIA requests are submitted against this project?”

 

“The Government shall follow as laws regarding FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] submissions,” Special Ops initially answered. “Normally names, addresses are redated [sic] [redacted?] from replies.”

 

Special Ops rescinded that answer soon after, amending the solicitation by removing its reference to redacted names and addresses.

 

Similarly, when asked if contractors will be allowed to arm themselves when deployed to “threat environments,” Special Ops initially and evasively responded, “Employees of the contractor will not be under the supervision of the Government.” That response also was later rescinded, and was replaced with a statement that alternately rejected the carrying of firearms while leaving open that possibility.

 

In other words, Dept. of Defense regulations prohibit contractors from carrying guns and ammunition, but also provide “a rigorous procedure for a Combatant Commander to authorize a contractor employee to carry a government-issued weapon for self defense,” the revised Q & A said. “This would handled on a case-by-case basis and it would not be blanket authority.”

 

Regarding the question of whether these pseudo-journalists “would enjoy any immunities or government protection from foreign government legal action,” the U.S. offered a flat-out ‘no.’

 

The first contracts for this initiative could be awarded as early as this week, the documents state. Although the “places of performance” for the contracts remain unknown, Special Ops expects to place work orders for an annual $250,000 minimum and a yearly ceiling of $100 million. It will start with one-year contracts, but reserves the option to award four additional one-year extensions.

 

In addition to “commercial quality product development, product distribution and dissemination, and media effects analysis” that the project demands, there also is a low-tech aspect to the endeavor. The seemingly sophisticated “hybrid product” requirement of the project does not involve high-altitude drone airplanes beaming U.S. broadcasts into hostile territories (that’s a separate project; seriously). Rather, it refers to specialty and novelty items such as “pens, pencils, buttons, t-shirts and bumper stickers that may be appropriate for future work.”

 

In other news, Special Ops on May 27 awarded a $93,000 contract to Blue King Studios of Sarasota, Fla., to develop a series of 12 Arab-language comic books designed to improve the image of Iraqi military units, security forces and police among Middle Eastern children.

 

“In order to achieve long-term peace and stability in the Middle East, the youth need to be reached,”according to the contract solicitation. “One effective means of influencing youth is through the use of comic books. A series of comic books provides the opportunity for youth to learn lessons, develop role models and improve their education.”

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