Lincoln Group




S

ince the inception of the Iraq war, and even during the runup to the
invasion, the Bush administration aimed to control the news about and from
Iraq. Early on, embedded reporters told stories about the toppling of Saddam’s
statue and the heroism of individual soldiers. Over the course of the subsequent
occupation, several hundred million dollars have been spent on an assortment
of media projects specifically designed to sell “good” news about the occupation.
Perhaps the most notorious U.S. effort involved a U.S. public relations
company that was contracted to pay for positive news stories—written by
U.S. military personnel—to be placed in Iraqi publications. 


In late-September, the Pentagon once again signed a contract with the Washington
DC-based Lincoln Group, which “put together a unit of 12-18 communicators
to support military PR efforts in Iraq and throughout the Middle East,
from media training to pitching stories and providing content for government-backed
news sites” (see ODwyerspr.com). According to the information service of
industry publication

O’Dwyers PR Report

, the “contract with the Multi-National
Force-Iraq is valued at more than $6 million per year, although contracting
documents indicated that additional efforts could be ‘ordered’ from the
Pennsylvania Avenue firm for up to $20 million.”

 


Company representative Bill Dixon said, “Lincoln Group is proud to be trusted
to assist the multi-national forces in Iraq with communicating news about
their vital work.” According to its website, the Lincoln Group is a “strategic
communications and public relations firm providing insight and influence
in challenging and hostile environments.” 


The company claims that its “employees and consultants have worked, and
continue to work, around the world in such places as Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan,
Colombia, Indonesia, and elsewhere. While others may view these locations
as ‘inhospitable’, we prefer to call them ‘challenging’.” 


A

Fortune

magazine story dated January 20, 2006 pointed out that the Lincoln
Group “says it has entered into more than 20 Defense Department contracts
(the biggest of which could be worth as much as $100 million) and a similar
number of commercial and nonmilitary government deals. It has more than
40 employees in the U.S. and 200 overseas, mostly in Iraq, doing research,
communications, and even some investing.” 






According to SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy,

O’Dwyer’s

reported in March 2006 that the Lincoln Group was “working to
boost economic development in Pakistan. Lincoln is working with former
U.S. diplomat Carol Fleming to increase ‘investments in the country’s textile,
energy, technology and telecom’ industries. The firm produced ‘a documentary’
of areas devastated by the October 2005 earthquake ‘to remind countries
to honor their pledges to support the victims.’ Lincoln has also ‘expressed
interest’ in a contract to help the U.S. Army Reserve communicate its ‘vision
of the future.’ The contract includes ‘speech writing, research, development
of a comprehensive… communications plan,’ support for ‘national outreach
programs,’ and media outreach for Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. James Helmly.” 


While no stranger to government contracts, the company is also no stranger
to controversy. In November 2005 the

Los Angeles Times

revealed that the
U.S. military was “secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories
written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S.
mission in Iraq.” Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi reported in the

LA
Times

that the stories were authored by U.S. military “information operations’
troops” and “translated into Arabic and covertly placed in Baghdad newspapers.” 


The Lincoln Group has acted as an intermediary between the U.S. military
and media outlets. Company staff and subcontractors wrote and translated
stories, then paid local editors varying amounts to run them, pretending
to be freelance reporters or advertising executives. 


In their recently published book,

The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies,
and the Mess in Iraq

(Tarcher/Penguin, 2006), co-authors Sheldon Rampton
and John Stauber document how Pentagon money was “thrown” at the Lincoln
Group and other public relations outfits to promote the war in Iraq: “In
September 2004, the U.S. military awarded a $5.4 million contract to Iraqex—which
soon after changed its name to The Lincoln Group—a ‘newly formed’ Washington,
DC-based company ‘set up specifically to provide services in Iraq.’” A
year later, the

New York Times’

Jeff Gerth reported that Iraqex’s winning
of the contract was “something of a mystery” given the fact that the “two
men who ran the small business [Christian Bailey, a young businessperson
from England, and Paige Craig, a young former marine intelligence officer]
had no background in public relations or the media.” 


According to Rampton and Stauber, “In its various [pre-war] incarnations,
Iraqex/Lincoln dabbled in real estate, published a short-lived online business
publication called the

Iraq Business Journal

, and tried its hand at exporting
scrap metal, manufacturing construction materials, and providing logistics
for U.S. forces before finally striking gold with the Pentagon PR contract.” 


Rampton and Stauber report that at first the Lincoln Group worked with
the Rendon Group, “a public relations firm that had already played a major
role in leading the U.S. into war through its work for Ahmed Chalabi and
his Iraqi National Congress.” After Rendon left the project, Lincoln “hired
another Washington-based public relations firm as a subcontractor—BKSH
& Associates, headed by Republican political strategist Charles R. Black,
Jr. BKSH is a subsidiary of Burson-Marszteller, a PR firm whose previous
experience in Iraq also included work for Chalabi. Other Pentagon contracts
for public relations work were awarded to SYColeman Inc. of Arlington,
Virginia and Science Applications International Corporation. PR contracts
added up to $300 million over a five-year period.” 


In late May 2006 David S. Cloud reported in the

New York Times

that, “A
Defense Department investigation of Pentagon-financed propaganda efforts
in Iraq warn[ed] that paying Iraqi journalists to produce positive stories
could damage American credibility and call[ed] for an end to military payments
to a group of Iraqi journalists in Baghdad, according to a summary of the
investigation.” 







All in all, as the

New York Times

reported, the Lincoln Group managed to
place more than 1,000 stories in the Iraqi and Arab press. 


The review was ordered after news the previous November disclosed “that
the military had paid the Lincoln Group to plant articles written by American
soldiers in Iraqi publications without disclosing the source of the articles.
The firm’s work also included paying Iraqi journalists for favorable treatment.” 


Though the document prepared by Rear Admiral Scott Van Buskirk doesn’t
mention the Lincoln Group by name, it nevertheless found that the military
should scrutinize contractors involved in the propaganda effort more closely
“to ensure proper oversight is in place,” Cloud reported. Van Buskirk also
blamed the military for not investigating whether paying for placement
for articles would “undermine the concept of a free press” in Iraq, according
to the summary. 


Cloud reports that, “Overall, the report conclude[d] that American commanders
in Iraq did not violate military regulations when they undertook a multipronged
propaganda campaign beginning in 2004 aimed at increasing support for the
fledgling Iraqi government. 


“The most critical portion of the report concerns the military’s creation
in 2004 of an entity called the Baghdad Press Club in which Iraqi journalists
were paid if they covered and produced stories about American reconstruction
efforts, such as openings of schools and sewage plants…. The military’s
‘direct oversight of an apparently independent news organization and remuneration
for articles that are published will undoubtedly raise questions focused
on “truth and credibility,” that will be difficult to deflect, regardless
of the intensions and purpose of the remuneration,’ the report says.” 



Psyops Journalism 



T

he war in Iraq has spawned a new industry in Washington that could be
called psy-ops journalism,” Alvin Snyder, a former executive of the United
States Information Agency (USIA) and a senior fellow at the USC Center
for Public Diplomacy, recently wrote on the Center’s website. “The new
breed of journalists are following the money trail to the Pentagon.” 


Psyops is, of course, not a new phenomenon. An Air Force document published
in 1994 titled “Air Force Intelligence and Security Doctrine: Psychological
Operations (PSYOP)” pointed out that psychological operations aim to “convey
and (or) deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences
to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning…. In various
ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations security,
cover, deception, and psyops.” 


In the information age, psyops, or the effective manipulating of information
for political gain, knows no borders. A Defense Department document titled
“Information Operations Roundup,” approved in 2003, acknowledged that “information
intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP, increasingly
is consumed by our domestic audience and vice-versa. PSYOP messages disseminated
to any audience…will often be replayed by the news media for much larger
audiences, including the American public.” 


Snyder writes that, “Some $400 million in media consulting contracts has
been awarded during the past few years by the Pentagon, for the purpose
of helping ‘to effectively communicate Iraqi government and Coalition goals
with strategic audiences’.” 


Over the past three-plus years, the Pentagon has initiated an endless stream
of public relations efforts aimed at stemming the tide of negative news
from Iraq. As

The Best War Ever

points out, “much of the U.S. propaganda
effort”—from manipulating events, creating heroic stories for domestic
consumption, sitting on negative information as evidenced by the slow initial
response to torture at Abu Ghraib prison—“is aimed not at tactical deception
of enemy combatants but at influencing morale and support for the war in
the United States.” 






Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.