December 24, 2011
Pentagon Finds No Fault in Ties to TV Analysts
By DAVID BARSTOW
A Pentagon public relations program that sought to transform high-profile military analysts into "surrogates" and "message force multipliers" for the Bush administration complied with Defense Department regulations and directives, the Pentagon's inspector general has concluded after a two-year investigation.
The inquiry was prompted by articles published in The New York Times in 2008 that described how the Pentagon, in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, cultivated close ties with retired officers who worked as military analysts for television and radio networks. The articles also showed how military analysts affiliated with defense contractors sometimes used their special access to seek advantage in the competition for contracts. In response to the articles, the Pentagon suspended the program and members of Congress asked the Defense Department's inspector general to investigate.
In January 2009, the inspector general's office issued a report that said it had found no wrongdoing in the program. But soon after, the inspector general's office retracted the entire report, saying it was so riddled with inaccuracies and flaws that none of its conclusions could be relied upon. In late 2009, the inspector general's office began a new inquiry.
The results of the new inquiry, first reported by The Washington Times, confirm that the Pentagon under Donald H. Rumsfeld made a concerted effort starting in 2002 to reach out to network military analysts to build and sustain public support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The inquiry found that from 2002 to 2008, Mr. Rumsfeld's Pentagon organized 147 events for 74 military analysts. These included 22 meetings at the Pentagon, 114 conference calls with generals and senior Pentagon officials and 11 Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Twenty of the events, according to a 35-page report of the inquiry's findings, involved Mr. Rumsfeld or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or both.
One retired officer, the report said, recalled Mr. Rumsfeld telling him: "You guys influence a wide range of people. We'd like to be sure you have the facts."
The inspector general's investigation grappled with the question of whether the outreach constituted an earnest effort to inform the public or an improper campaign of news media manipulation.
The inquiry confirmed that Mr. Rumsfeld's staff frequently provided military analysts with talking points before their network appearances. In some cases, the report said, military analysts "requested talking points on specific topics or issues." One military analyst described the talking points as "bullet points given for a political purpose." Another military analyst, the report said, told investigators that the outreach program's intent "was to move everyone's mouth on TV as a sock puppet."
The inquiry also confirmed that Mr. Rumsfeld's staff hired a company to track and analyze what the military analysts said during their media appearances. According to the report, four military analysts reported that they were ejected from Mr. Rumsfeld's outreach program "because they were critical" of the Pentagon.
One former Pentagon official told the investigators that when Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and NBC military analyst, "started challenging" Mr. Rumsfeld on air, he was told that Mr. Rumsfeld wanted him "immediately" removed from the invitation list because General McCaffrey was no longer considered a "team player." Mr. Rumsfeld told investigators that he did not recall ordering General McCaffrey's exclusion.
Wesley K. Clark, a retired four-star Army general who worked as a military analyst for CNN, told investigators he took it as a sign that the Pentagon "was displeased" with his commentary when CNN officials told him he would no longer be invited to special briefings for military analysts. General Clark told investigators that CNN officials made him feel as if he was less valued as a commentator because "he wasn't trusted by the Pentagon." At one point, he said, a CNN official told him that the White House had asked CNN to "release you from your contract as a commentator."
But several former top aides to Mr. Rumsfeld insisted that the purpose of the program was merely to inform and educate, and many of the 63 military analysts interviewed during the inquiry agreed.
Given the conflicting accounts, the inspector general's office scrutinized some 25,000 pages of documents related to the program. But except for one "unsigned, undated, draft memorandum," investigators could not find any documents that described the strategy or objective of the program. Investigators said that to understand the program's intent, they had to rely on interviews with Mr. Rumsfeld's former public affairs aides, including his spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke. Based on these interviews, the report said, investigators concluded that the "outreach activities were intended to serve as an open information exchange with credible third-party subject-matter experts" who could "explain military issues, actions and strategies to the American public."
The inspector general's office looked into the issue of whether military analysts with ties to defense contractors used their access to senior Defense Department officials to advance their business interests.
The report found that at least 43 of the military analysts were affiliated with defense contractors. The inspector general's office said it asked 35 of these analysts whether their participation in the program benefited their business interests. Almost all said no. Based on these answers, the report said, investigators were unable to identify any analysts who "profited financially" from their participation in the program.
The report, however, said that these analysts may have gained "many other tangible and intangible benefits" from their special access. (Eight analysts said they believed their participation gave them better access to top Defense Department officials, for example.) The report said that a lack of clear "internal operating procedures" may have contributed to "the perception" that participation by military analysts with ties to defense contractors "provided a financial benefit."