Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rolling Stone: General Deployed Psy-Ops Against US Senators


The U.S. Army ordered a "psychological operations" team to manipulate visiting U.S. senators into pushing for more funding and troops for the war in Afghanistan, according to a report in Rolling Stone magazine.

Three-star U.S. general Lt. Gen. William Caldwell is accused of deploying propaganda techniques, which the Army says are intended to "alter the behavior of foreign populations," against visiting U.S. dignitaries to Afghanistan in a potentially illegal, months-long operation to lobby Congress. Caldwell is responsible for the training of Afghan security forces.

Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of operations in Afghanistan, told reporters today he was calling for an investigation to "determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue."

Major General William Caldwell
Ali Abbas, AFP / Getty Images
Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, seen here in 2007, is accused in a Rolling Stone story of deploying propaganda techniques against visiting U.S. dignitaries in Afghanistan.
The commanding officer of the "psy-ops" team tried to blow the whistle on the operation but was ignored and later steamrolled by his superiors, according to the Rolling Stone story.

"My job in psy-ops is to play with people's heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave," the officer, Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, told Rolling Stone. "I'm prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you're crossing a line."

Sens. John McCain, Carl Levin, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed and Al Franken were all targets of the propaganda campaign, as well as Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee and Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to the magazine.

Lt. Gen. Caldwell issued issued a statement to Rolling Stone saying that he "categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors."

Sen. Levin, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he has always been supportive of training Afghan forces and didn't need "convincing" from the military.

"For years, I have strongly and repeatedly advocated for building up Afghan military capability because I believe only the Afghans can truly secure their nation's future," he said in a statement sent to AOL News via e-mail today.

"I have never needed any convincing on this point. Quite the opposite, my efforts have been aimed at convincing others of the need for larger, more capable Afghan security forces, and that we and NATO should send more trainers to Afghanistan, rather than more combat troops. I am confident that the chain of command will review any allegation that information operations have been improperly used in Afghanistan."

The story is written by Michael Hastings, the same reporter whose June profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal prompted his resignation.

Former FBI and Navy JAG officer M.E. "Spike" Bowman said in a phone interview today that it is illegal for the military to lobby Congress and said the allegations against the general are serious. If they are true, Bowman said, Caldwell would likely be forced to resign.

"It's still hard to tell what, precisely, occurred," Bowman later wrote in an e-mail to AOL News. "However, if the story is accurate, it does appear that a line was crossed. It's a sufficiently important line that, if provable, would merit the relief of General Caldwell."

Bowman said it will be up to the Army inspector general to determine what disciplinary action, if any, should be taken against the general and any other officers involved.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment by AOL News today.

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