WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon awarded three contracts last week, potentially worth
up to $300 million over five years, to companies it hopes will inject more creativity
into its psychological operations efforts to improve foreign public opinion about
the United States, particularly the military.
"We would like to be able to use cutting-edge types of media," said
Col. James Treadwell, director of the Joint Psychological Operations Support Element,
a part of Tampa-based U.S. Special Operations Command. "If you want to influence
someone, you have to touch their emotions."
He said SYColeman Inc. of Arlington, Va., Lincoln Group of Washington, D.C.,
and Science Applications International Corp. will help develop ideas and prototypes
for radio and television spots, documentaries, or even text messages, pop-up
ads on the Internet, podcasting, billboards or novelty items.
Treadwell's group was established last year and includes a graphic artist and
videographer, he said. It assists "psyops" personnel stationed at
military headquarters overseas.
Col. Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Special Operations Command, which runs
the Army's Special Forces, Navy SEALs and other elite combat units, said the
contractors might help the military develop commercials in Iraq, for example,
illustrating how roadside bombs meant for soldiers also harm children and other
The companies declined to comment.
The contracts come as the Bush administration has been criticized for its uncoordinated
efforts to repair the United States' post-Iraq image problems abroad, particularly
in the Muslim world. The State Department, for instance, has been slow to mount
a new public diplomacy program headed by former White House aide Karen Hughes.
Vice President Dick Cheney said in March that public diplomacy "has been
a very weak part of our arsenal."
A Government Accountability Office report in April noted that the Pentagon
had been pressing initiatives on "strategic communications" to fill
"the planning void left by the lack of strategic direction from the White
House." A September 2004 Defense Science Board report concluded that the
"U.S. strategic communication must be transformed."
"The department is always looking for ways to improve our communication
efforts, and we are working closely with the State Department to support their
public diplomacy initiatives where appropriate," Pentagon spokesman Bryan
Whitman said in response to questions about how the new psyops program fits
into an administration plan.
Some previous Defense Department efforts in the field have been controversial.
In 2002, the Pentagon abandoned its Office of Strategic Influence after reports
surfaced, which the Pentagon denied, that it would disseminate inaccurate information
to foreign media.
After other agencies were criticized for hiring journalists to promote their
policies, the Pentagon asked its inspector general to review its use of Fairfax,
Va.-based Anteon International Corp. to run Web sites aimed at audiences in
the Balkans and North Africa. The Web sites, known as the Southeast European
Times and Magharebia, include articles from journalists paid by the Pentagon
through the company, as well as articles translated from U.S. newspapers. That
review is ongoing.
Treadwell said there is no connection between the Office of Strategic Influence
and the Joint Psychological Operations Support Element, adding: "I have
never approved a product that was a lie, (or) that was intended to deceive."
SYColeman, a unit of L-3 Communications, is a government-services company with
about 1,100 employees, most in the Washington region. According to its Web site,
Lincoln Group provides communications services and strategic planning. San Diego-based
SAIC, which has 16,000 employees in the Washington region, is among the Pentagon's
largest contractors. Its work includes playing a major role in the Army's $100
billion modernization effort and a failed program to create a computerized case-management
system for the FBI.