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U.S.: Washington May Not Open Pentagon Information Office

Washington, 26 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Defense Department says it is considering closing its controversial Office of Strategic Influence even before it gets a chance to do any significant work.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said on 26 February that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has asked officials in charge of the office to examine it carefully and determine whether it should be shut down. The unit was created in the weeks immediately following the 11 September terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

News reports in the U.S. say the office would have been in charge of coordinating efforts including public disclosures to the media and even what was called "information warfare" in both friendly and hostile nations.

According to these reports, the office's activities might have included disseminating disinformation to further the American campaign against international terrorism.

Rumsfeld was recently asked about the office, and he replied that the Pentagon limits itself to issuing factual documents and would not deliberately issue inaccurate or misleading statements.

On 24 February, the secretary was again asked about the Office of Strategic Influence during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. Rumsfeld spoke about adverse publicity and even what he called "misinformation" about the office, and said the people with immediate responsibility for it are debating whether it should even exist.

During the interview, Rumsfeld appeared to try to distance himself from the Office of Strategic Influence, saying he had not even seen its charter. But according to "The New York Times," a senior staff member of that office says the unit's director has at least twice briefed the secretary about the office's objectives.

In another television interview, on CBS's "Face the Nation," Rumsfeld outlined how he would expect the office to operate. He noted that early in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, the Taliban, which still claimed to govern the country, was saying that the U.S. military was air-dropping poisoned food rations to the Afghan people.

Rumsfeld said it was important to counter the Taliban's disinformation with factual reports.

Analysts interviewed by RFE/RL said the U.S. government would be making a mistake if it resorted to issuing disinformation in an effort to enhance the war on terrorism. They said such a campaign could harm the overall credibility of the war effort.