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Pentagon media program did not violate propaganda rules: report

[JURIST] The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded Tuesday that the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official websites] did not violate prohibitions on propaganda [report text] by having retired military officers (RMOs) offer public support to the Bush administration's war policies. The GAO found that the DOD was not in violation of Pub L No 110-417, § 1056(c) [text, PDF], which provides that "[n]o part of any funds authorized to be appropriated in this or any other Act shall be used by the Department of Defense for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not otherwise specifically authorized by law," when it had RMOs make media appearances as part of its "Public Affairs Outreach Program." The officers met repeatedly with Pentagon officials and even toured the military prison at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] before making appearances on various television news programs. In its opinion, the GAO found:

Clearly, DOD attempted to favorably influence public opinion with respect to the Administration's war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan through the RMOs. However, as we discuss below, and based on the record before us in this case, we conclude that DOD's public affairs outreach program to RMOs did not violate the prohibition. We found no evidence that DOD attempted to conceal from the public its outreach to RMOs or its role in providing RMOs with information, materials, access to department officials, travel, and luncheons. Moreover, we found no evidence that DOD contracted with or paid RMOs for positive commentary or analysis. Consequently, DOD's public affairs activities involving RMOs, in our opinion, did not violate the publicity or propaganda prohibition.

The DOD's inspector general issued a report with a similar finding [AP report] in January, but that report was withdrawn in May due to data inaccuracies.

In 2006, the DOD inspector general concluded that the US military's use of a propaganda program in Iraq was legal [JURIST report]. While the program involved planting and paying for favorable news about US operations in Iraqi newspapers, the report concluded that no laws or regulations on psychological operations were broken. In 2005, the inspector general concluded that websites like the Southeast European Times [media website], operated by the US military that pay journalists to write articles and commentary supporting military activities, are legal and do not infringe laws or government policies [JURIST report]. The investigation determined that two websites aimed at audiences in the Balkans and the Maghreb region of northern Africa are not covert propaganda and are properly identified as US government products, although the identifications are not prominent.

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