WASHINGTON: The Pentagon's decision to hand out three psychological operations contracts, each worth up to $100 million, has once again stoked debate on the effectiveness of information warfare in the post-9/11 world.
The US Special Operations Command awarded the five-year contracts to SYColeman of Arlington, VA; Lincoln Group of Washington, DC; and California-based government contractor Science Applications International Corp., or SAIC.
The companies will handle "media approach planning, prototype-product development, commercial quality product development, product distribution and dissemination, and media effects analysis," according to a statement from the Department of Defense.
"Everything will be based on the truth," said Col. James Treadwell, director of the Joint Psychological Operations Support Element, the unit managing the contracts. "It won't be beneficial to do misinformation or lies."
Conveying the military's message to foreign media outlets and citizens is a tricky enterprise, particularly in countries where much of the population is opposed to US policy.
"I trust they will tread softly," said Wes Pedersen, director of communications at the Public Affairs Council. "Local media is very smart at spotting garbage."
The Pentagon sought bids on the psy-ops work because it is looking for new ideas, Treadwell said. "What we are doing is creating a contract mechanism so that we can leverage the creativity that's out there," he said. "We don't care what the type of media is. It could be broadcasting, [internet] pop-ups, billboards, or novelty items."
But critics have begun sounding alarms about the contracts.
"I am very suspicious of using psychological operations techniques to change public opinion," said Kenneth Bacon, former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs during the Clinton administration. "It's a dangerous bridging of the gap between psychological operations and getting news out."
Bacon also questioned the decision to award another media contract to SAIC. "These are the guys who lost $100 million in Baghdad trying to set up a broadcast system in 2003," he said. "I think these guys totally wasted the money. They don't know much about the news business. It's not my impression that this is their forte."
In March 2003, the US awarded SAIC a contract to run the Iraqi Media Network, a national Iraqi television and radio broadcasting network.
SYColeman, a subsidiary of New York-based L-3 Communications, said in a statement that it will provide global multimedia services through a "culturally relevant" media effort. Lincoln Group, formerly known as Iraqex, provides various services for the US in Iraq, including PR. None of the three companies would comment on the contracts for this article.