INTERNATIONAL: US Office of Strategic Information faces axe

WASHINGTON: The Office of Strategic Information, formed by the Pentagon in the aftermath of 11 September, could face the axe following revelations last week the division was considering using disinformation tactics.

The Pentagon was reported in the New York Times to be preparing to disperse misinformation to the foreign press, issuing news releases - possibly false - from outside sources to conceal their origin.

It is widely believed the move would be an attempt to tip public sentiment and create military confusion.

Both national and foreign media were quick to voice their disapproval and the UK government last week confirmed it had ruled out using disinformation methods or involvement in deceptive PR tactics (PRWeek, 22 February).

The uproar prompted an unapologetic Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to declare that the only 'deceptions' the OSI might engage in would be of a tactical nature, such as misleading a foreign military as to the timing of an attack.

But the admission did little to silence critics, leading many to believe the OSI, still awaiting Rumsfeld's approval, may be eliminated altogether.

'It's going to be hard for the administration to proceed with it in the format that's outlined in the NYT without coming out with some extremely strong guarantees that it's going to be kosher,' said PA Council director of comms Wes Pedersen.

Also revealed last week was the White House's intention to form a permanent office of public diplomacy similar to its current 'war room', which seeks to co-ordinate messages coming out of the administrations' many departments.

Speculation is mounting as to who would run the office or act as comms director.

The US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice is considered a front-runner for the former while Susan Neely, communications director for the Office of Homeland Security, is reportedly being considered for the latter.

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