Q: [Missing initial part of question related to Office of Strategic Influence] -- what is the reason why the Pentagon hasn't decided to go that route? What is different than what the CIA does and what the State Department already does?
Under Secretary Feith Breakfast with Defense Writers GroupWednesday, February 20, 2002
(Breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C. with the Defense Writers Group.)
Feith: First of all I want to clarify that when Defense Department officials speak to the public they tell the truth, and despite some of the reports about the Office of Strategic Influence that I've read over the last day or two, Defense Department officials don't lie to the public. And we are confident that the truth serves our interests in the broadest sense of national security and specifically in this war.
The use of information in the war, in order to facilitate the work of our armed forces and help them fulfill their missions, is very important. Everybody who follows the military affairs and knows military history knows how important information can be at the operational and tactical level.
There are all kinds of things that one wants to improvise about the use of information from things like the way you bring information to an area of operations -- one of the major things we did during the Cold War was bring true information through the Iron Curtain. We used information, we've been using information in Afghanistan to advertise rewards, the Commando Solo broadcasts, to tell people what they can expect, to warn people about unexploded ordnance, to tell them that the humanitarian assistance can be eaten. There are all kinds of uses of information for which policy is required.
There's also the issue, as I was saying, about operational and tactical use of information. We have an interest in the enemy not knowing, not being confident about what we're going to do. And there are all kinds of ways of affecting enemies' perceptions of what our armed forces are doing that don't involve Defense Department officials lying to the public.
So it's important that people really be clear on this point. We have an enormous stake in our credibility and we're going to preserve that, but we're not going to give up on the obvious usefulness of managing information of various types for the purpose of helping our armed forces accomplish their mission.
Q: But that's deeper than the purview of the CIA and the State Department. Why is the military getting involved in disinformation campaigns?
Feith: You characterize them as disinformation campaigns. I try to be careful about distinguishing between public affairs and public diplomacy. Public diplomacy is the responsibility of a number of the agencies of the U.S. government. The State Department I believe has the lead. Public affairs work is done by every agency of the U.S. government. We are not, as I said, we are not going to endanger the credibility of our public affairs, but there's a lot that can be done in the information, in the area of using information to facilitate our military mission that doesn't enter the realm of public affairs or public diplomacy.
Q: Are you going to be required to get a covert action finding? Do you think any sort of -- I don't know what you call it. I call it information (inaudible) or anything like that?
Feith: The Defense Department doesn't do covert actions.
Q: But that would be a covert action.
Feith: If it's a covert action, we don't do it.
Q: Are you saying then that there would not be any type of a covert disinformation campaign run by this office?
Feith: The Defense Department doesn't do covert action, period.
Q: I just want to clarify. Will the mandate of this office or any other office of this Pentagon include [stocking] or supplying news stories or information that is false to foreign media or other media sources?
Q: And will the mandate of this office include -- does the mandate of this office include disseminating information to, in countries that we have not -- in allied countries that --
Feith: You're asking about the mandate of the office. I was happy to answer the first question, but to tell you the truth the mandate of the office is being worked. And it's a new office, and the kinds of issues that have been raised about the proper bounds of this activity -- we are sensitive to the importance of the kinds of questions that have been raised about the office. We don't consider that in any way if, that it's improper to be challenging these kinds of questions. These are serious questions that we've been dealing with.
We are formulating the mandate for the office. It involves issues that require us to coordinate within the Defense Department and to coordinate interagency. That work is underway right now. There is a review of what the proper way to conceive these missions is and how to do the obviously important and legitimate things that need to be done regarding information; and how to do it in a way that protects the purity, the accuracy, the voracity of the public affairs work that is done by the department and by other agencies of the government. And all of these important line drawing issues are being worked right now.
We understand how important these issues are. There's no mistake that this is a sensitive and important subject. We're trying to approach it intelligently. It happens to be that in the midst of our work the story appeared. But we're going to complete our work and I think we should get it right when we do complete the work.
Q: On another topic. In addition to the creation of the Northern Command, what other changes are contemplated in the unified command structure and why?
Feith: I don't think we've finalized that. As a matter of fact I know we haven't finalized that so I'm not sure that I can say anything publicly about it at the moment. I was explaining earlier as I was coming in, one of my big problems is trying to keep the lines straight in my mind between what's public information and what's still classified.
Q: Still clarifying it. (Laughter)
Q: There's no way to go wrong. (Laughter)
Feith: You may know all kinds of stuff already, but to tell you the truth I am not clear in my mind of what has been said publicly about the unified command plan yet other than the fact that we're working on it and I think we're fairly close to having it completed.
Q: You're expecting aggressive changes throughout?
Feith: There will be a fair number of changes, yeah.
Feith: I don't know if I really want to get into that right now.
Q: (inaudible) (Laughter)
Feith: As I said, I just don't know exactly where the line is between what we've said publicly and what we haven't. It's the president's decision to make and I don't want to be saying why we think this should be -- if the president decides he wants to go this way or that way, I don't want to have said why he should go differently from the way he decides to go.
Q: We'll favorably consider (inaudible).
Q: Returning to the use of information, you said a fair amount about how you would not use it, but how about giving some very graphic examples of how you would use it to your advantage? And don't go back to the Cold War.
Feith: I gave one or two. The Commando Solo broadcasts. Giving the kind of broadcasts that give information, true information, to people whose access to true information is being blocked by their government.
Q: You're not talking about doing anything different than what you're doing already then. Nothing more creative that hasn't been done so far?
Feith: I wouldn't rule out creative. (Laughter) We're in favor of creative.
Q: Then tell us something creative that you might do. But don't go back --
Feith: It's hard to be creative at a moment's notice. I'm not going to lay out a program for you.
Q: I just asked for a few examples.
Feith: Okay, then don't insist on creative. I'll give you examples of things we've done. I think it's worthwhile reviewing a few of these things even though they may be familiar to you because they're not I think generally at the fore of people's minds when they hear a term like strategic influence.
But the kinds of messages that go out that encourage enemy forces to surrender. The kinds of messages that go out that are designed to prevent problems with, if there are populations in areas that we're doing military operations, in which we're doing military operations so that you tell people, for example, stay away from equipment that could hurt you, stay away from unexploded ordnance, how to distinguish between unexploded ordnance and humanitarian daily rations.
Q: Those are all things we did before --
Feith: But if you think of it, those are all things that require policy oversight. In other words, we were doing lots of things in the informational area and it became clear that we needed to have oversight over the use of all kinds of information. What happens is when you put together an operation to do that somebody immediately comes forward with suggestions that go beyond I think this very sensible and rather narrow concept of how you as a policy matter manage information for your military operation.
So I think it really is useful to understand that there's a lot that needs to be done in this area, needs to be coordinated in this area that is not the kind of activity that has people in high dudgeon in various press stories over the last 48 hours.
Q: Were there failures then that you're trying to correct? And if so, what were those failures?
Feith: I'm not sure I'd characterize it as a failure. There are a lot of activities that require oversight, and when you start getting a bunch of things coming in and you say well how do we handle this and how do we formulate that and who's reviewing leaflets that we're dropping? How do we want to formulate our messages on rewards? And who should we be advertising to when it comes to collecting WMD material or asking for people to be turned in? And what kind of oversight do you have for messages for leaflets? And who's going to review the script for radio broadcasts and things like that? When you start getting these things in you say you know, we really need to have an office that has responsibility for information. That was really the genesis of this. There was a lot of stuff going on.
Then there's also the issue of we have all kinds of false information being purveyed by hostile people or simply misinformed people in the area of operations and around the world. Who's monitoring this to make sure that we know what kinds of misinformation we need to correct? It's a matter of tracking what are the kinds of things that the armed forces have to focus on to counter in order to be able to do their job?
For example, you learn after you're dropping these humanitarian daily rations, you learn all of a sudden that a story is going around the country that they're not, it's not good to eat by either, there were false stories that the food was poisoned. There were false stories that it wasn't proper for Muslims to eat it. If you're not monitoring what's being said you wouldn't even know that to be able to go and produce a leaflet that will tell people it's okay to eat.
I mean the last thing in the world you want when your military is operating in an area is to have people thinking that you're trying to poison them.
Q: I wanted to clarify something you said earlier. I think I heard you say that the Defense Department didn't do covert actions, and I wasn't sure what you meant by that. My understanding is that information operators have long [done] covert activities. Is that not true?
Feith: The term covert action I think we all understand is a term of art. It is a thing that is defined and it belongs to the CIA and it doesn't belong to DoD. Anything that is called a covert action is not a DoD activity and we don't do it.
Feith: We do secret things. The term covert action is a term of art.
Q: I wanted to clarify that. Would not -- in the discussions over OSI, are they contemplating putting all Defense Department information operations under its purview? Or are you coordinating them through that office?
Feith: No. Not possibly. If by that you mean public affairs, for example, no. Absolutely not.
Q: Referring beyond public affairs. Referring to other activities involving whatever information operation that (inaudible).
Feith: As I said, we don't have a finished mandate for the office. That's being worked. That is under review right now. It's a big issue within the department and interagency, which I suspect is part of the reason that it got publicized. When you have big issues within the department or within the interagency, that's the kind of thing that occasionally finds its way into the newspapers. So here we are. (Laughter)
Q: One other thing. You said that the Defense Department will not be involved in disseminating false information. Have you ruled out the possibility of contractors being involved in that kind of thing? (Laughter)
Feith: As I said, we're going to preserve our credibility and we're going to preserve the purity of the statements that defense officials make to the public. And as I said, we're also going to preserve our option to mislead the enemy about our operations. And those are not inconsistent. And as I said, what we need to do for military operational purposes does not require defense officials lying to the public and we're not going to have defense officials lying to the public.
Q: How about outside (inaudible)? Dot coms.
Feith: I must say I think I've covered the point. We are going to preserve our ability to undertake operations that may, for tactical purposes, mislead an enemy. But we are not going to blow our credibility as an institution in our public pronouncements. I don't think this is that hard.
Q: By hiring others to do that?
Feith: I think I've really --
Q: Let's move on.
Q: Moving on is such a relative term. Can you close the loop on when this came up as an idea and when you expect the interagency process to be worked out and when the process will get set up? And then could you also, a separate topic, can you address tactical nukes? There's lots of talk about the strategic nukes, but tac nukes is a harder problem. First the schedule.
Feith: We've been working on the issue of the mandate for this office since it was put together in I believe November. I hope we'll have it soon. I hope we'll have it -- It's hard. I don't have a definite deadline, but I would hope in the coming weeks we will have this thing sorted out.
Q: The Office of Strategic -- I don't have too much of a dog in the fight, but this one issue, offensive information operations at the airports practiced in (inaudible) and Kosovo against the Serbs. Will this office have some kind of policy oversight in terms of how the Air Force orchestrates offensive information [off] a computer attack, and going after bank accounts and things like that?
Feith: The lines of responsibility have not been drawn yet so I can't answer that.
Q: Is it the mission of trying to get them, is part of the mission of this Office of Strategic Influence to get that message across to international audiences? And particularly audiences in the Middle East who at this point don't show a whole lot of support for, certainly for a U.S. effort in Iraq?
Feith: The United States has a number of offices addressing themselves to that, to those themes. The State Department Public Diplomacy Office is focused I think on the theme that I just expounded. Public affairs offices at the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and elsewhere are focused on that theme. One of the things that needs to be worked out in the details, the mandate of this Office of Strategic Influence is to make sure that its work is properly coordinated with all the other offices of the government that do public affairs and public diplomacy, to make sure there's no conflict between the work of the different offices.
But those, the messages that I just laid out are messages that are being pushed by essentially public diplomacy and public affairs offices throughout the government.
Q: You seem to be saying that this office's purpose is strictly for information efforts related to battlefield situations, battlefield advantage.
Feith: I don't want to say strictly. I told you, the strict lines haven't been drawn yet. I would say that there is an emphasis, there's a focus on facilitating military operations.
Q: You said awhile ago that the department is interested in preserving our ability for tactical purposes to mislead an enemy, and we're talking about a battlefield situation I'm assuming. Would you rule out as a policy matter using the news media in that effort? To mislead an enemy?
Feith: I think I covered that. We're not going to have Defense Department officials lying to the public -- neither the foreign public nor the domestic public nor to the press.
Q: So you're ruling it out. I think. What I'm saying is the news media, whether they're speaking from the Pentagon briefing room or any other interaction.
Feith: Right. We are not going to lie to the press or the public.
Q: We're out of time. Thanks very much for coming. We appreciate it.