Defense Department News Briefing
Secretary of Defense Donald H. RumsfeldFebruary 26, 2002
(excerpts on Office of Strategic Influence)
Q: Mr. Secretary, the president said yesterday that you and he were reading from virtually the same page, paraphrasing, on the Pentagon's controversial new Office of Strategic Information. He said that the American people -- and, we assume, the world -- will not be misled on U.S. strategic policy. Are you going to kill that office?
Rumsfeld: I was -- I met with Undersecretary Doug Feith this morning, and he indicated to me that he has decided to close down the Office of Strategic Influence.
Q: Why? Could you tell us why?
Rumsfeld: Well, you know, there have been so many stories about this office, and commentary, some portion of which has contained inaccurate speculation and assertions that the office would -- could become involved in activities that the department has in fact not done, is not doing, and would not condone. I guess notwithstanding the fact that much of the thrust of the criticism and the cartoons and the editorial comment has been off the mark, the office has clearly been so damaged that it's unclear to me -- it's pretty clear to me that it could not function effectively. So it's being closed down.
Q: Mr. Secretary, from the outset, though, within days after September 11th, I think you were one of the first in the administration to stand here and say it's imperative for the United States to reach out and in fact educate the rest of the world, if not the Muslim world --
Q: in terms of what the U.S. is and will be doing.
Rumsfeld: We --
Q: So how can the Pentagon do that effectively, or is it going to be --
Rumsfeld: We'll just have to do it with the offices that existed previously. There's no question but that we do have an obligation, as you remind us all, to -- we had to tell the world that this was not an effort against the Afghan people. We had to find ways to do it ,and we had an aircraft that flew over with radio broadcasts, and we dropped leaflets. We did a whole series of things that are characterized as influence or strategic influence or information operations. And we have done that in the past, and we will do that in the future. We told people where they could get humanitarian assistance. We told people the difference between cluster bomb packages and food packages. We had to defend [against] the lies that the food packages were poison and tell the Afghan people that they were not poison; in fact, they were culturally appropriate for them. So there's lots of things that we have to do, and we will do those things. We'll just do them in a different office. (Chuckles.)
Q: So those activities will be conducted, but -
Rumsfeld: The activities that are appropriate to this department we certainly will be doing.
Q: And disinformation is not one of those activities?
Rumsfeld: It most clearly is not.
Q: Mr. Rumsfeld, you said that some of the reporting about the Office of Strategic Influence has been off the mark. But isn't it in fact the case that at least some of the proposed activities of this office, even if they weren't things that were approved, included discussion of planting false information in foreign news media? Wasn't that one of the things that was discussed as a possible activity for this office?
Rumsfeld: You know, it's -- if we think about this, this office was, I think, established sometime shortly after September 11th for the reason that was discussed earlier, because of the need -- there already was an office, as I understand it, in the Joint Staff called Information Operations. And that office was serving as the linkage with the White House and the Department of State and the rest of the government on the subject of information. And Doug Feith properly decided that he felt that there ought to be an office of the Secretary of Defense, a civilian office, that monitored that activity. And that's when that office was -- began to be stood up, and people started being brought in to do it. It's my understanding that they have even to this day not developed a charter, that it has been under discussion within the office. I've not seen such a charter. So what it was to do was an open question, even today as it ends its very short, prominent life. (Laughter.)
I don't have -- I can't say to you with assurance exactly what was discussed by people in that office or by other people with that office. What I do know is exactly what I have said; that regardless if something may or may not have been discussed down at a lower level, this department is not going to do what you said. It was not, it has not done it. We had -- we will not do it, we are not doing it now, and we will not in the future.
Q: Well, it just seemed that you were saying that the office -- that you were closing this office because it had been essentially tainted by inaccurate press reporting.
Rumsfeld: I said some of the press has been off the mark, and that is a fact.
Q: But that was --
Rumsfeld: Some of the editorial comment and some of the cartoons. But that's life. We get up in the morning and we live with the world like we find it. Therefore, the office is done. (Laughter.) It's over. What do you want, blood?! (Laughter.)
Q: Have you got any?
Q: Mr. Secretary, has Pentagon credibility suffered?
Rumsfeld: I doubt it. I hope not. If it has, we'll rebuild it.