An internal investigation has cleared the Pentagon of violating a ban on domestic propaganda by using retired military officers to comment positively about the war in Iraq in the US media.
In a report posted on its website, the Pentagon’s inspector general said “we found the evidence insufficient to conclude that RMA (retired military analysts) outreach activities were improper”.
The report said the controversy, which erupted in April following an expose in the New York Times, warranted no further investigation.
The Times found that the Pentagon laid on special briefings and conference calls for the retired officers, many of whom then repeated the talking points as military experts on television news shows.
It also found that many of the media analysts also worked as consultants or served on the boards of defence contracting companies, but that those ties often went undisclosed to the public.
US law bars government agencies from using funds for domestic propaganda, but the inspector general’s report said the definition of propaganda was unclear.
The report said historically it had been interpreted to mean publicity for the sake of self aggrandisement, partisanship, or covert communications, and that by those standards the evidence did not show a violation of the ban.
“Further, we found insufficient basis to conclude that (the office of the assistant secretary of defence for public affairs) conceived of or undertook a disciplined effort to assemble a contingent of influential RMAs who could be depended on to comment favourably on DoD (Department of Defence) programs,” it said.
It said the Pentagon invited retired military analysts to 121 meetings, 16 Pentagon briefings, 105 conference calls and nine trips – four to Iraq and five to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“We determined that those activities were conducted in accordance with DoD policies and regulations,” it said.
It said some 70 retired military officers were involved with the program at one time of another.
One, retired general Barry McCaffrey, was not invited back after he criticised the war effort, the report said. Another was blocked from attending, possibly because of a dispute with an unnamed senior military officer, it said.
It said it found no instances where retired officers with ties to military contractors “used information obtained as a result of the … outreach program to achieve a competitive advantage for their company”.
“Of the 70 RMAs that we examined, we found that 20 (29 per cent) had some type of corporate association,” it said.