The Pentagon has engaged in an aggressive U.S. grassroots efforts to drum up support for Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the guise of supporting the troops. A central front in this effort has been the “non-political” America Supports You (ASY) program. (One branch of ASY is Operation Straight Up, an “evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military.”)
As the New York Times reported in May, the Pentagon Inspector General (IG) is currently investigating whether Pentagon officials “engaged in improper fund-raising and unauthorized spending” for the program. Many Pentagon officials believe that efforts such as ASY are nothing more than “tax-payer-funded propaganda,” with a large portion of the funds going to the PR firm Susan Davis International to bolster domestic support for the war.
On Saturday, the independent military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported that it, too, is now part of the IG’s investigation. Without the knowledge of top editors, the Pentagon transferred Stars and Stripes funds to Susan Davis International for ASY promotion:
But documents obtained Friday show that Stars and Stripes awarded a $499,000 purchase agreement in July 2006 for a public relations firm to represent America Supports You. [...]
One of the tasks the document outlines for Susan Davis International is to develop “[m]edia strategy, message and outreach for communications nationwide in markets and in overseas areas of military deployments and operations.”
The revelations have caused “extreme concern” among the Stars and Stripes staff, who believe they may jeopardize their legitimacy as an “editorially independent newspaper.”
The common link between Stars and Stripes and ASY is Pentagon communications official Allison Barber, who heads both ASY and American Forces Information Service, the parent organization for Stars and Stripes. As the American public has become increasingly disaffected with Bush’s war policies, Barber has had to ramp up the administration’s PR efforts.
This isn’t the first time Barber has been caught in unethical doings. In 2005, she “insisted” to reporters that questions from U.S. troops to Bush during a press conference “were not rehearsed.” Later she was caught on tape showing just the opposite — that she had “drilled through” “all six” of the questions that Bush was going to ask.