USA Today Journalists Become Victims Of ‘Reputation Attack’ After Reporting On Pentagon Propaganda

The largest circulation daily newspaper in America, USA Today, reports that two of its journalists were targeted by a campaign to discredit their work shortly after publishing pieces about a Pentagon propaganda operation.

The journalists, Pentagon reporter Tom Vanden Brook and editor Ray Locker, worked together on a long and critical feature story — and did follow-up stories — about a Pentagon campaign to improve the image of U.S. military adventures abroad, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon program paid contractors — 172, for example, during a three-year period in Iraq — such as California’s Leonie Industries to run what it calls “information operations.”

Yesterday, USA Today published its own story about what one expert called “reputation attacks” that were likely run by people with experience. USA Today reporter Gregory Korte wrote that after inquiries went in to contractors involved with the Pentagon propaganda campaign and stories were published, fake websites and twitter accounts using the journalists’ names began to pop up. Korte explained:

For example, Internet domain registries show the website was created Jan. 7 — just days after Pentagon reporter Tom Vanden Brook first contacted Pentagon contractors involved in the program. Two weeks after his editor Ray Locker’s byline appeared on a story, someone created a similar site,, through the same company.

Once in place, the websites and twitter accounts were used to discredit reporting by the journalists. Wikipedia entries for the journalists were also created and misleading information about them published there.

The websites using their names were registered through false addresses and routed through proxy servers to conceal their origins. Registering a website costs about $10 and routing it through a proxy about $50. USA Today noted that if federal funds were used, “it could violate federal law prohibiting the production of propaganda for domestic consumption.”

The Pentagon said it was “unaware” of such activity and deemed it “unacceptable.” A source told Korte that the Pentagon had asked the related contractors if there had been any such activity, and all had denied it, but the inquiries were “informal and did not amount to an official investigation.” After USA Today made inquiries to the Pentagon about the websites, they were taken down.

The propaganda campaigns waged by the Pentagon can be lucrative for both the Defense Department and contractors. The long feature by Vanden Brook and Locker noted:

From 2005 to 2009, such spending rose from $9 million to $580 million a year mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon and congressional records show. Last year, spending dropped to $202 million as the Iraq War wrapped up. A USA TODAY investigation, based on dozens of interviews and a series of internal military reports, shows that Pentagon officials have little proof the programs work and they won’t make public where the money goes. In Iraq alone, more than $173 million was paid to what were identified only as “miscellaneous foreign contractors.”

(HT: Robert Mackey)