On the rarest of occasions in Washington, the oft-derided “publicity stunt” tactic serves not to raise a politician’s profile or pet cause, but a worthy goal of highlighting possible wrongdoing. Such was the case yesterday when, debating the Pentagon budget bill in the House, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) introduced an amendment to cut off all funding for Pentagon information operations — a euphemism for propaganda. Johnson used the opportunity to speak on the amendment to get into the Congressional record and recount a disturbing case suggesting Defense Department contractors retaliated against investigative journalists looking into their work.
Johnson was referring to USA Today Pentagon reporter Tom Vanden Brook and editor Ray Locker, who were smeared in a so-called “reputation attack” designed to flood the internet with information discrediting them just days after they made calls to defense contractors about possible waste and abuse. Johnson cited one of the companies they exposed — Leonie Industries — for having no military or propaganda experience. Last year, the Pentagon spent $202 million on such propaganda endeavors intended to target U.S. enemies like Al Qaeda and the Taliban — but those tactics and that money may have been used against the USA Today journalists.
Speaking during the House Armed Services Committee hearing, Johnson said:
As incompetent as this reputation attack campaign appears to have been, it raises the deeply disturbing possibility that a federal defense contractor that specializes in information operations may have targeted American journalists. It may have done so using taxpayer dollars and tactics developed to counter the influence of advresaries such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Mr. Chairman, although we don’t have compelling evidence that this money is well spent, I recognize that some of these investments may be effectively supporting our men and women in harm’s way. So I intend to withdraw this amendment. But I call upon the Department of Defense to launch an immediate investigation of this matter, to refer any evidence of criminal activity to the Attorney General, and to consider suspending all contracts with Leonie Industries until such investigation is complete.
Watch the video:
Johnson doesn’t want to harm U.S. troops, so he ended up withdrawing the amendment. But he took the time to shed light on an important case of Pentagon waste and what he rightly calls a “deeply disturbing possibility” that Pentagon propagandists retaliated against journalists doing nothing more than their jobs. Despite the “stunt” of introducing an amendment, Johnson did the country a service by highlighting possible waste and abuse by the Pentagon and its contrators.