In April, two USA Today journalists claimed they were the victims of a deliberate “reputation attack” after they wrote a series of stories about the Pentagon’s contracts with groups that specialize in the production of propaganda. Days after the journalists began speaking with officials at the Pentagon and other sources for the story, fake websites and social media accounts set up in the names of the two reporters were mysteriously registered and began trying to discredit the stories.
Camille Chidiac, the minority owner and former president of Leonie Industries, one of the consulting firms that works with the Pentagon and was featured prominently in USA Today’s reporting, took responsibility for the misinformation campaign. USA Today reports:
“I take full responsibility for having some of the discussion forums opened and reproducing their previously published USA TODAY articles on them,” he said a statement released by his attorney, Lin Wood, of Atlanta.
“I recognize and deeply regret that my actions have caused concerns for Leonie and the U.S. military. This was never my intention. As an immediate corrective action, I am in the process of completely divesting my remaining minority ownership from Leonie,” Chidiac said.
Chidiac says Leonie Industries and the Pentagon had no knowledge of the smear campaign, and no funding from either entity was used in the attack. Leonie Industries has received at least $120 million in Pentagon contracts since 2009.
Earlier this month, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) called on the Pentagon to launch an investigation into the smear campaign against the USA Today journalists and said it should “consider suspending all contracts with Leonie Industries until such investigation is complete.”