USA Today: Online Pentagon Payback Campaign Targeted Us
The U.S. military’s propaganda activities — known formally and euphemistically as “information operations” — has this week faced serious accusations of targeting Americans, a major infraction. According to USA Today, military personnel (or contractors) apparently took to the web to unleash a vitriolic, and embarrassingly transparent, smear campaign against two of the paper’s staff members. Why? Because they published a damning investigation of the military’s dubious propaganda campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
USA Today reported on Thursday evening that a reporter and an editor, Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker, respectively, had been victims of a web campaign intent on damaging their professional reputations. Though the paper couldn’t confirm who was behind the attack, they’ve got their suspicions: It started shortly after the two staffers kicked off an investigation of the Pentagon’s own propaganda contractors.
The campaign included phony websites, dubious Wikipedia entries, Twitter accounts and message forum posts. All of which, according to the paper, have now been taken offline.
The paper’s investigation of the Pentagon’s info ops was scathing. In February, USA Today published a lengthy report — co-bylined by Vanden Brook and Locker — critiquing “poorly tracked marketing and propaganda campaigns,” orchestrated to win over Afghan and Iraqi citizens throughout the wars in both countries.
“[D]ozens of interviews and a series of internal military reports,” Vanden Brook and Locker summarized, prove “that Pentagon officials have little proof the programs work and they won’t make public where the money goes.”
Around the time Vanden Brook started digging into info ops, he alleges, a fake website was registered to his own name. Two weeks after the USA Today story was published, a separate website was registered under the name of Ray Locker. The sites re-posted previously published works of both, with a bevy of replies from “commenters” bent on insulting the integrity and quality of Vanden Brook and Locker’s reporting.
The websites may have been lame, but the wannabe-reputation-ransackers did at least one thing right. Both sites used a proxy service to hide their creator’s identity, which according to USA Today costs a mere $50 to do.
In another instance, someone allegedly created a Wikipedia entry that accused Vanden Brook of “misreporting” facts during the 2006 Sago Mine disaster. A fake Twitter account was also created in Vanden Brook’s name, and then bizarrely defended the integrity of Vanden Brook’s reporting in response to other fake Twitter accounts. A handful of message forums and blogs were also dotted with posts that accused the USA Today staffers of being “in bed with the Taliban,” among other remarkably unconvincing insults.
The military has been quick to deny involvement in any smear campaign. “We’re not aware of any participation in such activities, nor would it be acceptable,” Lt. Col. James Gregory, a Pentagon spokesperson, told the paper.
On the off-chance that the smear campaign was the work of some random troll unconnected to the Pentagon, that would be merely a massively toolish thing to do. But if the amateurish initiative really wasthe work of Pentagon staffers or contractors, it’s a flagrant attack on freedom of the press and possibly illegal, since “information operations” are never supposed to target Americans.
- USA Today Reporters Smeared After Investigating Pentagon Propaganda Outsourcing (crooksandliars.com)
- USA Today Pair Hit By Smear Campaign After Pentagon Propaganda Story (freeinternetpress.com)
- Meet the Pentagon Contractor That Ran a Disinformation Campaign Against Two USA Today Reporters [Smears] (gawker.com)
- Pentagon Smears USA Today Reporters Investigating – Wait for It – Illegal Pentagon Propaganda (washingtonsblog.com)
- Misinformation Campaign Targets USA TODAY Reporters Investigating Pentagon Propaganda Contractors – Puppet Masters – Sott.net (powersthatbeat.wordpress.com)
- USA Today Journalists Become Victims Of ‘Reputation Attack’ After Reporting On Pentagon Propaganda (thinkprogress.org)
- Government Bullies (kendramercer.wordpress.com)
- Misinformation Campaign Targets USA TODAY Reporter, Editor (cryptogon.com)
- Misinformation Campaign Targets USA TODAY Reporter, Editor (blacklistednews.com)
- Quickie: Louis, this is the beginning of a nasty something online …. (diplopundit.net)
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