A new investigation reveals that the Pentagon paid over half a billion in taxpayer dollars to a British PR firm to fabricate terrorist propaganda.
According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) — an award-winning British nonprofit news agency — General David Petraeus signed off on the creation of the propaganda videos between 2006 and 2008 when he was serving as commander of U.S. armed forces in Iraq. The videos were made to resemble footage of terrorist insurgents appearing in Arabic-speaking news outlets in order to track down the people who watched them.
TBIJ interviewed Martin Wells of the controversial firm Bell Pottinger, who gave an in-depth explanation of how the propaganda videos were made and distributed. Wells, a former freelance video editor, took a job with Bell Pottinger in May of 2006, and was told very little about his assignment until he was told on a Friday afternoon that he would be flying out to Baghdad the following Monday. Wells described his work environment as extremely secretive.
“It was a very secure building,” Wells told TBIJ, describing “signs outside saying ‘Do not come in, it’s a classified area, if you’re not cleared, you can’t come in.’”
Wells told TBIJ that the content he made for his employer fell into three genres: television commercials portraying al-Qaeda in a negative light, and fake news segments intended to look like they were “created by Arabic TV.” Bell Pottinger would film low-definition video of terrorist attacks, which would then be edited to look like a news package, with voice-over in Arabic. The finished product would then be sent to TV stations throughout the Middle East.
The third genre of content Wells was hired to produce was the most classified: He would oversee the production of fabricated propaganda films made to look like they came from al-Qaeda. Wells told TBIJ he was given very specific instructions from U.S. military officials about how the videos would be made.
“We need to make this style of video and we’ve got to use al-Qaeda’s footage,” Wells recalled to TBIJ, relaying the instructions he was given. “We need it to be 10 minutes long, and it needs to be in this file format, and we need to encode it in this manner.”
While U.S. Marines were on patrol in Iraq, they would periodically place DVD copies of the fake terrorist films Wells made inside of houses they raided, to suggest the home was part of an al-Qaeda terror cell. Each copy planted at the scene of a raid had a Google Analytics code embedded within, which showed the Pentagon a list of places the DVD had been played.
“If they’re raiding a house and they’re going to make a mess of it looking for stuff anyway, they’d drop an odd CD there,” Wells told TBIJ.
The Penatgon confirmed its relationship with Bell Pottinger to TBIJ, classifying their work under the Information Operations Task Force. An official with the United States Department of Defense (DoD) also told TBIJ that Bell Pottinger’s work was used by the Joint Psychological Operations Task Force. TBIJ identified approximately $540 million in contracts ranging from May 2007 to December 2011 between the DoD and Bell Pottinger for information operations and psychological operations, amounting to roughly $120 million per year.
However, the Pentagon official, whose name was not divulged by TBIJ, would not elaborate further on the scope of the work Bell Pottinger was contracted to produce.
“We do not discuss intelligence gathering methods for operations past and present,” the official said.
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The Pentagon paid a UK PR firm half a billion dollars to create fake terrorist videos in Iraq in a secret propaganda campaign exposed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
PR firm Bell Pottinger, known for its array of controversial clients including the Saudi government and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s foundation, worked with the US military to create the propaganda in a secretive operation.
The firm reported to the CIA, the National Security Council and the Pentagon on the project with a mandate to portray Al-Qaeda in a negative light and track suspected sympathizers.
Both the White House and General David Petraeus, the former general who shared classified information with his mistress, signed off on the content produced by the agency.
The Bell Pottinger operation started soon after the US invasion of Iraq and was tasked with promoting the “democratic elections” for the administration before moving on to more lucrative psychological and information operations.
Former employee Martin Wells told the Bureau how he found himself working in Iraq after being hired as a video editor by Bell Pottinger. Within 48 hours, he was landing in Baghdad to edit content for secret “psychological operations” at Camp Victory.
The firm created television ads showing Al-Qaeda in a negative light as well as creating content to look as though it had come from “Arabic TV.” Crews were sent out to film bombings with low quality video. The firm would then edit it to make it look like news footage.
They would craft scripts for Arabic soap operas where characters would reject terrorism with happy consequences. The firm also created fake Al-Qaeda propaganda videos, which were then planted by the military in homes they raided.
Employees were given specific instructions to create the videos. “We need to make this style of video and we’ve got to use Al-Qaeda’s footage,” Wells was told. “We need it to be 10 minutes long, and it needs to be in this file format, and we need to encode it in this manner.”
The videos were created to play on Real Player which needs an internet connection to run. The CDs were embedded with a code linking to Google Analytics which allowed the military to track IP addresses that the videos were played on.
According to Wells, the videos were picked up in Iran, Syria, and the US.
“If one, 48 hours or a week later shows up in another part of the world, then that’s the more interesting one,” Wells explained. “And that’s what they’re looking for more, because that gives you a trail.”
The Pentagon confirmed the PR firm did work for them under the Information Operations Task Force (IOTF) creating content they say was “truthful.” The firm also worked under the Joint Psychological Operations Task Force (JPOTF). The Pentagon said it could not comment on JPOTF operations.
US law prohibits the government from using propaganda on its population, hence the use of an outside firm to create the content.
Documents show the Pentagon paid $540 million to Bell Pottinger in contracts between 2007 and 2011, with another contract for $120 million in 2006. The firm ended its work with the Pentagon in 2011.
In 2009, it was reported that the Pentagon had hired controversial PR firm, The Rendon Group, to monitor the reporting of journalists embedded with the US military, to assess whether they were giving “positive” coverage to its missions.
It was also revealed in 2005 that Washington based PR company the Lincoln Group had been placing articles in newspapers in Iraq which were secretly written by the US military. A Pentagon investigation cleared the group of any wrongdoing.
Reprinted with permission from RT.