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'Disinformation' Office Shut Down by Pentagon

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has shut down a short-lived office that reportedly considered planting false news stories abroad to curry favor for U.S. policies.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld denied Tuesday that the Office of Strategic Influence would have spread misinformation. The office was closed, he said, because the criticism has made doing its job impossible. "The office has clearly been so damaged that it's pretty clear to me that it could not function effectively," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news briefing.

The Defense Department created the office after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Rumsfeld said the office was created to help get out the United States' side of the story to counter views of opponents such as the Taliban, now-ousted rulers of Afghanistan, and the al-Qaida terrorist network sheltered by the Taliban.

Last week, reports surfaced that the office had proposed giving false information to foreign journalists to further the U.S. war against terror. The New York Times reported that the office, headed by Air Force Brigadier General Simon Worden, had begun circulating classified proposals that recommended using the Internet and clandestine operations to spread such disinformation.

Critics welcomed the office's demise.

"I find it commendable that the administration reversed the decision," said Dr. Steve Pieczenik, a psychological warfare expert who has worked for the State Department and lectured at the National Defense University.

"What would have happened would have been an incredible disaster in increasing the American public's distrust toward the presidency and the Pentagon."

The defense secretary said he doubted the Pentagon's credibility has suffered.

"I hope not," Rumsfeld said. "If it has, we'll rebuild it."

Rumsfeld said the Pentagon has not spread lies. President George W. Bush pledged Monday: "We'll tell the American people the truth."

The Pentagon will continue trying to get its message across, just not through the Office of Strategic Influence, Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld said last week the Pentagon might engage in what he called strategic or tactical deception, as it has in the past. For example, if U.S. troops were about to launch an attack from the west, he said, they might "do things" that would convince the enemy an attack was coming from the north.

Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense who oversaw the now-closed office, said he created the bureau to oversee the military's "information operations," such as dropping leaflets and broadcasting radio messages in battlefield areas.

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