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REPORT: Pentagon Paid PR Firm $540 Million To Make Fake Terrorism Videos In Iraq

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REPORT: Pentagon Paid PR Firm $540 Million To Make Fake Terrorism Videos In Iraq

An investigation conducted by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) revealed that during the George W. Bush administration, the Pentagon paid over half a billion in taxpayer dollars to a controversial UK PR firm to fabricate terrorist propaganda.

According to 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.

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The controversial firm Bell Pottinger was hired to run the top secret propaganda program in Iraq, and staff worked alongside high-ranking U.S. military officers in their Baghdad Camp Victory headquarters as the insurgency raged outside, the firm’s former chairman Lord Tim Bell confirmed Sunday.

Bell Pottinger reported to the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Council on its work in Iraq, according to the report.

The Pentagon

The Pentagon

TBIJ also interviewed Martin Wells, 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 videoa 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.

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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.

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The Bureau has identified transactions worth $540 million between the Pentagon and Bell Pottinger for information operations and psychological operations on a series of contracts issued on May 2007 to December 2011. A similar contract at around the same annual rate—$120 million—was in force in 2006.

The Pentagon 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. 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, claiming that information is “classified.”

H/T: Bureau of Investigative Journalism

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