The Pentagon-funded approximately $500,000 to a UK PR firm to produce fake terrorist videos in Iraq under a secret propaganda campaign recently exposed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, according to a report from the Middle East Monitor.
Bell Pottinger is a PR firm associated with controversial clients such as the Saudi Arabia and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s foundation. The company worked with the U.S. government to create various propaganda materials.
The firm reported directly to the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and the CIA. Their mandate was to portray Al-Qaeda in a more negative light and help track suspected sympathizers.
Both the George W. Bush Administration and General David Petraeus, the disgraced former general who shared classified information with his mistress, signed off on the finished productions made by the agency.
The firm also created fake TV ads featuring Al-Qaeda being shown in a negative light, but also created content that looked like it came from “Arabic TV.” Film crews were sent out to film bombings using low-quality video; the firm would then make it look like raw news footage.
Bell Pottinger also created scripts for Arabic soap operas in which the characters would reject terrorism and gain positive outcomes. Fake Al-Qaeda propaganda videos were produced to be planted by the military in homes that they had raided.
“‘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.’”
They created the videos on Real Player software, which requires an internet connection to work. The CDs contained a code which linked to Google Analytics; this allowed the U.S. to track the IP addresses of the computers that the videos were being played on.
According to Wells, videos were tracked in Iran, Syria, and inside the U.S.
“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 did confirm that the PR firm was commissioned to work under the Information Operations Task Force (IOTF), but they claim that they only created “truthful” content. The firm is also confirmed to have worked under the Joint Psychological Operations Task Force (JPOTF). The Pentagon stated that it wasn’t at liberty to comment on JPOTF operations.
U.S. law considers the use of government propaganda on U.S. citizens to be illegal, which is why they used an overseas PR firm to produce the content.
According to documents, the Pentagon paid $540 million to Bell Pottinger for contracted work that took place between 2007 and 2011. They also paid another contractor $120 million in 2006. The firm’s work with the U.S. government officially ended in 2011.
According to another report, in 2009 the Pentagon hired another controversial PR firm, The Rendon Group, to keep an eye on the reporting of Journalists embedded within the U.S. military. Its purpose was to help the government assess whether the military was being given “positive” coverage during its missions.
In 2005, a Washington-based PR company called The Lincoln Group was exposed for placing articles in Iraqi newspapers secretly written by the U.S. military. However, rest assured, the Pentagon investigated and absolved the group of any wrongdoing.