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US military continues Iraq propaganda operation despite probe
The US military is continuing a controversial "information operations" program that paid Iraqi newspapers to run favorable stories even as it investigates the effort, US defense spokesmen said Wednesday.
General George Casey has named Rear Admiral Van Buskirk to conduct a investigation of the program, they said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said it will look at policies and procedures governing the program and "whether or not people are performing their duties and responsibilities within those policy and procedure parameters."
Asked whether the program has been suspended in the meantime, Whitman said, "I don't know of any changes."
Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said in an email that "MNF-I (Multi-National Forces-Iraq) has not directed that the IO (information operations) program be suspended."
"Any decision in that regard will come as a result of the investigation," he said.
Johnson said Buskirk "has been given authority to do as thorough a job as necessary to determine whether the placement of stories is in accordance with all legal guidelines and is appropriate to the situation."
The secret program has been vehemently criticized and heatedly defended since its existence was revealed earlier this month by the Los Angeles Times.
The Times and other newspapers said that the US military was producing favorable stories and then using a defense contractor, the Lincoln Group, to pay Iraqi newspapers to publish them.
The reports said staff for the Lincoln Group posed as freelance writers or advertising executives in placing the stories to mask their connection to the US military.
The military also was reported to have paid Iraqi reporters up to 200 dollars a month to write favorable stories about the US military effort in Iraq.
The US military confirmed last week that it placed paid stories in Iraqi newspapers through third parties, but has provided few details.
Neither Whitman nor Johnson could say whether the findings of the military's investigation would be made public.
US commanders have defended the program as using factually accurate stories to counter disinformation by insurgents.
Critics say it further undermines US credibility and corrupts US efforts to promote the development of an independent media in Iraq.
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