Homeland Security Disavows Document Touting Successes

By Scott Higham and Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 29, 2004

A Bush political appointee in the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection bureau drafted and distributed a public relations strategy designed to "change perception" about the nation's security by repeating the message, in the weeks leading up to the presidential election, that America is safer, according to internal government documents.

The "90-day Strategy" lays out a detailed media plan to "push information out," "maximize" the media and "brand" the border protection agency as a model of counterterrorism operations.

"Reassure the citizens of the United States," says the strategy, which was presented five weeks ago to public affairs officials for Customs and Border Protection regional offices around the country. "Repeat the message. . . . Repeat until we are completely exhausted by it."

This week, the chief public affairs officer for the border protection agency disavowed the 90-day strategy document and said it was never approved or implemented by senior officials. Dennis Murphy said it should never have been distributed and does not represent the department's approach to public affairs.

"Our job is not public relations," Murphy said. "It's to communicate facts."

James M. Loy, deputy secretary of homeland security, dismissed the document as an unfinished draft and a "piece likely produced by well-meaning, enterprising public affairs folks." A copy of the three-page strategy obtained by The Washington Post is not labeled as a draft.

Loy and Murphy said they were unaware of any details about the document. They said they did not know that it existed or had been distributed to field officers until reporters contacted them this week.

The two officials said that politics played no role in writing the document, and that senior homeland security and White House officials knew nothing about it. Other documents from the same public affairs office take note of the campaign season by listing the dates of the presidential debates alongside radio interviews and media appearances by high-ranking Homeland Security officials.

Murphy said the debates were listed for planning purposes.

"If there's an announcement that you need to communicate and the public needs to know about, you need to know when the debates are," he said. "If you're going to make an announcement, you're not going to make it on that day."

Although Loy and Murphy said they disagree with the strategy's emphasis on repeating positive messages, they said the document is essentially accurate.

"We are absolutely safer as a nation today than we were on the occasion of 9/10/01," Loy said.

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