Rumsfeld Urges Using Media to Fight Terror

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 18, 2006

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday called for the military and other government agencies to mount a far more aggressive, swift and nontraditional information campaign to counter the messages of extremist and terrorist groups in the world media.

Rumsfeld criticized the absence of a "strategic communications framework" for fighting terrorism. He also lashed out at the U.S. media, which he blamed for effectively halting recent U.S. military initiatives in the information realm -- such as paying to place articles in Iraqi newspapers -- through an "explosion of critical press stories."

The speech follows a top-level review of Pentagon strategy and resources released earlier this month that concluded: "Victory in the long war ultimately depends on strategic communication." The Quadrennial Defense Review called for closing gaps in U.S. capabilities in what the Pentagon describes as "information operations," an area being reorganized in the Pentagon, according to current and former defense officials.

"Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we, our country, our government, has not," Rumsfeld said in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He said that while the al Qaeda terrorist network and other "extremist" movements "have successfully . . . poisoned the Muslim public's view of the West, we in the government have barely even begun to compete in reaching their audiences."

U.S. public affairs operations tend to be "reactive rather than proactive," Rumsfeld said, operating slowly during standard working hours while "our enemies are operating 24/7 across every time zone. That is an unacceptably dangerous deficiency."

To remedy this, he called for increased communications training for military public affairs officials by drawing on private-sector expertise, noting that public affairs jobs in the military have not been "career enhancing." He also called for creating 24-hour media operations centers and "multifaceted media campaigns" using the Internet, blogs and satellite television that "will result in much less reliance on the traditional print press."

Rumsfeld criticized the U.S. media for hampering such initiatives, however. He said the press "seems to demand perfection from the government but does not apply the same standard to the enemy or even sometimes to themselves," contrasting the coverage of the Abu Ghraib detainee abuse with that of mass graves in Iraq.

Detainee abuse was a major focus of questions Rumsfeld received from the audience, with one person asking whether he thought the United States should close its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "We shouldn't close Guantanamo," Rumsfeld replied, saying that it houses several hundred terrorists who would "try to kill Americans" if released. He cited the case of 15 detainees released who have "gone back to the battlefield" and been killed or captured.

Rumsfeld also ruled out an independent investigation of U.S. military detainee abuse, saying that rehashing the issue would be harmful to the country.

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