The Word at War

By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 26, 2006

Oh, no, not at all -- the Lincoln Group does not do propaganda. Sure, the firm's been tarred by some in Congress, the media and the defense establishment for paying Iraqi newspapers to publish hundreds of "news" stories secretly written by U.S. troops.

But Paige Craig, the West Point dropout and former Marine intelligence specialist who is the Lincoln Group's president, says the practice is not propaganda. The word carries such baggage, such suggestions of mind control. So in an industry in which euphemism thrives, a more elegant word is deployed.

"We call it 'influence,' " says Craig, whose business has 12 U.S. government contracts totaling more than $130 million.

The Lincoln Group even has a "senior director for insight and influence." His name is Andrew Garfield. Over lunch near the group's Pennsylvania Avenue offices, he also tries to steer the lexicon at play around the table and to clarify what he calls the "tradecraft" of "influence."

Take "psyops," for instance. That's short for "psychological operations." Like the word "propaganda," it, too, conjures mystery, deception.

But that's not what the Lincoln Group does, says Garfield. The company has been contracted by a psyops division of the U.S. military, but Garfield insists that Lincoln's work cannot be considered psyops. That word, Garfield protests, refers to a military operation. And Garfield is very familiar with military psyops, as he is a former British military and intelligence official who regularly teaches a course at the U.S. Army base at Fort Bragg -- a course on . . . psyops.

Bombs are blasting in Baghdad. War fills the air there and fills the airwaves here. But a more quiet war -- the information war -- is waged by stealth, in the words and images deployed by pundits, partisans, policymakers, propagandists, psychological operators and influence specialists, both civilian and military.

Call it influence. Or call it propaganda, info-ops, psyops or strat comm (that's short for "strategic communications"). It's all information, and information can be a weapon as lethal, at times, as bullets and bombs.

But wait! Not only are we in an information war, we are also in a war over the info war -- over techniques such as Lincoln's and the extent to which the U.S. government should or does disseminate propaganda, even pay to publish favorable "news" stories.

Outrage was so great when word leaked last December of Lincoln Group's Iraq activities -- one writer described it as bribery -- that the Pentagon launched an investigation. Army Gen. George W. Casey announced earlier this month that the probe had found the Lincoln Group's work violated no law or policy. But the final report, while completed, is under internal review. No additional details have been released.

Lincoln's work in Iraq continues.

And so we meet the influencers: Craig, 31, one of the brains behind the business, a California guy who grew up fascinated by foreign cultures and drawn by geopolitics; Garfield, 45, the former intelligence analyst turned romantic who married an American physical therapist who helped him through an illness; and Scott Feldmayer, 29, the former Army brat in Europe turned Army captain in Iraq turned influence manager at Lincoln.

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