Lincoln Group Out of Military PR Contract

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The U.S. military has removed two firms from a psychological operations contract aimed at influencing international public opinion, including one District-based company that ran into controversy last year for planting pro-U.S. articles in Iraqi newspapers.

The firms, plus a third company that will retain the contract, spent the past year developing prototypes for radio and television spots intended for use in Iraq and in other nations where the United States is combating terrorism. Unlike the reports that the District-based Lincoln Group distributed to the Iraqi press -- which looked to be written by independent Iraqi journalists -- the commander in charge of the new spots said yesterday that he wants their origins made clear.

"Certainly we would intend to accept attribution for the spots," said Col. Jack Summe, commander of the Tampa-based Joint Psychological Operations Support Element. "We will not place things under someone else's name, trying to fool people into thinking it's a true news item."

But Summe said that the ultimate decision on how the spots will be attributed has still not been made pending the outcome of a policy review and that the military does not have a timetable for when they will air.

The contract for the TV and radio spots is separate from the deal under which the Lincoln Group distributed articles from the U.S. military to Iraqi newspapers. The newspaper contract was unaffected by the change to the TV and radio contract.

The TV and radio contract, originally worth up to $300 million over five years, had been held by three firms since last year: the Lincoln Group; San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp.; and Arlington-based SYColeman, a subsidiary of New York-based L-3 Communications Corp.

But officials with the military's Special Operations Command decided this spring that they would be better off with just one contractor. They exercised their option to continue SYColeman's contract but not the other two. Military officials say the decision had nothing to do with last year's controversy over the Lincoln Group.

"We learned that working with three companies increases expenditures in both time and money and does not provide best value to the government," said Lt. Col. David Farlow, spokesman for the military's psychological operations unit.

Lincoln Group spokesman Bill Dixon said in a statement yesterday that the firm "continues to win contracts in the American effort to engage audiences in transitional areas of the world because of its unique capabilities and proven record of accomplishing the objectives of its clients." He added, "Because confidentiality is vital to this work, the firm will not comment on the details of any contracts."

Dixon said the company believes the military's Special Operations Command needs more money "and clearer policy guidance in order to fight the 'War of Ideas,' a key component of the global War on Terrorism."

SAIC spokeswoman Connie Custer declined to comment.

SYColeman, which took over sole possession of the contract last month, referred calls yesterday to L-3. A spokeswoman there did not respond to a request for comment.

Summe said that even though SYColeman's contract is worth up to $20 million this year, he expects actual spending to be far less. Last year, he said, the military paid the three firms a total of just over $3 million under the contract.

The Lincoln Group was founded three years ago by a young former Marine and a recent Oxford University graduate to capitalize on business opportunities in post-invasion Iraq. Company officials have defended their work for the government, saying that paying to have stories published is common in many Middle Eastern countries and that it was necessary to counter claims by insurgents.

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