By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 17, 2009
The Pentagon did not violate internal policies or regulations in a program that gave briefings to retired military officers who served as news commentators on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor did those analysts use their access to benefit their business interests, according to a report released yesterday by the Pentagon's inspector general.
The investigation was conducted after 45 lawmakers raised questions about the Pentagon's Retired Military Analyst (RMA) program, after an April 2008 New York Times article reporting that the program was intended to generate favorable news coverage of the Bush administration's war policies and that it gave analysts unfair business advantages.
Pentagon investigators reviewed more than 12,000 pages of documents and held interviews with more than 30 people, including military analysts and the officials who briefed them, Pentagon public affairs personnel and media representatives, according to the 76-page report.
It found that the program -- one of several Pentagon "outreach" activities -- included more than 100 meetings, briefings, conference calls and trips with the military analysts between 2002 and 2006. "We determined that those activities were conducted in accordance with DOD policies and regulations," it stated.
"We found the evidence insufficient to conclude that RMA outreach activities were improper," the report said, basing that assessment on historic rulings regarding congressional prohibitions on the use of publicity funds for "self aggrandizement or puffery, partisanship and covert communications."
The report also found there was insufficient basis to conclude that the Pentagon's Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs undertook a "disciplined effort to assemble a contingent of influential RMAs who could be depended on to comment favorably on DOD programs."
"With regard to RMAs who had ties to military contractors, extensive searches found no instance where such RMAs used information or contacts obtained as a result of the . . . outreach program to achieve a competitive advantage for their company," it added. Therefore, it said, no further investigation was needed.
The IG report examined eight allegations in the Times article, based on records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, which stated that the Bush administration "used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse -- an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks."
The article noted that Pentagon documents referred to the analysts as "surrogates" who could be counted on to deliver the administration message to millions of Americans. It also said Pentagon officials and many of the commentators had strongly denied any improprieties. The investigation confirmed that the term "surrogates" was used and said that it learned of one instance in which a retired Army general who was a media analyst, Barry McCaffrey, was excluded from Pentagon briefings after making unfavorable comments about the progress of the Iraq war.
One of the military analysts named in the article, retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, said the Pentagon IG report confirms how he has always viewed his activities as a commentator for Fox News and National Public Radio.
"My commentary has not been about business-related things; it's always been about [military] operations and trying to put current operations into simple English," Scales said yesterday in a phone interview. "This report supports the appropriateness of my role as a commentator on military operations and history."