Pentagon establishes new office of disinformation

The Pentagon has established a new office to feed misinformation to foreign media.

The Pentagon says there's no need to worry about its new propaganda office, or the controversial new plan it's been considering to feed misinformation to media outlets in other countries. The plan comes from the new Pentagon department known as the Office of Strategic Influence. The office was set up in the early weeks of the Afghan war, when Osama bin Laden was scoring propaganda points with his video messages.

The U.S. information war was largely limited to broadcasting radio messages and dropping leaflets urging Afghans to rebel against the Taliban.

Time and again , the Pentagon said it would deal only in the truth. But under the new Pentagon proposal news stories - false ones if necessary - could be planted in the Muslim media and in the media of allied countries too.

The aim would be to overcome opposition to U.S. policies and undermine U.S. enemies.

Marvin Kalb, an expert on media and public policy, says spreading false information will backfire.

"It doesn't have to be done out of some covert operation run out of the Pentagon. It's unnecessary, it's foolish, it's counterproductive and it shouldn't happen."

On Wednesday U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the only disinformation he would allow would be deception in battle situations.

During the Gulf War for example, the U.S. misled the Iraqis into thinking its attack would begin with a sea landing in Kuwait, when in fact it came from Saudi Arabia.

As for any wider Pentagon effort to deceive foreign media, Rumsfeld said it simply won't happen.

"Government officials, the Department of Defense, this secretary, and the people that work with me tell the truth to the American people and the people of the world the truth."

There is another practical reason why the U.S. may be very careful not to plant false stories abroad. Some of them may be picked up by U.S. media. And while it's perfectly legal for the U.S. government to lie to other countries, it is illegal for it to lie to Americans.