Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., calls revelations that the Army used psychological operations in Afghanistan to win more tax dollars to train Afghan forces a serious matter that could lead to military reprimands. But he tells National Journal that he never felt manipulated by his Army briefers and doubts other lawmakers did, either.
“I think there’s enough to look at it very seriously,” Reed said, citing Gen. David Petraeus’s move to investigate charges of systematic use of psyops to influence visiting lawmakers, including Reed and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “If there is a violation of rules or regulations, that will have to be corrected. And those in charge will have to be counseled or reprimanded.”
Reed, a West Point graduate and former paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, said that the aura of psyops sounds a bit overblown but that reports that the Army retaliated against a lieutenant colonel who objected to the practice raised legitimate concerns about the focus of U.S. training efforts in Afghanistan. Allegations of official Army efforts to manipulate visiting lawmakers first surfaced in Rolling Stone magazine.
“I think the impression generated is there is some type of concentrated mind control, some type of sophisticated manipulation, and not just of information but the context of that information,” Reed said, trying to downplay the spy-novel sizzle of the psyops designation. “And when you read the article, it comes down to preparing files on and soliciting advice on how you communicate. The connotation of psyops is information that was much more deliberately misleading or that was creating an alternate reality," he continued. "I was in Afghanistan in 2010; I didn’t even see [Gen. William] Caldwell. I’ve seen three different commanders of training operations. I’ve been to Afghanistan 11 times. I do not just seek out just one opinion. I talk to people in the field, diplomats and soldiers. I go recognizing, frankly, everyone has an institutional agenda. I try to approach all of these things with a questioning mind.”
Reed described his Army briefings in Afghanistan as “nothing out of the ordinary, nothing I hadn’t seen in 11 trips to Afghanistan and 15 trips to Iraq.”
Even so, the paper trail of Caldwell’s use of psyops on visiting lawmakers last year and subsequent objections raised by Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, leader of the Information Operations unit at Camp Eggers in Kabul, has left Reed more than mildly uneasy.
“I would assume anyone would want to have some biographical information, to be briefed, to understand your audience,” Reed said. “That is just natural. The issue here is that’s not something under the purview of the psychological operations domain of the Army. That’s the crux of the issue. What was done? Was it appropriate and done by the appropriate personnel? The objections [from Holmes] should have raised significant concerns among the command. With a professional saying this doesn’t seem to be something in my scope, it should have raised an issue. The other issue is if there is any connection in raising a legitimate point and an administrative punishment. Making a sincere, constructive comment on a policy decision, that should be accepted on the merits. But if that leads to punishment, that’s no way to run a railroad.”
Reed said he doesn’t know the law on psyops and Army operations well enough to suspect criminal wrongdoing in the Afghanistan briefings. His deeper concern is that the revelations could increase public skepticism about the direction and future success of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, where training Afghan forces is central to expediting the withdrawal of U.S. forces, which now number nearly 100,000.
“I just think it raises all of those issues: To what degree have we turned the corner? Do we have a good plan? It does contribute to questions about the strategy and execution.”
This article appears in the February 25, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.