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US propaganda program legal, Pentagon says

Stories planted in Iraqi papers

WASHINGTON -- A US military propaganda program used in the Iraq war was legal under the rules for psychological operations, a Pentagon investigation has concluded.

A classified Defense Department inspector general's report said regulations were followed when the military paid to have favorable stories about coalition forces planted in Iraqi newspapers, according to the unclassified executive summary obtained yesterday by The Associated Press.

``Psychological operations are a central part of information operations and contribute to achieving the . . . commander's objectives," the summary said.

``They are aimed at conveying selected, truthful information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions . . . reasoning, and ultimately, the behavior of governments and other entities," it said.

Republican and Democratic critics had complained that secretly planting stories set a bad example in a country where the United States is trying to establish democracy and a free press.

The office of the inspector general completed the report Oct. 6.

It is being redacted so that an unclassified version can be released publicly.

Meanwhile, a copy has been forwarded to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, who had requested the Pentagon review.

Kennedy said the report showed that the Pentagon cannot account for millions of dollars paid to the Lincoln Group, and that contracting rules were not followed. ``Broader policy questions remain about whether the administration's manipulation of the news in Iraq contradicts our goal of a free and independent press there," he said.

The inspector general looked at three contracts, valued at $37.3 million and awarded to the Washington-based Lincoln Group for services from October 2004 through last month.

``We concluded that [commanders in Iraq] complied with applicable laws and regulations in their use of a contractor to conduct psychological operations and their use of newspapers as a way to disseminate information," the executive summary says.

It faulted only one contract, saying the military hadn't maintained required documentation.

After the program was disclosed, the Senate Armed Services Committee summoned defense officials for a briefing. Its chairman, Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia, said he was concerned about anything that would erode the independence of Iraq's media.

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