Skip to content

When Will the Military (and their civilian) Leaders Be Held Accountable?

February 24, 2011

Lt. Gen. William Caldwell

Or the politicians for that matter?

This is a taxpayer-funded, illegal disgrace:

The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops – the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors – are supposed to be used exclusively on “hostile foreign groups.” Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a “propaganda rider” that also prohibits such manipulation. “Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans,” says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s what you learn on day one.”


…But what Caldwell was looking for was more than the usual background briefings on senators. According to Holmes, the general wanted the IO team to provide a “deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds.” The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. “How do we get these guys to give us more people?” he demanded. “What do I have to plant inside their heads?”


According to experts on intelligence policy, asking a psy-ops team to direct its expertise against visiting dignitaries would be like the president asking the CIA to put together background dossiers on congressional opponents. Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwell’s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background. “Putting your propaganda people in a room with senators doesn’t look good,” says John Pike, a leading military analyst. “It doesn’t pass the smell test. Any decent propaganda operator would tell you that.”

At a minimum, the use of the IO team against U.S. senators was a misue of vital resources designed to combat the enemy; it cost American taxpayers roughly $6 million to deploy Holmes and his team in Afghanistan for a year. But Caldwell seemed more eager to advance his own career than to defeat the Taliban. “We called it Operation Fourth Star,” says Holmes. “Caldwell seemed far more focused on the Americans and the funding stream than he was on the Afghans. We were there to teach and train the Afghans. But for the first four months it was all about the U.S. Later he even started talking about targeting the NATO populations.” At one point, according to Holmes, Caldwell wanted to break up the IO team and give each general on his staff their own personal spokesperson with psy-ops training.

Perhaps Rolling Stone could give David Gregory and some of the others in our MSM some lessons on how to do investigative journalism?

This sort of behavior on the part of the military brass is the foreseeable result of endless war, minimal accountability and a military industrial complex run amok.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Tovah permalink
    February 24, 2011 8:34 am

    That is truly incredible. Rolling Stone does good reporting. Can you imagine what else our tax dollars are paying for? The MSM really is a joke.

    It says a great deal that the military used psyops on lawmakers (and Cabinet officials and Obama?) rather than the truth- that means the military is probably lying about a lot of things regarding what is really going on in Afghanistan. It makes me nervous that Hillary seems to be so deferential to the military in all things and that she always sides with Gates and the Generals.

    Did you see this about Raymond Davis?:;_ylt=AkYuU5dv0M4bf5BJuaaRNdCFXMZ_;_ylu=X3oDMTQ5a3AwNHZmBGFzc2V0A3libG9nX3RoZWN1dGxpbmUvMjAxMTAyMjIvdS1zLW5ld3Mtb3V0bGV0cy1oZWxkLWJhY

    It seems like when it comes to issues of war or claims of national security (whether those claims are valid or not) the MSM just turns over on its back with belly up and says “US government, what do you want us to do or say?” If it hadn’t been for that, we wouldn’t have gone to war with Iraq and we wouldn’t probably still be in Afghanistan. If the media looked into all the military fraud and abuse taxpayers would probably be outraged and we can’t have that.

    • February 24, 2011 11:13 am

      Good for the Rolling Stone! Shouldn’t committing psych ops against politically powerful civilians be a court martial offense? And I agree. They very well may have committed this against Obama and his staff.

      The Blackwater operative Raymond Davis’s case is a great example of how our press (other than the Rolling Stone) is not interested in investigative journalism. Saying that Davis would’ve been in danger if they had reported his identity is disingenuous. Pakistanis were not waiting for the US press. They had reported the guy had a glock, GPS, surveillance photos of Lahore (their 2nd largest city), telescope, … Nobody there thought Davis was a diplomat. The only people who believed that live in the USA.

  2. Thain permalink
    February 24, 2011 9:57 am

    During times of war the military gets used to wide latitude and deference. Then you add into the mix the fact that politicians don’t like to publicly question the military for fear of looking unpatriotic and you have a big accountability problem.

    Wasn’t it reported that Secy Gates, at a dinner with Secy Clinton, said that we were never leaving Afghanistan?

    The problem is that the military is never going to admit it’s a lose-lose situation after investing so much. Apparently the troop “surge” hasn’t worked despite Clinton, Obama, Gates and Petreus’ rosy assessments. They will just keep saying they are seeing some improvements but we need more time- they will be saying that forever. The facts as reported by real investigative journalists report a very different reality- things are not only not getting better they are getting worse.

    Then there is our not-so-secret war in Pakistan. So much for Congress.

  3. James Stephenson permalink
    February 24, 2011 10:05 am

    I wonder if President Obama and VP Joe Biden were affected by this PSYCHOPS. They did increase funding and troops. Certainly suggests a sucessful PSYCHOPS.

    • SirJohn permalink
      February 24, 2011 10:07 am

      Yeah, true. They seem to indicate only certain members of congress and dignitaries but why should we believe this crap wasn’t used on high-ranking members of the administration?

      The US has no right to lecture other countries about human rights and corruption and violence. We are the most violent nation on earth.

      • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
        February 24, 2011 11:36 am

        Hmm, just a tad hyperbolic, Sir John

        • SirJohn permalink
          February 24, 2011 11:45 am

          In the past 10 years how many people do you think we’ve killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? A hundred thousand? Probably more. And mostly civilians. Luckily the media and our govt largely doesn’t burden us with such information.

          Just because we use state-sanctioned violence doesn’t mean it’s still not violence. Keep in mind too it was discovered that Abu gharib wasn’t the lone exception we were told it was. Then there’s our rendition and torture of detainees who haven’t been found guilty of anything in any legal process- they are just SUSPECTS.

          But feel free C-R to add your own take rather than just criticizing other people’s comments. Or just go back to sipping our latte and worrying about where you will be going on your next vacation or some such important issue.

          • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
            February 24, 2011 12:01 pm

            One thing Hillary said to the youth of Egypt yesterday: “We want to see a true democracy, where people have the right to express themselves, to debate, to dialog, to have opposing viewpoints, but then they come together to reach compromise and a consensus about how to move forward. And from our long experience with democracy, it is not easy. I’ll be very honest with our viewers and our listeners. This is hard.”

  4. SirJohn permalink
    February 24, 2011 10:06 am

    Where is Ethan Bronner?

    From the AP:

    Palestinian house inside cage in Jewish settlement


    By BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Ben Hubbard, Associated Press – Wed Feb 23, 12:58 am ET

    BEIT IJZA, West Bank – The al-Ghirayib family lives in one of the stranger manifestations of Israel’s 43-year occupation of the West Bank: a Palestinian house inside a metal cage inside an Israeli settlement.

    The family’s 10 members, four of them children, can only reach the house via a 40-yard (meter) passageway connecting them to the Arab village of Beit Ijza farther down a hill. The passageway passes over a road used by Israeli army jeeps and is lined on both sides with a 24-foot-high (8-meter) heavy-duty metal fence.

    The same fence rings the simple one-story house, separating it from the surrounding settlement houses. Some of those dwellings are so close that the family can hear the insults shouted by a nearby Jewish neighbor.

    While al-Ghirayibs’ situation is unusual, Palestinians say it reflects the pressures put on their communities by Israel’s more than 120 West Bank settlements.

    The Palestinian Authority has refused to hold peace talks with Israel while settlement construction continues. The latest round of talks collapsed over the settlement issue in September, only three weeks after starting.

    Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.

    This week, the Palestinians directed their anger toward the United States after it vetoed a resolution before the U.N. Security Council condemning the settlements as “illegal.”

    The U.S. said it opposes settlements, but that peace talks are the only way to resolve such issues. The council’s 14 other members voted for the measure.

    “The Americans have chosen to be alone in disrupting the internationally backed Palestinian efforts,” Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said.

    Ahead of the vote, Fayyad visited the home with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who commented: “This is an inhuman life they have.”

    Sadat al-Ghirayib, 30, said his father built the house in 1978 on about 27 acres of family land, where he planted fruit trees. The Israel army soon confiscated part of the land, he said.

    The settlement of Givon HaHadasha was founded in the early 1980s. Al-Ghirayib said the army confiscated more land as the settlement spread. Today, it is home to some 1,100 Jewish settlers, some of their homes no more than two dozen steps from the al-Ghirayib home. Just a handful of trees remain.

    In 2005, the army built a section of its West Bank separation barrier near the settlement. Israel says the barrier keeps out attackers. Palestinians say it steals land by cutting deep into the West Bank in some places.

    The home was the only one in the village of about 700 people on the settlement side of the barrier.

    Al-Ghirayib, who works in a local metal shop, said he and his family tried to stop the construction crews and the army detained them. When they were released, the cage was in place, he said. Security cameras at the heavy metal gate at the end of the passageway monitor all who come and go.

    He said army officers have recently threatened to shut the gate, saying village children come in to throw stones at the settlement.

    “They have cameras. If they see kids throwing stones, they can come shoot them,” said his 74-year-old father, Sabri. “Am I supposed to guard the gate?”

    The Israeli army did not comment on whether the land was confiscated, how the fence was built or if there are plans to close the gate.

    In a statement, it said the Israeli Supreme Court was examining the issue of the family’s land and that the army had “invested” tens of thousands of dollars to make sure the family can leave the home without coordinating with the army.

    The neighbors are very close. On a recent afternoon, Gary Bar Dov, 15, who lives in a third-floor apartment overlooking the house, walked by while children on the inside gripped the fence and watched.

    “It’s very strange to live this way,” he said. “It’s strange, but you get used to it.”

    Yeah, you get used to it. Apparently Hillary and Obama have also got “used to it.” As has the American Jewish community. It’s an abomination.

  5. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    February 24, 2011 11:44 am

    If the US joined the other UN nations in labeling the settlements “illegal,” Israel would be pressured to bulldoze their own settlements (and portions of the barrier that encroach on occupied territories. They’d ignore the pressure. As it is, with the settlements labeled “illegitimate,” Israel say it is waiting for the mythical final solution negotiations when the permament borders will settled — in their favor, of course. Then they can bulldoze the al-Ghirayib house, and any other Palestinian houses within the de facto borders they are in the process of establishing.

  6. Susan permalink
    February 24, 2011 1:46 pm

    AIPAC wins again:

    Why doesn’t Rosen just name names and forget about a legal suit? He’s never going to get anywhere within the court system- suits against AIPAC and their officers are almost always dismissed. He must have some evidence of what was going on. Did he really not keep records or any information pertaining to AIPAC’s role as an espionage front for Israel?

  7. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    February 24, 2011 3:07 pm

    @Sir John

    Ignoring your ad hominem attack about latte-sipping vacationers (for which you owe me an apology because you don’t know the first thing about me), I wanted to explain why I characterized your statement that “we have no right to lecture other countries about violence” since the US is “the most violent nation on earth” as a tad hyperbolic:

    By our “lectures,” I assumed you were referring to our recent condemnation of violence across the Middle East perpetrated by governments against their own people. By that standard, the US is certainly not “the most violent nation on earth.” With some notable exceptions (Kent State 1970), our government does not routinely engage in murdering peaceful civilian protesters — or even violent civilian protesters. Comparing the government-sanctioned deaths of thousands of peaceful protesters in Libya over several weeks’ time to the total number of military deaths and civilian casualties related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over ten years is lumping the proverbial apples with oranges. But even if we’re going to use the standard of military-related deaths, how does the US compare, say, to the Soviet gulag state? or Communist China? or Nazi Germany? or the Khmer Rouge? Not to mention Amin’s Uganda, Turkey’s purges, or Rwanda 1994 (when 800,000 were slaughtered in less than 100 days)?

    And anyway, even if we accept your view that in the past decade our government has been directly or indirectly responsible for the most deaths worldwide — military deaths, civilian casualities of war, deaths by torture, deaths related to our embargos, deaths caused by dictatorial regimes propped up by the US — surely you aren’t saying we shouldn’t speak out against the murder of innocent civilians in places like Libya, Egypt, or Iran?

    That’s all I meant — which is a far cry from defending our military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan (I used to, but no more), or sanctioning torture (I never did), as I sip my latte palnning my next vacation. Which, by the way, will NOT be in the DRC, or Somalia, or Colombia, though I may cross my fingers and risk a trip to Mexico.

  8. February 24, 2011 8:01 pm

    Why aren’t more people outraged or upset by this psyops story? It’s illegal to use black ops against American citizens and thus it’s particularly outrageous against the people that create our foreign policy/national security policy.

    Why aren’t there calls for investigations?

    Are we just so detached from 10 years of war that largely doesn’t affect most of us, that we just go “ho hum?” Or have we just lost our ability to be surprised or shocked after the Bush years?

    If you engage in tax evasion you can go to prison (unless you’re rich) but this garbage takes place and no one is held accountable? I guess in a world where the US can lie to get support for a totally unnecessary war (Iraq), and NO ONE is held accountable, anything is possible.

    • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
      February 24, 2011 9:03 pm

      I read in the NY Times that Patraeus has called for an investigation. I guessI I’m withholding judgment until the facts are in. For one thing, I don’t understand the distinction between “public affairs” operations — which the Times describes as the “officially sanctioned and accurate dissemination of information about the military to an American and global audience,” and what Col. Holmes was being asked to do — with the exception of the fact that officially he was with “information operations” instead of public affairs. Was he being asked to disseminate false or distorted information? I haven’t read that. Was he being asked to do something way across the line from what public affairs does? I’m not sure, although Holmes clearly thought he was being ordered to cross a line and an Army lawyer apparently agreed with him.

      • February 24, 2011 9:24 pm

        Good, I’m glad he’s ordering an investigation. That’s accountability, so long as it’s a real investigation and not a whitewash. That’s all I want.

        I don’t know who is right or wrong or if any of the allegations are true but after the lies that led to the Iraq War, I feel like the government hasn’t really done anything to deserve blind trust. I feel like when it comes to anything that is claimed to have some connection to national security the govt gets a big pass and no laws seem to apply, everything is a big secret and no one is ever held accountable. Bill Clinton was impeached for getting a hummer and lying about it but George W. Bush seemed to [allegedly] break the law with stunning regularity (warrantless wiretaps in violation of FISA, abuse of the PATRIOT Act, torture, extraordinary rendition etc.) and what happens to his administration? They get paid millions to write their memoirs.

        The way Holmes describes it psyops/information operations is basically propaganda, which under law can only be geared towards international audiences or the “enemy,” and not American citizens. It sounds like public affairs is just the ordinary distribution of factual information given to citizens, lawmakers. I’m no expert but my guess is that the line that separates the two involves a wee bit of deception, hence the label “propaganda.” Otherwise, I would think this wouldn’t be an issue at all, right?

        Col. Lawrence Wilkerson was on Cenk Uyger on MSNBC tonight and he said something along the lines that public affairs just is in the information dissemination business, but that if what Holmes was saying is true, then what was happening was illegal.

        Here’s the original article in RS by the way, in case people haven’t read it:

    • February 25, 2011 8:53 am

      For the first time, a majority of people in the US think their kids will be worse than off than they were, and many people are furious about different issues. I hear more people now saying we should be protesting like in the Middle East. But, other than state union workers and their supporters, we don’t see anything. We can say our MSM is biased and confuses people, but in the Middle East, other than Al Jazeera, they have media biased towards status quo, too.

      There is real innovation going on in technology to support people fighting for a revolution. But you don’t see these innovative tools (many of which come out of the US) being used by US activists on a large scale. Other countries’ people are embracing the tools, instead, and using them incredibly well.

      Glad Petraeus called for an investigation. But the military investigating the military? Hmm.

  9. February 24, 2011 9:31 pm

    The definition of “information operations”:

    “PSYOP is a component of information operations:

    The integrated employment of the core capabilities of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception, and operations security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own. Also called IO.”


    “U.S. PSYOP forces are forbidden to target (i.e., attempt to change their opinions) U.S. citizens at any time, in any location globally, or under any circumstances.”

    • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
      February 25, 2011 1:10 am

      OK, then this was definitely crossing the line. Ug.

      Between PSYOPs, AIPAC, the oil companies, the military industrial complex, and the worldwide rich, it’s hard to know who exactly is running our
      foreign policy anymore.

      • Thain permalink
        February 25, 2011 1:37 am

        No it’s not, you just named who is running it!


  10. Thain permalink
    February 25, 2011 2:10 pm

    Stacy- I didn’t know where to put this, was going to email you- you were right about Weiner and some other members of Congress’ REAL reasons for defunding the US Institute for Peace. You had said there was more to this story and it likely had to do with Israel. Looks like you were right!

    These guys are unstoppable.

    Sometimes it sounds a bit tinfoil hat but really, the Israeli govt/I-lobby creates and controls our Mideast foreign policy. Our foreign policy looks at everything through an Israeli lens, which is damaging. It seems like almost everyone at State is an I-Lobby hack. I remember reading an article about how during the late 80’s and during the 90’s there was a concerted effort to remove all the arabists from the State Dept. and in their place, put I-Lobby poodles that would promote Israel’s interests in our diplomacy.

  11. February 22, 2013 4:11 pm

    There always has to be justice in the military.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: