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Pentagon closes down controversial office

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon is to close its Office of Strategic Influence after news outlets reported that it would spread disinformation to the overseas press.

Announcing the decision Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blamed "inaccurate speculation and assertions" about the office's mission for the decision, but said that its functions would be taken over by other offices within the Pentagon.

The office was quietly established after September 11 as part of an overall effort by the Bush administration to reach Islamic populations around the world. However, its existence only became public earlier this month.

Rumsfeld said it was important to spread the word that the U.S. led-military campaign in Afghanistan "was not an effort against the Afghan people." He has said repeatedly that the office would not engage in disinformation campaigns or spread deliberately false information in order to influence public opinion.

An example of Defense Department leaflets: "The partnership of nations is here to help."  

The agency helped to prepare leaflets dropped into Afghanistan intended to counter Taliban claims that meals dropped for Afghans during the conflict had been poisoned. It also was involved in broadcasts to the Afghan people, some of which have been received on shortwave radios in the United States.

Translators said the messages included suggestions to one time Taliban supporters that it was hopeless to continue fighting and gave explicit instructions on how to surrender.

Tuesday, Rumsfeld said the information effort would continue, but without this specific office.

"I guess, notwithstanding the fact much of the thrust of the criticism and the cartoons and the editorial comment has been off the mark, the office has clearly been so damaged that it's pretty clear to me that it could not function effectively," Rumsfeld told reporters at a press briefing. "So it's being closed down."

"We did a whole series of things that are characterized as influence or strategic influence or information operations," Rumsfeld said. "And we have done that in past, and we will do that in the future ... There's lots of things we have to do. And we will do those things. We'll just do them in different offices."

Asked directly whether disinformation would be part of the effort, Rumsfeld replied, "It most clearly is not."




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