WASHINGTON – Saying the military will not lie to the media, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld told reporters Wednesday that the United States will engage in strategic or tactical deception in the war against terror.
"The Pentagon is not issuing disinformation to foreign press or any other press, no. The United States of Ameria has long had policies with respect to public information and we have policies where certainly we make practice of assuring that what we tell the public is accurate and correct," he said.
The announcement came one day after published reports that an office of media communications in the Pentagon — established after Sept. 11 — would step up efforts to influence public sentiment overseas in favor of the United States, and it could do so by spreading false information in allied nations as well as hostile countries.
But Rumsfeld, visiting Salt Lake City to attend the Olympics and speak to troops at Nellis Air Force Base, added that the United States would be willing to participate in tactical or strategic deception, a measure used to disguise where military actions may take place.
"The word deception is an interesting one," he said. "If (U.S. forces) are getting ready to undertake a direct action against an Al Qaeda stronghold some place in Afghanistan and they want to come in from the west, they may very well do things that will lead people in that enclave to think they're coming in from the north instead of the west and that would be characterized as tactical deception." he said.
The defense secretary was trying to clear up reports that the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence is considering undertaking covert activities, including the placement of news items — both true and false — in foreign organizations.
Defense Department officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that the proposal had not been finalized, but the 15-person office, led by Undersecretary Douglas Feith, the third highest-ranking civilian in the Defense Department, has been trying to find new ways of influencing public sentiment and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries.
Critics said that spreading false information in friendly nations could lead to disinformation being sent back to the United States press. Opponents of the plan said they also fear that the tactic, usually under the purview of the CIA, would discredit the Pentagon when it tries to distribute truthful information, a reflection of charges made in Arab nations that a tape found in a bombed-out house in Afghanistan that shows terrorist Usama bin Laden taking credit for the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States was doctored by the military.
The Office of Strategic Influence is one of several offices established after the Bush administration decided it needed to do more to win support for the war against terrorism, misconstrued by some nations as a war on Islam.
The White House and State Department also have offices to bolster their public relations efforts. Rumsfeld admitted that the Office of Strategic Influence is in the business of distributing information, but said it would not undertake any disinformation.
"Government officials, the Department of Defense, this secretary and the people that work with me, tell the American people and the people of the world the truth. And to the extent that anyone says anything that at any time proves to have been not accurate, they correct it at the earliest possible opportunity."
Fox News' David Shuster and the Associated Press contributed to this report.