WASHINGTON – The Pentagon's internal watchdog is investigating a government public relations effort that relied on retired military officers to defend the administration's Iraq war policies.
The House this past week passed an amendment to a defense authorization bill calling for reviews by both the inspector general's office and the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm.
The Pentagon suspended the program last month after The New York Times reported that retired officers who acted as military analysts for major news outlets were given plum access to the Pentagon. The analysts, many of whom had undisclosed ties to military contractors, received regular briefings by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and a sponsored trip to the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.
A Defense spokesman, Lt. Col. Brian Maka, said Saturday the inspector general's review will look at whether special access to Pentagon leaders "may have given the contractors a competitive advantage."
Earlier this month, 41 House members urged the Defense Department's inspector general to investigate and look into whether the program was illegal.
The GAO also said it was reviewing the program and whether it violated policies barring use of government money to spread propaganda in the United States.
During debate on the amendment, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said, "I was sorely distressed when I learned of the fact that there were a good number of former military officers that were given special access, many of whom had conflicts of interest in various defense businesses, and they were considered military television analysts."
The amendment's sponsor, Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., argued that Americans "were spun by Bush administration message multipliers. They were fed administration talking points believing they were getting independent military analysis. ... This amendment deals with what strikes at the very heart of our democracy: We must trust our military. We must have the truth."
But the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, California Rep. Duncan Hunter, said "the idea that somehow Don Rumsfeld got these people in a room and told them what to say, if you believe that, you don't believe in the independence of these general officers. None of them are used to having people tell them what to say. They're independent. They're a source of information to us."