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Jewish World Review March 5, 2002 / 21 Adar, 5762

Art Buchwald

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Not telling the truth -- WHEN the Pentagon is at war, they come up with some nifty ideas. The latest one was the Office of Strategic Influence. It's role was to coordinate public press releases and to plant false information with friends and foes alike.

The brass thought it was a neat idea until the American public found out about it. (Once again, blame the media.) The uproar was so loud that Don Rumsfeld, the most trusted man in government, had to deny that the Pentagon Office of Influence would tell lies and spread misleading misinformation, whichever came first.

Ordinarily that would be enough for me, as Rumsfeld has such an honest face. But then I started to think - suppose the Secretary of Defense was putting out the denial at the request of the Office of Strategic Influence?

Was Rumsfeld sending up a trial balloon to find out if North Korea, Iran and Iraq, the notorious "axis of evil," would buy it?

The reaction was so negative that the secretary of Defense, at the urging of the president, decided, after a week, to shut the office down. This does not mean that the Pentagon will stop putting out fibs. It will simply manipulate its misinformation under other names.

This is not the first time the United States has trafficked in misinformation. It has always been the CIA's job and they are very upset that someone is moving in on their territory.

I know this for a fact, because when I lived in Europe, some of the top CIA agents were planting misinformation behind and in front of the Iron Curtain.

This is how it worked: Langley Headquarters would fabricate a story that the Hungarians were selling rotten potatoes to Poland. The furious Poles would be so mad they'd start selling rotten tomatoes to the Hungarians. Both countries would begin calling up their reserves.

When it was shaped up, the story was cabled to a CIA agent in Paris who planted it with a reporter from l'Humanité, the French Communist paper.

It was then read by the Washington Post correspondent in Yugoslavia and cabled back to the United States and printed as a factual dispatch.

The next morning, a high-ranking official at the State Department in Washington woke up and read that the Hungarians and Poles might go to war over rotten potatoes and rotten tomatoes. He called a meeting of the Hungarian-Polish Ad Hoc Committee and they discussed the role the United States should play. As a precaution, they advocated calling up the NATO airborne Special Forces team to guard the Hungarian-Polish border.

Unbeknownst to State, it was Langley that had put the game into play, and through their misinformation plot, had almost started World War III.

This was always the danger of the Pentagon having its people in the propaganda business. Everyone is aware that no one in the Pentagon knows what the other people are doing, but by lying they would have the ability to launch planes, tanks and ships before learning what the true situation was. Patriotic Americans would stop believing in what their leaders were telling them.

So far we're telling the truth about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts. We are saying we don't know and everyone is buying it.

But if the Pentagon says, at a military briefing, that they know where he is, everyone will ask, "Then why don't we kill the SOB?"

Trying to influence people in war can get everyone working in government into a lot of trouble. But once again, Donald Rumsfeld has saved the day by telling the truth.

Comment on JWR contributor Art Buchwald's column by clicking here.

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