Rolling Stone Magazine has uncovered a shocking charge against a prominent U.S. general in Afghanistan.
According to the magazine's sources, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops, ordered psychological warfare experts in his command to perform psychological operations (psy-ops) on American senators in order to secure more funding.
Rolling Stone reports:
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."
According to documents obtained by Rolling Stone, as well as interviews with members of the psy-ops team, the list of targets included senators John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Al Franken (D-MN), and Carl Levin (D-MI); Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) 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.
Lt. Colonel Holmes said the general and his chief of staff specifically wanted to plant ideas in congressional delegates' minds without them knowing:
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?"
The use of such tactics on American citizens is strictly forbidden.
"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,'" Rolling Stone reports. "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," one veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan told the magazine. "It’s what you learn on day one."
Holmes eventually consulted a JAG lawyer, who agreed the tactics were inappropriate. But after Holmes directed his concerns up the chain of command, he was eventually put under investigation for, among other things, Facebook posts -- it's a move he says was retaliation. The investigation ended in an official reprimand for conduct.
A spokesman for Caldwell said the general "categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors."
As for the the alleged tactics, it's unsure if they worked. However, Rolling Stone notes Caldwell has asked for more money, and one of his supposed targets has become one of the biggest cheerleaders for the funding:
What is clear is that in January 2011, Caldwell’s command asked the Obama administration for another $2 billion to train an additional 70,000 Afghan troops – an initiative that will already cost U.S. taxpayers more than $11 billion this year. Among the biggest boosters in Washington to give Caldwell the additional money? Sen. Carl Levin, one of the senators whom Holmes had been ordered to target.
Rolling Stone has broken a big story about a general in the past. Its report on former Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal over the summer, and his comments about president Obama, led to his ouster. That story recently won an award.