New Pentagon outfit wants more agitprop in Iran

Not being satisfied with the fact that Voice of America/Radio Farda broadcasts to Iran are already the most popular in the country, the Bush administration would like to see lies and disinformation inserted just as they do in Iraq:

WASHINGTON - In another indication that some in the Bush administration are pushing for a more confrontational policy toward Iran, a Pentagon unit has drafted a report charging that U.S. international broadcasts into Iran aren't tough enough on the Islamic regime.

The report appears to be a gambit by some officials in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's office and elsewhere to gain sway over television and radio broadcasts into Iran, one of the few direct tools the United States has to reach the Iranian people.

McClatchy Newspapers obtained a copy of the report this week, and it also has circulated on Capitol Hill. It accuses the Voice of America's Persian TV service and Radio Farda, a U.S. government Farsi-language broadcast, of taking a soft line toward Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime and not giving adequate time to government critics.

U.S. broadcasting officials and others who've read the report said it's riddled with errors.

They also see it as a thinly veiled attack on the independence of U.S. international broadcasting, which by law is supposed to represent a balanced view of the United States and provide objective news.

"The author of this report is as qualified to write a report on programming to Iran as I would be to write a report covering the operations of the 101st Airborne Division," Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Larry Hart, a spokesman for the board, which oversees U.S. non-military international broadcasting, said that the radio and TV operations have covered Iran's human rights abuses extensively and have featured appearances by dissidents - who sometimes telephoned from Iranian jails.

Surveys have shown that Radio Farda is the most-listened-to international radio broadcast into Iran, Hart said.

Three U.S. government officials identified the author of the report as Ladan Archin, a civilian Iran specialist who works for Rumsfeld.

Archin was out of town this week and unavailable for comment. She works in a recently established Pentagon unit known as the Iran directorate.

Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, a Pentagon spokesman, said last week that the unit was established this spring as part of a government-wide reorganization aimed at better promoting democracy in Iran. He confirmed Tuesday night that Archin had been asked to prepare the report. "It was meant to be a look at how the program was working and to determine if it was an effective use of taxpayer dollars," Ballesteros said.

Critics charge that the unit resembles the pre-Iraq-war Office of Special Plans, which received intelligence reports directly from Iraqi exile groups, bypassing U.S. intelligence agencies, which distrusted the exiles. Many of the reports proved to be fabricated or exaggerated. Some of the directorate's staff members worked in the now-defunct Office of Special Plans, and some intelligence officials fear that directorate also is maintaining unofficial ties to questionable exiles and groups.
That is so 2002! Ladan Archin, by the way, was a Wolfowitz protégé from SAIS (surely by now one of the most discredited academic institution that does international relations, considering its alumni) involved in the Iraq war run-up and a connection with Ahmed Chalabi.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.