Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Carl Levin (D-MI) visiting Afghanistan on January 13, 2010 and being subjected to an illegal information operation ordered by Lt. Gen. William Caldwell and Col. Gregory Breazile. (US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan photo on Flickr)

Building on the success of his “The Runaway General” article that led to President Obama firing Stanley McChrystal, Michael Hastings returns to the pages of Rolling Stone with “Another Runaway General“, where he exposes information operations, or Psy-Ops, on dignitaries including US Senators as they visited Afghanistan on “fact-finding” trips. What should not be missed when contemplating the illegal and immoral aspects of this information operation directed against the citizens of the country and high level government officials is that it is just one more instance in an ongoing pattern of information manipulation and outright deception on the part of the military in recent years. A few recent examples include the use of retired generals posing as independent military analysts to spout information coordinated by the Pentagon, intentional deception to cover up Special Operations troops digging bullets out of the bodies of pregnant women they killed in a night raid and the more recent claim by General Petraeus that parents intentionally burned their children in order to exaggerate injuries received in a US attack, to name just a few.

Here is how Hastings describes the operation and the backlash experienced when those tasked with the information operation tried to resist:

The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. 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.

In addition to Caldwell, Col. Gregory Breazile put pressure on Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, who had been assigned the task but tried to refuse:

Under duress, Holmes and his team provided Caldwell with background assessments on the visiting senators, and helped prep the general for his high-profile encounters. But according to members of his unit, Holmes did his best to resist the orders. Holmes believed that using his team to target American civilians violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was passed by Congress to prevent the State Department from using Soviet-style propaganda techniques on U.S. citizens. But when Holmes brought his concerns to Col. Gregory Breazile, the spokesperson for the Afghan training mission run by Caldwell, the discussion ended in a screaming match. “It’s not illegal if I say it isn’t!” Holmes recalls Breazile shouting.

The photo above is dated January 13, 2010 and documents a visit to Afghanistan by Senators Carl Levin and Al Franken. Hastings explains that Holmes and his team arrived in Afghanistan in November of 2009 with an assignment to “assess the effects of U.S. propaganda on the Taliban and the local Afghan population”, but by December 2009 they were getting orders from Caldwell’s staff to direct their activities toward “visiting Americans”. Since Franken and Levin both appear on Hastings’ list of targets for the information operations, it seems virtually certain that the information operation was underway during the visit in the photo.

Note also that Caldwell is tasked with training Afghan troops.  As I have mentioned many times, the myth of claiming to be making major progress in training large numbers of troops, followed by abject failure in that regard is a signature of the career of David Petraeus, dating all the way back to his insertion in George W. Bush’s re-election efforts in 2004 with a Washington Post Op-Ed claiming success in training Iraqi troops.  How convenient, then, that Petraeus’ point man on training now would order Psy-Ops on visiting Senators who fund training, since the training myth is once again being exposed for the fraud that it is.

And, just to prove that these information operations are ham-handed and never really seem to learn from past failures, here we see Caldwell and Breazile in a Kabul reprise of John McCain’s stroll down the safe streets of Baghdad, complete with a caption they must have spent hours composing: