Army embeds active-duty PSYOPS soldiers at local TV stations

The U.S. Army has used local television stations in the U.S. as training posts for some of its psychological-operations personnel, The Upshot has learned. Since at least 2001, both WRAL, a CBS affiliate in Raleigh, N.C., and WTOC, a CBS affiliate in Savannah, Ga., have regularly hosted active-duty soldiers from the Army's 4th Psychological Operations group as part of the Army's Training With Industry program. Training With Industry is designed to offer career soldiers a chance to pick up skills through internships and fellowships with private businesses. The PSYOPS soldiers used WRAL and WTOC to learn broadcasting and communications expertise that they could apply in their mission, as the Army describes it, of "influenc[ing] the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign audiences."

WRAL and WTOC were on a list of participants in the Army's Training With Industry program provided to The Upshot in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, and a spokeswoman with the Army's Human Resources Command confirmed that PSYOPS soldiers worked at the stations.

"Both of those stations are very supportive of the military, and think very highly of the program," said Lt. Col. Stacy Bathrick. "Our officers are there to learn best practices in terms of programming and production side that they can use when they deploy. To be able to get hands-on interaction with a news station €” there's nothing like that." Bathrick said the soldiers were never involved in newsgathering.

The relationship between PSYOPS, Training With Industry, and television news operations has stirred controversy in the past. In 2000, after a Dutch newspaper reported that PSYOPS troops had been placed in CNN's newsroom under the program, CNN discontinued the internships and admitted that they had been a mistake. "It was inappropriate for PSYOPS personnel to be at CNN, they are not here now, and they never again will be at CNN," a spokesperson said at the time.

WRAL's news director, Rick Gall, feels differently. "My sense was, this was an educational opportunity to see how the broadcasting industry operates," said Gall. "They'd spend time in the various departments of the station, including the newsroom. I wasn't concerned about having someone learn what we do, and there was no influence on newsgathering. It was like shadowing." WRAL is owned by Capitol Broadcasting Company, which owns a variety of media outlets in North Carolina. Gall said WRAL hasn't hosted a soldier — which he described as an "embed" — since 2007. According to Bathrick, the Army's relationship with WTOC in Savannah is ongoing — a PSYOPS officer is currently embedded there. Bill Cathcart, WTOC's vice president and general manager, did not return phone calls or an e-mail seeking comment. WTOC is owned by Raycom Media, a television chain based in Alabama.

WRAL and WTOC are not alone among media outlets that the U.S. military has sought to learn from through Training With Industry. The Upshot has previously reported that the Marine Corps placed public affairs officers with the Chicago Tribune for several years in order to better understand how to influence and work with the news media, and hosted an officer in 2007 and 2008, despite the network's embarrassment over the program   in 2000. (John Cook)

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Why Were Government Propaganda Experts Working On News At CNN?

Reports in the Dutch newspaper Trouw (2.21.2000, 2.25.2000) and France's Intelligence Newsletter (2.17.2000) have revealed that several officers from the US Army's 4th Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) Group at Ft. Bragg worked in the news division at CNN's Atlanta headquarters last year, starting in the final days of the Kosovo War.

In the U.S. media, so far only Alexander Cockburn, columnist for The Nation and co-editor of the newsletter CounterPunch, has picked up on the story. Cockburn's column on the subject is available at

The story is disturbing. In the 1980s, officers from the 4th Army PSYOPS group staffed the National Security Council's Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD), a shadowy government propaganda agency that planted stories in the U.S. media supporting the Reagan Administration's Central America policies.

A senior US official described OPD as a "vast psychological warfare operation of the kind the military conducts to influence a population in enemy territory." (Miami Herald, 7/19/87) An investigation by the congressional General Accounting Office found that OPD had engaged in "prohibited, covert propaganda activities," and the office was soon shut down as a result of the Iran-Contra investigations. But the 4th PSYOPS group still operates.

CNN has always maintained a close relationship with the Pentagon. Getting access to top military officials is a necessity for a network that stakes its reputation on being first on the ground during wars and other military operations.

What makes the CNN story especially troubling is the fact that the network allowed the Army's covert propagandists to work in its headquarters, where they learned the ins and outs of CNN's operations. Even if the PSYOPS officers working in the newsroom did not influence news reporting, did the network allow the military to conduct an intelligence-gathering mission against CNN itself?

For instance, one PSYOPS officer worked in CNN's satellite division. According to Intelligence Newsletter, rear admiral Thomas Steffens, a psychological warfare expert in the Special Operations Command, recently told a PSYOPS conference that the military needed to find ways to "gain control" over commercial news satellites to help bring down an "informational cone of silence" over regions where special operations were taking place.

An unofficial strategy paper published by the U.S. Naval War College in 1996 and written by an Army officer ("Military Operations in the CNN World: Using the Media as a Force Multiplier") urged military commanders to find ways to "leverage the vast resources of the fourth estate" for the purposes of "communicating the [mission's] objective and endstate, boosting friendly morale, executing more effective psychological operations, playing a major role in deception of the enemy, and enhancing intelligence collection."  (3.27.2000)

ACTION: Please write to CNN and ask why the network allowed government propaganda specialists to work in their news division.

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CNN Responds to FAIR on PSYOPS in the Newsroom

April 6, 2000

On March 27, FAIR released an action alert ("Why Were Government Propaganda Experts Working On News At CNN?") urging readers to contact CNN and ask why the network allowed military propaganda specialists from an Army Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) unit to work in the news division of its Atlanta headquarters.

Since then, FAIR has been contacted by Eason Jordan, CNN's president for international networks and newsgathering, as well as executive vice president for public relations Sue Binford.

On March 29, FAIR received CNN's official response, written by Binford:

As executive vice president of CNN Public Relations, I am responding officially on behalf of CNN to FAIR's action alert headlined "Why were Government Propaganda Experts Working on News at CNN?":

1. No government or military propaganda expert has ever worked on news at CNN.

2. Amongst the hundreds of interns from around the world who spent a few weeks at a time at CNN in the past year, were five personnel from a U.S. Army PSYOPS group.

3. Interns at CNN observe under the supervision of CNN staff and have no influence over what CNN reports or how CNN reports it.

4. CNN's intern program is administered by the Company's Human Resources Department, which is made up of hard-working, well-intentioned people who are not journalists and who thought they were doing the right thing when they agreed to a U.S. Army request to allow the military personnel to intern at CNN.

5. The intern program was terminated as soon as the leadership of CNN learned of it. CNN's position: it was inappropriate for PSYOPS personnel to be at CNN, they are not here now, and they never again will be at CNN.

6. CNN prides itself on its journalistic independence and impartiality and is committed to accurate, fair, responsible reporting.

FAIR commends CNN for acknowledging that the presence of PSYOPS personnel in the newsroom was, in its words, "inappropriate." It is unfortunate that the network came to that conclusion only after the program's existence was revealed in February by the Dutch newspaper Trouw (2/21/00).

The only points in CNN's statement that are in factual conflict with FAIR's action alert are points 1 and 3. CNN denies that any military propaganda expert "ever worked on news" at CNN—seeming to contradict FAIR's assertion, made in the headline of our action alert, that PSYOPS personnel were "working on news" at CNN. While PSYOPS personnel did intern at CNN, the statement says, "interns at CNN observe under the supervision of CNN staff and have no influence over what CNN reports or how CNN reports it."

This seems to be essentially a semantic quibble. As interns, some of the PSYOPS officers clearly answered to the news division and assisted CNN news staffers as they produced stories. According to Major Thomas Collins of the U.S. Army Information Service, the PSYOPS interns "worked as regular employees of CNN" and "helped in the production of news." (Trouw, 2/21)

But as we said in our original action alert:

What makes the CNN story especially troubling is the fact that the network allowed the Army's covert propagandists to work in its headquarters, where they learned the ins and outs of CNN's operations. Even if the PSYOPS officers working in the newsroom did not influence news reporting, did the network allow the military to conduct an intelligence-gathering mission against CNN itself?

FAIR then offered specific evidence that military PSYOPS specialists have recently been trying to increase their knowledge of and cooperation with the news media in order to influence coverage.

Indeed, the presence of psychological operations personnel at CNN was first revealed at a PSYOPS conference in Arlington, Virginia by Col. Christopher St. John, commander of the Army's 4th PSYOPS Group (the unit to which the CNN interns belonged), who offered the internship program as an example of the type of "greater cooperation between the armed forces and media giants" which he hoped to see more of (Intelligence Newsletter, 2/17/00).

That is presumably why CNN has admitted that, even as observers, PSYOPS officers should not have worked—or "observed"—in CNN's offices.

ACTION: If you feel this matter is serious enough that CNN should issue a more in-depth explanation of how military personnel came to intern at the network, and precisely what kind of work they did there, you can write to CNN's President of International Networks and Newsgathering, Eason Jordan, at:
Fax: 404-827-3134

As always, please remember that letters are taken more seriously if they maintain a professional tone. Please cc-copies of your correspondence to

NOTE: In pointing out the lack of mainstream media coverage of the CNN-PSYOPS story, our original action alert stated that "in the U.S. media, so far only Alexander Cockburn" had picked up on the story. We should have noted that it was online media that initially picked up on the Trouw and Intelligence Newsletter reports. The website Emperor's Clothes appears to have been the first to translate the Trouw report and put it on the Web. Several other political sites also picked up the story. Cockburn was the first journalist in the U.S. to discuss the story in print, and the first to get it into a mainstream U.S. outlet.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting     130 W. 25th Street    New York, NY 10001


Federal records show CNN Money, Chicago Tribune hosted active-duty Marines as interns

Much has been made of the media's practice of "embedding" reporters in military units, allowing them to file immersive reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while under the total care and control of the U.S. military. But a less widely known practice is the Pentagon's occasional "reverse embed," which permits active-duty service personnel to serve as interns in major media companies — sometimes in an editorial capacity — gleaning insights and intelligence into how media organizations operate, and perhaps helping to shape the way they cover the military. According to military records obtained by The Upshot under the Freedom of Information Act, in recent years CNN, the Chicago Tribune, and a smattering of other smaller news outlets have all hosted active-duty military personnel as part of a Pentagon program designed to offer service members experience in the corporate world.

Under the Training With Industry (TWI) program, and others like it, military officers can leave the service for up to a year to work for private companies. The idea is to allow them to gain skills and insights outside the military that can help them with both their future career development and their present military mission. Each year institutions as varied as the American Culinary Institute, Pfizer, and Lockheed Martin participate in the program.

The TWI operation achieved some notoriety in 2000, when Dutch and French media reported that CNN had invited U.S. Army psychological operations soldiers into its newsroom to serve as interns. Embarrassed at having hosted military disinformation specialists,  the network acknowledged that it was a mistake and said in a statement that "the intern program was terminated as soon as the leadership of CNN learned of it."

Now, however, the program appears to have been reactivated — at CNN and elsewhere. [Actually, it's CNN Money — see updates below.] According to the records obtained by The Upshot, CNN hosted at least one Marine colonel or lieutenant colonel in 2007 and 2008 as a Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellow or Commandant of the Marine Corps Fellow:

It's not clear what role the Marine officer played at CNN; the Marine Corps could not immediately identify the officer involved or what work he or she may have done. And Christa Robinson, a network spokeswoman, denies that the Marines' record-keeping on the placement is accurate. "This person did not work at CNN," Robinson said, before explaining that she needed more time to determine where he or she actually did work.

UPDATE: Robinson provided this further statement to The Upshot, saying the officer worked for the noneditorial operations of

This was not a CNN employee. He was a fellow on the non-editorial side of, and was not reporting into CNN. He had no involvement in editorial matters and worked on the business side of the website. CNN executives were not aware of this fellowship until long after the fact.

SECOND UPDATE: Robinson called back to emphasize that CNN Money is a joint venture of Time Inc. and CNN, and that the Marine fellow reported up the Time Inc. not CNN chain of command.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune hosted two Marine Corps public affairs officers between 2002 and 2004, according to the documents, rotating them through various parts of the newspaper, including stints as news gatherers. One of them, Lt. Col. Ricardo Player, had previously served as public affairs officer for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and was a military aide to former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke. Player's stint at the Tribune coincided with the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

"I was part of the team," Player told The Upshot. "It was a great experience. I sat in on front-page meetings, and did fact-checking for the website. I got to cover a tornado for [Tribune Co.-owned local cable channel] CLTV." Player said that, although he wore civilian clothes, his Tribune colleagues were always aware of his status as an active-duty Marine and avoided situations where he would have a "direct conflict of interest" between his military duties and staff obligations.

He dismissed the idea that his role as a public affairs officer, whose primary mission is to make the Marines look good, is in fundamental conflict with the Tribune's job. "The Tribune had a goal, and I had a goal," he said. "My goal was to grab as many good ideas from the Trib as I could and bring them with me back to the Marine Corps. I was able to take lessons learned back to Camp Pendleton. Their goal was to get the same from me."

The Marines were invited to the Tribune by Howard Tyner, then the paper's editor. "I was approached by the Marine Corps, and I said yes," Tyner told The Upshot. "I had some concerns, but I also thought that mutual understanding between the paper and the military was a good thing. These guys were not influencing the news in any way. They didn't write stories, or anything. I think mostly they sat in on meetings. We got to meet a couple of interesting individuals, and maybe expanded the paper's understanding of the military. And the Marine Corps got the reverse." (Full disclosure: I worked as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune from 2002 to 2005, during the time frame the Marine officers were there, but  I was never aware of their presence.)

It's unclear why the program seems to have stopped in 2004. Tyner says it was probably because he stepped down as editor and his successor, Ann Marie Lipinski, "was not terribly enthusiastic about it." Player says the Marine Corps' public affairs division didn't have enough free officers to keep enrolling them as interns.

The Upshot filed FOIA requests with all the service branches, the Secretary of Defense, and several other Defense Department components seeking information about TWI and other corporate fellowship programs; so far only the Marine Corps and the Department of the Army have responded. According to the Army Human Resources Command, among the dozens of corporations that have hosted soldiers since 2002 under TWI are WTOC, a local television station in Savannah, Ga.; Capitol Broadcasting Company, a North Carolina firm that owns six television stations and a radio station; and Beasley Broadcast Group, which owns 42 radio stations nationwide. The Army could not immediately provide details on what roles the soldiers played, and if they were involved in news gathering; phone calls and emails to WTOC and Capitol Broadcasting Company were not returned. A spokeswoman for Beasley Broadcast Group said any participation with TWI would be handled individually by each of its 42 stations. (8.04.2010, John Cook)

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"A society whose citizens refuse to see and investigate the facts, who refuse to believe that their government and their media will routinely lie to them and fabricate a reality contrary to verifiable facts, is a society that chooses and deserves the Police State Dictatorship it's going to get." Ian Williams Goddard

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