Video: Rumsfeld plans information warfare

NBC News and news services
updated 2/17/2006 8:06:18 PM ET 2006-02-18T01:06:18

The United States lags dangerously behind al-Qaida and other enemies in getting out information in the digital media age and must challenge the enemy on the new communications battleground, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday.

Modernization is crucial to winning the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide who are bombarded with negative images of the West, Rumsfeld told the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Pentagon chief said today’s weapons of war included e-mail, BlackBerries, instant messaging, digital cameras and blogs.

“Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age, but ... our country has not adapted,” Rumsfeld said.

“For the most part, the U.S. government still functions as a ’five and dime’ store in an eBay world,” Rumsfeld said, referring to old-fashioned U.S. retail stores and the online auction house, respectively.

Rumsfeld said U.S. military public affairs officers must learn to anticipate news and respond faster, and good public affairs officers should be rewarded with promotions.

‘Dangerous deficiency’
The military’s information offices still operate mostly eight hours a day, five or six days a week, while the challenges they face occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Rumsfeld said, calling the gaps a “dangerous deficiency.”

Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy of the opposition Democratic Party immediately criticized Rumsfeld as missing the point.

“Clearly, we need to improve our public diplomacy and information age communication in the Muslim world,” Kennedy said in a statement. “But nothing has done more to encourage increased al-Qaida recruitment and made America less safe than the war in Iraq and the incompetent way it’s been managed. Our greatest failure is our policy.”

Rumsfeld lamented that vast media attention about U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq outweighed that given to the discovery of “Saddam Hussein’s mass graves.”

‘We ... have barely begun’
On the emergence of satellite television and other media not under Arab state control, he said, “While al-Qaida and extremist movements have utilized this forum for many years ... we in the government have barely even begun to compete in reaching their audiences.”

The U.S. government has previously been criticized for attempts to shape opinion in the Arab world, including paying to place stories in Iraqi newspapers as a "non-traditional means" to counter disinformation by the enemy.

In late 2005, it emerged that the Pentagon was running a multimillion-dollar campaign to improve the image of the U.S.-led military mission in Iraq, including payments to Iraqi newspapers to publish favorable stories. The media consulting company, the Lincoln Group, translated and placed the stories in Iraqi papers.

The Associated Press and NBC's Jim Miklaszewski contributed to this report.

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