by Daniel Tencer
A public relations firm that organized the opposition to Saddam Hussein during the 1990s and "coerced" journalists during the run-up to the Iraq war could now be placed in charge of vetting embedded journalists in war zones, a new report claims.
"Any reporter seeking to embed with US forces is subject to a background profile by The Rendon Group, which gained notoriety in the run-up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq for its work helping to create the Iraqi National Congress," the military newspaper Stars & Stripes reports.
The Iraqi National Congress was a dummy parliament composed of opponents of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It was headed up by Ahmed Chalabi, who would later serve as Iraq's oil minister after the US invasion.
The Rendon Group was founded by John Rendon, a public-relations expert whose links to government PR efforts date back at least as far as the Reagan administration.
The news that the Rendon Group is now in charge of vetting war reporters is certain to raise concerns about government censorship and propaganda among the media watchdog community, many of whom are familiar with John Rendon's track record in dealing with journalists.
A 2005 Rolling Stone article says that the Rendon Group was given a government contract three weeks after 9/11 to wage a public relations campaign against media that were perceived as hostile to the Bush administration's war efforts.
According to the New York Times, Rendon was involved in the development of the Office of Strategic Influence, whose "mission was to conduct covert disinformation and deception operations planting false news items in the media and hiding their origins," as the Rolling Stone article put it.
Rolling Stone's James Bamford reported:
The Rendon Group denies much of this. In a rebuttal to the Rolling Stone article, it says it had "no role whatsoever in making the case for the Iraq war, here at home or internationally." The group also contends it had "nothing to do with the Office of Strategic Influence."
"The secret targeting of foreign journalists may have had a sinister purpose," Bamford wrote. "Among the missions proposed for the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence was one to 'coerce' foreign journalists and plant false information overseas. Secret briefing papers also said the office should find ways to 'punish' those who convey the 'wrong message.' One senior officer told CNN that the plan would 'formalize government deception, dishonesty and misinformation'."
John Rendon himself has reportedly admitted that the purpose of embedding reporters within army units is to control the media.