Donald Rumsfeld has returned to the spotlight, promoting an idea that got him into hot water when he ran the Defense Department.
In his first major speech since departing the Bush administration in 2006, Rumsfeld pushed for a new propaganda agency to combat the anti-U.S. rhetoric emanating from Muslim countries and to burnish the American image abroad. He said the U.S. needs an agency bigger and better than the old United States Information Agency, the Cold War-era operation that was absorbed into the State Department.
“We need someone in the United States government, some entity, not like the old USIA,” Rumsfeld said in a conference here Wednesday sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.
“I think this agency, a new agency has to be something that would take advantage of the wonderful opportunities that exist today. There are multiple channels for information … The Internet is there, pods are there, talk radio is there, e-mails are there. There are all kinds of opportunities,” he said.
The U.S. government, he said, currently does not “with any systematic organized way attempt to engage the battle of ideas and talk about the idea of beheading, and what’s it’s about and what it means and talk about the fact that people are killing more Muslims than they are non-Muslims, these extremists.
“They’re doing it with suicide bombs and the like. We need to engage and not simply be passive and allow that battle of competition of ideas,” Rumsfeld said, according to a transcript provided by Wired News.
In the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Rumsfeld created just such an agency when he was defense secretary, under the direction of then-Under Secretary Douglas Feith.
Known as the Office of Strategic Influence, the agency’s mission, in part, was reportedly planting misleading stories in foreign media. Lawmakers expressed concerns that those types of propaganda efforts, which had all the traits of military psychological operations, would undermine rather than promote U.S. interests abroad.
Under pressure, Rumsfeld announced in February 2002 that the agency had been shut down.
If there was any irony in Rumsfeld’s attendance this week at the conference it was this: The company L-3 Communications sponsored an “invitation only” luncheon with the former defense secretary. L-3 Communications owns Titan Corp., which did severe damage to the U.S. image aboard when a handful of its translators were implicated in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.