Apparently, our General staff is shot through with Little Caesars who fancy themselves the masters of the universe or something. Last year it was McChrystal and insubordination. This year it is Caldwell, a three-star in charge of training Afghan
February 24, 2011

Apparently, our General staff is shot through with Little Caesars who fancy themselves the masters of the universe or something. Last year it was McChrystal and insubordination. This year it is Caldwell, a three-star in charge of training Afghan troops who stands accused of using psy-ops against visiting American Senators and Congressmen so they would give the war effort more troops.

He needs to be relieved of command immediately and his ass needs to be on a plane bound for Washington for a public humiliation and firing.

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.

"My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave," says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. "I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line."

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops – the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors – are supposed to be used exclusively on "hostile foreign groups." Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a "propaganda rider" that also prohibits such manipulation. "Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans," says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It’s what you learn on day one."

Of course, we all realize that it goes on. Images are manipulated and messages are massaged. Before they appear before Congress, Generals confer with image consultants to lead the star-struck officials before them where they want them to go.

But this is a whole new level of evil. Not only did Caldwell intentionally violate U.S. laws against propagandizing American legislators, he punished the guy who stood up and said it was wrong. If that isn't intent and malice aforethought, I don't know what is.

Congressional delegations – known in military jargon as CODELs – are no strangers to spin. U.S. lawmakers routinely take trips to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they receive carefully orchestrated briefings and visit local markets before posing for souvenir photos in helmets and flak jackets. Informally, the trips are a way for generals to lobby congressmen and provide first-hand updates on the war. But what Caldwell was looking for was more than the usual background briefings on senators. According to Holmes, the general wanted the IO team to provide a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds." The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. "How do we get these guys to give us more people?" he demanded. "What do I have to plant inside their heads?"

According to experts on intelligence policy, asking a psy-ops team to direct its expertise against visiting dignitaries would be like the president asking the CIA to put together background dossiers on congressional opponents. Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwell’s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background. "Putting your propaganda people in a room with senators doesn’t look good," says John Pike, a leading military analyst. "It doesn’t pass the smell test. Any decent propaganda operator would tell you that."

At a minimum, the use of the IO team against U.S. senators was a misue of vital resources designed to combat the enemy; it cost American taxpayers roughly $6 million to deploy Holmes and his team in Afghanistan for a year. But Caldwell seemed more eager to advance his own career than to defeat the Taliban. "We called it Operation Fourth Star," says Holmes. "Caldwell seemed far more focused on the Americans and the funding stream than he was on the Afghans. We were there to teach and train the Afghans. But for the first four months it was all about the U.S. Later he even started talking about targeting the NATO populations." At one point, according to Holmes, Caldwell wanted to break up the IO team and give each general on his staff their own personal spokesperson with psy-ops training.

Remember the blurbs in the news about unnamed politicians whose records had been improperly accessed? Maybe it wasn't just one guy at the State Department. Maybe he was the fall guy, but the real culprits were these psy-ops folks accessing records on politicians before visits. My Senator, Claire McCaskill, is a pretty high profile member of the Armed Services Committee and she has made several trips to Afghanistan. Was she one of those against whom these tactics were employed?

Caldwell shouldn't just get to walk away from the mess he created like McChrystal did, though. He needs to face criminal charges, and possibly he needs to face war crimes charges if an intrepid prosecutor can build that case. He needs to hang high and be made an example of. He definitely needs to lose his rank and his bennies. He needs to be made to suffer public humiliation. If he is not, then the civilians have ceded control and we aren't that far from being ruled by a de facto military junta, and that is not the country I want to live in.

I've been saying it for -weeks- months over a is time for Obama to channel Truman and fire a whole bunch of these flag rank f***heads and pin stars on the shoulders of men like Lt. Colonel Holmes, Paul Yingling and Bob Bateman.

Believe me yet?

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