Little Green Footballs

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

When poor propaganda goes bad

The Chicago Tribune has an interesting story here about $3.9 million and the bad propaganda no-one needed.

KABUL, Afghanistan -- When The Rendon Group was hired to help Afghan President Hamid Karzai with media relations in early 2004, few thought it was a bad idea. Though Rendon's $1.4million bill seemed high for Afghanistan, the U.S. government was paying.

Within seven months, however, Karzai was ready to get rid of Rendon. So was Zalmay Khalilzad, then the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and now the American envoy in Iraq, according to interviews, e-mails and memos obtained by the Tribune. The complaint: too much money for not enough work.

Despite such grumbling, The Rendon Group, based in Washington, managed to secure even more U.S.-funded work with Karzai's government, this time a $3.9 million contract funded by the Pentagon, to create a media team for Afghan anti-drug programs. Jeff Raleigh, who helped oversee Rendon in Kabul for the U.S. Embassy, and others in the U.S. government said they objected because of Karzai's and Khalilzad's opposition but were overruled by Defense Department superiors in Washington.

"It was a rip-off of the U.S taxpayer," said Raleigh, who left the U.S. Embassy in September.

Rendon departed Afghanistan in early October when its $3.9 million contract expired. But diplomatic sources said it is in line for another multimillion-dollar Afghan contract: a three-year deal to work on counternarcotics public relations.

The company's work in Afghanistan is just a sliver of the more than $56 million the Pentagon has paid Rendon since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when it became one of the leading media consultants in the Bush administration's war on terrorism. It also is doing work for the Pentagon in Iraq.

Its performance, and the Defense Department's use of the company to shape its anti-terrorism message, has come under renewed scrutiny amid reports that the Bush administration hired Rendon to track foreign media and reporters and to help foreign governments shape their own anti-terrorism messages and images.


The company's fees also have been an issue. CIA staff members have complained about the group's work on other projects, such as a costly media campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul estimated that the work the company was hired to do on its second contract in Afghanistan could have been performed for about $200,000 rather than $3.9million.

The firm was to train five Afghan press officers, according to e-mails and people familiar with the contract. But it trained only three, and one has left her job.


"I don't think their performance was worth more than $50,000," said Lutfullah Mashal, until recently the spokesman for the Interior Ministry. "It certainly was not worth millions of dollars."
What a waste of money. Remind you of anyone?

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