Another Profile in Propaganda: Laurie Adler, U.S. Army’s “Human Terrain System” (2.0)

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”
—New York Times reporter Ron Suskind, relating the words of a senior White House official. (source)

Most of those who have some level of familiarity with debates around anthropology and counterinsurgency will recognize the name, Laurie Adler, from the U.S. Army’s “Human Terrain System,” where the HTS website claims she handles “press inquiries,” which as we shall see is an “interesting choice” of position that the military has made. Some anthropologists will also recognize her name from a page on the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, where she was publicly identified at a conference as one of two people copying names from the pledge signed by those who oppose anthropologists’ involvement with the Human Terrain System. The other person doing so was Jessica Laurence (spelled “Lawrence” on the NCA site). Adler, it should be noted, has denied the charge of copying the names from the pledge:

Adler, communicating through Army spokesman Thomas McCuin, says she was just culling names of fellow graduates from her alma mater, the University of Chicago, so as to clue them in on the Human Terrain System’s virtues. However, Hugh Gusterson, an anthropology and sociology professor at George Mason University, another original signatory to the pledge, notes that as of the third week of December, the petition had 22 signatures associated with the university, and only one had originated from the annual meeting. Gusterson reports that Adler was seen writing down multiple names; she has subsequently denied that account, claiming that she wrote just one name alongside other notes on the same page. (source)

So who is Laurie Adler? Adler’s resume reads with as much interest of that of her colleague, Montgomery McFate, a former corporate spy hired to target dissident groups in the U.S., and someone who has traded on her training in anthropology in promoting the military’s appeal to social scientists. Laurie Adler is the same person who achieved notoriety as the “spokeswoman for the Lincoln Group, a public relations firm caught planting favorable propaganda about the American occupation in Iraqi newspapers” (source).

Laurie Adler states on her LinkedIn profile that she is:

Strategic Communications Advisor, Human Terrain System at US Department of Army

Education
University of Chicago – Committee on International Relations
Lafayette College

According to Source Watch, Laurie Adler was,

“director of marketing, communications and government relations” at the Lincoln Group. In early May 2006 O’Dwyers PR Daily reported that the Lincoln Group confirmed that Adler had left the company. According to her listing on Lobbyists.info, Laurie Adler has also worked for Burdeshaw Associates, Ltd. of Bethesda, Maryland, where she represented Savunma Sistemleri AS (FNSS), a “defense equipment manufacturing company” based in Ankara, Turkey. She has a B.A. in English from LaFayette College, PA, and an M.A. in political science from University of Chicago, IL.

Also according to Source Watch, the Lincoln Group is,

“a D.C.-based business ‘intelligence’ company that handles services from ‘political campaign intelligence‘ to commercial real estate in Iraq.”

The Lincoln Group currently states … that [it] is a “strategic communications firm that provides our clients with access to cultures which have historically been difficult to reach through traditional Western communications. Our expertise lies in providing insight to our clients in the markets they wish to reach and the ability to influence their target audience.” In November 2005, the firm was outed for covertly planting articles written by U.S. military officers in Iraqi newspapers. In March 2006, the U.S. military’s review of a PR firm’s covert propaganda program in Iraq, led by Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, was reported to be completed but not public. According to military officials, “The findings are narrow in focus, and conclude that the Lincoln Group committed no legal violations because its actions in paying to place American [information operations troops]-written articles without attribution were not expressly prohibited by its contract or military rules.” The report “did not deal deeply” with such issues as how the small, young, well-connected firm received large government contracts, or whether its work was effective. It also did not address how, “in a modern information world connected by satellite television and the Internet, misleading information and lies could easily migrate into American news outlets.” The Lincoln Group’s Iraq work, on “a contract estimated at several million dollars,” remains “fully in effect.” The firm continues to bid for U.S. government contracts.

And yet, the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch reported:

O’Dwyers PR Daily reports that Bill Dixon and Laurie Adler, who handled PR for the Lincoln Group which gained notoriety for using Pentagon funds to plant news articles in Iraqi newspapers, have jumped ship. Dixon only started with the company in January while Adler served as the company’s main spokesman. In the Columbia Journalism Review Daniel Schulman reports that a U.S. army officer, who helped select the company for contracts in Iraq, was scathing in his assessment of their work. “They were sending guys over there that had absolutely no knowledge of Iraqis whatsoever. … It was a scheme written up on a cocktail napkin in D.C. They were just completely inept,” the officer said.

This apparently did not prevent the U.S. Army from reengaging the services of Adler, currently working for the HTS, which curiously enough was originally conceived on a cocktail napkin, if one believes Montgomery McFate’s own claims. It is also interesting to note the coincidence in the officer’s criticism, and what the media have reported in scathing articles about the HTS, as reported previously (see here, and here, also here, and here).

The Lincoln Group was a small and young firm (created in 2004 and oddly enough was first named Iraqex as an offshoot of the Lincoln Alliance Corp.). It gained its first contract with the Pentagon, worth $5 million, the same year it was created (source). According to Spinwatch,

the Los Angeles Times was first to report that the Lincoln Group was helping the Pentagon covertly place pro-United States stories in Iraqi news outlets. Dozens of articles written by U.S. military “information operations” troops were placed during 2005, according to the paper. “The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military,” the Times reported. The Lincoln Group “helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group’s Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes poses as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.” The New York Times reported today: “In addition to paying newspapers to print government propaganda, Lincoln has paid about a dozen Iraqi journalists each several hundred dollars a month, a person who had been told of the transactions said….”The Lincoln Group, whose principals include some businessmen and former military officials, was hired last year after military officials concluded that the United States was failing to win over Muslim public opinion.

According to an article in USA Today, “U.S. Special Operations Command awarded three five-year contracts in June [2005] for contractors to develop slogans, advertisements, newspaper articles, radio spots and television programs to build support for U.S. policies overseas.” According to the same report, the Lincoln Group came under investigation for “paying Iraqi newspapers to run pro-American articles ghostwritten under a separate military contract.” Adler admitted that her firm did “strategic communications” work at the request of U.S. military commanders. The firm was founded by a person with ties to the Republican Party.

The Washington Post revealed that the Lincoln Group,

advertised itself as having been “given wide latitude and urged to be creative in the approaches we take.” A job listing on its Web site expresses a need for more employees “to mount an aggressive advertising and public relations campaign that will accurately inform the Iraqi people of the coalition’s goals and gain their support.”

Quoted in The Washington Post, Adler asserted:

“We believe that it is necessary to counter the misinformation that is put out by our adversaries….Trying to get out accurate information is an important part of what the U.S. needs to do to show our side of the story.”

Yet in a fit of almost comical bravado, and despite contrary claims, Laurie Adler was quoted by USA Today and The New York Observer as saying that all the articles they planted were true:

“We counter the lies, intimidation, and pure evil of terror with factual stories that highlight the heroism and sacrifice of the Iraqi people and their struggle for freedom and security,” group spokeswoman Laurie Adler breathed heavily last week in a prepared statement to the press. “We are encouraged by their sacrifice and proud to help them tell their side of the story.”

Analyzing Adler’s flurry of denials and fury of assertions, Chris Lehmann observed:

And Ms. Adler’s stir-the-troops cadences, with their grand, abstract talk of a world according to nouns-“heroism,” “sacrifice” (twice over), “freedom” and “security” on the one side, and “lies,” “intimidation” and “pure evil” on the other-pointed up the big problem with the Pentagon’s good-news initiative, even with all legal niceties aside. Practitioners of propaganda simply cannot leave off the stuff, even when they are indignantly reminding us of their higher virtues and their love of the truth.

Adler’s work reportedly came at the intersection of a new military amalgamation that combined psychological warfare (Information Operations) and propaganda (Public Affairs). This was originally part of Donald Rumsfeld’s vision of information operations as a core military competency, according to Lehmann who in turn quotes the International Herald Tribune.

Between the corporate spy, and this paid propagandist (“liar for hire”), it is amazing to find any anthropology bloggers, however young and naive, willing to entertain and play host to these sorts, in some cases even shielding them from criticism, or trying to water down documented and uncontradicted facts. One can only hope for more honesty and less self-interest.

Two addenda follow at the bottom.

Sources:

Lolita C. Baldor, “U.S. military officials describe Iraq propaganda program, ” Associated Press, December 3, 2005. Online.

Matt Kelly, “3 groups have contracts for pro-U.S. propaganda,” USA Today, December 13, 2005. Online.

Chris Lehmann, “Rumsfeld Guns for the Press While the Lincoln Group Spins,” The New York Observer, December 11, 2005. Online.

Linked In. Laurie Adler. Online.

Elaine Monaghan, “Why Anthropologists are Reluctant Army Recruits,” CQ Weekly, January 7, 2008, p. 10. Online.

PR Watch. “Lincoln Group Work In Iraq ‘Completely Inept’.” Center for Media and Democracy. Online.

Justin Raimondo, “‘Good News’ From Iraq: We’re losing the war – but don’t worry, the neocons are making the bucks.” January 4, 2006. Online.

Spin Watch, “So Who is Behind Planting Stories in Iraqi Press?” December 1, 2005. Online.

Source Watch. Laurie Adler. Online.

Source Watch. Lincoln Group. Online.

Josh White, “Military Planting Articles in Iraq Papers: U.S. Officers Defend Program as Response to ‘Information War’ by Insurgents,” The Washington Post, Thursday, December 1, 2005, Page A18. Online.

ADDENDUM #1:

See also The Bling Cycle: “Social Scientists and the War of Ideas

ADDENDUM #2:

A COINCIDENCE? LOOKING AT STEVE FONDACARO

Col. Steve Fondacaro, who is currently the military director of the Human Terrain System, was previously the commander of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Task Force in Iraq in 2006 (source). That same year, the Lincoln Group reported on its website that it was awarded a $2.8 million contract for an 18 month period to support the Counter Improvised Explosive Device Task Force.

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