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Michael Hastings has a weird, maybe shocking story in Rolling Stone. Gen. William Caldwell, the man training Afghan troops in preparation for our eventual withdrawal from the country, apparently ordered an “information operations” cell to perform what the military used to call “psychological operations” on visiting dignitaries — including American members of Congress.
That is probably illegal. Psy-ops are to be used only on “hostile foreign groups,” and the military is explicitly banned from using propaganda campaigns on Americans. (Though everyone basically “knows” that the CIA and others perform psy-ops on the American people all the time, right? Or is that paranoid of me?)
At first, the orders were administered verbally. According to Holmes, who attended at least a dozen meetings with Caldwell to discuss the operation, the general wanted the IO unit to do the kind of seemingly innocuous work usually delegated to the two dozen members of his public affairs staff: compiling detailed profiles of the VIPs, including their voting records, their likes and dislikes, and their “hot-button issues.” In one email to Holmes, Caldwell’s staff also wanted to know how to shape the general’s presentations to the visiting dignitaries, and how best to “refine our messaging.”
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?”
And it got more blatant:
In March 2010, [Col. Gregory] Breazile issued a written order that “directly tasked” Holmes to conduct an IO campaign against “all DV visits” – short for “distinguished visitor.” The team was also instructed to “prepare the context and develop the prep package for each visit.” In case the order wasn’t clear enough, Breazile added that the new instructions were to “take priority over all other duties.” Instead of fighting the Taliban, Holmes and his team were now responsible for using their training to win the hearts and minds of John McCain and Al Franken.
The leader of the psy-ops unit was not thrilled with the assignment, and in what is the most damning part of the story, he alerted a JAG lawyer, who agreed that the entire thing was “contrary to IO policy.” Shortly thereafter, the whistle-blower claims, he was the victim of a retaliatory Army investigation into his personal conduct.
Daniel Foster wonders if the whole thing was actually in violation of the law, but it’s disturbing either way. One interesting wrinkle: Steve Clemons says today that he actually noticed Sen. Carl Levin sounding very rosy about Afghanistan after his visit there last year.
Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @pareeneMore Alex Pareene.
A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.
Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.
Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya
On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later
Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.
Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!
The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes
Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day
This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.