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Misinformation Campaign Targets USA TODAY Reporter, Editor

Published: April 21, 2012
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Source: USA Today

A USA TODAY reporter and editor investigating Pentagon propaganda contractors have themselves been subjected to a propaganda campaign of sorts, waged on the Internet through a series of bogus websites.

Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts have been created in their names, along with a Wikipedia entry and dozens of message board postings and blog comments. Websites were registered in their names.

The timeline of the activity tracks USA TODAY’s reporting on the military’s “information operations” program, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan — campaigns that have been criticized even within the Pentagon as ineffective and poorly monitored.

For example, Internet domain registries show the website TomVandenBrook.com was created Jan. 7 — just days after Pentagon reporter Tom Vanden Brook first contacted Pentagon contractors involved in the program. Two weeks after his editor Ray Locker’s byline appeared on a story, someone created a similar site, RayLocker.com, through the same company.

If the websites were created using federal funds, it could violate federal law prohibiting the production of propaganda for domestic consumption.

“We’re not aware of any participation in such activities, nor would it be acceptable,” said Lt. Col. James Gregory, a Pentagon spokesman.

A Pentagon official confirmed that the military had made inquiries to information operations contractors to ask them about the Internet activity. All denied it, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the inquiries were informal and did not amount to an official investigation.

The websites were taken down following those inquiries. Various other sites and accounts were removed for violating their providers’ terms of service.

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