Tom Vanden Brook
has an article in USA Today detailing the relationships between the Pentagon and the Rendon Group
and the plans of the Pentagon to shape information coming from Afghanistan.
The founder of the company, John Rendon, started his career as an election consultant to Democratic politicians. He quickly advanced to work in Panama with the opposition to Noriega and went on to work in Kosovo, and then in Iraq and Afghanistan. He describes himself
as an "information warrior, and a perception manager".
Since 2000, the U.S. military has paid the Rendon Group more than $100 million to advise and shape Pentagon communications strategy, do analysis of media coverage, and run propaganda programs. While Rendon tries to change attitudes through messaging and advertising some old-fashioned Pentagon officials, such as now retired admiral Michael Mullen, thinks that communications should be of information and the context of military operations. Mullen said that he did not like the term "strategic communication" and said:
"I really do not like the term at all. It confuses people. It means all things to all people. It's way overused and way overrated. I literally try never to use the term. We communicate as much if not more by our actions. I have become particularly concerned at a time that resources are so precious. It has become a thing unto itself. It is taking resources from the fight, I don't have time for it."
As the enclosed video shows "strategic communication" is actually part of the fight and arguably as important, if not more important, than the military operations.
Rendon claims that he is offering advice "to people who face tough challenges and choices in a complex global information environment". Not everyone sees Rendon's role as benign. Scott Amey, lead counsel for the Project on Government Oversight.
"Rendon's previous work vetting journalists, performing public relations, and engaging in propaganda campaigns cause some concerns about the company's advice about changing the narrative in Afghanistan. However, in Washington, D.C., officials might be less concerned about objectivity or organizational conflicts of interest, and more interested in hearing what they want to hear."
On Oct. 12 this year Rendon attended a Pentagon forum to help synchronize the military's strategic narrative and counter that of the Taliban. Dozens of senior military officers and civilian officials attended the event. The gathering was in a large conference room with large television screens allowing input from officials far off in Kabul, Pakistan, and Tampa Florida, the home of the U.S. Central Command. Joint Chiefs said that Pakistan/Afghanistan Coordination Cell (PACC) invited Rendon to speak. The commander of the cell is Major General Stephen Townsend. Rendon was not paid for his appearance.
After helping shape opinion during the Iraq war, the group also worked in Afghanistan. In 2009 the Rendon contract was severed by the military after it was disclosed that Rendon had been weeding out journalists who wrote what Rendon considered negative stories. Yet in 2010 Pentagon records show it was a subcontractor supplying services for "military deception".
The Rendon Group still has plenty of contracts including advising the Army's Training and Doctrine Command since 2009. The group also provides communications support to the Pentagon and U.S. embassies, on counter-narcotics programs. The work includes monitoring local print, radio, television, and online reporting. Contracts were worth more than $11 million in 2011 and 2012. The top officer of Rendon commands a price of as much as $2,490 a day or over $900,000 a year including salary, benefits and overhead costs as set out in a price list for a recent contract. For those paid to control your perceptions there seems to be little in the way of austerity.