Did you know that the Pentagon paid more than $500 million to hire a U.K.-based PR company to produce fake Al-Qaeda videos during the Iraq War? A former contractor for the PR firm Bell Pottinger recently spilled the beans about the scandal.
After the former contractor spoke up, the former chairman for Bell Pottinger, Lord Tim Bell confirmed the contract his firm had with the Pentagon under the Information Operations Task Force, but he insisted that everything they produced was “truthful.”
3. One Of The Most Expensive PR Contracts In History
The contract was believed to be one of the most expensive PR contracts in history, with almost 300 staff members involved in the top-secret "Psychological Operations" task force. They were funded by the U.S. Department of Defense from May 2007–December 2011. While most of the money went to production and distribution, the company took home about $15 million each year in profit.
According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Bell Pottinger worked with U.S. military officials at Camp Victory in Baghdad during the height of the Iraq War. The agency was asked to produce TV segments like fake soap operas, news reports, videos of Al-Qaeda bombings made to look like they were shot by insurgents and anti-insurgent commercials. Those who watched the videos could be tracked by U.S. forces through internet IP addresses. The videos that were produced by Bell Pottinger in Iraq were designed to protect coalition forces and Iraqi people from terrorist attacks.
Martin Wells, a former video editor assigned to the project, was hired by the firm and sent to Baghdad to work in the "conflict resolution" division of Bell Pottinger. When asked about it, he described his experience at Camp Victory as "shocking, eye-opening and life-changing."
When watched, the CDs would open the videos on RealPlayer software that would connect to the Internet. When connected, it would show an IP address that could then be tracked by U.S. intelligence.
“If one if looked at [sic] in the middle of Baghdad … you know there’s a hit there,” Wells said. “If one, 48 hours or a week later shows up in another part of the world, then that’s the more interesting one, and that’s what they’re looking for more, because that gives you a trail.”
According to Wells, the CDs were viewed in Iran, Syria and the United States.
The videos that were produced by Bell Pottinger would go through the chain of command and needed signatures from high-level generals. On occasion, they could even be passed to the White House for approval.
Bell believes that the PR firm's work in Iraq was helpful. “We did a lot to help resolve the situation...Not enough. We did not stop the mess which emerged, but it was part of the American propaganda machinery,” said Lord Bell.
But Wells sees things differently. “I mean if you look at the situation now, it wouldn’t appear to have worked,” he said. “But at the time, who knows, if it saved one life it was a good thing to do."