Deceptive PR Firm Joins War Effort
by Christopher Bollyn
February 20, 2002
In Washington D.C., the name of the game is public relations and the Bush Administration has contracted some old pros to foist the ever widening war on terrorism onto the world. The Pentagon has hired the Rendon Group (TRG), a powerful Washington public-relations firm run by John W. Rendon Jr., to "advise" the Pentagon's newly-formed disinformation agency, the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI).
TRG reportedly had a four-month contract worth $397,000 to help the Pentagon look good while bombing Afghanistan. TRG will supplement the efforts of the Army's 4th Psychological Operations Group, which is based at Fort Bragg and is now conducting operations in Afghanistan and the surrounding region. Rendon coordinated George McGovern's presidential campaign in Maine in the early 1970s and later worked for Michael Dukakis when he ran for governor of Massachusetts. After working on Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign in 1980, Rendon went to work for the Democratic National Committee, and eventually became its executive director.
TRG's biggest operations are reported to have been in support of the Pentagon and the CIA. In describing his work in a speech to the Air Force Academy in 1996, Rendon said, "I am a person who uses communications to meet public policy or corporate objectives. I am an information warrior and a perception manager. The group has been hired on several occasions to support U.S. military actions. During the past decade the firm has worked to shape public opinion during the conflicts in Panama, Haiti, Kuwait, and Iraq.
TRG's first national security assignment came in 1989, during Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invasion of Panama. After Manuel Noriega was overthrown, TRG offered "crisis management and operational support" to the new U.S.-backed government and "courted the international press and overseas radio stations to make the cause real to other governments and to give hope to Panamanians."
TRG's next assignment came the following year, when it supported the Kuwaiti government in exile after the Iraqi invasion. Rendon and his staffers set up a TV production house in London that specialized in fabricating atrocities carried out by Saddam Hussein's troops. The group has done extensive work for the Central Intelligence Agency, the Kuwaiti royal family, and the Iraqi National Congress - the opposition group seeking to oust Saddam.
Founded in 1981, TRG has offices in Boston and Washington and a staff of about two dozen people, including a number of former White House operatives and congressional staffers. TRG worked with Hill & Knowlton, who masterminded the pro-Kuwaiti propaganda campaign. And while Kuwait's activities directed at manipulating American public opinion should have been exposed as foreign propaganda under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the Justice department chose not to enforce it.
In one of the most glaring examples of disinformation foisted on the American public, in November 1990, a 15-year old Kuwaiti girl testified before the Congress that she had seen Iraqi soldiers tossing premature babies onto the floor of a Kuwaiti hospital so their incubators could be sent to Iraq. Senators cited her testimony as a crucial factor in their decision to go to war with Iraq. It later turned out that the girl was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States and that her "testimony" had been arranged and scripted by Hill & Knowlton.
As a public-relations firm, Rendon has clients in 79 countries, including official trade agencies of the United States, Bulgaria, Russia, and Uzbekistan. One of Rendon's clients has been the al Sabah family, the royal family of Kuwait. TRG helped al Sabah create a sympathetic image in the United States during the Gulf War.
Rendon has worked with the CIA to build the Iraqi National Congress, the U.S.-backed group that is seeking to oust Saddam Hussein. In 1991, TRG "provided it with its name and more than $12 million in covert funding between 1992 and 1996," according to ABC News. TRG spent nearly $24 million in 1991 and 1992 to produce a media blitz against Saddam with comic books, videos, a traveling "atrocity exhibition" photo exhibit, and two "gray" clandestine radio stations. The stations Rendon designed and supervised were Radio Hurriah (Radio Freedom) and the Iraqi Broadcasting Corporation (IBC). TRG also worked to build international support for continued economic sanctions against Iraq, even as reports of civilian suffering and mass starvation were beginning to attract widespread attention.