Increased scrutiny by Congress has led the Pentagon's Special Operations Command to shelve a plan to pick potential targets for propaganda, according to a command spokesman.
SOCOM announced this week it was halting its plans to seek bidders for its planned Global Research Assessment Program, which involved hiring contractors not currently conducting military propaganda programs to have them select and then monitor the effectiveness of those programs around the world.
"We are currently working to answer congressional questions concerning the program and have voluntarily delayed the release of the [plan] until the committees involved are satisfied with the response," said Navy Lt. Cdr. Matthew Allen, a SOCOM spokesman.
Allen would not specify the committees involved.
In January, SOCOM released a proposal asking for companies to pitch the command on how they would help determine if the propaganda programs, which the Pentagon calls information operations or military information support operations, are effective in convincing target audiences of U.S. policy aims.
SOCOM released a formal request for bids in February that asked potential contractors to detail the criteria they would use to determine target audiences for propaganda programs and how they would conduct the research needed to determine if the messages sink in. That research will include "face-to-face" interviews with local citizens, the document said.
The command, which is in the lead in running military propaganda efforts, has had a fitful experience in how it studies propaganda campaigns. A 2012 SOCOM request for information on what it then called the Global Assessment Program would have provided "global assessments and prove measures of effectiveness" for propaganda programs. That contract, said SOCOM spokesman Capt. Kevin Aandahl, was never awarded, because of budget issues.
The military has struggled to assess accurately whether its propaganda programs work. A 2012 report by the RAND Corp. for the Marines said efforts in Afghanistan were not working and the military had not mastered how to determine the effectiveness of the programs. An April 2013 Government Accountability Office report found the same thing; the GAO and Pentagon attempted to keep that report private until it was obtained by USA TODAY a month later.
GAO found problems with SOCOM's operation of a series of news websites targeted at residents of various areas of the world, such as North Africa. The Trans Regional Web Initiative, GAO found, was not often well coordinated with other propaganda programs or U.S. agencies working in the same areas. The latest defense bill signed in January by President Obama stripped funding for the program.