NOT LONG AFTER the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched what it called the Office of Strategic Influence, which would seek to “counter the enemy’s perception management” in the so-called war on terror. But it quickly became clear that the office, operating under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, would be managing those perceptions with its own disinformation.
As the New York Times reported at the time, its work was to “provide news items, possibly including false ones, to foreign journalists in an effort to influence overseas opinion.” In the nascent Internet age, observers worried the propaganda could boomerang back on Americans.
“The question is whether the Pentagon and military should undertake an official program that uses disinformation to shape perceptions abroad,” the Times reported in 2004. “But in a modern world wired by satellite television and the Internet, any misleading information and falsehoods could easily be repeated by American news outlets.”
Now, two decades later, “perception management” is once again becoming a central focus for the national security state. On March 1, 2022, the Pentagon established a new office with similar goals to the one once deemed too controversial to remain open. Very little has been made public about the effort, which The Intercept learned about through a review of budget documents and an internal memo we obtained. This iteration is called the Influence and Perception Management Office, or IPMO, according to the memo, which was produced by the office for an academic institution, and its responsibilities include overseeing and coordinating the various counter-disinformation efforts being conducted by the military, which can include the U.S.’s own propaganda abroad.