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Al Franken reportedly targeted by U.S. Army psy-ops to boost funding

Al Franken with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Sen. Carl Levin in Kabul, January 2010.
Al Franken with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Sen. Carl Levin in Kabul, January 2010.
franken.senate.gov

A U.S. Army officer appears to have mistaken U.S. lawmakers for the real enemy in Afghanistan.

Sen. Al Franken was among a group of Senate and House members who were reportedly the targets of a U.S. Army psychological operations order, in an effort to get them to vote for more money and troops.

Without addressing the specific allegations, which appear on the Rolling Stone website, Franken said in a statement this afternoon that his votes on war were not made as the result of a nefarious plot. (Full statement below.)

"I participated in a CODEL and made a visit to Kabul in January 2010, during which time Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, Commander, NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan, and several others briefed me on the progress being made in the country," Franken said. "While the briefings provided me with a helpful update on what was happening on the ground, I knew that I would have to crosscheck their assessment."

Franken in Afghanistan, January 2010.
Franken in Afghanistan, January 2010.
franken.senate.gov

News about the psy-ops order was broken by Michael Hastings, the same reporter who caught Gen. Stanley McChrystal badmouthing his boss, the President of the United States, which precipitated the premature end of McChrystal's military career.

Hastings said that the psy-ops orders to pressure the U.S. lawmakers came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops. A unit was to pressure Franken and the others when they visited Caldwell at Camp Eggers in Kabul.

The unit, understanding that its orders violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, refused to take part -- and was disciplined.

Franken and Levin with the brass in Afghanistan, January 2010.
Franken and Levin with the brass in Afghanistan, January 2010.
franken.senate.gov

One of the officers tasked with the subterfuge told the magazine he was appalled that senior officers were willing to target American politicians the same way they target real enemies.

"My job in psy-ops is to play with people's heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave," says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. "I'm prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you're crossing a line."

Besides Franken, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Al Franken, D-Minn., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Reps. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., of the House Appropriations Committee, were also targeted.

Caldwell's office denies the accusations, but Gen. David Petraeus, commander of forces in Afghanistan, has ordered a probe.

Here's Franken's full statement in reaction to the news in Rolling Stone:

 

Franken meets with military officers in January 2010.
Franken meets with military officers in January 2010.
franken.senate.gov
"Along with Senator Carl Levin, I participated in a CODEL and made a visit to Kabul in January 2010, during which time Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, Commander, NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan, and several others briefed me on the progress being made in the country. While the briefings provided me with a helpful update on what was happening on the ground, I knew that I would have to crosscheck their assessment by talking to other military officials, diplomatic officials, outside experts and troops in the field, and I always raise skeptical questions when discussing this topic.

"Although this was my first trip to Afghanistan as a senator, it was my fifth trip to the country since the war started, and I've learned that to get a clear sense of what's happening on the ground you have to talk to everyone from privates to generals. My perspective on the effort in Afghanistan is the product of countless face-to-face meetings with soldiers and marines, Pentagon officials, State Department officials, outside experts and my constituents in Minnesota, as well as extensive review of reports and classified material. I'll continue to solicit the best advice from the most knowledgeable people as the situation in Afghanistan evolves."


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