Iraq, Jugoslavia, di nuovo Iraq / 5: THE RENDON GROUP

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The Interview That Never Happened
When the Masters of Spin Go Silent

by Christopher Deliso in Skopje
December 16, 2002

With the White House seemingly on
an unavoidable collision course with
Saddam Hussein, hawkish policy
planners now face a new challenge:
how to sell the war to an increasingly
unenthusiastic public. All across
America - from Long Island to
Minneapolis, from Boston to Atlanta,
from Sioux Falls to Sacramento to
Seattle - antiwar demonstrations have
been springing up, as even citizens
normally disinterested in foreign affairs
voice concern over the possible
negative effects war would have on the
economy. In addition, there is a
growing unease that war with Iraq
would negatively impact on America's
image abroad, and perhaps incite
further al Qaeda terrorism as a form of
revenge - although, ironically, bin
Laden has no affection for Saddam. The
president, of course, is desperately
hoping he can find the two in cahoots,

Keeping in mind that Iraq never
attacked the United States, neither in
1990 or now, the looming war is hard to
justify. That is, unless public relations
can again save the day.

A Paradigm Shift

The Gulf War was the first time
America played the humanitarian card
to justify attacking a much weaker
country. What began with Bush's
"babies in incubators" myth (handled
by PR whiz Hill & Knowlton) was
perfected by Clinton, who almost ten
years later used the all-too-popular
(and all-too-bogus) myth of "ethnic
cleansing" to justify attacking Serbia.
Almost four years on, anti-Serbian bias
still pervades the British and American
media and think-tanks. Anti-Iraq
coverage goes without saying.

After September 11th, the paradigm has
shifted from humanitarian intervention
to terrorism pre-emption. Yet the
White House's self-declared right to
"shoot first and ask questions later"
portrays the administration negatively,
as both cowboy desperado and
confused paranoic. It also begs the
question of whether ulterior motives are
at work here, as John Pilger argues in a
scathing indictment of US energy goals
in Iraq.

Although Americans are much more
clever this time around, after witnessing
a decade of PR propaganda in the
Yugoslav wars, the White House
apparently believes that the average
citizen will still support war, if it is only
spun the right way. The only question
is who will do the spinning.

Enter Rendon?

The last Gulf War was brought to you
partially by a little company in
Washington known as the Rendon
Group. This PR giant has clients
around the world, but none quite so
grand as the United States government.
Rendon was once enlisted to make the
case - subtly and deceptively - for why
America should support a war against
Saddam. And in the end, it worked. But
the worst thing? The PR blitz that
captivated both media and ordinary
citizens alike was paid for by the very
people it was meant to seduce - the
American taxpayers, whose funds
continue to grease the wheels for the
government's war machine. However,
the people ate it up - sadly,
re-affirming the adage that the voters
get the leaders they deserve.

The Unsuccessful Request

I thought, therefore, that an interview
with the Rendon Group about their past
successes and future aspirations would
allow them a chance to give their side
of the story - since most published
reports have been overwhelmingly
critical. However, my requests for an
interview met only with silence. Were
the nuanced masters of eloquent
persuasion really at a loss for words?

Since they apparently are, I have been
forced to conduct an interview with a
respondent who is absent, drawing on
Rendon's publicly-made statements
and independent investigations.
Coming from an aggressively
outspoken PR firm, silence would seem
incrimination enough. Yet as we will
see, even their own statements give
them away.

In the following, the questions I had
prepared come at the headings of each

How Would You Describe Your
Services and Objectives?

"The Rendon Group (TRG) is a
Global Strategic Communications
Consultancy providing products and
services to both public and private
sector clients. TRG's expertise includes
strategic communications consultation,
planning and evaluation; information
strategy and operations; public and
media relations planning and
implementation; crisis management;
news collection and analysis;
information mapping; survey research;
media production; and tactical
communications team deployment. To
date, TRG has worked in eighty (80)
countries, frequently on location in a
conflict environment, and has
considerable experience in establishing
field offices to support program

This description - culled directly from
the Rendon Group's website - gives in
"official" language a picture that can
basically be boiled down to two words:
information war. After first
accumulating data, they manipulate it -
and in some cases, sanitize it - to win
either people's emotional support or
their dollars. In this age of civilized
excess, when we are constantly being
bombarded with information, it requires
a careful shaping effort to make that
information meaningful. And, as we
will see below, producing meaningful
information is the first step towards
producing war.

Who Are Your Clients?

PR companies are essentially soulless.
Like mercenaries, they will work for
anyone and everyone who can pay -
with the possible exception of racist or
subversive organizations, as that would
be bad for their own PR.

However, this general lack of values is,
paradoxically, what accounts for their
perceived legitimacy. Working as it has
for innocuous clients like the
Massachusetts Office of Travel and
Tourism, the National Transportation
Safety Board, and the National
Education Association has given the
Rendon Group a veneer of

Among the full list of global clients,
however, one finds others whose goals
are ambivalent, or somewhat
suspicious, or even downright
dangerous. In most cases, however, the
connection keeps coming back to
support of US government and big
business interests.

For example, we have the United States
Trade & Development Agency,
Colombian Ministry of Defense, the
Government of Kuwait and Kuwait
Petroleum Corporation.

The USTDA facilitates major
international projects, funding
feasibility studies and development for
US-connected business interests.
Wherever large infrastructure projects
like oil pipelines are being
contemplated, there is the TDA.

Oil is the link to the KPC, a company
run by an assortment of sheiks - most
of them educated in the United States.
The company was founded in 1934 by a
British-American consortium that has
since morphed into BP and Chevron -
two companies with large interests in
the Middle East and Caspian areas. The
government of Kuwait is a no-brainer,
given Rendon's efforts against Saddam
in the Gulf War. And as for Colombia,
the US has for years been selling arms
to expedite the Colombian
government's war on Leftist rebels, and
fuelling an unwinnable "War on Drugs"
at the same time. It is clear that while
the Rendon Group may have some
"independent" clients (like the
Association of Massage Therapists),
the majority lie within a closed circle of
governmental bodies that share
overlapping policies - sadly, often
harmonizing in war.

Which Clients Inhabit the Unknown

Then there is the rather odd
assortment of Caribbean clients: the
governments of Haiti, Antigua &
Barbuda, Netherlands Antilles and
Aruba, and neighboring Panama.
Finally there is the St. Lucia Labour
Party. There is little information for
what must be a very interesting
relationship here, as Rendon is silent
about the affairs of its clients. What is
publicly known is that in the
mid-1990's Rendon helped the
embattled Aristide in Haiti (he paid
through a bank account in Washington)
and worked on a CIA contract to aid the
opposition to Manuel Noriega in 1989.
This was emulated soon thereafter in

And Which Clients Should We Be
Afraid Of?

Finally there are the decisively
pro-War clients. There is the Air
Intelligence Agency (AIA), which runs
the Air Force's "information warfare"
center from its base in Lackland,
Texas. In addition to the Defense
Department itself, Rendon has worked
with the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency, or DARPA. This
secretive body is currently involved with
the Bush Administration's grandiose
plans for an all-seeing national
supercomputer. Although it is not
mentioned on the company website, the
CIA is one of the Rendon Group's
longest-standing partners. The final
client is the White House itself, which
of course has the final say over all of
these bodies.

Have You Worked In The Balkans?

The Rendon Group was not so
involved as other companies, notably
Ruder-Finn, in the Yugoslav wars.
However, it did aid Bosnian
privatization and helped set up an
interesting little project paid for by the
US Department of Defense - the
"Balkan Information Exchange." This
sprung up during the Kosovo
bombardment to bolster the
government's position. And if its
relation to previous government
contracts was in any doubt, the fact that
it eventually morphed into the "Balkan
Times" settles the question.

A glossy, slickly-presented slice of the
internet - available in a whopping nine
languages - the Balkan Times is paid
for by the US Department of Defense.

What Were Your Biggest Successes?

Company president John Rendon, a
self-described "information warrior,"
fondly recalled to a military audience
one of his biggest successes of the Gulf

"If any of you either participated in the
liberation of Kuwait City? or if you
watched it on television, you would
have seen hundreds of Kuwaitis waving
small American flags," John Rendon
said in his speech to the NSC. "Did you
ever stop to wonder how the people of
Kuwait City, after being held hostage
for seven long and painful months,
were able to get hand-held American
flags? And for that matter, the flags of
other coalition countries? Well, you
now know the answer. That was one of
my jobs."

The flag shenanigan was so important
because it "proved" to Arabic and other
Muslim television viewers that America
was their friend. People waving
American flags and cheering on the US
of A is a potent tactic anywhere in the
world where jaded viewers need
reassurance. As in Kuwait, such
displays are generally encouraged -
except, however, for times when they
show American policy in contradiction,
as in the mountain wilds of Macedonia.

Have There Been Any Failures?

Although they would be loath to admit
it, there have been several instances of
unprofessionalism from Rendon that
only ended up wasting a lot of money.
Most embarrassing of all was the
anti-Saddam radio hour - conceived
and executed six years ago, by a bunch
of college kids in Boston.

For $3,000 a month - in which he
worked about 8 days total - a Harvard
Arabic student was whisked by limo to
a recording studio rented out by
Rendon. His qualifications? "I was a
good Arabic translator who did a great
Saddam imitation," the student
disclosed anonymously. The student's
job was to mimic Saddam in bogus
speeches and mock the Iraqi leader in
radio broadcasts that would (or so they
thought) strike a chord with the Iraqi
people. However, the conscientious
student quickly found that the
organization and execution of the
project left something to be desired:

"The point was to discredit Saddam,
but the stuff was complete slapstick,"
the student says. "We did skits where
Saddam would get mixed up in his own
lies, or where [Saddam's son] Qusay
would stumble over his own delusions
of grandeur? no one in-house spoke a
word of Arabic," he says. "They
thought I was mocking Saddam, but
for all they knew I could have been
lambasting the US government."

The scripts, he adds, were often ill
conceived. "Who in Iraq is going to
think it's funny to poke fun at
Saddam's mustache," the student
notes, "when the vast majority of Iraqi
men themselves have mustaches?"

Rendon also employed Jordanians and
Egyptians whose accents were barely
intelligible to the average Iraqi. The
result? "The radio broadcasts were a
complete mumble," says the student -
who has since left Rendon out of
frustration at their ineptitude. While
working there, however, he was kept in
the dark about who was behind it all:

"I never got a straight answer on
whether the Iraqi resistance, the CIA or
policy makers on the Hill were actually
the ones calling the shots," says the
student, "but ultimately I realized that
the guys doing spin were very well and
completely cut loose."

This is corroborated a CIA agent who
disparaged the project, charging that
"the scripts were put together by
23-year-olds with connections to the
Democratic National Committee."

Should This Be Upsetting To
American Taxpayers?

The short answer is yes. The clumsy
student radio program was only part of
Rendon's work for the Iraqi National
Congress (INC), a pseudo-diplomatic
proxy used as a puppet by Rendon and
the CIA. The enormous INC fiasco
shows better than anything else how
the hard-earned money of the
American taxpayer has gone directly
down the drain, to fuel a propaganda
war whose prime victims were those
who had unwittingly paid for it.

What Was Rendon's Role in
Propping Up the Iraqi Opposition?

ABC's Peter Jennings disclosed in
1998 that Rendon burned $23 million
dollars in the first year of its contract
with the CIA. It set up and christened
the Iraqi National Congress (INC), as
well as the Iraqi Broadcasting
Corporation (IBC) and Radio Hurriah, a
vehicle for Iraqi opposition propaganda.

The INC, a disparate group of Kurds
and Iraqis opposed to Hussein, was set
up in both northern Iraq and big
Kurdish diaspora areas, notably
London. In 1992 the CIA set up Ahmed
Chalabi, an MIT-educated
mathematician and dissident, to front
the organization. Years later, the "help"
Chalabi received from Rendon would
come back to haunt him. An inside
picture of the PR giant presents it as
not only a puppet of war-mongers, but
also as woefully corrupt and
unaccountable - a double deceiver of
the American people.

Rendon's INC Free-For-All

A former CIA agent who worked with
the INC called Rendon's involvement
details the prolonged scam that cost
American taxpayers up to $150 million:

"The money went to consultants in
Washington - millions, and millions,
and millions of dollars," he said, on
strict condition of anonymity.
"Millions" went to American
consultants in London, as well as to
other consultants posted around the
Middle East, he alleged, who made
small fortunes that were used later to
buy big houses in poshest Washington

"There was one woman who was
getting $500,000 a year in salary" to
work on the Iraq campaign in London,
he said. "She was getting per diem
when she was hired, about $400 a day
in London." Then she was put on the
payroll, "but they never stopped the per
diem," he said. "So she was getting a
salary of a hundred [thousand] and
something, and then she moved into an
apartment, so she wasn't paying for a
hotel. And this went on for three years.
And then she said, 'I need some office
space,' and so she went out and rented
this office space. And then she
subleased it. So right there I can
account for a million dollars, siphoned

?At the end of the year we - the CIA's
Iraq Group - had money left over, so
we got instructions from the DO [the
CIA's Directorate of Operations]:
'Well, go and spend it.' So we went out
and bought brand new Jeep Cherokees?
all the cars we had in the Middle East
for the Iraqi program were going to the
wives of the COS's [the chiefs of
station]? It was a $150 million rip-off.
Go up to northwest [Washington, D.C.]
and look at those big houses, and you'll
know how they got paid for."

When the inevitable CIA audit came
years later, however, Ahmad Chalabi
was blamed for the waste; "but
according to the CIA man, "Chalabi got
nothing [illegal] from it."

What Has Rendon Been Working
On Since 9/11?

Shortly after al Qaeda struck in New
York and Washington, the Rendon
Group was enlisted to help pave the
way for an attack on Afghanistan - at
that time, something that was not a
given. The urgency of the task was
indicated by the fact that Rendon was
awarded a contract - on a no-bid basis.
Apparently, the military had no time to
lose in selling a war before cooler heads
could prevail and the window of
opportunity slam shut. The PR effort
was not only meant to win domestic
support - but also "to win over the
hearts and minds of Arabs and Muslims
worldwide." While the former won
general acceptance, the latter did not
succeed, and probably never will.

On 25 October 2001, Pentagon media
officer Lt. Col. Kenneth McClellan
explained why Rendon was chosen:

"We needed a firm that could provide
strategic counsel immediately? we were
interested in someone that we knew
could come in quickly and help us
orient to the challenge of
communicating to a wide range of
groups around the world."

At first, the company was awarded
$400,000 over four months to monitor
media, conduct focus groups and
opinion surveys, and cook up other
ways to counter what the Pentagon saw
as "disinformation" (i.e., any antiwar
dissent). The contract was renewed for

Earlier this year, the Rendon Group
was asked for some further details
about this (and other) propaganda
campaigns. But just like now, they were

"A spokeswoman for the company said
she could not reveal what the company
did for the Pentagon on that project,
but a well-informed source who has
worked with Rendon said it went
beyond wooing foreign journalists to
setting up disguised-source, pro-U.S
Web sites in several foreign languages
and blast-faxing foreign media and
search engines with pro-U.S.

Will Rendon Help Spin Gulf War

Other investigators have found that the
Rendon Group is "tight-lipped" about
its involvement with the upcoming
installment of Gulf War II. A current
Rendon Arabic translator commented,
"All I can say is that nothing has
changed - the work is still an expensive
waste of time, mostly with taxpayer
funds." While it would not be surprising
if Rendon is hired to spin the next war,
it will be interesting to see whether the
American people will once again take
the bait.

The verdict therefore seems to be that,
while America clumsily bullies its way
militarily across the Middle East, it will
unleash an equally unprofessional - but
lucrative - public relations campaign,
and probably with the help of the
now-tarnished Rendon Group. But that
is no reason to be upset or surprised:
after all, we get what we pay for.