Rolling Stone is trying to add another general to its head count: Michael Hastings, the reporter who dispatched Gen. Stanley McChrystal last year, is reporting that Gen. William Caldwell, who is in charge of training Afghan forces, used Army psychological operations troops to try to influence VIP visitors, including U.S. senators.
That's a no-no: psy-ops troops are strictly to practice their dark arts—including paying local reporters and generally fucking with peoples' minds—on foreigners. Lying to Americans is a privilege reserved for Army public affairs officers, and deploying military psy-ops and other propaganda efforts against citizens is illegal (although some of U.S. media outlets are happy to train psy-ops troops in how to lie more effectively).
Which is why Caldwell is in trouble. Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, an information operations officer who served under Caldwell, told Hastings that the general ordered him to prepare dossiers on a host of visiting bigwigs including Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin. Holmes and his team, Hastings says, were tasked with "refining our messaging" and telling Caldwell what to "plant inside [senators'] heads" to get them to authorize more troops in Afghanistan. When Holmes resisted, citing the whole law thing, Caldwell's chief public affairs officer Col. Gregory Breazile told him, "It's not illegal if I say it isn't!"
Holmes continued to resist, and eventually found himself under investigation for what Hastings describes as trumped-up charges of drinking alcohol and "using Facebook too much." Holmes was reprimanded, and eventually Caldwell rebranded his unit as a public relations operation tasked with "informing and educating U.S., Afghan and international audiences." In other words, bumped them down from psy-ops to PR.
You can read that story as one in which a desperate general tries to use propaganda voodoo to influence American politicians, or you can read it as a story in which a general decides that some psy-ops troops under his command would be better utilized doing routine public relations duties. It's probably a little bit of both, and I suspect that whatever lies were being fed McCain et. al. would still have been lies if it were public affairs officers, rather than psy-ops troops, doing the feeding. Either way, the Army announced an investigation into the charges just hours after Rolling Stone published the story.
[Photo of Caldwell via Getty]