The US military paid a UK PR firm over half a billion dollars in the wake of the 2003 Iraq invasion to create fake terrorist videos in a covert operation probably launched to prolong its occupation, an investigation has revealed.
PR firm Bell Pottinger worked with the Pentagon to make terrorist videos in the psychological operation, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported on Sunday. The Sunday Times also worked with the Bureau on the investigative story.
According to the report, both the White House and General David Petraeus, who was then commander of the coalition forces in Iraq, signed off on the content produced by the controversial firm.
Bell Pottinger's former chairman Lord Tim Bell confirmed to The Sunday Times that his firm had worked on the operation “covered by various secrecy agreements.”
The firm used to report to the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council on the project in Iraq, he stated.
The covert operation was launched soon after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the report stated. The firm produced fake videos of al-Qaeda terrorists to look as though they had come from Arabic news networks.
Crews would film bomb attacks and produce low-quality footage, and the firm would then edit it to make it look like news videos, the report noted.
Former employee Martin Wells told the Bureau how he landed in Baghdad to edit content for secret “psychological operations”. He said his time in Iraq was "shocking, eye-opening, life-changing.”
“We need to make this style of video and we’ve got to use al-Qaeda's footage,” Wells was told. “We need it to be 10 minutes long, and it needs to be in this file format, and we need to encode it in this manner.”
In 2003, then US President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq under the pretext that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. In October 2004, however, a CIA report revealed that Saddam did not have any active WMD program at the time of the invasion.
The decision to invade Iraq was one of the most controversial decisions by Bush. Coalition troops overthrew the Saddam regime, but the war resulted in a more catastrophic situation and the country became the target of extremist groups including al-Qaeda and later Daesh.
About one million people were killed in Iraq during the course of the US-led invasion and occupation from 2003 until 2011. The US military has returned to Iraq, this time using the pretext of a fight against Daesh terrorists.