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NY Times publishes some FOIA documents

In an investigation on how the Bush administration uses retired military officers to promote its message on the Iraq war, the New York Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantanamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.

The story based on these documents (Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand By David Barstow, New York Times, April 20, 2008) is supplemented online by “Audio, video and documents that show how the military’s talking points were disseminated” (How the Pentagon Spread Its Message and a “Document Archive,” which allows users to read and download documents and parts of documents. Of the 8000 pages, only a few are available online, but these include emails, a “Talking Points Memo,” excerpts from a Transcript of meeting with Mr. Rumsfeld, and a Pentagon document that reports “Monitoring of Analysts.”

Together, the audio-visual presentation and the documents are a small model for how newspapers could be using the power of the web to enhance their coverage and utility. I would certainly like to see all 8000 pages online!

The story itself is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the daily news.

Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”

…Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

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