Let's start peeling the layers
(CNN) -- A military officer trained in using psychological tactics to influence the emotions and actions of enemy troops told CNN Thursday her unit
was ordered to used those skills to manipulate visiting lawmakers into securing more troops and funding for the war in Afghanistan.
After a fellow officer questioned the legality of using "psychological operations" on elected U.S. officers, both received reprimands that could
threaten their military careers, she said.
"We're not allowed to do that against any U.S. citizen, whether it is a congressman or my neighbor three doors down," said Texas National Guard
Maj. Laural Levine. "That is the first thing you are taught -- never target Americans, ever."
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is ordering an investigation into allegations made by the leader of Levine's unit, Lt.
Col. Michael Holmes. The allegations are contained in a scathing Rolling Stone magazine report that was published Wednesday.
Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan did not offer an outright denial of the story and said the probe would focus on "determining the facts and
circumstances raised" in it.
Holmes told the magazine that a military team at Afghanistan's Camp Eggers was ordered by Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of
training Afghan troops, to perform psychological operations on visiting VIPs over a four-month period last year.
When the team devoted to what is known as information operations refused on grounds that it was illegal, it was subjected to a campaign of
retaliation, the magazine said.
"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," Holmes, the head of the
"information operations" unit, told Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings, who also wrote an article last year that led to the dismissal of Gen.
"I'm prohibited from doing that to our own people," he said. "When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressmen, you're
crossing a line."
Caldwell said in a statement to Rolling Stone that he "categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to
influence distinguished visitors."
But Holmes told the magazine he was reprimanded for refusing to carry out orders.
Lapan, the Pentagon spokesman, said it was not necessarily improper for an information operations unit to create a dossier on visiting VIPs.
"It all depends on the circumstance and how it's done," he said. "It's the actions, not just the assignment."
He said the investigation will determine whether any of those actions were illegal.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates did not respond directly to the allegations contained in the Rolling Stone article. But his office issued a written
"Secretary Gates is aware of the allegations in the Rolling Stone article and believes it is important to determine what the facts are," the
statement read, "so he fully supports General Petraeus's decision to investigate this matter before drawing any conclusions."
The Department of Defense describes the role of psychological operations as the following: "Induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior
favorable to the U.S. or friendly nation objectives by planning and conducting operations to convey information to foreign audiences to influence
their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals."
Federal law delineates the boundaries of such operations and states they "will not target U.S. citizens at any time, in any location globally, or
under any circumstances."
Holmes told Rolling Stone that Caldwell wanted the information operations team to provide a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to
leverage" visiting lawmakers for increased funding.
The magazine said that Caldwell's chief of staff also asked Holmes how the general could secretly manipulate the lawmakers without their knowledge.
"How do we get these guys to give us more people? What do I have to plant inside their heads?" he said, according to Hastings' article.
The report said that among those singled out in the campaign were Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin and Adm. Mike
Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Reed told CNN's John King that he wasn't aware of any attempt by military personnel to manipulate him psychologically during trips to Afghanistan.
The Democratic senator from Rhode Island said he's traveled to Afghanistan 11 times in within the past decade.
"I never experienced anything unusual last year in contrast with my other visits," said Reed.
Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services, said he was "confident the chain of command will review any allegation that information operations have
been improperly used in Afghanistan."