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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is setting up a global network of foreign-language news websites, including an Arabic site for Iraqis, and hiring local journalists to write current events stories and other content that promote U.S. interests and counter insurgent messages.
The news sites are part of a Pentagon initiative to expand "Information Operations" on the Internet. Neither the initiative nor the Iraqi site, www.Mawtani.com, has been disclosed publicly.
At first glance, Mawtani.com looks like a conventional news website. Only the "about" link at the bottom of the site takes readers to a page that discloses the Pentagon sponsorship. The site, which has operated since October, is modeled on two long-established Pentagon-sponsored sites that offer native-language news for people in the Balkans and North Africa.
Journalism groups say the sites are deceptive and easily could be mistaken for independent news.
"This is about trying to control the message, either by bypassing the media or putting your version of the message out before others (and) … there's a heavy responsibility to let people know where you're coming from," says Amy Mitchell, deputy director at the Project for Excellence in Journalism. A disclosure on a separate page "isn't something most people coming to the site are likely to see."