The co-owner of a major Pentagon propaganda contractor publicly admitted Thursday that he was behind a series of websites used in an attempt to discredit two USA TODAY journalists who had reported on the contractor.
The online “misinformation campaign,” first reported last month, has raised questions about whether the Pentagon or its contractors had turned its propaganda operations against U.S. citizens. But Camille Chidiac, the minority owner of Leonie Industries and its former president, said he was responsible for the online activity and was operating independently of the company and the Pentagon.
Even before the stories ran, USA TODAY Pentagon reporter Tom Vanden Brook noticed that someone registered the site tomvandenbrook.com. Twitter and Facebook accounts were also registered in his name, and a Wikipedia entry and discussion group postings misrepresented his reporting on the West Virginia Sago Mine disaster.
Chidiac said he clearly labeled the websites as “fan sites” of Vanden Brook and his editor, Ray Locker, but said comments on the websites “quickly degenerated from legitimate criticism to immature and irrelevant rhetoric by unknown users.”
Chidiac’s attorney said the Twitter and Wikipedia entries were created by someone else with “absolutely no relationship or connection with Leonie Industries,” whom he did not name. One online reputation expert, Andy Beal, said the effort appeared to be coordinated and called it a “sophisticated reputation attack.”
The distribution of federally funded propaganda for domestic targets could be a violation of a federal law prohibiting the Defense Department from spending money for “propaganda purposes within the United States.” The company said no federal funds were used.
Read More: USA Today