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The Rendon Group is a public relations and propaganda firm headed by John Rendon which specializes in providing communications services both nationally and internationally. The Rendon Group website states, “For nearly three decades, The Rendon Group has been providing innovative global strategic communications solutions from our headquarters in Washington, DC. TRG utilizes state-of-the-art technology as well as traditional public relations tools, assisting leading commercial, government and military organizations.” In a 1998 speech to the National Security Conference (NSC), company founder John Rendon described himself as "an information warrior, and a perception manager."  James Bamford of Rolling Stone describes him as "The man who sold the [Iraq] war.
John Rendon began his career as an election campaign consultant to Democratic Party politicians. According to the New Republic's Franklin Foer, "He masterminded Michael Dukakis's gubernatorial campaign in 1974; worked as executive director of the Democratic National Committee in the Jimmy Carter era; managed the 1980 Democratic convention in New York; and subsequently worked as chief scheduler for Carter's reelection campaign." In the mid-1980s, however, he began working for clients in the Caribbean and other places outside the United States. "[His] career took an unlikely turn in Panama, where his work with political opponents of Manuel Noriega kept him in the country straight through the 1989 American invasion. As U.S. forces quickly invaded and quickly pulled out, he helped broker the transition of power." This in turn led to contacts with the CIA, and in 1990 the government-in-exile of Kuwait hired him to help drum up support for war in the Persian Gulf to oust Iraq's occupying army.
PR Watch reported in 2001, "The Rendon Group's website states that during the Gulf War, it 'established a full-scale communications operation for the Government of Kuwait, including the establishment of a production studio in London producing programming material for the exiled Kuwaiti Television.' Rendon also provided media support for exiled government leaders and helped Kuwaiti officials after the war by 'providing press and site advance to incoming congressional delegations and other visiting US government officials.' Several of Rendon's non-governmental clients also have headquarters in Kuwait: Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, Kuwait University, American Housing Consortium, American Business Council of Kuwait, and KPMY/Peat Marwick.
The Rendon Group's work in Kuwait continued after the war itself had ended. 'If any of you either participated in the liberation of Kuwait City ... or if you watched it on television, you would have seen hundreds of Kuwaitis waving small American flags,' John Rendon said in his speech to the NSC. 'Did you ever stop to wonder how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American flags? And for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries? Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs.'"
When NATO initiated Operation NOBLE ANVIL air operations directed at Serbian targets to prevent genocide against Kosovo Moslems, it became immediately apparent that the coalition's message was not reaching audiences in the region that were being bombarded by Slobodan Milosevic's information ministry's propaganda. The Rendon Group established the Balkan Information Exchange under contract with U.S. European Command in seven languages including Serbo-Croatian. A different company administers the site today in a ten-language format as the Southeast European Times.
According to PR Watch,
Rendon was also a major player in the CIA's effort to encourage the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In May 1991, then-President George H. W. Bush signed a presidential finding directing the CIA to create the conditions for Hussein's removal. The hope was that members of the Iraqi military would turn on Hussein and stage a military coup. The CIA did not have the mechanisms in place to make that happen, so they hired the Rendon Group to run a covert anti-Saddam propaganda campaign. Rendon's postwar work involved producing videos and radio skits ridiculing Saddam Hussein, a traveling photo exhibit of Iraqi atrocities, and radio scripts calling on Iraqi army officers to defect.
A February 1998 report by Peter Jennings cited records obtained by ABC News which showed that the Rendon Group spent more than $23 million dollars in the first year of its contract with the CIA. It set up the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an opposition coalition of 19 Iraqi and Kurdish organizations whose main tasks were to 'gather information, distribute propaganda and recruit dissidents.' According to ABC, Rendon came up with the name for the Iraqi National Congress and channeled $12 million of covert CIA funding to it between 1992 and 1996.ClandestineRadio.com, a website which monitors underground and anti-government radio stations in countries throughout the world, credits the Rendon Group with "designing and supervising" the Iraqi Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) and Radio Hurriah, which began broadcasting Iraqi opposition propaganda in January 1992 from a US government transmitter in Kuwait. According to a September 1996 article in Time magazine, six CIA case officers supervised the IBC's 11 hours of daily programming and Iraqi National Congress activities in the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Arbil. These activities came to an abrupt end on August 31, 1996, when the Iraqi army invaded Arbil and executed all but 12 out of 100 IBC staff workers along with about 100 members of the Iraqi National Congress.—
According to a Harvard graduate student from Iraq who helped translate some of the radio broadcasts into Arabic, the program was poorly run. "No one in-house spoke a word of Arabic," he says. "They thought I was mocking Saddam, but for all they knew I could have been lambasting the US government." The scripts, he adds, were often ill conceived. "Who in Iraq is going to think it's funny to poke fun at Saddam's mustache," the student notes, "when the vast majority of Iraqi men themselves have mustaches?"
Franklin Foer reported in The New Republic that Rendon has been dogged throughout his career "by complaints of profligate spending—even charged with being the PR equivalent of the Pentagon's $400 toilet seat. In 1995 CIA accountants demanded an audit of his work. As ABC reported in 1998, Rendon's own records show he spent more than $23 million in the first year of his contract to work with the INC. Several of his operatives in London earned more than the director of Central Intelligence—about $19,000 per month. Rendon shot across the Atlantic on the Concorde, while his subordinates flew on open business-class tickets. According to one of those subordinates, 'There was no incentive for Rendon to hold down costs.'” The Agency's inspector general found no evidence of fraud.
Writing in the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh said the Rendon Group was "paid close to a hundred million dollars by the CIA" for its work with the INC." Journalist James Bamford reported in the Rolling Stone that Rendon came up with the name for the INC and helped install Ahmad Chalabi as its head. Francis Brooke, adviser to Ahmed Chalabi and former employee of The Rendon Group said, “Those arguments are false. Mr. Rendon was a consultant. The Iraqi National Congress was founded independently by Dr. Chalabi, and Mr. Rendon provided consulting services during that period.”
The Rendon Group replied on its website to Mr. Bamford’s article, saying, “For the record, the Rendon Group (TRG) had no role whatsoever in making the case for the Iraq war, here at home or internationally. Mr. Bamford's contention to the contrary is flatly untrue. TRG reviews open source media reports for the Department of Defense and analyzes and charts positive and negative trends very much the same way public opinion researchers analyze polling data. Unable to find facts that support his thesis, Mr. Bamford relies on false information and mischaracterization to create his story.” The post goes on to address numerous factual errors in Bamford’s article.
The San Jose Mercury News reported in October 2001 that the Pentagon had awarded Rendon a four-month, $397,000 contract to handle PR aspects of U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan. Rendon and Pentagon officials declined to discuss details of the firm's work, which included monitoring international news media, conducting focus groups and recommending "ways the US military can counter disinformation and improve its own public communications." All of which can be found in public Contracts between The Rendon Group and the Department of Defense.
The New York Times reported in February 2002 that the Pentagon was consulting the Rendon Group to assist its new information operations agency, the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) Of which it only consulted The Rendon Group. However, the OSI was publicly disbanded following a backlash when Pentagon officials said the new office would engage in "black" disinformation campaigns of which The Rendon Group was not part.
In December, 2005, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Rendon Group received $1.4 million in 2004 to help Afghan President Hamid Karzai with media relations. According to the paper, after seven months Karzai and Zalmay Khalilzad, then the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, were ready to get rid of the company. Despite the lack of support from Karzai and the ambassador, the company received another $3.9 million funded by the Pentagon to create a media team for anti-drug programs. The article quoted Jeff Raleigh, who helped oversee Rendon in Kabul for the U.S. Embassy, as saying the contract was "a rip-off of the U.S taxpayer". Later Jeff Raleigh's Afghan supervisor said Jeff wanted full control of The Rendon Group and was out of his bound. Furthermore the same official, Ambassador Daod, in a signed letter said that The Rendon Group did a great job and really helped his office. Advocates say Rendon helps fight propaganda from Islamic fundamentalists. Critics say the Pentagon's use of media firms such as Rendon blurs the line between public relations and propaganda.
In late August 2009 Stars and Stripes reported that the Rendon Group had been employed by the United States Department of Defense to profile journalists who wrote about the war on terror. Stars and Stripes reported that Rendon's profiles included recommendations on how to "neutralize" coverage the DoD would regard as negative. According to the General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Aidan White:
It strips away any pretence that the army is interested in helping journalists to work freely. It suggests they are more interested in propaganda than honest reporting
However, the military said it did not use the ratings to manipulate coverage or deny reporters access to cover the war. Following the criticism the Department of Defense terminated Rendon Group's contract, saying, "The Bagram Regional Contracting Center intends to execute a termination of the media analyst contract ... for the convenience of the U.S. government," military spokeswoman Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker said. The contract was not canceled due to fault on behalf of The Rendon Group.
The Rendon Group issued a press release correcting factual inaccuracies in reporting, “The Rendon Group has not screened, made decisions or recommendations with regard to who the military did or did not permit to conduct interviews or allow to embed. We assumed any reporters we were asked to research would be interviewing or embedding with the US Military. Apparently, as the USA Today pointed out, of the 143 requests to the 101st Airborne Division, only two were denied. Reportedly, the denials by the US Military were for inaccuracy and release of classified information, and both of those media outlets were later accepted. There is no evidence to support a charge that we directly or indirectly screened or contributed to the creation of a blacklist.
“Background information of the sort we provided is both appropriate and routine for any sophisticated subject of media coverage, and particularly where the mission includes earning and retaining the hearts and minds of the local populace and maintaining the support of the international community, failing to measure the effectiveness of one's past efforts and statements undermines the mission.”
- John Rendon, founder and CEO.
- Linda Flohr, a CIA covert operations veteran, has worked for the Rendon Group for many years.
- Francis Brooke worked with The Rendon Group in the mid-1990s. He subsequently became the chief assistant in Washington to Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress.
- Paul Moran (1963–2003) was a journalist who had formerly worked with The Rendon Group on its contracts in Iraq.
- Bamford, James. "The Man Who Sold The War: Meet John Rendon, Bush's General in the Propaganda War." Rolling Stone November 17, 2005. [Winner of 2006 National Magazine Award in the category of "Reporting."]
- Foer, Franklin. "Flacks Americana: John Rendon's Shallow PR War on Terrorism," The New Republic May 20, 2002.
- Miller, Laura, and Sheldon Rampton. "The Pentagon's Information Warrior: Rendon to the Rescue". PR Watch 8.1 (Fourth Quarter 2001).
- The Rendon Group. Online posting. The Rendon Group November 17, 2005. Accessed October 11, 2010.
- The Rendon Group. Online posting via PR Newswire. The Rendon Group September 3, 2009. Accessed October 11, 2010.
- Brand, Stewart. "John Rendon: 'Long-term Policy to Make the War on Terror Short.'" Report on talk presented by John Rendon at the Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, California. July 14, 2005. Information posted or re-posted by user "bkeating" in The Long Now Foundation (message board). July, 2005. Incl. text and link to audio download.
- Chatterjee, Pratap. Rendon wins hearts & minds in business, politics & war, CorpWatch, August 4, 2004.
- Goodman, Amy "The Man Who Sold the Iraq War." Democracy Now November 21, 2005.
- Hedges, Stephen J. "U.S. Pays PR Guru to Make Its Points." Chicago Tribune May 12, 2002.
- Stein, Jeff. "When Things Turn Weird, the Weird Turn Pro." TomPaine.com February 27, 2002.
- "The Rendon Group | Strategic Communications DC | Public Relations Washington, DC | Real-Time News Monitoring and Analysis". Rendon.com. 2011-01-25. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- Miller and, Laura; Rampton, Sheldon. "The Pentagon's Information Warrior: Rendon to the Rescue". Fourth Quarter 2001, Volume 8, No. 4. PR Watch.
- "The Man Who Sold the War". Commondreams.org. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
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- "Global Beat: Serbian Propaganda: A Closer Look". Bu.edu. 1999-04-12. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- Nov 13, 2002 (2002-11-13). "Asia Times". Atimes.com. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
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- "10 Marines Killed in Iraq", CNN, The Situation Room, 2 December 2005
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- "Pentagon Hires Image Firm to Explain Airstrikes to World". Commondreams.org. 2001-10-19. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- Dao, James; Schmitt, Eric (February 19, 2002). "A NATION CHALLENGED: HEARTS AND MINDS; PENTAGON READIES EFFORTS TO SWAY SENTIMENT ABROAD". The New York Times. Retrieved May 22, 2010.[dead link]
- Dao, James. "New Agency Will Not Lie, Top Pentagon Officials Say". The New York Times.
- Graff, Peter (2009-08-31). "U.S. military ends journalist profiling contract". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2009-09-01.