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Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators

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Three weeks after the exchange, however, Holmes learned that he was the subject of an investigation, called an AR 15-6. The investigation had been ordered by Col. Joe Buche, Caldwell’s chief of staff. The 22-page report, obtained by Rolling Stone, reads like something put together by Kenneth Starr. The investigator accuses Holmes of going off base in civilian clothes without permission, improperly using his position to start a private business, consuming alcohol, using Facebook too much, and having an "inappropriate" relationship with one of his subordinates, Maj. Laural Levine. The investigator also noted a joking comment that Holmes made on his Facebook wall, in response to a jibe about Afghan men wanting to hold his hand. "Hey! I’ve been here almost five months now!" Holmes wrote. "Gimmee a break a man has needs you know."

"LTC Holmes’ comments about his sexual needs," the report concluded, "are even more distasteful in light of his status as a married man."

Both Holmes and Levine maintain that there was nothing inappropriate about their relationship, and said they were waiting until after they left Afghanistan to start their own business. They and other members of the team also say that they had been given permission to go off post in civilian clothes. As for Facebook, Caldwell’s command had aggressively encouraged its officers to the use the site as part of a social-networking initiative – and Holmes ranked only 15th among the biggest users.

Nor was Holmes the only one who wrote silly things online. Col. Breazile’s Facebook page, for example, is spotted with similar kinds of nonsense, including multiple references to drinking alcohol, and a photo of a warning inside a Port-o-John mocking Afghans – "In case any of you forgot that you are supposed to sit on the toilet and not stand on it and squat. It’s a safety issue. We don’t want you to fall in or miss your target." Breazile now serves at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he works in the office dedicated to waging a global information war for the Pentagon.

Following the investigation, both Holmes and Levine were formally reprimanded. Holmes, believing that he was being targeted for questioning the legality of waging an IO campaign against U.S. visitors, complained to the Defense Department’s inspector general. Three months later, he was informed that he was not entitled to protection as a whistleblower, because the JAG lawyer he consulted was not "designated to receive such communications."

Levine, who has a spotless record and 19 service awards after 16 years in the military, including a tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq, fears that she has become "the collateral damage" in the military’s effort to retaliate against Holmes. "It will probably end my career," she says. "My father was an officer, and I believed officers would never act like this. I was devastated. I’ve lost my faith in the military, and I couldn’t in good conscience recommend anyone joining right now."

After being reprimanded, Holmes and his team were essentially ignored for the rest of their tours in Afghanistan. But on June 15th, the entire Afghan training mission received a surprising memo from Col. Buche, Caldwell’s chief of staff. "Effective immediately," the memo read, "the engagement in information operations by personnel assigned to the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan is strictly prohibited." From now on, the memo added, the "information operation cell" would be referred to as the "Information Engagement cell." The IE’s mission? "This cell will engage in activities for the sole purpose of informing and educating U.S., Afghan and international audiences…." The memo declared, in short, that those who had trained in psy-ops and other forms of propaganda would now officially be working as public relations experts – targeting a worldwide audience.

As for the operation targeting U.S. senators, there is no way to tell what, if any, influence it had on American policy. What is clear is that in January 2011, Caldwell’s command asked the Obama administration for another $2 billion to train an additional 70,000 Afghan troops – an initiative that will already cost U.S. taxpayers more than $11 billion this year. Among the biggest boosters in Washington to give Caldwell the additional money? Sen. Carl Levin, one of the senators whom Holmes had been ordered to target.

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