Petraeus to probe report that Army used 'psy-ops' on lawmakers

The commander of U.S forces in Afghanistan will order an investigation into accusations that the Army illegally directed soldiers to use "psychological operations" on congressional lawmakers to convince them to provide more funding for the Afghanistan war.

Gen. David Petraeus "is preparing to order an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue," according to a statement.

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A report in Rolling Stone accuses the U.S. Army of illegally ordering a "team of soldiers specializing in 'psychological operations' to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war."

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin (D-Mich.), also responded to the article on Thursday, saying he "never needed any convincing" over his views on U.S. strategy in that conflict.

He did not confirm or deny knowledge of the efforts, but said he makes his decisions independently.

"For years, I have strongly and repeatedly advocated for building up Afghan military capability because I believe only the Afghans can truly secure their nation’s future. I have never needed any convincing on this point," Levin said in a statement. "Quite the opposite, my efforts have been aimed at convincing others of the need for larger, more capable Afghan security forces, and that we and NATO should send more trainers to Afghanistan, rather than more combat troops."

Lawmakers reportedly targeted by the campaign include Levin, Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.), senior Senate Armed Services Committee member Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.).

The article touched off a firestorm in Washington, adding a new level of scrutiny to the war in Afghanistan. Levin was the first U.S. senator named in the report to publicly respond to its allegations.

Reed, a former Army Ranger, called the report "disturbing" and called for an investigation.

"Charges of this nature are serious and disturbing, and they have to be fully investigated," he said on MSNBC.

Reed said that while he was "not suggesting any impropriety," there "are people in institutional states, people who try to advance their own position." But, he said, "I didn't feel anything unusual going on."

Levin said he has confidence the military will handle the issue internally.

"I am confident that the chain of command will review any allegation that information operations have been improperly used in Afghanistan," he said. 

According to the report, Army Lt. Gen. William Caldwell ordered an "information operations" officer to gather information on visiting dignitaries from the U.S. The information included basic background information as well as a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds" for the war effort. 

In a statement to Rolling Stone, a spokesman for Caldwell "categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors."

John Pike, the "leading military analyst" cited in the article, told The Hill that the military clearly anticipated that its program would work.

"Of course they had such an anticipation," Pike said in an e-mail. "This entire town is built on such anticipations — psychological operations, lobbying, government relations — these are all just perception management of one flavor or another."

Franken also issued a statement saying he had been briefed by Caldwell and others during a January visit to Afghanistan.

"While the briefings provided me with a helpful update on what was happening on the ground, I knew that I would have to crosscheck their assessment by talking to other military officials, diplomatic officials, outside experts and troops in the field, and I always raise skeptical questions when discussing this topic," he said.

— Jordy Yager contributed to this report.

This post was initially published at 11:14 a.m.