Foreign Policy

U.S. Taxpayers Fuel Uzbek Propaganda Machine


The headline of today's Foreign Policy cover story is telling: Propagandastan.

Is U.S. taxpayer money being given to a for-profit military contractor to shill for a Central Asian dictator, just because he's a useful ally in the war on terror?

"It's disturbing, to say the least," says Alexander Cooley, a political scientist at Barnard College who writes frequently about America's military footprint in Central Asia. "I would not expect anyone who is otherwise involved as a contractor or a subcontractor for U.S. security agencies to provide objective news analysis of terrorism. Part of covering terrorism means covering both the emergence of legitimate threats, but also covering how the specter of terror is used as political cover for governments to clamp down on political opponents," Cooley said. He called the "fluff" on Central Asia Online "just propaganda."

Islam Karimov

The military contractor in question is General Dynamics, who the Defense Department is paying over $120 million (a figure that keeps increasing) to run the Trans Regional Web Initiative (TRWI), for "the development, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of influence websites for USSOCOM, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), and the Geographic Combatant Commands (GCCs)."

FP focuses primarily on Central Asia Online, one of eight TRWI websites, and its presence in Uzbekistan (FP also reminds us of another reason the single-beki, single-stan country is strategically important: an alternative to Pakistan for land supply routes for U.S. troops in Afghanistan). As examples of the publication's propaganda, FP cites a story praising Uzbekistan's measures to register religious groups, which turned out to be more about controlling religion than protecting it. Another story attempts to quash concerns of government religious intolerance.

Central Asia Online also has cozy relationship with the Uzbek government:

That Central Asia Online has seemingly unfettered access to the country's feared secret police—the SNB—is alone suspicious, suggesting collusion, says an Uzbek journalist who has written secretly for foreign news organizations.

"It looks like the website has a special and close relationship with the Uzbek government," he told me, responding to several Central Asia Online stories on extremism. "The authors have access to officials and clerics who customarily refuse to meet independent-minded journalists; they only talk to government-affiliated journalists whose work is approved by the SNB."

Does confessing to propaganda make propaganda less propaganda-ish?

The TRWI websites do not hide their affiliation with the U.S. military, stating it clearly in their "About" sections. The original Pentagon solicitation called the sites…"tools in support of strategic and long-term U.S. Government goals and objectives," not professional journalism.

To some extent, it doesn't matter, as other local newspapers and websites pick up and redistribute the material.

Though it is the responsibility of those outlets to attribute, many, at least in Central Asia, do not, billing the stories as original, local reporting, rather than DOD propaganda.

Just to be clear, this is DOD propaganda in support of a dictatorship with no concern for human liberty.

Read the whole thing here.

Reason on propaganda here, and on Uzbekistan here, here, and here.

NEXT: Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar Shows That Hunger for More Power Corrupts

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “Oh no! Uzbeks have drunk my battery acid!”

    1. SCTV references? You win this thread.

      1. You lose….comrade.

  2. so obama’s now in bed w whats-his-face in becky becky becky stan ?

    1. Puh-lease!

      If you’re gonna quote Cain, at least cite him and use quotation marks.

  3. $120 million to run websites?

    There isn’t one penny to be cut!

    (seriously, fuck Santorum)

    1. I could run it out of my basement for next to nothing!

      1. Actually, that’s what we do.

    2. The company I work for manages about 90x more web sites than that on a single contract and we do it for…let’s just say….A LOT less.

      It never ceases to amaze me what a stupid sucker the DoD is. They’ll pay just about anything for anything. The DoD is the dumb kid in college that pays $500 for an ounce of oregano.

  4. Speaking of government funded propaganda šŸ™‚

    The {disgruntled mole working at,nefarious hacker targeting} the University of East Anglia strikes again.

    Climategate 2.0

    /// FOIA 2011 ? Background and Context ///

    “Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day.”

    “Every day nearly 16.000 children die from hunger and related causes.”

    “One dollar can save a life” ? the opposite must also be true.

    “Poverty is a death sentence.”

    “Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilize
    greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels.”

    Today’s decisions should be based on all the information we can get, not on
    hiding the decline.

    This archive contains some 5.000 emails picked from keyword searches. A few
    remarks and redactions are marked with triple brackets.

    The rest, some 220.000, are encrypted for various reasons. We are not planning
    to publicly release the passphrase.

    We could not read every one, but tried to cover the most relevant topics

    1. “Poverty is a death sentence.”

      My understanding is being born is a death sentence.

  5. Did Sahsa Baron Cohen write ths press release?

  6. Let’s see the Occupiers protest this! Or is this too wonky for them?

  7. I’m on fire today. Sons of Anarchy, Dallas, and now a shit-hole that I’ve actually been to and hope to never go back.

    FYI, they drive on the sidewalks there, with no warning, when they don’t feel like waiting in a traffic jam anymore. You have been warned.

    1. And here I thought San Juan, PR was located in the Caribbean.

  8. foreign aid: taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries

  9. I enjoy the Eastern grooves of UzBeck.

    1. I’m a Uzer baby, so why don’t you pay me.

  10. foreign aid: taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries


  11. Cut the Defense budget? That’s suicide!

    Mr. Panetta for his part has provided impassioned pleas against the mandatory cuts, warning for months against their dangers to the US military. “It is a ship without sailors. It’s a brigade without bullets. It’s an air without enough trained pilots,” he told lawmakers on Capitol Hill earlier this month. “It’s a paper tiger.”

    Stick it up your ass, Leon.

    1. “Bullets”? This is the fucking Secretary of Defense of the greatest military power in human history? Fuck me.

  12. Why does FP have Cyrillic headlines in their screen captures? Central Asia Online has English language headlines. Maybe those are less propagandish. The only Uzbek headline my RSS script dragged to my page today has to do with the Asian Cup.

    Also, I thought this was a CENTCOM deal, rather than SOCOM or STRATCOM.

  13. I enjoy the Eastern grooves of UzBeck.

    Of course you do. And get crazy with the Cheez Whiz!

  14. Disgusting. With Egypt we gladly stabbed them in the back after propping them up for decades when the popular sentiment swung. In Yemen, we’re taking the government’s side in repressing protestors that are more radical than Egypt’s. In Uganda, we’re supporting an army barely less repressive army than the one we’re trying to take out. We grant Israel free reign and open our taxpayers’ checkbooks to do whatever they want, no matter the consequences.

    Now propping up one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world in Uzbekistan. I can’t believe that a majority of Americans seem to think this sort of idiocy is a good idea.

    1. And let’s not forget our old buddies of convenience, Saddam and Osama.

      1. Whaaaatever

        Have you seen what Christina Aguilera looks like lately?! Ew!

        And “Walking Dead” – OMG

      2. Ever notice that of the modern Rogue’s Gallery Uncle Muammar was only one of trying to re-hab his regime from ‘pariah’ status to at least UN-Bottomfeeder respectability, and the also only one who wound up in a meat locker with help from Uncle Scam?

        I’m sure dictators world over looked at Quaddafi’s snuff-tape and made that connection. The Towel Club in Tehran watched that and called Dr. Ali and said double-down on that atom bomb, stat.

    2. I can’t believe that a majority of Americans seem to think

      I can believe that they give the appearance of thinking (I’ve seen it!), but I don’t believe many of them are actually thinking.

    3. Um, the last time Biden was in Israel, he lashed out, because Israel allowed Jews to build homes on land they bought in Jerusalem. Heaven knows how he would react if he learned that Israeli Jews could get memberships in country clubs.

      1. Obama’s criticism of provocative Israeli settlements is one of the few redeeming qualities of his Presidency. We’ll still follow them to hell and pay for the plane ticket there if they launch an offensive against Iran.

    4. Speaking of Israel, happy Sigd everyone!


  15. General Dynamics does website development and hosting?

    1. So does Lockheed…got from them a few years back about a web marketing/SEO job for a DoD contract.

      1. I remember Lockheed used to make R3D graphics processors with high-FLOPS. It was spin-off business from building proprietary DSP chips for studying things like radar reflections and what-not. Same tech also got them into medical imaging business for a spell. So at least Lockheed can claim some sort of heritage in IT.

        But GD? They are old Cold Warrior. Used to be airplane business (I think a fragment of NAA), they invented stuff like the F-111 (Epic Fail) and F-16 (Epic Win).

        But they long ago stopped making airplanes. F-16 is LMCO now, for instance. I believe among other things General Dynamics now runs the Electric Boat facility in Groton. And websites among other DoD crumbs.

        Its even worse than those vast Asian conglomerates that make everything from instant noodles to televisions. Its same forces of connections and corruptions as it is in Asia that makes such disparate organizations to serve Big D. Companies like LMCO and GD are built as social and legal organizations to win government business.

        Whatever the businesses physically are supposed to be – websites, nukes, postal trucks (trucks made by Grumman?) – the actual product these companies offer shareholders is the socio-political skillset and rolodex to capture that business. With cost-plus and overruns, it guarantees a steady income at predictable returns, almost like a bond. Fitting for such quasi-public entities.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.