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Pentagon to review policy on planting news stories

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WASHINGTON, Mar 24 (Reuters) The Pentagon will review whether it is proper for the military to pay news organizations to publish positive stories secretly written by US forces, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

During a briefing yesterday, Rumsfeld refused to give his opinion on the propriety of the practice.

Asked if he agreed with comments by Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the military should disclose when it pays for a story, Rumsfeld said, ''No, I said we would take it under advisement and take a look at it.

I'm not going to make a judgment off the top of my head.'' Following a report in the Los Angeles Times in November, the US military acknowledged that troops in an ''information operations'' task force were writing articles with positive messages about the mission in Iraq that were translated into Arabic and planted in Iraqi newspapers in return for money.

The stories were planted with the help of Lincoln Group, a Washington-based defense contractor, officials said.

Army Gen George Casey, commander of US forces in Iraq, said on March 3 that an investigation he ordered by a Navy admiral into the practice ''found that we were operating within our authorities and responsibilities.'' Casey said at the time that the military had not discontinued the practice.

''General Casey did ask for a study of what took place, and that it's finished but he hasn't reviewed it and it's not been sent here, and that the rumor is that it does not find anything that was done outside of policy because the policy is silent on that issue (of paying to plant stories), as I understand it,'' Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld said that any articles that were planted were ''truthful,'' but he added, ''I am not going to defend it, because I don't have sufficient knowledge about what actually was done at what level by whom and for what purpose. And I'm kind of old-fashioned. I like to engage my brain before my mouth.'' Reuters DH VP0532

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