Why the Pentagon used a PR firm to make Al Qaeda videos

The US government spent half a billion dollars of its taxpayers' money to produce terrorism videos that entrap potential suspects.

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

The Pentagon used footage from original Al Qaeda videos to make short documentaries that were deliberately distributed in Iraq to get hold of suspected terrorists.

Updated Oct 12, 2016

The Pentagon has utilised a London-based public relations firm to make Al Qaeda videos bugged with a code to track down the location of the viewers, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported last week.

Bell Pottinger, the PR firm, generated a series of coded videos between 2007 and 2011, showcasing visuals of bloodletting and bombings carried out by Al Qaeda.

The video editors at the firm lifted violent sequences from original Al Qaeda footage and turned them into short and snappy documentaries.

Contrary to the impression given in the Bureau’s report, none of the bombings or killings featured in the videos were fake or staged. The Pentagon’s sole purpose was to attract Al Qaeda propagandists towards the tampered videos and then keep a tab on their movements.

"Nothing was set up, no bombs [were] faked," Martin Wells, a former Bell Pottinger employee, told TRT World. He's the same person the Bureau spoke to. He refused to say if anyone was arrested on grounds of watching the videos.


General David Petraeus, the top US military official in Iraq back then, was often involved in approving those videos, according to Wells. At times, the approval requests went all the way to the White House.

The code

The videos were first circulated by the US army in Iraqi neighbourhoods. US marines secretly slipped the CDs in peoples’ houses while conducting raids across Baghdad.

Whenever someone tried playing them, the viewer's location was transmitted to the US military. The CDs were designed to run on a video software called Real Player that automatically revealed the user’s whereabouts.

Wells told the Bureau that the US military was more interested in busting the international network of Al Qaeda. They wanted to navigate the routes of the terror group from Iraq to other countries.

"That [also] gives you a track of somebody who can be a threat," Wells told the Bureau.

Apart from entrapping Al Qaeda operatives, the Pentagon utilised Bell Pottinger to generate propaganda.

Martin Wells was one of the video editors who put together the sequences from Al Qaeda videos and embedded a tracking code in the CDs. Source: Bureau of Investigative Journalism

The usual propaganda

The Pentagon paid Bell Pottinger $540 million as part of the operation, according to the Bureau's investigation.

The PR agency was also involved in producing news packages.

Whenever there was a bomb blast, the agency would send out its employees to film the aftermath. The US military then gave instructions on how to put together news that suited its agenda. The videos were produced in Arabic and their quality was intentionally tampered with to make it appear like a local news crew had made them.

Bell Pottinger would use its connections to distribute the news videos among regional media outlets.

The second type of videos consisted of TV commercials against Al Qaeda. This is the only time Bell Pottinger would hire someone to act as a "terrorist".

"So the commercials would literally show people were being kidnapped," Wells told TRT World.

Bell Pottinger's clients have ranged from Bashar al Assad's wife to commodity trading giant Trafigura. It was among 40 companies paid by the Pentagon for TV and radio promotion services.

Author: Saad Hasan