Union Tribune

March 15, 2003

Bombing starts in war of words


ABOARD THE CONSTELLATION Even before any official war begins with Iraq, the country is under almost-daily bombardment from millions of pieces of paper dropped by U.S. warplanes, all part of an American campaign to soften resistance and save the lives of Iraqi civilians once war comes.

It is a war of words, and at the center of it is the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Constellation.

Capt. John W. Miller, the carrier's commanding officer, is the designated "information warfare officer" for the Navy force in the Persian Gulf. Under his guidance, the Constellation and other ships in the Gulf are distributing millions of information leaflets and beaming radio broadcasts targeted at both Iraqi civilians and military personnel.

The goal is to encourage Iraqi soldiers not to resist coalition troops, to warn their leaders against using weapons of mass destruction or setting fire to the country's oil fields, and to tell Iraqi citizens that the American-led forces intend to liberate them, not harm them.

"You see on a daily basis the impact of information operations on the psyche of the people of Iraq," said Rear Adm. Barry M. Costello, the commander of the Navy task force that includes the Constellation, who did not reveal how he came by that knowledge.

"And we're very hopeful that as a result, we'll be able to save a lot of lives."

The Constellation's major contribution to this war of words starts far below Costello's command center in a crowded print shop run by four sailors under the direction of Ensign Dane Berensen, from Mount Shasta, and Chief Petty Officer Christopher King, from Martinez.

The shop uses a new high-speed color photocopier to produce up to 500,000 leaflets a day to be dropped over Iraq by airplanes from the Constellation or the two other carriers in the northern Persian Gulf.

The Constellation is the only carrier with the equipment to produce the dollar-bill-sized fliers, Miller said.

The printer and a computer program to operate it were installed before the Constellation deployed from San Diego in November, said Lt. Kurt Mole, of Bowie, Md.

Miller is aided in his extra responsibility by a deputy who is a senior cryptology officer and by information warfare specialists, including Mole, who serves as information operations officer.

The overall effort is directed by Army psychological operations experts, who devised the leaflets and determine where they should be distributed. The Army sends the design of the fliers by e-mail and King programs it into the photocopier so his sailors can print out huge stacks of them.

So far, Navy aircraft have dropped about 5.5 million leaflets, of which 3.5 million were printed on the ship. The rest were supplied by the Army.

Many of the leaflets, written in Arabic or Farsi, give the frequencies for coalition radio broadcasts. One recently distributed leaflet shows Saddam Hussein in a fine suit, opposite a distressed-looking woman holding a crying infant on one side. The message: "Saddam lives in splendor as your family struggles to survive."

Another shows dead or captured soldiers on one side and a happy family on the other with the message: "Who needs you more? Your family or the regime? Return to your home and family."

Another, with photos of soldiers in gas masks, a nuclear cloud and a biohazard symbol, warns that anyone who uses weapons of mass destruction will face "swift and severe retribution by coalition forces."

When printed and cut, the leaflets are put into large rolls by groups of sailors sitting at tables in the enlisted dining areas. Each roll holds about 3,000 leaflets. Twenty of the rolls are packed into cardboard containers and slipped inside "Rockeye" canisters normally used to disperse hundreds of deadly bomblets.

The canisters are dropped over designated areas of Iraq by F-14 Tomcat or F/A-18 Hornet fighters. A small explosive fuse pops open the canister at a predetermined altitude, letting the 60,000 leaflets flutter to the ground.

The "ballistics" of how the leaflets fall have been calculated just as they are for a bomb, said Capt. Craig Goren, deputy commander of Carrier Air Wing 2 aboard the Constellation.

Goren conceded that some of the younger fighter pilots might not be thrilled about dropping paper instead of bombs.

"It's not glamorous. But I think they understand it's part of the whole thing," he said. "In modern war, information operations is important."