Today, the minority owner of Leonie Industries, a Pentagon contractor, admitted to launching an online smear campaign against two USA Today journalists who wrote an article criticizing the company’s work in Afghanistan. Camille Chidiac, the company’s former president, said he was responsible for creating websites that attacked reporters Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker. However, he insists he financed the misinformation campaign himself and didn’t use one cent of company money. That’s good, because if Chidiac had used Leonie funds, that might violate the federal law against spending Defense Department money on “propaganda purposes within the United States.”
In February, Vanden Brook and Locker wrote an article on the Pentagon giving contractors like Leonie hundreds of millions of dollars to create “poorly tracked marketing and propaganda campaigns” in Afghanistan and Iraq. Around the same time, several websites, Twitter accounts, and Wikipedia entries were created in their names in an apparent attempt to damage their reputations.
Chidiac said in a statement released by his attorney:
I take full responsibility for having some of the discussion forums opened and reproducing their previously published USA TODAY articles on them … I recognize and deeply regret that my actions have caused concerns for Leonie and the U.S. military. This was never my intention. As an immediate corrective action, I am in the process of completely divesting my remaining minority ownership from Leonie.
The statement also says that Chidiac, who founded the company in 2004 with his sister Rema Dupont, resigned from Leonie in 2008. It explains, “since then, he has not been involved in any way with the operation and management of the company and its contracts,” nor does he have access to Leonie accounts. Yet, USA Today points out that Chidiac has “continued to represent Leonie at various conferences,” in what the company calls an “informal and unofficial” role.
What Chidiac doesn’t say in the statement is that he “deeply regrets” smearing Vanden Brook and Locker. By his account he merely created “fan sites” that misrepresented their work, and then did nothing about the attacks from commenters that appeared on the sites. He also says the fake Twitter and Wikipedia entries created in the journalists’ names were the work of some anonymous person with “absolutely no relationship or connection with Leonie Industries.” And just to be sure the statement wouldn’t be interpreted as an apology to the reporters, Chidiac had his attorney mention that he was “personally offended” by USA Today reporting that he and his sister had more than $4 million in liens for failing to pay their taxes, adding that the original article failed to “properly [recognize] the excellent work that has been performed by the employees of Leonie in support of U.S. military efforts over the past several years.”