A three-star general in command of training Afghan troops, Gen. William Caldwell, allegedly ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “information operations” to manipulate de Maizière and others including the Czech ambassador, Rolling Stone magazine reported this week.
The unit was told to persuade US lawmakers and foreign officials to provide more funding and troops for the war in Afghanistan. The article only lists “the German interior minister,” but the time frame in 2010 means that de Maizière was the target.
Unit leader Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes told the magazine that when he resisted the orders because they went against official policy, he was reprimanded.
"My job in psy-ops is to play with people's heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave," Holmes said. "I'm prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you're crossing a line."
US Defence Department protocols define psy-ops as the use of psychological methods and propaganda to influence “hostile foreign groups,” and federal law makes it illegal to practice such tactics on American citizens, the magazine said.
"We called it Operation Fourth Star," Holmes told the magazine. "Caldwell seemed far more focused on the Americans and the funding stream than he was on the Afghans.
"We were there to teach and train the Afghans. But for the first four months it was all about the US. Later he even started talking about targeting the NATO populations."
Holmes took his complaints to the spokesman for the Afghan training mission led by Caldwell, Col. Gregory Breazile, who allegedly became enraged.
"It's not illegal if I say it isn't!" Breazile reportedly shouted.
Military lawyers told Holmes that they disagreed, and Caldwell denies using the information operations unit to manipulate politicians.
But Holmes subsequently became the target of a military investigation that accused him of a litany of violations, including inappropriate relations with a woman officer that both parties deny, Rolling Stone reported.
Both Holmes and the woman were formally reprimanded by the US Army.