WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) responded on Sunday to a report that he was the target of "psychological operations" by the U.S. military to pressure him on Afghanistan, defending the general at the center of the controversy and saying he was "skeptical" of the accusations.
On Thursday, Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone reported that the U.S. Army ordered a team specializing in psy-ops to "manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding" for the war in Afghanistan, "and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators."
Among the lawmakers reportedly targeted were McCain and Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.). Federal law prohibits the military from using such propaganda and psychological tactics on U.S. citizens.
When questioned by NBC "Meet the Press" host David Gregory on Sunday about the allegations, McCain joked, "Well you know, that's been tried on me in the past, David," referring to his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
He then said that he respects Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who is in charge of training Afghan troops and is at the center of the controversy, and said he is skeptical that the psy-ops -- if they were carried out -- affected him:
"I don't know what happened. I do know that Gen. Caldwell is a great leader and has done a great job in leading the Afghan army. I also know that these briefers are briefed -- you know, Sen. X is interested in the following, A, B, C, D and E -- and I think that's perfectly legitimate. Now if it went any further than that, I don't know. Gen. Petraeus will make a full investigation. Gen. Caldwell has steadfastly denied it, but I don't see how it could have affected my positions in any way. So we'll see what happens. But put me down as skeptical."
Gen. David Petraeus, the senior commander in Afghanistan, has ordered an investigation into the allegations, and Caldwell's spokesman has called Hastings' report "misleading at best and outright false in many places."
Shortly after the article came out last week, Levin issued a statement saying that his positions on Afghanistan were not affected by psy-ops. “For years, I have strongly and repeatedly advocated for building up Afghan military capability because I believe only the Afghans can truly secure their nation’s future. I have never needed any convincing on this point," he stated. "Quite the opposite, my efforts have been aimed at convincing others of the need for larger, more capable Afghan security forces, and that we and NATO should send more trainers to Afghanistan, rather than more combat troops."
In an interview with MSNBC on Thursday, Reed said if he was the target of such operations, he didn't know it at the time. "I didn’t feel anything unusual going on," he said.