In a conclusion to one of the more bizarre anti-journalist smear campaigns in recent memory, the co-owner of a Pentagon defense contractor admitted on Thursday that he had targeted two reporters from USA Today.
A statement on the website of Leonie Industries, said that Camille Chidiac, a minority owner of the group, had revealed he had directed a misinformation campaign against reporter Tom Vanden Brook and editor Ray Locker in retaliation for a series of theirs on waste and mismanagement at the Pentagon.
Leonie conducts international propaganda efforts for the Pentagon, making Chidiac ideally placed to direct his skills at the paper.
Leonie claimed that it was "not aware of and did not authorize Mr. Chidiac's online activity concerning the reporters," and said that he had had no day to day involvement in the company for years.
The campaign had been exposed by USA Today in April. Fake websites, Wikipedia entries and Twitter accounts were set up in the journalists' name, alleging, for instance, that they were aligned with the Taliban.
A story in USA Today on Thursday described Leonie and the smear campaign against the reporters:
Leonie, founded by Chidiac and his sister, Rema DuPont, has received at least $120 million in Pentagon contracts since 2009. DuPont owns 51% of the Los Angeles-based company; Chidiac, 49%. The pair had $4 million in liens for unpaid federal income taxes, though records show they have since been paid.
Even before the stories ran, USA TODAY Pentagon reporter Tom Vanden Brook noticed that someone registered the site tomvandenbrook.com. Twitter and Facebook accounts were also registered in his name, and a Wikipedia entry and discussion group postings misrepresented his reporting on the West Virginia Sago Mine disaster.