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US DoD Paid Ad Firm Millions for Propaganda That Never Aired in Afghanistan

A company that was once the Pentagon’s top propaganda firm is alleged to have massively overbilled the US government, as most of the ads it made for psychological operations in Afghanistan never even aired there.

Between 2008 and 2015, the Leonie Group, also called Leonie Industries, was the Pentagon’s top contractor for psychological operations in US warzones, trying to sell the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to largely hostile populations. However, according to a whistleblower report included in a recently unsealed lawsuit, Leonie overbilled the US government by millions of dollars.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2017 in the US District Court of the District of Columbia by Scott Kreller, Leonie’s former president. In the suit, Kreller argues that he was unjustly fired in 2017 for refusing to submit an invoice to the Pentagon for $4.5 million, most of which was double-billing for services already rendered. He says he was pressured for months to submit the invoice.

Kreller’s complaint is filed under the False Claims Act, a 1994 liability law providing whistleblowers not affiliated with the US government the ability to file claims on the government’s behalf in cases where the government is alleged to have been defrauded. Stars & Stripes noted the government has declined to join the case, which it only does in one-quarter of such cases.

Between 2008 and 2015, Leonie received roughly $120 million in contracts from the US government to produce ads selling the US war to ordinary Afghans via television, radio and billboards. It lost that contract in 2015 to SOS International, which won a $32 million bid for the work, USA Today reported at the time.

However, the lawsuit notes, between 2009 and 2013, Leonie was billing the Pentagon for services it couldn’t prove it was actually rendering.

“From 2009 to 2013, Leonie was billing the Department of Defense $5 million to more than $10 million for the Dissemination CLIN [Contract Line Item Number], yet Leonie cannot verify that any of the work billed for under the Dissemination CLIN was ever completed during that time period,” according to court documents viewed by Sputnik.

“Despite knowing that the vast majority of the work for which it billed the Department of Defense was never actually performed, Leonie continued to bill the United States Government hundreds of millions of dollars for these services through 2013.”

In 2014, Leonie finally began tracking its ads in Afghanistan: through 2016, only 75% of the TV ads and 45% of the radio ads it billed for were ever actually broadcast, according to court documents, which also note that at that time, those categories comprised more than 95% of the invoices the firm submitted to the Pentagon.

Back in 2012, Leonie found itself under the microscope for similar financial issues, with USA Today reporting on a leaked, internal Government Accountability Office report blasting the Pentagon for wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on a poorly-tracked ad campaign in support of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. 

In response, Leonie turned its guns on the newspaper, running a smear campaign that included impersonating two USA Today reporters on social media and via fake websites, pretending they were Taliban sympathizers - actions that drew condemnation from then-US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

In all, the Pentagon paid Leonie Group some $425 million for its services in both countries between 2008 and 2015.

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