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Firm Hired By Navy Tried To Sway Vieques Vote
Firm Hired By Navy To Sway Vieques Vote
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
July 22, 2005
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Navy hired a communications firm for $1.6 million in 2001 in an apparent attempt to influence the outcome of a vote on whether part of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques would continue to serve as a bombing range, according to documents obtained by a watchdog group.
Judicial Watch obtained the material under the Freedom of Information Act and provided them to The Associated Press.
According to the documents, the Navy's Fleet and Industrial Supply Center in Norfolk, Va., initially contracted with the Rendon Group of Washington for advice on ''dissemination of accurate information'' regarding the referendum of Vieques residents on whether to keep part of the island as a training range.
It later modified the contract to have Rendon ''conduct public outreach to build grassroots support'' for Navy training during vote. The contract value also went from an initial value of $200,000 to $1.6 million after two modifications.
According to the second modification, Rendon was to ''develop methods and tracking procedures to increase support among citizens in Vieques to support and vote in the 6 November 2001 referendum for the option of continued Navy training at Vieques.'' The documents did not make clear what work Rendon did.
Christopher J. Farrell, director of investigations and research for the Washington-based Judicial Watch, questioned whether such activity was legal for the military.
''They were directly attempting to influence the outcome of this election,'' Farrell said.
Navy officials, contacted Friday evening, declined to comment, saying they had not had enough time to research the matter or to reach appropriate military offices before they closed for the weekend.
According to the modification, Rendon was to identify supporters of the Navy, ''organize local leaders to build grassroots communications support for continued Navy training activities,'' and ensure they could exercise their rights of freedom of expression and assembly.
The referendum never took place. It was delayed until January 2002, then scrapped by Congress after President Bush said the Navy would stop conducting bombing practice on the island. The range closed in 2003.
A telephone call to Rendon was not returned late Friday.
The Navy had used Vieques as its main Atlantic Coast training range for more than 50 years, but long-simmering protests grew in the U.S. Caribbean territory in 1999 when an off-target bomb killed a civilian guard on the firing range.
Opponents contended that the bombing harmed the environment and the health of Vieques' 9,100 residents.
The Navy said it needed the range to train its sailors to defend the country.
Navy: Company Tried To Sway Vieques Vote
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
July 28, 2005
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A communications company hired by the Navy only briefly performed work aimed at influencing the outcome of a vote on the island of Vieques in 2001 before Navy officials deemed the effort improper and stopped it, a Navy spokesman said Thursday.
In a July 2001 modification to a $1.6 million contract between the Navy and the Rendon Group of Washington, the Navy asked Rendon to ''conduct public outreach to build grassroots support'' for continued Navy training on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
At the time, the question of whether to keep using the range for Navy bombing practice was to be subject to a vote by island residents. The referendum was eventually scrapped by Congress after President Bush halted the bombing practice, and the range closed in 2003.
On Thursday, Rear Adm. T.L. McCreary, a Navy spokesman, provided a copy of an additional modification to the Rendon contract, signed in October 2001, that replaced the earlier language. It told Rendon instead to provide factual information about the Navy's operations on the island.
McCreary said Rendon only did the work under the July 2001 modification for ''a short period,'' and Navy officials stopped it well before the October 2001 revision.
''The 20 July modification was done in error, caught by the leadership of the Navy, and changed in October 2001 to what is appropriate to inform citizens on Vieques,'' he said.
He said he did not have more specific information about what work Rendon may have done.
According to documents obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch and provided to The Associated Press last week, the Navy's Fleet and Industrial Supply Center in Norfolk, Va., initially contracted with Rendon Group for advice on ''dissemination of accurate information'' to Vieques residents on whether to keep part of the island as a training range.
Under language in the July 2001 modification that was later removed, Rendon was to ''develop methods and tracking procedures to increase support among citizens in Vieques to support and vote in the 6 November 2001 referendum for the option of continued Navy training at Vieques.''
The Navy had used Vieques as its main Atlantic Coast training range for more than 50 years, but protests grew after an off-target bomb killed a civilian guard working at the range in 1999.
The Navy said it needed the range to train its sailors to defend the country, but opponents said the bombing harmed the environment and the health of Vieques' 9,100 residents.