The Pentagon plan to set up a black propaganda unit is hanging by a thread after Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, virtually disowned the idea, and President George Bush yesterday bristled at the very notion that the government might not tell the truth.
Last week The New York Times revealed the existence of the Office for Strategic Influence (OSI), a recently formed and secret operation to promote US views and policies, and on occasion plant false items in the foreign media.
The disclosure caused so much of an uproar that if, as seems certain, the news was leaked by an opponent of the scheme to try to scupper it, the leaker has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
On Sunday Mr Rumsfeld, normally the most forthright and hands-on of defence secretaries, was to be seen on national television maintaining that he hadn't much idea of what was going on. The unfortunate minion in charge of it was "debating whether it should even exist in its current form", Mr Rumsfeld said, adding somewhat implausibly that he had "never even seen the charter for the office".
Yesterday Mr Bush was full of suitable outrage, proclaiming that the government "will tell the US people the truth" and that allegations to the contrary were outrageous. Among the strongest criticism of the project was that inaccurate information deliberately fed to foreign outlets would inevitably find its way back into the domestic US media.
But the welter of denials has not resolved matters. The Pentagon is hoist on the famous paradox of antiquity: "Epimenides the Cretan said, all Cretans are liars. Was he telling the truth or a lie?" In other words, might all the promises that the OSI will never spread lies be, well, just another piece of disinformation?
* America is considering sending military advisers to Afghanistan to try to prevent rival warlords destroying the rebuilding efforts of the interim administration.