Were they messing with minds in Congress -- in a military way?
The Pentagon is in an uproar over allegations that Army psychology specialists were ordered to manipulate U.S. Senators into funneling more money and troops to Afghanistan.
The story broke late Wednesday on the website of Rolling Stone magazine.
Now, since the controversy 'went viral', General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, quickly ordered an investigation.
For more than six decades, it's been illegal for government agencies to use psychological warfare and propaganda techniques on U.S. citizens.
Whatever the case here, skeptics wonder if it was a mission that really could have been accomplished to any great effect.
As the U.S. throws firepower into the war in Afghanistan, a lesser-known weapon in its arsenal is what's been called 'psy-ops' -- psychological operations and propaganda -- aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Afghani citizens. But according to psy-ops officers who spoke with Rolling Stone, they were improperly assigned by General William Caldwell to target visiting U.S. Senators, including John McCain, with techniques aimed at winning more troops and money for the war effort.
In an interview with NBC Nightly News, one of those senators, Jack Reed (D-RI), remarked, "What was the intent? Were there any regulations violated? If there was, there has to be suitable punishment for violations."
San Diego City Club President George Mitrovich, a former press aide to three U.S. senators, offered this reaction to the Army's efforts: "How do they come to the conclusion that 'We can psychologically co-opt a U.S. Senator' on something like war?"
Mitrovich says it's one thing for military public affairs officers to do a 'sell job' on visiting members of Congress, "but when you employ this tactic, you've stepped across a very serious line. And you shouldn't step across it."
Putting aside the legalities, the idea that the Army could use mind-control methods to influence the thought processes of U.S. Senators seems a bit far-fetched to observers in the clinical psychiatric field.
"I think it was kind of foolish," says Mark Kalish, M.D., a San Diego clinical psychiatrist.
Kalish explains that while psy-ops can bring results working with foreign nationals over a long period of time, "I think short trips that these politicians make really isn't enough time to effectively make any difference."
Meantime, Rolling Stone reports that the psy-ops officers resisted going along with the program, and have encountered what could be career-snuffing reprisals from the top brass.
They called the assignment "Operation Fourth Star", referring to General Caldwell's ambitions for another promotion.
Now there's the potential it'll backfire on Caldwell's career.
The Rolling Stone story was written by Michael Hastings, who last year authored the magazine's explosive profile of General Stanley McChyrstal, who hastily retired after President Obama relieved him of command.