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Cartoon top guns net recruits on the web

A NEW animated Internet cartoon from the United States Air Force is part of a growing trend among defence and intelligence agencies of targeting children through their web pages.

The Adventures of Stealth Force is a Power Rangers-style cartoon. The sophisticated animation features the adventures of Talon, Jet, Major, Ratchet, Sanchez and Doc as they fight rebel forces in a tropical rainforest.

Elsewhere on the site, teenagers can watch top guns do battle in F-22 fighter aircraft and can download games such as Rebel Barrage simulating flying the aircraft through "a hostile Rebel hot zone".

However, if they stray into the "info center", the site's true target is made clear: "If you would like to receive an information packet filled with valuable information about careers, opportunities and benefits the Air Force has to offer, please call 1-800-423-USAF."

US Air Force spokesman Major Bruce Sprecher admitted the site was a recruiting device: "It is to engage the interest of the young folks, to persuade them that they might be interested in a future career with the air force.

"The Internet is the perfect device for that. We get about 40,000 hits a month, so it seems to be working."

A separate USAF website, called Air Force Link Jnr (featuring Captain Zoom and his friends) is aimed at six to 12-year-olds and its designers say it too is a long-term recruiting tool.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Navy and the US Treasury all target young audiences, but perhaps the most child-friendly site is the CIA homepage forkids, which features the cartoon character Harry Recon "the aerial photo pigeon", desktop games allowing children to compete to choose the best disguise and a coy explanations of the agency's core activity.

The homepage says: "There is information that other countries will not share with the United States, called secrets. All this information is very important to our nation's leaders... We persuade these people to tell us their secrets."

There is no elaboration on which methods of persuasion are favoured by the agency.

According to the site, CIA employees "travel and have a great curiosity about the world and its different cultures", are "able to adapt to any situation (especially dangerous ones!)" and are "courageous, well-disciplined, and able to accept anonymity".

In Britain, none of the military or security services is overtly targeting young children, although they do offer "youth-friendly" pages such as the Royal Air Force's "virtual airbase" (providing information about jobs) and the British Army's supermarket (offering branded mountain bikes, baseball caps and other goodies).

MI6, the British counterpart of the CIA, has no public website. A spokesman said: "We have no intention whatsoever of doing this kind of thing. What MI6 does is completely secret."

The United States Air Force Stealth Force cartoons:

For links to other US agency kids' pages: www.odci.govciaciakidsgoveagency.html

The Royal Air Force virtual airbase: www.raf-careers.comhtmlindex.html

Leader, 14

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