From Abu Muqawama: Thank You, and Goodbye

Friend Andrew Exum, who can down pitchers of Yuengling just fine, removes the mask and exits stage left.  But while Ex’s superb near-daily analysis will be gone, we’ll still have his serious authorship to read, learn, and comment even if it will be without the snarkiness.  Abu Muqawama will continue to be a fine blog and valuable resource under the leadership of the most-able Erin, who outs herself as well

Ex, see you at the workshops… first two pitchers are on me.  

Propaganda Is Now Officially Hip (Updated)

As if propaganda was ever out of style, graphic designers comment on the value of a good, eye-catching (or mind-catching) piece of information meant to propagate support for an idea or person (H/T A. Sullivan).  Meanwhile, someone else is looking to make a few bucks describing one of the many domestic propaganda machines. 

Recommended Books on the subject you may not have read (not in any particular order):

Less recommended are the following containing interesting discussions and observations on the media’s role in (mostly domestic) persuasion and influence:

Promoted from the comments is a recommendation from Tim Stevens of Ubiwar:

And an example of how U.S. domestic policy can change due to the global information environment:

Going to the DHS Science and Technology Conference and other travel notes

I will be in DC next week June 2-5 attending the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Stakeholders Conference at the Reagan International Trade Center.  While for the last two conference I organized and chaired panels on Science Diplomacy and Blogging on S&T, this time my role is different: I’ll be assisting DHS S&T with New Media relations. 

If you’re a blogger interested in attending the DHS conference, send me an email ASAP.  

I’ll be back in DC June 23-27 to, among other things, sit on a panel at the Foreign Service Institute

If you’re “just” a reader and will be at either event, let me know.  I always enjoy meeting “fellow travelers”. 

Local is Global: how the TVA board impacts America’s Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication

Bartholomew Sullivan, a reporter with the 150-year old Memphis paper Commercial Appeal, wrote a couple of interesting articles on the fight between Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) on the Republican to Democrat ratio of the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority.  What seems to be a minor squabble, at least to those outside of Tennessee, is having a global impact and yet goes under-reported. 

Continue reading “Local is Global: how the TVA board impacts America’s Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication

Censoring the United States, Preventing Domestic Discourse

Part three of converting the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 (NDAA) into a haphazard and piecemeal restructuring of America’s global information activities.  Part One was on the Strategic Communication Management Board.  Part Two was about creating a national strategy for public diplomacy and strategic communication.  Part Three is about censoring the domestic discourse because the media failed its responsibilities

By a voice vote last week, an amendment (PDF) by Representative Paul Hodes (D-NH) was attached to the NDAA.  The potential impact of the Hodes Amendment could be extreme and more reaching than the author and its supporters intend.  The amendment is based on the mistaken belief that one can — and apparently must — inform without influence and that information can be stopped at the water’s edge.

Briefly, while other parts of the NDAA puts the Defense Department in the lead of U.S. strategic and tactical communication, this amendment makes it clear that this international communication will actually be extra-national communication. 

The amendment’s first and last paragraphs:  

No part of any funds authorized to be appropriated in this or any other Act shall be used by the Department of Defense for propaganda purposes within the United States not otherwise specifically authorized by law.

DEFINITION.—For purposes of this section, the term ‘‘propaganda’’ means any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of the people of the United States in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly.

This language will do more to bifurcate America’s conversation with the world than most anything else could possibly imagine.  Already, as a result of the Smith-Mundt Act, the U.S. is prohibited from speaking to Americans with the same voice it speaks for foreign publics.  As the Defense Department has become the primary public diplomat for the United States, purposefully and through lack of empowering State through leadership and funds, the impact will be severe.  This legislation, as worded, prevents most Public Affairs functions which are, in fact, intended to influence the American public to influence Congress and the Executive Branch.  The most innocuous examples of this include recent efforts of both the Navy and Air Force to redefine their roles to the American public to influence Congress.  At the other end, it will mean the adversary (terrorists, insurgents, other states) speaks to Americans without a counter-narrative or meaningful and effective efforts to counter-misinformation.  It also means what the U.S. says to foreign audiences is unfit for American eyes and ears.   

Perhaps the solution isn’t just realizing the value of information, but realizing physical threats can be the same as informational threats that can debilitate through perception and disruption.  

More to come.

See also:

Better Dead than Read?

First, an example of why you want to use somebody else’s computer account: David Betz posts on a Guardian article describing how a graduate student was detained for six days on account he was researching al-Qaeda’s tactics. 

Second, Kim Andrew Elliott reminds us why we should use security filters on our laptops:

Fear of Aljazeera. A Syrian-born American who teaches at Brno’s Masaryk University was detained for 20 minutes by Czech police after a passenger on his bus noticed him revising, in his laptop computer, a paper titled “Al Jazeera and the Decline of Secular Ideology.” The Prague Post, 21 May 2008

Developing a National Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Strategy

And so the push to make the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Bill of 2009 a vehicle to fix America’s communication with the world continues.  Today, Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash) was to introduce an amendment (38k PDF) instructing the President to

develop and submit to Congress a comprehensive interagency strategy for strategic communication and public diplomacy by December 31, 2009 [and] requires the President to submit a report describing the current roles and activities of the Departments of Defense and State in those areas, as well as to assess and report on a key recommendation by the Defense Science Board, by June 30, 2009.

Taking its lead from last year’s U.S. National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication, the Smith Amendment instructs the U.S. Government to put public diplomacy and strategic communication in direct support of foreign policy objectives, specifically in the areas of counter-terrorism and countering ideological support for terrorism (CIST).  The amendment requires consolidating USG’s communication leadership and the consideration that one or more positions at the National Security Council be created. 

Today, I spoke with Rep. Smith about this amendment.  We talked about State’s capacity — he acknowledged the universal truth that State is under-resourced — and the de-professionalization of the public diplomacy corps as a result of the merger —  he agreed and said the same occurred in the development sector.  The Congressman said it was his intention to empower the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (which should be Jim Glassman as Senator Coburn is no longer blocking his confirmation).  The Congressman worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee to craft the language and does not seem to favor any specific recommendation.  (Rep. Smith and Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX) are behind the NDAA section on the Strategic Communication Management Board.)

Continue reading “Developing a National Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Strategy

American Public Diplomacy Wears Combat Boots: Proposed Strategic Communication Management Board to advise the Secretary of Defense

The leadership of information and policy and implementation is once again to be merged.  The Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, H.R. 5658 (as reported in House), would establish the Strategic Communication Management Board (SCMB) “to provide advice to the Secretary on strategic direction and to help establish priorities for strategic communication activities.”  While members of this advisory body may and are likely to come from all parts of the government, it consolidates the shaping and execution of government-wide strategic communication, our public diplomacy with the world, within the Defense Department.  

H.R. 5658 is sponsored by Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) and co-sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA).  The Senate version does not include the same language.  No word on whether Section 1031 (see below) will survive negotiations.

According to House Armed Services Committee report 110-652 the decision to create the body is fallout from the dissolution of the Strategic Communication Integration Group just a couple of months ago. 

The committee is concerned about the state of strategic communication and public diplomacy (SC/PD) efforts within the Department of Defense. The committee believes that the dissolution of the strategic communication integration group (SCIG) was a major setback to the coordination of SC/PD efforts. While the SCIG resources and authority may not have been adequate to completely manage the Department’s SC/PD effort, the Board remained a focal point within the Department and positively contributed to the effort to mitigate conflict and confusion.

The advisory board will provide the leadership that used to be come from and be vested in public diplomacy professionals.  This is, however, an increasingly rare breed with the passage of time, the personnel system in State, and overall a failure to understand what is necessary to effectively conduct a vigorous information and education campaign with the peoples of the world. 

Well intentioned, this Congressional recognition that leadership of U.S. Government-wide strategic leadership in public diplomacy is missing but this choice further militarizes America’s public diplomacy and foreign policy.  Instead of addressing the shortcomings of and strengthening civilian institutions, Congress chose a path of least resistance.  This places Defense policy at the head of communication, driving it, shaping it, and likely at the forefront of implementing it.  Communication is thus in support of Defense policy and subject to Defense priorities.  As the House Report notes,

The committee believes that the SCMB’s near-term priority should be the development of a comprehensive Department-wide strategy that can be used to effectively inform and guide the disparate and vast community involved in strategic communication activities. Such a product should simultaneously serve as a Department perspective for informing a more comprehensive government-wide strategic communication strategy.

While on its face the SCMB may not broaden the Defense Departments mandate and area of operation, it represents a further entrenchment of the Pentagon as the sole protectors of our national security.  We’ve seemingly forgotten the range of the tools of our national power

Perhaps the best contemporary example of the problem of putting DoD in front of strategic initiatives with foreign populations is AFRICOMDespite it’s noble (and necessary) aspirations, and despite its novel organizational plan that inserts the State Department at the co-deputy level, AFRICOM has been unable overcome its Pentagon-parentage. 

The SCMB should not be under the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (or his designee), but under an empowered Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy that drops the “and Public Affairs” distinction for reasons of bureaucracy and institutional cultural but combines the elements of domestic and international communication to focus on the global information environment.  This should be the first step toward separating and resurrecting a new and independent agency along the lines of the United States Information Agency, but updated, to provide a professional development path and separate policy and implementation to protect continuity, legitimacy, trust, all of which requires a substantial degree of independence to avoid the tactical pressures of White House politics.  This agency (or some other organizational unit) would not only be on the take-offs and crash-landings of policy, but sit at the National Security Committee table, rather than advise somebody who advises somebody else. 

In the meantime, Congress continues to place policy and information activities within the same organization, the very defect many say was the chief problem of moving the United States Information Agency into the State Department.  This is also a chief defect Congress sought to correct when it debated and passed the Information and Educational Exchange Act sixty years ago, the Act more commonly known as Smith-Mundt. 

It is time Congress stepped up to the plate and acknowledge a whole-of-government approach is required.  The current architecture of America’s information programs is broken and too often we speak with a voice that wears combat boots, using the wrong language, or not speaking at all. 

The language of SEC 1031 is misleading.  Today’s fight is not just a psychological fight of ideology with those the Defense Department is (properly or improperly) assigned to deal with, but one of relevance as the prestige and strength of our economy and diplomacy degrades

The text of Section 1031 is below the fold.  Thanks CS for the tip on H.R. 5658.

Continue reading “American Public Diplomacy Wears Combat Boots: Proposed Strategic Communication Management Board to advise the Secretary of Defense

Required Reading: The Spectacle of War by Andrew Exum

Read Andrew Exum’s excellent The Spectacle of War: Insurgent video propaganda and Western response (or PDF version here) at Arab Media & Society.  Andrew describes what I call precision-guided media to mobilize supporters through a combination of traditional media such as radio and television, to New Media like websites, discussion boards, YouTube, and SMS.  Modern insurgents have moved well beyond the international sympathy of the Zapatista to, as Andrew describes, fostering and relying on a re-interpretation of nationalism to mobilize and elicit responses near and far.
An excerpt:

A key difference between the kind of insurgent propaganda broadcast by Hizbullah in the 1990s and the kind broadcast by the insurgents of Iraq is that whereas the propaganda broadcast by Hizbullah was often aimed at its enemy, Israel, the propaganda broadcast by the insurgents of Iraq is neither aimed at the Americans nor, for the most part, Iraqis. As evidenced by the languages in which BaghdadSniper is available, much of this propaganda is aimed at inflaming young Muslims spread from Lahore to London. It’s having an effect, too. A recent study by al-Qaeda expert Jason Burke demonstrated that insurgent propaganda videos on the internet had played a significant role in the radicalization process of young British Muslims convicted of planning or carrying out attacks on civilian targets in the UK.

Audrey Kurth Cronin describes the process by which young Muslims are radicalized via insurgent propaganda on the internet, a kind of “cyber-mobilization” revolutionizing warfare to the degree that Napoleon’s levée en masse revolutionized continental warfare at the end of the 18th Century. When the armies of Napoleon marched across Europe, France’s enemies were caught off-guard by the size of the armies and the way in which they were quickly raised from the whole of the population. In the same way, the militaries and security services of traditional nation-states in the West and Middle East could be surprised by the way in which jihadist armies are raised and deployed, drawn as they are from the disaffected children of the Egyptian middle class and the residents of the slums of Paris and London both. For both, the insurgent propaganda functions as a kind of empowering “call to arms.” British journalist Amil Khan, who has worked extensively with radicalized youths in the UK, says the following:

These videos give you an alternative narrative. Instead of feeling like your community is powerless or weak, they give you the sense that ‘your people’ can be strong – and even stronger than the world’s leading powers. It’s a seductive alternative to the self-image many Muslims, you and old, have that their community, the umma, couldn’t organize a picnic much less challenge the world’s only superpower.

One of the most important take-aways from Andrew’s article is what he doesn’t talk about.  He describes strategic communication by the insurgents that incorporates violent, military footage.  But the political-military objectives have a socio-political foundation based on socio-economic disenfranchisement and cultural, religious, and ethnic connections.  Andrew, naturally, focuses on the American military response to adversarial propaganda and misinformation, but what about the State Department and the other non-military information assets in the United States?  Those are not, unsurprisingly, mentioned.  Why?  Because the Defense Department is the only institution funded and staffed to address adversarial propaganda and misinformation.  It also has the educational float to send its experts to its own educational system for extended periods to devise new doctrine and train the future cadre of practitioners.

Today, as Andrew points out by omission, American public diplomacy wears combat boots as civilian institutions languish, engaged in a kind of neutered beauty contest more typical of the end of the Cold War than the beginning.  For the entire twentieth century, strategic communication that targeted foreign and domestic public opinion had been a civilian function.  From the Committee for Public Information in World War I, the Office of War Information and the Voice of America in World War II, through the United States Information Agency and the numerous language radio stations and other State Department public diplomacy missions such as cultural exchange, strategic and tactical communication, was the responsibility of civilian institutions.  This was called public diplomacy even though, in the words of Edward Gullion, propaganda was “the nearest thing in the pure interpretation of the word to what we were doing.”

In examining America’s ability to react and respond to insurgent propaganda, Andrew rightly calls Smith-Mundt into question as a functional barrier to Defense Department operations (Andrew, thanks for the shout out, by the way).  Andrew is correct in attributing DOD inaction on Smith-Mundt, but it should be characterized as a DOD interpretation of the Act.  This interpretation, which is unevenly and at times illogically invoked, is surprising to many on the public diplomacy side of American strategic and tactical communication, especially United States Information Agency veterans.  I noted in a post some six months ago that former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) Karen Hughes was surprised to learn just a couple of months before leaving office that DOD believed itself to be covered by Smith-Mundt.

In describing the imperative for U.S. acknowledgement of the problem, Andrew could have written the following:

As important as any fact in the field of foreign policy today, and perhaps much the most important, is the fact that the Insurgents have declared psychological war on the United States, all over the world.  It is a war of ideology and a fight unto the death.

Andrew didn’t write that, though.  Replace Insurgents with Russians and you have a quote attributed to Ambassador Averell Harriman in October 1946.  This was the thinking behind Smith-Mundt: to create and make permanent the  institutions to fight the war of information.  Ironically, Smith-Mundt was passed sixty years ago to address the very failure Andrew discusses.  The Act was not intended as the prophylactic most think of it as today, especially those in DOD.  The purpose of Smith-Mundt was to institutionalize and make permanent civilian strategic and tactical communication capabilities through truthful information propagation, education, and cultural exchange to counter misinformation.  Today, this capacity is too often absent and incapable in the contested spaces to warrant barely a footnote by Andrew on Radio Sawa.  As he notes, our messages are too often silenced on the take-off because of fears of influencing instead of informing.  The messages are too often shaped by how they’ll play in Iowa than in the target audience.  Or, they are just plain bad and counterproductive.  This was what Smith-Mundt fixed.

There is more on the Smith-Mundt issue to come.

For now, go read Andrew’s article.  It is your weekend or Monday assignment.

See Also:

Of budgets and priorities and the War of Ideas

It has been noted that the whole of the U.S. Government is not engaged in the War of Ideas.  This war, the inappropriateness of the noun “war” notwithstanding, is a war of information, of understanding, discourse, perceptions, and confidence.  It is, at its essence, a psychological struggle that requires a holistic effort and intelligent staffing and budget priorities.  However, increasing budget numbers can only do so much if the whole picture isn’t being considered. 

Success for an Information Age economy, requires strength, stability, and confidence.  The gravest threat to the United States is not a weapon of mass destruction, but weapons of mass disruption.  This type of WMD is not restricted to “dirty bombs” or attacks on unprotected chemical industries, water supplies, or food supplies.  It can, and will likely, be more subtle. 

image In Unrestricted Warfare, two Chinese colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, describe a new type of war, a “non-military type of war which is prosecuted by yet another type of non-professional warrior.”  What the colonels go on to describe isn’t the sympathetic Muslim with access to a few pounds of explosive material, but a “financier” or a “stock speculator” or a “media mogul” who, for their own reasons, wreak havoc in a special kind of terrorism.

Worse, we can do it to ourselves, which we are. 

The blogosphere jumped on the recent announcement that RFE/RL let go a key analyst: Daniel Kimmage.  With Kathleen Ridolfo, who was also fired, Kimmage was co-author of Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War Of Images And Ideas and author of the more recent Al-Qaeda Media Nexus: the Virtual Network Behind the Global Message.   Kimmage will undoubtedly land his feet, as will the other analysts. 

imageThe budget cuts that have Kimmage and others going elsewhere, as well as the demise of Newsline, is in part an indication that we’re losing the War.  The steep decline of the dollar against the Czech Koruna has made operations significantly more expensive.  While a short-term solution is to increase funding for RFE/RL, under the Broadcasting Board of Governors.  The BBG could re-allocate is scarce funds from questionable ventures or increase spending, but that’s plugging the hole in the dike. 

The long-term solution is to look deeper and inward and realize the United States is threatened by more than physical attacks, but psychological and economic attacks that may or may not be orchestrated, or even engineered by outsiders.  Some may look at this as symbolic of the end of empire, but it is simply losing focus and playing too tactically. 

The announcement from RFE/RL is really just a small issue dealing with an amount, as friend Marc Lynch points out, “which doesn’t even amount to a rounding error in the Pentagons budget” (or David Betz’s point that the whole RFE/RL budget is the equivalent to 1/2 of an F-22 pilot). This cut is symbolic of a deeper failure that we must confront if we’re to win the War of Ideas and if “victory” will have any meaning at all. 

Very briefly, let me say a few words on what should be a longer and separate post: Does Smith-Mundt apply to the BBG and does it apply RFE/RL’s to-be-launched English-language website (  In my opinion it is supposed to based on the intended coverage of the Act.  Should it?  No, and if you’re a reader of this blog you knew that.

On the King’s of War blog David notes Kimmage is scheduled (still?) to speak next week, 21 May 2008.

The email announcement from RFE/RL president Jeffrey Gedmin describing the cuts and a new resource is after the fold. 

Continue reading “Of budgets and priorities and the War of Ideas

Public Diplomacy Awards

Worth noting is the Public Diplomacy Alumni Association, formerly the USIA Alumni Association, announced its 2008 achievement awards

Jonathan Henick, for outstanding efforts an personal commitment, courage and creativity promoting and defending freedom of speech and independent journalism in the repressive environment of Azerbaijan.

Foreign Service National Staff, Rangoon, Burma, for outstanding efforts and perseverance in promoting democracy and human rights in Burma. Through exchange programs, the American Center library, English teaching, publications, donated book programs and media outreach, (they) creatively and courageously brought to bear a broad range of public diplomacy tools and programs while operating in a challenging environment, often at great personal risk.

Nicholas Papp, for outstanding initiative and creativity in revitalizing and modernizing Taiwan’s EducationUSA program and extending its outreach to broader publics through the innovative utilization of new media and technologies.

Clearly the staff in Rangoon have their work cut out for them in the aftermath of the cyclone.

For more, go to PDAA’s web site.

Contracting out foreign military training

I am firmly opposed to contracting anything related to foreign military training on the basic belief that outsourcing prevents development of lasting military-to-military relations and inhibits military cultural exchange and personal relations.  Democratic ideals, whether from Americans, French, Germans, or British, rely upon an underlying premise that the military is subservient to the elected government.  Also, placing our own soldiers next to foreign militaries demonstrates a commitment that outsourcing does not. 

On this topic, read Peter W. Singer’s recent article on this: Lessons Not Learned: Contracting Out Iraqi Army Advising

One of the key questions surrounding the government’s escalating uses of military contractors is actually not whether they save the government client money or not (this, however, is getting harder to argue with the more than $10 billion that the Defense Contract Audit Agency believes was either wasted or misspent on contracting in Iraq. Rather the crucial question that should asked at the onset of any potential outsourcing is simple: Should the task be done by a private company in the first place?

This issue of what is an “inherently governmental” job or not is at the center of a raft of recent legislative approaches on the private military issue: the mark up by the Senate Armed Services Committee to prohibit armed contractors from “performing inherently governmental functions in an area of combat operations,” Representative David Price and Jan Schakowsky’s announcement this week of a bill seeking to prohibit intelligence agencies, including the CIA, from hiring private contractors for military detainee operations, like the infamous CACI interrogators at Abu Ghraib, and presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama’s bill that would require the Pentagon and State Department to develop a strategy for ensuring that its contracts do not “have private companies and their employees performing inherently governmental functions, emergency essential activities, or mission critical activities.”

While I’m not convinced Price or Obama’s bills are the answer (mostly for lack of information), the real issue is not what is “inherently governmental”, but what is appropriate for the mission.  This includes factors such as skill retention (paying somebody else to do your job means you forget how to do your job), longevity (it may be cheaper in the long run and with all factors considered to keep the job in-house), effects (how do the perceptions of policy makers and local host populations of contractors shape results), and other hard to measure elements (institutional memory, military-to-military relations).  Each of which Singer mentions. 

It is completely understandable why a hard-pressed force would contemplate contracting out advising the Iraq military. From a bureaucratic standpoint, it’s the easy way out. Despite repeated calls by such top military thinkers as Colonel John Nagl, the U.S. Army still does not have an official advising capacity. Advising has never been something “Big Army” has been all that interested in doing (it has traditionally been viewed as a career drag) and moving officers and NCOs into these roles would mean moving them out of other units. By contrast, all the muss and fuss can instead be handed off to a company to handle.

But just because a company can do the job, doesn’t always mean it should. Advising the Iraqi Army has been determined by our national leadership as a task that is essential to our successful war effort. We should treat it that way in how the job is executed.


See also:

Exploiting the holes in the bubble: understanding Smith-Mundt’s barriers

Last week, Pat Kushlis of Whirled View asked if the Internet made Smith-Mundt moot.  To which, Kim Andrew Elliott responded that short-wave penetrated the apparent bubble of Smith-Mundt’s prohibition against domestic dissemination of Voice of America broadcasts.  VOA programs frequently received call-ins to its radio shows from Americans and didn’t hesitate to put them on the air. 

It is important to recall that our modern interpretation of Smith-Mundt as an overarching prophylactic protecting Americans from Government propaganda was not its primary purpose.  On the contrary, arguments of the 1940s and 1950s indicate minor transgressions of a Government news service, which VOA was, into the American domestic sphere was acceptable to those who sought to improve America’s “whisper”.  The impact to commercial media, from CBS to mom and pop operations, was small enough to not be competition and to not risk undermining the U.S. government with messages sympathetic to America’s adversaries, the two pillars of the prohibition on domestic dissemination.  

Smith-Mundt is not made moot by the Internet.  It was already moot with the rise of global media.  Further, it is arguable that Smith-Mundt was intended to disappear once American media was capable of broadcasting globally, a reality that is now decades old. 

Our unique law, not one other industrialized democracy has a similar law, implies our government lies to overseas audiences (for it can only tell the truth to Americans) and also prevents the U.S. government from explaining its own taxpayers what it does overseas (or telling others for fear the message seeps into the U.S.). 

More important are the modern information barriers attributed to Smith-Mundt and the root causes of Smith-Mundt.  A thoughtful analysis results in a dichotomy.  The former demand dumping the Act while the latter requires updating it to fix our contemporary communications (strategy and message) with the world, which was the purpose of the Act in the first place.  Neither fix would address domestic influence operations by the U.S. government, nor should either address such.  This is dealt with in other legislation and more importantly, by elected officials and their political appointees. 

Focusing exclusively on America’s ability to put out information and counter misinformation for foreign audiences ignores the real tools of shaping public opinion to the detriment of our ability to participate in the modern struggle.  If one’s goal is to protect the American public from influence by its government, then such an effort must address and start with inward-facing activities such as the purpose and practical function of the President’s Press Secretary to Administration officials appearing on Sunday news programs to postcards from the IRS indicating a forthcoming check to the Air Force and Navy speaking directly to the public to explain their relevance (the Air Force with its cyber-push and the Navy’s touring universities). 

The holes are there and information seeps in, but not all of it.  Yet at the same time, other information is blocked for fear of influencing, intentionally or not (usually not), Americans, regardless of truth.  The Internet amplifies the issue, making the law that much more silly.  It also demonstrates the need for a new law that facilitates America’s counter-misinformation capability, just as Smith-Mundt did sixty years ago this year. 

There are holes, but they are the gaps in our capabilities that Smith-Mundt’s foremost purpose was to fill, not the tertiary prohibition that became the sole purpose of the Act in our modern interpretation. 

See also:

Kim Andrew Elliott on Senator Coburn’s letter to Stephen Hadley

And another voice joins in.  Very briefly, see Kim’s response to the letter from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) sent to Stephen Hadley I posted earlier this month

Senator Coburn calls for U.S. international broadcasting to be used for “democracy promotion” in Iran. Democracy involves the people making choices about their nations. Those choices are informed by a free press. Yet Senator Coburn mocks the concept of international broadcasting citing multiple points of view to “let the Iranians decide for themselves.”
     Instead, Senator Coburn writes: “The U.S. taxpayers should not subsidize content presenting a balance between the truh and the regime’s malicious propaganda. U.S. broadcasts should be the balance by the regime and others.” In other words, U.S. international broadcasting should be all pro-U.S., all anti-Tehran regime, sort of like Radio Moscow in reverse.

     And so Senator Coburn’s sustained tirade against U.S. international broadcasting has entertainment value. Here is the champion of fiscal responsibility advocating an international broadcasting strategy that would be an absolute, utter, complete waste of the taxpayers’ money.

See also:

Recommended Reading

Plowing through books and interviewing folks on the phone, so no verbosity tonight. 

Pat Kushlis at Whirled View: Smith-Mundt is a Moot Case – Except It’s Not.  That reminds me of an incomplete post I have titled “Websites you’re not supposed to see”… 

Also at Whirled View, Pat Sharpe comments on the decision to build a golf course next to the Green Zone: Let Them Eat Golf Balls

Next week (13 May 2008), COL H.R. McMaster is at AEI: After the Iraqi Offensive: An Address by Colonel H. R. McMaster

Marc Lynch drew my attention to a recent report worth reading: Matthew Levitt and Michael Jacobson, WINEP, Highlighting Al-Qaeda’s Bankrupt Ideology.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies has a free report titled America’s Expensive Defense.  From the conclusion:

Whatever the short-term outcome, the DoD will need in a broader review to provide greater vision and detail about the long-term strategy and missions of the military than it has to date. Questions going to the heart of defence planning would need to be addressed, leading to a determination about whether such a large and expensive military can be justified. These questions would include: how central are counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, and post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction missions to the future of defence planning? What is the nature of the threat and what is the correct role of the military, as opposed to other tools of statecraft, to cope with it? What is the US strategy for dealing with the broader issue of failed and fragile states, and what is the proper role for military forces in coping with that challenge? To what extent should forces be shaped around potential future challenges from a resurgent Russia, a rising China, and regional powers such as Iran? What assets does the military bring to bear in dealing with other challenges to the international system, such as global poverty, governance, health, international crime, proliferation and climate change?

And to close with something humorous: I received an email from somebody at VOA asking if I was aware of their unofficial blog the other week.  In jest, I replied asking whether it was illegal for them to email me and inform me of this because of Smith-Mundt.  I haven’t heard back…

Headlines and Links

Nominated but not confirmed Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Jim Glassman will speak at Heritage on May 15, 2008.  This will be his first public speech since becoming the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors last June and while focused on his BBG job, surely he’ll talk about public diplomacy. 

Read Peter W. Singer’s How To Be All That You Can Be: A Look At The Pentagon’s Five Step Plan For Making Iron Man Real

Back in January, FOX News interviewed some SIGMA at a DHS S&T event in Los Angeles.  The interview is online

Colleague Shawn Powers is co-principal investigator of the Al-Jazeera English Research Project.  Congrats on the funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

CSIS’s PCR Project passes along a Washington Quarterly graphical representation of 2002 and 2007 Pew Research polls (still with me?) of the decline in favorable opinions of the U.S.

Afghanistan: Americans have the wristwatches, but who has the time?

Two suggested reads on Afghanistan.  First, read John Mackinlay’s The Taliban’s Propaganda of the Deed Strategy.  In this post King’s College’s Insurgency Research Group blog, Mackinlay recognizes that the Taliban has learned the value of media (citing a to-be-published paper by Steve Tatham) and, his dominant theme, admonishes the media for accepting the propaganda. 

The [National Day attack] demonstrates a classic propaganda of the deed partnership in which the insurgents with growing skill select a media-significant target and with witless incomprehension international reporters beam the most sensationally damning images of the event around the world so as to deliver the worst possible interpretation. There is no need for a Taliban subtext or even a photo caption, the images speak powerfully for themselves sending messages of a stricken regime put to flight in their gilded uniforms by the daring fighters of the Taliban.

Mackinlay concludes with questions:

Why not explain the propaganda context of their images or better still embargo the use of all images when reporting a sensational terrorist incident, including the endless resuscitation of images of previous attacks? But short-termism and golden–goose-egg syndrome ensure that no ambitious editor will forgo immediate profit to prevent the emergence of a regime in which their own function would be banned.

Continue reading “Afghanistan: Americans have the wristwatches, but who has the time?

Administrative note: now open for anonymous comments

image CAPTCHA, those little hard to read letters and numbers used to prevent comment spam, is now enabled on this blog.  So you may comment as a registered user through the blog (the MovableType option), TypeKey, OpenID, LiveJournal, VOX, and now anonymously.  CAPTCHA only appears for users in the last group, anonymous. 

Just so you know, all comments are immediately posted on the website, including the anonymously written comments. 

Have a good weekend / hope you had a good weekend.

U.S. Public Diplomacy Update: nothing new to report

Nothing's new in PD, move along

It is the beginning of May 2008 and according to the Department of State’s office of the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, the office has done nothing interesting since 31 December 2007.  That’s nice.

You really can’t blame State, though.  A new boss went through the nomination hearings (quickly and quietly), but his confirmation has been held up by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).

A question for Senator Coburn: in your opinion, are we really better off without an Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) than with Jim Glassman?  While Jim won’t be able to do much substantial work in the short time left (made shorter by the Senator’s hold on Jim’s confirmation), he will be able to set up the next Administration, and next Undersecretary, for success, which is critical to the national security of this country.  With it unclear whether a Republican or Democrat will be in the Oval Office, isn’t it prudent to make your mark now when you can, rather than wait until you’re in the opposition?  Regardless of your view of Jim Glassman, is keeping the office vacant really in America’s best interest?

Coburn-Hadley_2008On why the Senator from Oklahoma continues to block Jim Glassman’s confirmation, read his letter to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley that I referred to in this earlier post.  

See also:

Book Review: Information Operations: Doctrine and Practice


The United States is unquestioningly involved in a global struggle for the minds and wills of men and women.  The fundamental weapon in this struggle is information.  Informing the people, fueling ideology, suggesting tactics, fostering perceptions, and deception is information in action.  Giving information context is critical, without context, it is as useful as a bullet on the ground.  If you don’t pick it up and use it, someone else will to your detriment.  It is also useful to hide or deny the existence of the bullet. 

As New Media changes the notion of power, influence, and access, success and failure in modern conflict increasingly relies on adaptability to and in the global information environment.  Over the last several years, we’ve seen the U.S. military make tremendous strides and become, as necessity has required, a learning organization.  The can be seen in significant changes in doctrine, from Counterinsurgency Manual (FM 3-24) to the Operations Manual (FM 3-0).  Both address the effects of information with an entire chapter (unfortunately) named “Information Superiority”.

Whether modern military operations are kinetic (things going boom) or not (humanitarian assistance), there is a need to manage and disseminate information to inform and influence.  This is done either through the Public Affairs or somebody else.  Collectively, that “somebody” else is Information Operations, or IO.  Understanding what IO is, and perhaps more importantly what it is not, has been challenging for those not practicing it (but even then, there’s some confusion). 

Over the last several years, only a few military monographs of note have explored the role and purpose of IO.  As far as text or reference books, only Leigh Armistead’s edited work is the only substantial post-9/11 resource.  There’s a new book that incorporates the lessons and evolutions of the last several years

Dr. Christopher Paul’s Information Operations–Doctrine and Practice: A Reference Handbook is a necessary update to IO literature.  It is setup and reads like, just as the title states, a reference handbook focused on military IO.  Chris, a social scientist, methodologically pulls together relevant doctrine, pertinent works, historical examples, and provides analysis, challenges, and tensions of and between the elements of IO.  

In analyzing the elements of IO, Chris is guided by three major themes.  The first is integrating IO with higher (and broader) spanning the whole of the U.S. government.  Second, recasting IO’s five core capabilities — psychological operations (PSYOP), military deception (MILDEC), operational security (OPSEC), electronic warfare (EW), and computer network operations (CNO) — into two pillars, one based on systems and the other on content.  And third is the tension between “black” and “white” information. 

There is nothing inherently controversial in the book.  Although some may take exception with (absolutely correct) statements like “Counterpropaganda features prominently in PSYOP doctrine, but it is also part of the public affairs portfolio.”  And, he continues,”It isn’t clear who has the lead.” 

To most practitioners, there may be nothing new, but Chris has done a tremendous service in bringing together and discussing all the elements of IO.  If you have Armistead’s fine book on your shelf, this book replaces it with new discussions and analysis on the transformations that have occurred over the last several years, including Defense Support for Public Diplomacy, Blogs and OPSEC, civil-military operations, the tension with Public Affairs, among others.

If you are studying, or simply interested in, military information operations, then this is a required resource that puts it all in one place with details not found in any other book or paper.