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.
- Developing a National Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Strategy
- American Public Diplomacy Wears Combat Boots
- Required Reading: The Spectacle of War by Andrew Exum
- Exploiting the holes in the bubble: understanding Smith-Mundt’s barriers
- Talking about the Principles Smith-Mundt
- When History Repeats: Troubles at VOA in 1946 are Remarkably Similar to the Troubles at VOA in 2008 (Updated)
- What is Public Diplomacy
- Understanding the Purpose Public Diplomacy
- Not Afraid to Talk: our adversaries aren’t, why are we?