Filling in the gaps of ITP’s article on Smith-Mundt and the Defense Department

Two weeks ago, I spoke to a reporter from Inside the Pentagon, a subscription only news service.  We had a long conversation on the phone as I explained to her the salient (and not so salient) points of the Smith-Mundt Act.  The purpose of her investigation was talk about legislating (or creating a rule for) an exception from Smith-Mundt for the Defense Department. 

The second article (there is a third due soon) for which I was interviewed is below the fold.  However, let me throw out some comments now.  Feel free to jump and read the article and come back. 

First, let’s start with the facts that have been seemingly lost to history. 

Fact: the Defense Department is not covered by Smith-Mundt. 

Fact: Smith-Mundt was not a law to prevent propaganda, but rather Public Law 402 institutionalized information activities (propaganda) as well as creating the capability to counter adversarial propaganda. 

Despite our conversation emphasizing both the above and more, she opened her article buying into the popular, if immensely wrong, perception about a law designed to prevent misperceptions.  So, to fill in some of the blanks and to add some important context left out of the article, “Smith-Mundt Act Causes Confusion For DOD, Prompts Talk Of Revision.”

No where was the Act itself discussed.  Again, it was not an anti-propaganda law, but a law to make permanent, institutionalize, and raise the quality of cultural and education exchange and information activities.  There’s a reason the official name of the Act was the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948.  The domestic dissemination provision, dissemination being a very key work, was to a) prevent a Government News Agency from crushing domestic media, and b) not an issue because of the good relationship between Government and the media at the time.  The continental U.S. was an ideological battleground, even if not with the same level of contestation as in Europe and elsewhere around the globe.  On the whole, the “partnered” domestic media didn’t have the international reach the U.S. needed to increase its “whisper”.  It is arguable that because of the cozy relationship, once U.S. media could adequately reach international audiences, the government news agency would slip away. 

There was an important third reason for the prohibition against domestic dissemination: Senators and Congressmen frequently alleged the State Department was infested with Communists and the risk that cultural, education, and information programs under there watch would be too soft on communism.  The concern that State would be sympathetic to enemy positions risked, in the minds of many, undermining the President and the Government.  In other words, a key pillar of the dissemination prohibition was a distrust of the State.  Thus, as it is now laughable to think a U.S. government news agency could push aside domestic media, we’re left with the argument behind the prohibition that State is infested with sympathizers of the enemy’s message.  As the Defense Department has become a key communicator for the United States, this means that, if we blindly accept the prohibition, “Defense and State are full of al Qaeda sympathizers — because we can’t trust what they’re going to say to the American public.” 

By the way, the 1972 Amendment that tightened the restrictions against domestic dissemination wasn’t the result of a domestic influence campaign, but the product of a tug-of-war between the USIA and an angry Senator J. William Fulbright (yes, that Fulbright) who was attempting to eliminate America’s ability to broadcast overseas

Misunderstanding Congressional intent was complete with PDD-68, which finally killed the USIA, and was formed by a lack of knowledge and investigation into the 1972 amendment and later the Zorinsky Amendment (which is conceptually similar to the Hodes Amendment). 

The article also captures, but does not expand on, the indirect effect of Smith-Mundt.  In the interview with MAJ Matt Morgan, note the influence of Smith-Mundt, as it conceived today, and the friction it adds.  It’s also noteworthy that in light of his comments, his boss raised the issue that visiting members of Congress to Task Force 134 did not know what was going on. 

Imposing present day concepts onto the past isn’t restricted to the media or Congress.  Academia is equally susceptible.  The only substantial investigation into Smith-Mundt to date seemingly ignores the historical works cited failing to acknowledge what they said, and sometimes more importantly, didn’t say.  

To be sure, this isn’t a simple subject.  Critical is understanding the role and importance of information, a lesson we’re re-learning albeit slowly. 

The global information environment is, surprisingly enough, global. 

More to come.  Read the 5 June 2008 article after the fold. 

Last word on this for now: if propagandizing the American public is really a concern, let’s talk about campaign season, Harry and Louise-style ads, post cards from the IRS reminding us to thank someone for a check we may or may not receive, and for Heaven’s sake, prevent the Air Force from speaking publicly about Cyber Command and distributing its operations

Continue reading “Filling in the gaps of ITP’s article on Smith-Mundt and the Defense Department

Attempting Unrestricted Warfare

Briefly, MEMRI notes the “mujahideen’s growing interest in the state of the U.S. economy.” 

As was argued in a 2007 MEMRI analysis, [1] many of the jihadists and their supporters have come to view their struggle against the U.S. and the West as an economic war. More specifically, they have come to the conclusion that it is financial, rather than military, losses that will prompt the U.S. to change its policies in the Middle East and elsewhere. Consequently, they emphasize the importance of targeting U.S. interests around the world, and of directing their military jihad primarily at targets that affect the U.S. economy.

See also:

Why we serve: to be prohibited by the Hodes Amendment

Briefly, under the Hodes Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009, Why We Serve should be considered an illegal influence operation.  Is this the intended effect? 

For some, maybe Why We Serve is undue influence, which is seemingly the issue Representative Hodes and others are concerned about.  Some might think this is the modern equivalent to Why We Fight, the World War II made for American soldiers.  Later some of the films, not all, were shown to American audiences. 

A provocative question on which I’m not “spilling ink” on right now.  Your thoughts are, as always, appreciated.

Ranting on America’s missing infrastructure

A brief rant on the the New York Times article Charging by the Byte to Curb Internet Traffic

For years, both kinds of Web surfers have paid the same price for access. But now three of the country’s largest Internet service providers are threatening to clamp down on their most active subscribers by placing monthly limits on their online activity.

One of them, Time Warner Cable, began a trial of “Internet metering” in one Texas city early this month, asking customers to select a monthly plan and pay surcharges when they exceed their bandwidth limit. The idea is that people who use the network more heavily should pay more, the way they do for water, electricity, or, in many cases, cellphone minutes.

That same week, Comcast said that it would expand on a strategy it uses to manage Internet traffic: slowing down the connections of the heaviest users, so-called bandwidth hogs, at peak times.

AT&T also said Thursday that limits on heavy use were inevitable and that it was considering pricing based on data volume. “Based on current trends, total bandwidth in the AT&T network will increase by four times over the next three years,” the company said in a statement.

All three companies say that placing caps on broadband use will ensure fair access for all users.

Come on, seriously?  Invoking water and electricity is to suggest supply is the chief constraint of the service.  Go to parts of the country or world were fresh water is plentiful and water charges drop.  The same holds true where electricity is cheap and plentiful (the Tennessee Valley for example).  So drop-kick that part of the argument. 

It’s the cell phone analogy that is fitting and exposes the real issue: a lack of infrastructure.  The United States, despite ads for “high speed Internet”, lags behind so many parts of the world in terms of real speed and robustness of the domestic information infrastructure. 

Pull back the curtain and these pricing schemes are attempts to cover the failure to develop the backbone and end point connectivity to support the products and services the same companies have been touting for years.  They won’t, as is argued, finance expanding the infrastructure.  The proposed fees don’t provide the incentive to do so. 

Video on the phone?  Great, Japan’s been doing that for years.  “High speed” Internet?  Great, Korea has 45mb to the home.  It’s all related. 

The Internet and its bandwidth are a public good in the Information Age.  It is the essential engine in our service economy that connects not only domestic audiences but external audiences as well. 

As such, the federal government must step in, as the governments of other countries have.  This isn’t unknown territory for our federal government.  During the last great bidirectional communications revolution – the telephone – the government pushed deployment everywhere. 

Without intervention, the Internet superhighway will be transformed into a road system with crumbling bridges with toll road bypasses.  Undoubtedly, Time Warner and others who are pushing for limits will exclude their branded content from the monthly limits, or in the extreme the creation of privileged clubs of access with ever steeper costs of joining. 

Rant over… back to work…

Cross-posted at CTLab.

See also:

USG sites related to the “I” in DIME


Modern conflict relies heavily on influencing societal groups that cross political borders and ignore geography.  Information campaigns are waged, neglected, and abused by all sides as they attempt to manipulate various audiences. blah blah blah… yeah, yeah, you’ve read it here before. 

To the point, are you looking for a one-stop shop for USG (U.S. Government) and other resources that talk about information, whether it is Information Operations, Strategic Communications, or Network Centric Warfare?  If so, check out the U.S. Army War College’s DIME website, specifically their links page.  (Public diplomacy falls under Strategic Communications and this blog is under Other Information.) 

By the way, DIME stands for Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economic power.  These are considered the core elements of national power.  Some have expanded DIME to include Finance, Intelligence, and Law Enforces, which spells MIDLIFE (or DIMEFIL to the more “sensitive”).  Rarely you might see DIMES, which adds Sociology. 

Shameless plug that’s barely related: Did I mention that the Swedish Institute (the Swedish Public Diplomacy agency) also links to this blog?  More on SI later because if you’re interested in SC/PD, you should be interested in the SI. 

Recommended Reading for Saturday, 14 June 2008

A short list of posts you may not have seen. 

General Petraeus and the ‘Information War’ by Felix Gillette

"Petraeus understood how to use the media," writes Mr. Engel. "He could boil down his thoughts to fifteen-second sound bytes, and always tracked the camera during interviews … He had what actors call ‘camera awareness.’"  …

Some sixteen months later, a number of the seasoned TV reporters in Baghdad told the Observer that they continue to appreciate Mr. Petraeus’ style of media engagement—i.e. less press conferences, more personal access, increased transparency, and the occasional banana in the market place. …

"Not only is Petraeus quite accessible to the media, but he’s managed to convey down the line to his colonels and captains that it’s okay to talk to the media," added Mr. McCarthy. "Under Casey, they were really trying to spin us. In Petraeus’ case, if it’s a bad day, he’ll say ‘it’s been a bad day.’"

 Col. Peter Mansoor on Health in Counterinsurgency Doctrine, Refugees as Weapons of War, and In Counterinsurgency, Hospitals are the Commanding Heights by Chris Albon

Two from Arabic Source: A Whole Lot of Paper that AQ Didn’t Want Us to See and What Makes An Expert?

 The Erosion of Noncombatant Immunity within Al Qaeda by Carl J. Ciovacco.

VOA and BBC in *Burma*

The Los Angeles Times has a moving article by a reporter who went undercover to explore the devastation after Cyclone Nargis in Burma, aka Myanmar.  Notable about this story is how the reporter ends it:

One night, when several suggested we would be safer tying up to a tree in their creek than risking the busier river route, a man heard the crackling Voice of America and British Broadcasting Corp. on the interpreter’s shortwave radio. He joined him on the roof of my hiding place and listened for several hours.

At dawn, when the pilot was cranking up the engine to a sputtering start, the man returned to ask a favor.

He didn’t want food, medicine or water. He needed the radio so the whole village could hear.
So we donated it.

Information pathways must be maintained and managed.  For maximum effect, sometimes for any effect, they cannot be stood-up reactively.  A core audience that will draw in other listeners, intentionally or not, must be maintained.  There will be benefits down the road, but even if the benefits are short-term hope, is not the same as delivering (or attempting to deliver) relief supplies?  The world runs on information, even in lands pushed back, or held back, centuries. 

David Axe is off to Chad…

Not exactly on a vacation, MountainRunner friend David Axe is heading to eastern Chad to report on the Darfur crisis first hand in a couple of days. 

In two days I depart for a month of reporting on the Darfur crisis from eastern Chad. Guerrilla News Network is helping me raise cash to cover the roughly $5,000 in expenses. Check out our campaign

What’s with the Danger Room people?  David’s going to Chad and Sharon and hubbie Nate go to Iran (and NORK next year?)…

Last week I talked to David about his adventure.  Hmm, thinking Baghdad a few years ago might be safer… 

Check out the GNN campaign to support his trip, but do it soon, he leaves in a couple of days (but I’m sure donations will still be appreciated after Monday).  David’s not a rich man


Recommended Viewing: General Stone’s exit interview

Very briefly, it is worth your time watch the video below, at least the first seven minutes.  Major General Doug Stone, formerly of Task Force 134, gave an exit interview after turning over command of detainee operations in Iraq.  I recommend watching his opening remarks as he speaks directly to the point who the detainees are, their motivation, and how he managed to attain a recidivism rate of… well “miniscule”, as he put it is the only way to describe it: only 40 returned out of about 10,000 released. 

The transparency and education and training programs have been core to this success.  In order to practice public diplomacy, strategic communication, information operations, or psychological operations, one must know the audience, the potential cleavages between the individual and the group, or sub-groups from the larger group.  He gets it. 

In short, MG Doug Stone understands the struggle for minds and will and good luck to him in his next billet. 


Blogging to resume this morning… sort of

Other commitments and travel have imposed themselves on my blogging ritual.  Look for a slew of posts today followed by quiet as I travel to D.C. for two days. 

In the meantime, from the blog of a notable public relations / strategic communication firm commercial.  Question: is this a) Victoria Secret commercial, b) an ad for soccer/football gear, c) a World Cup promotion, or d) none of the above?

Know your demographic.  Is this targeting the mass audience or a slice of the audience?  The ad may not entirely successful on its own — 10min after you watched the video can you recall the promoted brand? — but does it fit inside a larger campaign?  More later, not on the commercial but on precision marketing.

The importance of words in shaping perceptions

Posting will be light for another few days…

IMAGINE if Franklin D. Roosevelt had taken to calling Adolf Hitler the “leader of the National Socialist Aryan patriots” or dubbed Japanese soldiers fighting in World War II as the “defenders of Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.”

To describe the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese Army in terms that incorporated their own propaganda would have been self-defeating. Unfortunately, that is what many American policymakers have been doing by calling terrorists “jihadists” or “jihadis.”

Information Operations from an Asian Perspective by Yin and Taylor

Shared here by permission of the author, Information Operations from an Asian Perspective.

This article is a comparative study of the practice of state-sponsored influence activities in its
various forms (namely propaganda, public diplomacy, psychological operations, public
affairs, cyber warfare, electronic warfare and so on) in selected Asian countries (China,
Taiwan, Thailand and Japan). It highlights the state of Asian development, differences in
concepts, organization and application as compared to the Western models that today
dominate discussions on information operations and influence activity. By doing so, it
provides alternative ways of approaching Information Operations (IO) that might contribute
to the generation of challenges and solutions facing today’s policy makers. Finally, it will
serve to broaden the body of knowledge in influence activities to include both Eastern and
Western viewpoints.

Major James Yin of the Singapore Armed Forces and Phil Taylor of the University of Leeds examine China, Japan, and Taiwan “based on their ability to influence the balance of power in Asia-Pacific and their propensity to use cyber warfare” and Thailand because of its COIN operations against Muslim insurgents.

The Strategic Communication of Unmanned Warfare

Modern conflict is increasingly a struggle for strategic influence above territory.  This struggle is, at its essence, a battle over perceptions and narratives within a psychological terrain under the influence of local and global pressures.  One of the unspoken lessons embedded in the Counterinsurgency Manual (FM3-24) is that we risk strategic success relying on a lawyerly conduct of war that rests on finely tuned arguments of why and why not.  When too much defense and too much offense can be detrimental, we must consider the impact of our actions, the information effects.  The propaganda of the deed must match the propaganda of the word.

As Giulio Douhet wrote in 1928,

“A man who wants to make a good instrument must first have a precise understanding of what the instrument is to be used for; and he who intends to build a good instrument of war must first ask himself what the next war will be like.”

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has said that there is too much spending geared toward the wrong way of war.  I find this to be particularly true in the area of battlefield robots.  Much (if not all) of the unmanned systems planning and discussion, especially with regards to unmanned ground combat vehicles, is not taking into account the nature of the next war, let alone the current conflict.

Last year I posted an unscientific survey that explored how a ground combat robot operating away from humans (remote controlled or autonomous) might shape the opinions of the local host family.  The survey also explored the propaganda value of these systems to the enemy, in the media markets of our allies, Muslim countries, and here in the United States.  The survey results weren’t surprising.

Serviam Magazine just published what could be construed as an executive summary of a larger paper of mine to be published by Proteus later this year.  That paper is about four times longer and adds a few points with more details.  In the meantime, my article that appeared in Serviam, “Combat Robots and Perception Management,” is below.

Continue reading “The Strategic Communication of Unmanned Warfare

Article: Combat Robots and Perception Management

Robots will figure prominently in the future of warfare, whether we like it or not. They will provide perimeter security, logistics, surveillance, explosive ordinance disposal, and more because they fit strategic, operational, and tactical requirements for both the irregular and “traditional” warfare of the future. While American policymakers have finally realized that the so-called “war on terror” is a war of ideas and a war of information, virtually all reports on unmanned systems ignore the substantial impact that “warbots” will have on strategic communications, from public diplomacy to psychological operations. It is imperative that the U.S. military and civilian leadership discuss, anticipate, and plan for each robot to be a real strategic corporal (or “strategic captain,” if you consider their role as a coordinating hub).

Source: my article “Combat Robots and Perception Management”, published in the 1 June 2008 issue of Serviam Magazine. The magazine’s website is no longer available, so it is reposted here: The Strategic Communication of Unmanned Warfare.