Public Diplomacy,  Smith-Mundt

Discussing Conspiracy Theories: a CO.NX webchat with Todd Leventhal

CO.NX, a State Department’s online conferencing tool, hosted a conversation with Todd Leventhal, State’s “disinformation and conspiracy theory specialist”. Todd is also the author of America.gov’s Rumors, Myths and Fabrications.

There are some interesting questions in the transcript which, by the way, is available online at the US Embassy in London. Because of an interpretation of the Smith-Mundt Act that disallows information created by specific offices in the State Department for foreign audiences, Todd’s expertise and this transcript are intentionally not available from the State.gov website to make it easier for Americans to see this conversation

A suggestion: State should host CO.NX style conversations with Americans to go beyond dispelling the same rumors, myths, and fabrications, as well as better engage and inform the public. A model would be the Defense Department’s Blogger Roundtable combined with DipNote’s focus on people and actions that don’t get a lot of coverage.

There is precedent in State. Former Under Secretary James Glassman held a few roundtables (with the bloggerati of public diplomacy but everything starts small) and out of public affairs (which Sean McCormack was working on before he left – he was even looking to integrate bloggers into daily press briefings).

Back to Todd. Select bits of the conversation are after the fold, but it is worth reading the whole article to get a feel for what is going on. Thanks Todd for sending this.

Q [edgewalker]: Why Bin Laden ain’t wanted by the FBI for 9/11? http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/topten/fugitives/laden.htm

A [Todd Leventhal]: Edgewalker asks why Osama bin Laden is not wanted by the FBI for the September 11 attacks in its “Most Wanted Terrorist” poster on bin Laden.This is a very good question. It seems puzzling that bin Laden would not be wanted by the FBI for the September 11 attacks, but the reason is because he has never been formally indicted in a U.S. court of law for these attacks.

A [Todd Leventhal]: The FBI poster (http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/terrorists/terbinladen.htm) says he is wanted for the August 7, 1988 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, for which he was formally indicted. But he has not yet been formally charged with the September 11 attacks in a U.S. court of law, so he is not wanted for this reason. This was explained by an FBI spokesman and others knowledgeable about such matters in an August 28, 2006 article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/27/AR2006082700687_pf.html) in The Washington Post.

A [Todd Leventhal]: I asked the FBI about this and they said: “Bin Laden is currently indicted on the following charges: Murder of U.S. Nationals Outside the United States, Conspiracy to Murder U.S. Nationals Outside the United States, and Attack on a Federal Facility Resulting in Death. These charges relate to the 1998 embassy bombings and are sufficient for the U.S. Government to arrest Bin Laden and bring him to justice. Bin Laden has not yet been criminally charged with the September 11 attacks. The decision to charge Bin Laden belongs to the U.S. Department of Justice. Superseding indictments may be issued in the event of Bin Laden’s arrest.”

A [Todd Leventhal]: It is certain that bin Laden planned and directed the September 11 attacks. He has admitted this on several occasions. For example, in an audiotape (http://www.news24.com/News24/World/News/0,,2-10-1462_1938283,00.html) released on May 23, 2006, bin Laden stated: “I begin by talking about the honorable brother Zacarias Moussaoui. The truth is that he has no connection whatsoever with the events of September 11th, and I am certain of what I say, because I was responsible for entrusting the 19 brothers – Allah have mercy upon them – with those raids, and I did not assign brother Zacarias to be with them on that mission.”

A [Todd Leventhal]: For other information confirming bin Laden’s role in directing the September 11 attacks, see an article I have written on this subject:http://www.america.gov/st/webchat-english/2009/April/20090501132747atlahtnevel4.168338e-02.html

Read the whole transcript here.