Recommended Reading

Due to travel, there will be no posting until 4 October. If you haven’t already, check out the posts below (additional comments in italics) as well as explore other previous posts through the Archives or through the categories in the bottom left of the page. 

  • Preparing to Lose the Information War? – Is Congress or the media paying attention? Apparently not based on the statements and questions from both Congress and the media that include words like “mystifying” and continue to focus on Taliban kinetic capabilities. Has anybody read Appendix D of McChrystal’s report that declares the need “win the battle of perceptions” through “gaining and maintaining…trust and confidence in [Afghan Government] institutions.” Among the overdue recommendations is the need to “orientate the the message from a struggle for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Afghan population to one of giving them ‘trust and confidence’.
  • Broadcasting Board of Governors: Empty Seats at the Public Diplomacy Table – neglecting the part-time management of America’s international broadcasting. Besides the missing Governors, an arguably more important gap is the since-2005 empty seat of the Presidentially appointed Director of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).
  • U.S. envoys hesitate to report bad news by Nicholas Kralev at The Washington Times on the “rampant self-censorship” of “bad news” from the diplomats in the field to DC.
  • The Bad News: America’s good news only Ambassadors by Pat Kushlis at The Whirled View adds details to Nicholas’s article.
  • Hitting Bottom at Foggy Bottom – My article at on the structural failures at State and the need to fix it rather than let it breakup – or be cannibalized. (Sep 11, 2009) Subsequent to the article was the request by US Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack to Secretaries Gates and Clinton to transfer $170m from State, Defense, and USAID over two years to USDA efforts in Afghanistan. USDA should be involved – and has been involved – but at a time that USAID and State’s internal S/CRS – headed by John Herbst – is struggling with leadership, funding, mission, and just inclusion, this request appears a lot more like cannibalism than anything else.
  • Understanding and Engaging ‘Now Media’ professional development course – a professional development course taught by me examining the convergence of "new media" and "old media" into "now media" with the purpose of educating and empowering the student to be a more effective information actor.
  • Smith-Mundt Symposium Report (PDF, 387kb) – The January 13, 2009, symposium, subtitled “A Discourse to Shape America’s Discourse”, was a frank and open discussion included a diverse group of stakeholders, practitioners, and observers from Congress, the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, and outside of government, many of whom never had a reason to be in the same room with one another before, to discuss public diplomacy, strategic communication, or whatever their particular "tribe" calls information and perception warfare.
  • Guidelines for publishing on Twitter – a policy from the UK very much worth reviewing.

  • Barriers to the Broad Dissemination of Creative Works in the Arab World

    The RAND report “Barriers to the Broad Dissemination of Creative Works in the Arab World” offers recommendations on creating Arab access to Arab authors that counter and refute the ideology of extremism.

    Three major barriers confront the dissemination and consumption of Arabic literature. The first barrier is censorship, which is a significant problem in the Middle East. … A second barrier is the small market for literary material in the Arab world. … A final barrier is the poor internal distribution systems for books.

    One of these lessons is how to overcome the understandable skepticism that foreign audiences have toward government-sponsored media activities. … Another lesson from the Cold War is to carefully consider the target audience and identify media sources that are most likely to influence them. … A third lesson is the value of nonpolitical material in combating extremism.

    The report is a worthwhile read even they did not (understandably) mention the a) number of Lincoln biographies in State’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) distribution list (not too long the # was 10) and b) past DOD efforts to correct – and ultimately work around – this failure to understand the requirements.  

    “Out of Their Heads and Into Their Conversation: Countering Extremist Ideology”

    Recommended reading from the smart people at Arizona’s State University’s Consortium for Strategic Communication comes “Out of Their Heads and Into Their Conversation: Countering Extremist Ideology” (PDF, 214kb).

    Ideology is often ignored or deemed irrelevant to strategic communication because it is an old, possibly leftist, idea that is associated with academic social critique. It is treated as something that lives in the heads of individuals, driving them to radical action. From this point of view the concept is not really practical because by the time someone has adopted an ideology, it is too late.

    We advocate a different view of ideology, as a system of ideas about how things are or ought to be that circulates in social discourse. This is a more practical view because it treats ideology not as an idea stuck in someone’s head, but as something that is subject to influence through strategic communication. To be effective in these efforts we must understand culture and narrative, and have a clear grasp of what ideology does.

    Read the whole thing here.

    Guidelines for publishing on Twitter

    Engaging people within social media is generally a given, even if decision-makers do not necessarily understand why. Too often we hear the equivalent of “get me some social media”.

    But how do you use Twitter and what is the value? The UK has a smart strategy on Twitter that can be found here (148kb PDF). It covers:

    • Objectives and metrics – why we are using Twitter, and how we will assess its value
    • Risks and mitigation – how we will contain the risks to our corporate reputation
    • Channel proposition and management – how we will populate and use the channel
    • Promotional plan – how we will promote our presence on Twitter to maximise value

    I recommend reading it. The whole version (I removed the last six pages) will be available to my students in my forthcoming class Understanding and Engaging Now Media in November.

    More problems at State

    Josh Rogin at tells us about a forthcoming GAO report on the State Department. These conditions clearly indicate major impediments to effective public diplomacy as well as demonstrate the need for Defense Department strategic communication and military public diplomacy resources (primarily, but not exclusively, MIST – Military Information Support Teams). Too many public diplomacy officers circulate only within the elite circles in their countries because of the lack of resources, time, or skills, while still believing (and reporting) they are engaging foreign publics. Hopefully Congress reads the GAO report – and other enlightening analysis of the state of State – as it considers funding Defense Department strategic communication in Europe, Africa, and elsewhere, at least for the time being.

    From Josh’s GAO report finds State Department language skills dangerously lacking:

    About a third of Foreign Service officers in jobs that require language skills don’t have the proficiency required to do their jobs, hurting America’s ability to advocate its interests around the world, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

    The report, which has not yet been released, but was obtained by The Cable, spells out the consequences of having a Foreign Service that in many cases can’t communicate with local officials or populations, relies too heavily on local staff for critical functions, and can’t respond to bad press when it appears in foreign languages.

    According to the GAO, the State Department blames the shortcoming on the “recent increase in language-intensive positions.” The sad truth is the Department is struggling to undo its abrogation of responsibility under the past leadership as responsibilities were shuffled of to the Defense Department with little to not struggle.

    Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) captures the essence of the recommendation in my Hitting Bottom at Foggy Bottom post when he says the State Department “must take advantage of this situation and plan strategically to meet short- and long-term diplomatic needs.”

    But, as the GAO report notes, a strategic plan to address this problem does not exist. Secretary Clinton did, however, recently speak at State’s Foreign Service Institute and say increases were coming.

    More to come on this.


    Information Graphics on Today’s Information Environment

    imageTen relevant information graphics on today’s on both the consumption and creation of information today can be found at Six Revisions. To me, the one from the communications agency Burston-Marsteller was interesting, if a bit overly focused on Twitter.


    Books on persuasion

    Below are four books on persuasion you may not have considered. I recommend them all.

    Political Warfare Against the Kremlin: US and British Propaganda Policy at the Beginning of the Cold War by Lowell Schwartz. Strongly recommended if you’re interested in a relevant past ideological struggle. We cannot afford to ignore our past, especially when they had such a better grip on the requirements than we seem to have today.

    In Search of a Usable Past: The Marshall Plan and Postwar Reconstruction Today by Barry Machado. Reading about the “psychological by-products” of post-conflict reconstruction is something many would be wise to do today.

    Propaganda by Edward Bernays. Originally published in 1928, it is frank discussion of the reality of persuasion using the corporate world as examples. Modern propaganda, Bernays wrote, “is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group.”

    The Just Prince: A Manual of Leadership edited by Joseph Kechichian. We continue to operate as if we are in a Machiavellian world, but we’re not. Written from an Arab-Muslim perspective nearly 350 years before the Florentine clerk wrote The Prince, the Just Prince arrives at similar ends as Machiavelli but the different views of power and authority creates different means to those ends.

    Renewing America’s Voices – Ideas for Reform

    From Walter Roberts, Barry Zorthian, and Alan Heil, three men who have more than a half-century of combined experience managing US Government broadcasting in the practice of public diplomacy.

    On October 1, the Broadcasting Board of Governors will mark the tenth anniversary of its establishment as the sole overseer of U.S. publicly funded overseas broadcasts. We recommend a bipartisan Executive and Legislative Branch commission to review U.S. international broadcasting based on these [eight] principles:

    1. Restore and reinvigorate VOA English radio worldwide. …

    2. Ensure that all United Nations languages and those judged by the State Department and NSC as critical to national security be broadcast interactively by VOA on radio, television and a variety of Internet, social networks and cell phone platforms. …

    3. Re-establish a VOA Arabic website. …Audience claims by Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa in that arc of crisis have been questioned by the GAO and Middle East specialists. Lack of an official Voice seems counter to U.S. interests in a strategically important region.

    4. Name a qualified professional as Director of International Broadcasting to coordinate all the publicly-funded overseas networks, exercise most day-to-day management functions, and report to the Board. …Board members must be nationally known foreign affairs, journalistic and corporate level management professionals committed to the credibility of all networks cited below and principles contained in the VOA Charter and surrogate mission directives.

    The fourth (of eight) point above is important. In my recent post on the failure to appoint members to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, I did not mention the Director of International Broadcasting, which is, as the authors above note, is the day-to-day manager of America’s non-military international broadcasting. The position has been vacant for four years.


    Random: getting to know Lichtenstein

    imageSubscribing to State’s Background Notes is fun. Notes on countries are emailed as they are updated. Usually I just give a quick look over to learn at least one thing about the country, but something about Lichtenstein just jumped out – maybe it was the castle picture or the Austro-Swiss diplomatic support. Whatever it was, it appears here on the blog as a random diversion…

    Continue reading “Random: getting to know Lichtenstein

    Enabling Public Diplomacy Field Officers to do their Jobs

    By Bill Rugh at

    The many studies recommending public diplomacy reform have paid little attention to how public diplomacy is carried out at field posts around the world. The USIA-State merger has hampered public diplomacy field operation effectiveness because assumptions behind the merger over-emphasized the similarities between traditional diplomacy and public diplomacy which is a specialized profession requiring a separate set of skills. Those skills are learned primarily through on the job training, and proficiency grows with experience. While every Foreign Service Officer should understand public diplomacy and support it that does not mean every FSO needs a PD assignment. Public diplomacy positions at embassies above entry level should be filled by PD cone officers to ensure effectiveness at post.  Moreover, PAOs at every embassy need more local authority to manage their programs.   They also need a more efficient backup system in Washington, and that can best be provided by creating a new Bureau for Public Diplomacy Field Operations staffed by experienced PD professionals.  This restructuring proposal is fairly simple because it could be accomplished within the State Department. …

    Today, a PAO must deal with PD professionals scattered all over the State Department under layers of bureaucracy and no single point of coordination. Karen Hughes as Undersecretary happened to have excellent relations with the President, but she had no effective bureaucratic control over PD professionals in the State Department or at embassies abroad. The budgetary and personnel control was in several other hands, including ambassadors, regional assistant secretaries and State’s personnel system. At one point, Karen Hughes tried to assert more authority over the PD professionals by sending a telegram to PAOs telling them that they should consider her office as their “home office” at State, but that has not worked in practice because the Undersecretary does not control their budgets and she does not write their performance evaluations or make their assignments. Her staff is very small and does not have the expertise or understanding of each PAO’s situation in the field that the USIA area offices used to have.

    I recommend reading the whole article.

    At the Foreign Service Institute last week, Secretary of State Clinton gave some related comments:

    I want to assure you that I will continue to do everything I can to make sure you have the resources and support necessary to continue that tradition of excellence. I know that your new expansion will provide badly needed classroom spaces, a larger cafeteria, a childcare center. The President and I have requested funding that will allow us to create the positions we need for training and career development for all of our employees – Foreign Service, Civil Service, and locally hired staff overseas.

    Both the President and I recognize that maintaining a diverse, well-trained, highly skilled workforce is absolutely critical to pursuing our nation’s foreign policy. I said on the first day that I walked into the Department that smart power requires smart people, and FSI is training the smartest people around. And every day, I am reminded what an honor I have to serve with the dedicated professionals that not only do the work that is so necessary around the world, but who really represent America and our values, and who communicate that in a million different ways every single day.

    See also:

    • U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy: no one in PD conducts PD overseas – Strong words from the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.  Strong and brutally honest. (June 24, 2008)
    • Public Diplomacy is not Public Relations – The State Department must become a hub of innovation that implements, trains, and coordinates with the rest of the government. This means revamping the incentive structure, breaking from zero-tolerance of informational errors, introducing the military concept of "commander’s intent", and educating, empowering, encouraging, and equipping all of the State Department of the "now" and ubiquitous global information environment. (Jan 23, 2009)
    • Hitting Bottom at Foggy Bottom – My article at on the structural failures at State and the need to fix it rather than let it breakup – or be cannibalized. (Sep 11, 2009)
    • Preparing to Lose the Information War? – Is Congress paying attention? (Sep 10, 2009)

    Art of Declaring Victory and Going Home

    By Tony Corn over at Small Wars Journal: The Art of Declaring Victory and Going Home, Strategic Communication and the Management of Expectations (PDF, 140kb)

    Contrary to a naïve belief, actions rarely speak for themselves. The choice of a communication strategy determines whether a military build-up is perceived as a temporary “surge,” or an open-ended “escalation,” and this initial perception, in turn, determines whether a future withdrawal will be perceived as “mission accomplished,” or “lack of resolve.” …

    If good deeds spoke for themselves, we could send the Peace Corps and disband the Marine Corps. Good deeds so rarely speak for themselves that even NGOs devote up to one-fourth of their budget to self-promotion, and that the greatest weakness of U.S. AID for years (compared to its EU counterpart) has been found to be its failure to advertise its own activities. …

    The idea that strategic communication is at best a supporting activity constitutes a formidable intellectual regression. If the West all loses so many “media engagements,” it is precisely because – as Kilcullen pointed out – al-Qaeda plans its media operations first and gives a supporting role to military operations, while the West too often continues to plan military operations first, and give information operations a supporting role.

    Read the whole thing here.

    Operational note

    Two administrative items to share:

    First, I will be in Korea 23 September – 4 October with limited online access. During this time, updates to the blog are unlikely.

    Second, I am forming a non-profit organization to own and operate This is the best path to continue the blog as well as move it forward. I am open to suggestions on organizations that may be interested in funding this niche enterprise – email me.

    Absent Leadership in Public Diplomacy

    From the President to the Secretaries of State and Defense, we have frequently heard how public diplomacy is key to America’s national security. While Congress debates the encroachment of the military into areas traditionally occupied, lead, and resourced by civilian agencies, there remains too much darkness when it comes to understanding the dysfunction in the structures of America’s public diplomacy, let alone at the State Department as a whole. Whether it is absent leadership at USAID, empty Undersecretary and Assistant Secretary positions across State, including the Assistant Secretary positions at International Information Programs.

    Such absence of leadership leads to meandering efforts and poor use of resources. This is a core issue behind the Congressional examination into Defense strategic communication activities – a warranted development considering the lack of leadership, as noted in this report from earlier this year.

    The absence of leadership – even if the seat is being warmed – can lead to other agencies taking a piece of your pie. In the case of State, the void left by inaction and poor action by State in global engagement led to the often clumsy buildup by Defense. Today, USAID may suffer: the US Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, has asked the Secretaries of State and Defense to reallocate $170 million from DOD, DOS, and USAID to USDA for work in Afghanistan. In IIP’s (a site I used to tout) there’s a clear shift from informing and engaging through news to engaging through social media for the sake of engagement (apparently under the what-I-thought-was the outdated rubric of “to know me is to love me”). It’s perhaps a bit ironic that the same failure of leadership led to the disestablishment (abolishment to be blunt) of USIA ten years ago.

    Continue reading “Absent Leadership in Public Diplomacy

    Tactical Strategic Communication! Placing Informational Effect at the Centre of Command

    Written by Cdr Steve Tatham, Royal Navy, imageTactical Strategic Communication!” (PDF, 192kb) is a necessary read for communities interested in strategic communication and the operations of our adversaries. Steve is a Director of Research at the UK Defense Academy and the author of Losing Arab Hearts and Minds: The Coalition, Al Jazeera and Muslim Public Opinion.

    Tactical Strategic Communication!” describes how strategic communication must be holistic, agile, and awareness of both the adversary and the target audiences (related: Call Haji Shir Mohamad ASAP!). In a twist on the “guy in a cave” mantra popular on this side of the Pond, Steve notes how the Taliban transformed and adapted to their new environment:

    The early years of the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan were not known for their press freedom. Technology was unwelcome, images of human beings considered apostate and world public opinion largely irrelevant to an organisation that actively sought to return afghan society to that of the Prophet Mohamed’s time. Yet the success of Al-Qaeda’s manipulation of the media in its global insurgency, and more latterly in its operations in Iraq, had not gone unnoticed.

    Continue reading “Tactical Strategic Communication! Placing Informational Effect at the Centre of Command

    News resources


    Google Fast Flip

    One problem with reading news online today is that browsing can be really slow. A media-rich page loads dozens of files and can take as much as 10 seconds to load over broadband, which can be frustrating. What we need instead is a way to flip through articles really fast without unnatural delays, just as we can in print. The flow should feel seamless and let you rapidly flip forward to the content you like, without the constant wait for things to load. Imagine taking 10 seconds to turn the page of a print magazine!

    Like a print magazine, Fast Flip lets you browse sequentially through bundles of recent news, headlines and popular topics, as well as feeds from individual top publishers. As the name suggests, flipping through content is very fast, so you can quickly look through a lot of pages until you find something interesting. At the same time, we provide aggregation and search over many top newspapers and magazines, and the ability to share content with your friends and community. Fast Flip also personalizes the experience for you, by taking cues from selections you make to show you more content from sources, topics and journalists that you seem to like. In short, you get fast browsing, natural magazine-style navigation, recommendations from friends and other members of the community and a selection of content that is serendipitous and personalized.

    Continue reading “News resources