BBG on the Hill (Updated)

On October 22, 2015, I had the privilege to testify before the Emerging Threats and Capabilities (ETC) subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.  The hearin, Countering Adversarial Propaganda: Charting an Effective Course in the Contested Information Environment, was chaired by Rep. Joe Wilson. 

Testimony was given by Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Lumpkin, Major General Christopher Haas, Brigadier General Charles Moore, and me as a BBG Governor. My role was largely informational to share another ‘tool in the toolbox’ as HASC is not an oversight committee for the BBG. Biographies and submitted written testimony may be found here and the video of the event may be found below.

My testimony was the first time in over four years, since April 2011, that a sitting Governor appeared before any Congressional committee. The interest from HASC in BBG is not sudden. The committee, it should be noted, is a friend of public diplomacy and international communication. Several years ago, it introduced and championed the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act to remove the taint of “propaganda” from U.S. public diplomacy and the BBG’s journalism.

Below is an excerpt from my oral testimony that emphasized the unique, and often unappreciated, role the BBG’s networks play in U.S. foreign policy and national security.

BBG is unique, however, in that we prioritize our content to impact our strategic audiences. Many of our reporters are not only from our target markets, but they also maintain extensive networks in them. They speak as locals. They know their audiences deeply.

We are called upon to operate in markets until “private information dissemination is found to be adequate.” Virtually by definition, we target markets that are hard to reach and, at best, under served by accessible reliable independent media. In short, there is no other agency or corporation like us – that puts the audience first, and that actively builds true, independent media markets, in order to one day not be needed.

By unleashing the power of professional journalism, we not only inform foreign publics, we allow individuals to aspire to freedom by offering them a platform to make decisions based on information that is verifiably true.

When we cover the success of free and open elections, as we have recently in Nigeria, we educate audiences on how opposition parties can seek power peacefully through the ballot.

BBG serves as a key explainer of U.S. policy as well. VOA’s Charter mandates that our programs “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and…also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.

When we train the lens on our own policy discussions, for example by covering differing views on the recent negotiations with Iran, we allow the world to see democracy as a constantly evolving work in progress guided by the rule of law. Even simply talking about how Americans go about paying parking tickets can open the eyes of our audiences.

Allow me to use some terms that are not usually associated with the BBG but are familiar to the Committee and to my colleagues.

The BBG is actively involved in “foreign internal defence” through empowering the people with the truth and giving them a voice through transparency and accountability.

We work “By, With, and Through” local populations by training and equipping local media and individuals to be better journalists. We actively work with some 3,000 affiliate news organization around the world, including 400 radio stations in Indonesia alone.

We are a “force multiplier” for broader U.S. public diplomacy. By opening markets in closed societies for fact-based journalism and helping our audiences see an alternative future, BBG’s international media provides a platform on which the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Agency for International Development, the Department of Agriculture, and others can build and advance their own success. …

As I close, let me say: journalism is a powerful force for change. By acting as the “foreign domestic media” the BBG plays a critical role in the lives of audiences by providing them with news and information, in their local language, that is relevant to their daily lives.

Voice of America’s first broadcast stated: “The news may be good or bad; we will tell you the truth.” At BBG, we continue to operate with that in mind, because truth builds trust and credibility, and delivering credible news is the most effective counter to propaganda and ignorance and provide the audience with information that will affect their daily lives and use in their own decision-making.

And with that, I am happy to take questions. Thank you for your time and attention.

What was not said

During the hearing, during an exchange with Congressman Franks, Assistant Secretary Lumpkin presented a series of profiles as a taxonomy. My intervention should have clearly stated that some of BBG’s target audiences that exist outside that taxonomy. Members of these audiences may enter that taxonomy but they will certainly have an impact around the profiles classified, from shaping inoculation, influencing social acceptance & shunning of concepts and recruiters, to potentially affecting financial and logistical support structures.

There is a systemic problem in the U.S., and in other countries, that we look to the military solve our problems. The reasons for this are numerous — from budgets to quantity of personnel to bureaucratic posture and culture — but it does not change the fact that we continue to look at tactical tools to solve strategic issues.

Watch the hearing below.

This post has been updated.