Still unarmed in the struggle for minds and wills

Last month, The New York Times reported on the recruiting successes of Somali-based terrorist group Al Shabab. From Charges Detail Road to Terror for 20 in US by Andrea Elliott:

The case represents the largest group of American citizens suspected of joining an extremist movement affiliated with Al Qaeda, senior officials said. Many of the recruits had come to America as young refugees fleeing a brutal civil war, only to settle in a gang-ridden enclave of Minneapolis. …

The disclosures are the government’s first public account of a recruitment operation that it says has largely focused on Somali-American men from the Minneapolis area. Those young men included Shirwa Ahmed, 26, who carried out a suicide attack in northern Somalia in October 2008, becoming the first known American suicide bomber. Since then, at least five other recruits have been killed in Somalia, relatives and friends say, and four defendants have entered guilty pleas.

There is painfully little in the article about the information war and how the community gets their news from their homeland and home region.

See also:

  • Censoring the Voice of America

White House nominates a new slate to the Broadcasting Board of Governors

The Broadcasting Board of Governors oversees the United States Government’s non-military broadcasting. Its function is to provide managerial guidance from talented private sector leaders. The combined audience of the broadcasting it oversees is over 171 million, an increase of 71% over 2003, according to the BBG. Programming is in 60 languages and is provided though online media, satellite, terrestrial and cable television, as well as shortwave, AM, and FM radio. Like most advisory boards, the Governors, including the Chairman, are part-timers.

The Board is to have eight members, including the Chairman, plus the Secretary of State as an ex officio member. For over a year, however, the Board barely had quorum, and only if the Secretary of State was included. Four seats on the Board have been vacant for between one year to nearly 4 years while the terms of the seated Governors expired between 3.5 and 5.5 years ago. For all the lip service to the urgency to communicate with the world, the Board has been long neglected.

Yesterday, the White House announced a whole new slate for the Broadcasting Board of Governors: Walter Isaacson, as Chairman, Michael Lynton, Susan McCue, Michael Meehan, Victor H. Ashe, Dennis Mulhaupt, Dana Perino, and S. Enders Wimbush. The announcements and bios are here and here. Isaacson has been a candidate for over six months but has rumored to have held out until all the vacancies were filled.

Change is good, but more change is needed: the Chairman must become a full-time position in order to fully support and champion the needs of US Government broadcasting.

Let’s hope the nominees are confirmed quickly.

Will the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy be getting some attention soon?

See also:

Guest Post: “Brand America” back on top

By Simon Anholt

America has just become, according to my research, the world’s most admired country.

Since 2005, I’ve been running a survey called the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index (NBI), which measures international perceptions of 50 countries. Each year, around 20,000 people in 20 countries are asked to record their perceptions of each country’s government and its domestic and foreign policies on human rights, the environment, and international peace and security; of the people of each country, their talents, education, skills and their kindess to strangers; of each country’s cultural heritage and popular culture; about the quality and attractiveness of the products and services it produces; of the landscape and climate and tourist appeal of each country; of the economic and educational opportunities each country offers its own population and to immigrants. The NBI has been conducted fourteen times, and now consists of over a billion data points recording “how the world sees the world”. A parallel study, the Anholt-GfK Roper City Brands Index, performs a similar analysis of 50 cities (the 2008 topline results of both surveys can be queried interactively at

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Armed Services Committees Authorize Funds and Activities for State Department information operations (Updated)

If you haven’t read the National Defense Authorization of Act for Fiscal Year 2010 that came out of conference this week – and I’m guessing you haven’t – then you may have missed a potential precedent.

The Armed Services Committees of the House and Senate this week authorized $55 million for the State Department for what amounts to information operations (or call it public diplomacy, strategic communication, or global engagement). This is not so-called “1207” funding that allows Defense to transfer money to State for security and stabilization – there is another $100m (or more) of security and stabilization money the SASC/HASC direct DOD to transfer to State – nor is it, for the wonk in you, “1206” or “1208” funding. This is a direct authorization for State (and BBG if you prefer to separate them out) for specific activities.

The appearance of these authorizations in the Senate bill back in July took many by surprise. This could create questions over accountability of funds and confusion over guidance by adding more cooks who generally do not confer much and speak different language in this kitchen.

The big question is whether the authorities will be funded. This is unlikely considering neither the House or Senate defense appropriators have included this in their pre-conference bills. However, the Armed Services Committees created an opportunity for the defense appropriators to send a significant message. Whether the appropriators take that opportunity is to be seen.

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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.

  • 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.


    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.

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