Heritage on Smith-Mundt

I read through Juliana Geran Pilon’s Smith-Mundt article and I agree with Kim Andrew Elliott’s assessment that it has little to do with Smith-Mundt (for background on Smith-Mundt, see my post at Small Wars Journalpart one and one-half is here, part II is forthcoming).

While her intentions are laudable, her examples miss the point and her arguments conflate description of action with the action itself. In the end, she ironically she seems to be making the same arguments that brought about Smith-Mundt in the first place.

Continue reading “Heritage on Smith-Mundt”

Off the cuff: Part 1.5 of What the SecDef Didn’t Say

“Today, American public diplomacy wears combat boots.” This is how I started the post the Small Wars Journal that intentionally implied more than it stated. In an era when fewer Americans know a soldier, sailor, Marine, or airman, the global audience increasingly shapes their opinion by our armed forces. While this irony is seemingly lost on our chief diplomat, Condoleezza Rice, and our chief public diplomat, Karen Hughes, it fortunately isn’t lost on Mr. Gates. Also not lost on Mr. Gates is the importance of information in today’s struggle over minds and wills. As I’ve written elsewhere, increased information asymmetry decreases the fungibility of force. The recent U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Manual understands that, although it does not use these words to say so. What we need is less of a focus on precision-guided munitions and greater attention on precision-guided media.

Continue reading “Off the cuff: Part 1.5 of What the SecDef Didn’t Say”

What the SecDef Didn’t Say at Kansas But Should Have (Updated)

Checkout my post on what Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates didn’t say in his Kansas State University speech.

Today, American public diplomacy wears combat boots. In the global media and the blogosphere, the military and its uniformed leaders shape the image of the United States. But that is not how it has always been. On the contrary, American public diplomacy was born out of the need to directly engage the global psyche and avoid direct martial engagement.

On November 26, 2007, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, speaking at Kansas State University, recalled how the United States marshaled its national power at the beginning of the Cold War. Mr. Gates reminded his audience that sixty years ago the United States dramatically restructured itself in the face of a global threat and passed the National Security Act of 1947, created the United States Information Agency and the United States Agency for International Development, among other agencies and institutions. Key to the success of all of these was the timely creation and transmission of quality information, or truthful propaganda.

In his clarion call to revamp the current structures of government to meet modern threats, Mr. Gates sidestepped an obstacle that has been misinterpreted and misapplied over the last three decades: Public Law 402: United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, commonly known as the Smith-Mundt Act. Despite popular belief, the restrictions the Act is known for today were not designed or intended to be a prophylactic for sensitive American eyes and ears.

Read the whole thing at the Small Wars Journal.

Readings on Public Diplomacy, #1 (Updated)

In just a couple of weeks and barring any last minute problems, a colleague (Yael Swerdlow) and I will be the first in the U.S. (the world?) to be earn a Masters in Public Diplomacy. So what does one do with such a unique, yet extremely timely, degree? Good question. That’s a very good question. Of course I’m actively looking now and I’m open for suggestions (or offers ;).

Partly because I’m being introspective and partly motivated by Abu Muqawama’s counterinsurgency book club, this is the first of an occasional series on books and resources (that may or may not have been used in my program) I found particularly useful. In the spirit of James Traub’s NYT Magazine article this weekend, this series kicks off with one of my recent favorites. 

totalcoldwarKenneth Osgood’s Total Cold War: Eisenhower’s Secret Propaganda Battle at Home And Abroad is a timely read on the original intents and purpose of what has been stripped and twisted into the public diplomacy we know today. Shaped by Charlotte Beers and Karen Hughes, public diplomacy as it is commonly understood today is a far cry from what it was. Osgood gets into the gritty details of why and how the whole of government approach toward the psychological struggle for minds and wills was developed. It was a Total War. 

While the National Security Act of 1947 was debated, revised, and subsequently passed, Public Law 402, otherwise known as the Smith-Mundt Act, was also being debated, modified, and then passed in the following year. A few years later, presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower would attack President Truman for being soft in the ideological war. Experienced in PSYOP, Eisenhower knew the importance of the "psychological struggle over minds and wills" and included such in his speeches on foreign policy.

The former general was attacking President Harry S Truman for ignoring the grass roots, the battleground where the enemy was present. Truman, however, was set on engaging people through the international institutions he was busy promoting, such as the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and even the Marshall Plan. We might call that soft power (although economics were explicitly excluded from Joseph Nye’s original definition of soft power). None of these "looked" like the public diplomacy we talk about today. In the struggle for minds and wills, these institutions effectively supported and enhanced the image and impact of the West, albeit in primarily in contested spaces that culturally similar.

In the 1950’s, to those paying attention, policy and propaganda were inextricably intertwined. Morganthau recognized the importance of national morale and the quality of diplomacy as the world struggle shifted from the arena of power to the arena of ideas and international persuasion. Osgood walks you through a time when Smith-Mundt was not about protecting the American public from the government, but about competing against a different threat than the traditional territorial threat. As Osgood puts it, the

primary threat was not that the Soviet Union would take territory through military force, but…capitalize on economic and social unrest, expanding its power through subversion and manipulation.

Understanding the history and evolution of public diplomacy is important when critiquing and suggesting changes to it today. Returning to history is important if we seek "causes, sources,and conditions of overt changes of patterns and structures in society" as well its systems.

Osgood’s book will give you a strong appreciation of what was public diplomacy before Edward Gullion coined the term (because, as Gullion put it, "propaganda was already taken"), as well as the creation of USIA and USAID. The neutered beauty contest we know today was both more vertical and horizontal, cutting across the whole of government and relied less on muscular approaches in contested spaces both abroad and in the home front. Back then, it wasn’t about "hearts" even if communism played on the hopes for a better life (sidenote: contrast with the hope of communism today with the fear peddled today by AQ). There was no love to be gained or earned, but respect and ideological attractiveness (probably the source of ‘love’). 

How we’ve traveled from that original path is for another post, however.

I strongly suggest most of this book for anyone interested in public diplomacy or strategic communications. My copy is full of flags and highlights.

Is a Blog a News Service? Smith-Mundt on DipNote (Update)

No time for a deep analysis, so a superficial commentary will have to do. One of the more interesting aspects of Smith-Mundt was its opposition to a USG-owned news service in light of recent memory of not only Nazi Germany’s propaganda machine, but also of the Creel Commission, or Committee on Public Information (CPI). The prohibitions against internal propagandizing in Smith-Mundt focused on the point of dominating information channels to the public. Argued as First Amendment violations and as a potential infringement on the free press, Smith-Mundt prevented the USIA from becoming a domestic news service.

Today, there’s lots of discussion on the role of the New Media: the blogosphere. While there is some interactivity, blogs are alternative, and too often superior, news sources than traditional media.

Thus the question: is State’s new blog, when used to provide news or timely commentary or analysis, a modern equivalent of the Four Minute Men of the CPI?

This question isn’t too suggest that State should stop blogging. On the contrary, they should blog and, by the way, welcome to the 21st Century experts on Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy.

No, this is to suggest that the misplaced and overreaching application of Smith-Mundt is selective at State, and the rest of USG. If State were to be rigid on their application of Smith-Mundt, as they have overly been, then it is is easily argued their blog crosses the line into the realm of a news service and in competition with the press and is thus prohibited under Smith-Mundt.

What to do? First, remember what Smith-Mundt was intended to cover, allowing for perversions in later amendments to the Act, and stop over-applying it. Continued overly-broad application would mean the blog has to go. That’s bad, and wrong. Second, change or dismantle Smith-Mundt altogether. 

Update: Responding to a reader’s email, I want to emphasize that I don’t think the blog is covered by Smith-Mundt. As the reader points out, "pertains to activities funded primarily in [Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP)], not the [Bureau of Public Affairs (PA)], which is the source of the blog. … [Karen Hughes] can use PA resources to address a domestic audience without violating [Smith-Mundt]."

I know that, the reader knows that, but many don’t, including too many in USG. For example, I’m told Karen Hughes only recently learned DOD believes itself to be covered under Smith-Mundt, which it has for some time. The recent RAND report by new friends of MountainRunner captured this.

The purpose of this post and others like it is to emphasize that more people need to know and understand the purpose and limits of Smith-Mundt. There is more on this topic to come.


Swedish Meatballs’s post on Smith-Mundt, with its rare quoting of Dave Grossman (perhaps SM was motivated by this post), shows how the Smith-Mundt Act has been distorted over the years to become something it was never intended to be. Because of this, as SM points out, Smith-Mundt needs to be drastically revised, or better, yet, ditched.

Forgotten is the purpose and focus of the Act. The Act focused on raising the quality of American propaganda that was so dysfunctional as to actually aid the enemy (sound familiar?). Discussions about domestic broadcasting were focused on Free Speech and guaranteeing the government wouldn’t compete with rich domestic broadcasters.

Meatball One asks

Might an abolition of Smith-Mundt open the door to aggressive, intelligent, and creative methods for manufacturing a reformed and resilient Will among the homeland’s citizenry for the long and grinding wars we are told to expect and accept?

Current mythical "prohibitions" limiting the Defense Department are seemingly based on Defense moving into the realm of State and assuming its liabilities, but only partially. For example, for State to even discuss any literature or photos it is broadcasting overseas requires clearance, a series of hurdles Defense has not adopted.

Unlike today, there were memories of not only Hitler’s effective ownership and thus monopolizing broadcast mediums, but also of the Creel Committe (See ZenPundit for a short bit on Creel) in the United States. There was strong public backlash against what was perceived as an attempt to manipulate domestic public opinion.

If the Executive Branch fully embraced the prohibition against propagandizing its own public there’s a certain treaty it would not have excepted out of and, more importantly, Tony Snow and Dana Perino wouldn’t have a job (perhaps their office would look and sound more like their United Kingdom’s counterpart… note the references to the PM and the PMOS).

Meatball One closes his post with these two questions:

So what do you say, Bernays – any hidden costs? Is this where democracy ends or perhaps where democracy only truly can begin?

The answer: Yes and no to both. In part, Smith-Mundt is a response to Bernays’ activities thirty-five years earlier. During the massive restructuring of the United States to counter the emerging ideological threat coming from all angles (remember the National Security Act of 1947 was passed during the two years of debate on Smith-Mundt), Smith-Mundt was to protect democracy, not from itself but from the outside. Protection inside was mainly for the broadcasters, which Benton vigorously and successfully courted the broadcasters and continued to do so afterward its passage in a period of increasingly rapid (relatively) news cycles and accessibility.

The Swede is right, something significant needs to be done with Smith-Mundt, but attempts at an outright dismissal will be met by a swift and emotional counter-reaction. What is necessary is a conversation on the topic to understand its purpose and intent.

See quotes on the Act or about the Act here and here.

Quoting history #4

Following up on Republican statements on the need for Smith-Mundt, comes some Democrat voices from 1947, quoted in Shawn Parry-Giles’ Rhetorical Presidency, Propaganda and the Cold War:

Predictably, much of the congressional opposition to the legalization of peacetime propaganda was grounded in the assumption that such an organization threatened the US free press system. Representative William Lemke (D-CT) questioned any governmental attempt to “compete” with private news stations, calling for financial support of short-wave stations and “those who blazed the trail with their own funds.” According to Lemke, “Any other procedure would be the rankest kind of injustice.” Congressman Hale Boggs (D-LA) also questioned the practice of placing the government in “competition with a free press,” reflecting the Russian practice of controlling the “radio and the press”.

It wasn’t just Democrats with this concern. A contemporary fight with the AP and UP against State fueled the debate.

…Congressman J. Edgar Chenoweth (R-CO) used the conflict between the State Department and the AP as evidence that a constitutional exigency existed over the government’s intrusion into the news business. Referring to the goals of the Smith-Mundt bill as “novel and extraordinary,” Chenoweth cited Kent Cooper, executive director of the AP, emphasizing the “abhorrence of the Government going into the news business,” an act that Cooper equated with “amending the Constitution.”

Quoting History #2

Today…peace is endangered by the weapons of false propaganda and misinformation and the inability on the part of the United States to deal adequately with those weapons.

Truth can be a powerful weapon on behalf of peace. It is the firm belief of the Committee that HR 3342, with all the safeguards included in the bill, will constitute an important step in the right direction toward the adequate dissemination of the truth about America, our ideals, and our people.


…This work has been going on for 29 months in the State Department. The time has come when Congress should give the program its official sanction. Further delay in taking action will seriously embarrass the President and the Secretary of State in the conduct of foreign relations, since information in the modern world is an exceedingly important instrument of policy.

What’s the topic? Some readers may recognize HR 3342 as the resolution put forward by a Representative Karl Mundt, conservative republican from South Dakota who, before Pearl Harbor, was an ardent isolationist. While serving on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Mundt worked vigorously with Senator H. Alexander Smith (R-NJ) to gain passage of what was officially known as Public Law 402: The United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948.

The above quotes are from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations recommending the Senate pass the bill, which it did without dissent (earlier, the House voted 272 to 97 in favor). It was signed into law by President Truman January 27, 1948, and later became known as the Smith-Mundt Act.

Cited in Robert William Pirsein’s The Voice of America : An History of the International Broadcasting Activities of the United States Government, 1940-1962, Dissertations in Broadcasting. New York: Arno Press, 1979.

Finally, a National Strategy on Public Diplomacy (updated)

I finally had a chance to go through the so called “US National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication“. I’m not impressed. It might be better than nothing, but not much. Whatever Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes has been doing over the last several months, it certainly can’t be described as intelligent leadership over American public diplomacy and public affairs. This “new” plan reinforces this sad fact.

Holding on tight to her “Diplomacy of Deeds” and “empowerment of women” without acknowledging the inconvenient reality of the former (and punishing those who do) and the far from near-term impact of the latter, Ms. Hughes continues to focus on second tier goals without initiative or apparent understanding of the power of information in today’s environment. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud her efforts at empowering women, girls, and educating the youth, but they are not the number two strategic audience ahead of the “mass audiences” that actually support and feed and join the enemy.

While it’s good Ms. Hughes wants to reach out to lots of people, the catch-all “mass audience” is comical in its definition. I actually wonder if Ms. Hughes actually read the dozens of recommendations she mocked less than two years ago. This is how she defines “mass audiences”:

With increasing numbers of people across the world getting their news and information primarily from television, America must expand its presence on international broadcasts. USG broadcasting entities of the Broadcasting Board of Governors provide direct channels to mass audiences worldwide through television, radio and VOA’s web site. We are rapidly developing improved capabilities to employ the power of Internet and other new technologies. USG officials in Washington and abroad are engaging more actively than ever with foreign media, including television and radio as well as print. Outreach through foreign media should be considered a basic work requirement for USG officials to the greatest extent possible. With mass audiences worldwide now receiving much of their news via television, all USG officials should make appearances on television news and information shows a special priority.

There is one nugget she gets right in this: “Outreach through foreign media should be considered a basic work requirement for USG officials to the greatest extent possible.” Very good, but let’s look again at the attempt to address the “mass audience.”

This six sentence description mentions television five times and the Internet once (or twice if you count the “VOA web site”. Emphasizing that this plan belongs in 2001, or even 1991, her department is still developing the capability to “employ the power of [the] Internet and other new technologies.” The lowered priority of the Internet for outreach and communication makes me wonder if she thinks it may be a series of tubes. Maybe she’s grown beyond “four or five” bloggers in her office since March, or maybe not.

The emphasis on television over the blogosphere and other online media severely discounts the need to foster deeper relationships with alienated peoples in friendly territories, such as Europe (think Hamburg, 7/7, Madrid). This attention on a geographic group is narrow at best and reactive at worse. Perhaps Ms. Hughes should inform the intelligence community not to reduce their online monitoring because not much happens there. Ms. Hughes clearly feels insurgent and terrorist propaganda on the Internet, such as the Nick Berg beheading or any successful IED attack, is useless to counter or is playing to an unreachable audience.

The plan sets the misunderstood goal of “amplifying mainstream Muslim voices”. Instead, she should be embracing Islamic moderates to “explore tension and misunderstanding”, as CSIS points out. But she’s in a dilemma because she refuses to accept the existence of tension. Instead the “strategic” plan emphasizes a need to “actively nurture common interests and values.” 

Does she really think that the people who provide the financial, social, moral, and physical support, not to mention recruiting pools, spend more time in front of the television? What about the London bombing? Madrid? The Hamburg cell? The list goes on, including why we can’t take wine on the plane for a house warming anymore.

If Ms. Hughes were a leader, she would not only lay out real priorities and define real objectives, but she would be demanding more money to engage and counter foreign propaganda. Instead she takes a back seat and keeps her head in the sand, at best reacting to the challenges of the information war we’re engaged in today. 

But she isn’t a leader. Ms. Hughes continues to focus her department on “communicating America’s views, values and policies in effective ways to audiences across the world” because, as we all know, if they simply understood us better, we’d all get along.

Some advice for Ms. Hughes: get out on a full court press on Capitol Hill, the talk show circuit, both domestically and overseas, and get the message of the value of the public diplomacy (and public affairs) mission out there, as well as the need to consolidate the two and dump the artificial and antiquated Smith-Mundt restrictions. Focus on the realities of modern information warfare.

While Senator Hillary Clinton successfully earmarks $24 million to fight rust, Ms. Hughes seems pleased with her FY2007 supplemental of $50 million. Is Ms. Hughes doing anything to get more money, like leveraging your relationship as one of the President’s trusted advisors? Is she doing anything to pressure her boss, one of the President’s famous work wives, to get more money? I seem to recall that nearly all of the  “too many” reports that Ms. Hughes complained about when she came into office said something about getting more money, generally on the order doubling to quadrupling the budget. Perhaps Ms. Hughes can’t because neither her boss nor her can stand up to the DoD and get an hour’s worth of operating in Iraq to fund your fundamental role.

And if Ms. Hughes feels so strongly about exchanges, what is she doing about passports so Americans can go overseas? Are she doing anything to help foreign visitors come to the US? What about concrete assistance overseas that people see (sorry, that link directed you to Chinese public diplomacy, try this one instead)? Has she been thinking about the times when countries like Iran have taken credit for our aid (such as air lift in Pakistan) or infrastructure projects (as they did in Iraq)? How is she empowering her organization to counter those failures to own the message and follow up when they get hijacked? 

This strategy does nothing to correct the failure to understand the diverse relationships in areas increasingly the source of threats to American physical and economic security. As Kathleen Meilahn wrote a few months back

Due to [US Government] failure to respect, implement or integrate cultural understanding as a war fighting tool (other than rhetorically), wehave entered a world of shadows…it is imperative that the U.S. Government understand those cultures and their cultural context in order to effectively promote and achieve peace…

The [US] will not succeed in Iraq until policy, strategy, plans, and operations are informed by understanding of the cultural context in Iraq, the multi-faceted groups and individuals with varied goals who are both stabilizing and destabilizing influences, and the people whose hearts and minds must be won over in order to gain support and remove support for irregular threat elements.

Once upon a time there was a rumor that Hughes was in the “take-offs” of American foreign policy. Not only has there been no evidence to suggest this is true but this “new” plan accepts her lack of participation in strategic policy formulation. There is lip service to the interagency committee that looks at a tactic (Counterterrorism Communications Center), but a fundamental lack of understanding the depth of conversations (as in two-way, not just a one-way talking to) that she has the requirement to promote.

Get out and lead, Ms. Hughes, and fight for the basic tools you need in the information war. Or, perhaps you’re not doing this because you don’t really understand the world today.

Pentagon “roadmap” calls for “boundaries”…

Heads up on a report just acquired by FOIA by National Security Archive: Information Operations Roadmap. The National Security Archive headline describes it thus:

A secret Pentagon "roadmap" on war propaganda, personally approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in October 2003, calls for "boundaries" between information operations abroad and the news media at home, but provides for no such limits and claims that as long as the American public is not "targeted," any leakage of PSYOP to the American public does not matter.

Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive at George Washington University and posted on the Web today, the 74-page "Information Operations Roadmap" admits that "information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP, increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience and vice-versa," but argues that "the distinction between foreign and domestic audiences becomes more a question of USG [U.S. government] intent rather than information dissemination practices."

The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, amended in 1972 and 1998, prohibits the U.S. government from propagandizing the American public with information and psychological operations directed at foreign audiences; and several presidential directives, including Reagan’s NSD-77 in 1983, Clinton’s PDD-68 in 1999, and Bush’s NSPD-16 in July 2002 (the latter two still classified), have set up specific structures to carry out public diplomacy and information operations. These and other documents relating to U.S. PSYOP programs were posted today as part of a new Archive Electronic Breifing Book.

Several press accounts have referred to the 2003 Pentagon document but today’s posting is the first time the text has been publicly available. Sections of the document relating to computer network attack (CNA) and "offensive cyber operations" remain classified under black highlighting.

There is a lot to digest in this and related documents. Other priorities prevent me from diving deep right now, but I’ll return to this later.

UPDATE 1 Feb 06 See ZenPundit’s posting on same (but with a different title and 3 days after this post :).