Managing the problem: VOA, Smith-Mundt, and oversight

Public Law 80-402 opening

The White House, in typical fashion, very publicly lashed out at reporting it did not like. In this case, it was reporting from the Voice of America, a government-funded and managed news service, on Wuhan in China. The White House was triggered by a story published by VOA that did not come from the network, or its sister operation covering China, Radio Free Asia. VOA had republished a story from the Associated Press which VOA distributes under contract. Yesterday, I framed the situation as a failure of VOA’s leadership, and by extension a failure of VOA’s parent organization, the US Agency for Global Media, to focus on the mission and parameters of VOA. That mission and those parameters do not include providing coverage that is redundant to commercial media and does include focusing on audiences relevant to US foreign policy. Below, I continue the conversation by focusing on the “safeguards” Congress implemented around VOA to prevent and correct such failures, safeguards ignored by Congress and the White House abdicating their responsibilities.

Continue reading “Managing the problem: VOA, Smith-Mundt, and oversight

Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 introduced in the House

Last week, Representatives Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced a bill to amend the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 to “authorize the domestic dissemination of information and material about the United States intended primarily for foreign audiences, and for other purposes.” The bill, H.R.5736 — Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 (Introduced in House – IH), removes the prohibition on public diplomacy material from being available to people within the United States and thus eliminates an artificial handicap to U.S. global engagement while creating domestic awareness of international affairs and oversight and accountability of the same. This bill also specifies Smith-Mundt only applies to the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, eliminating an ambiguity creatively over the last three decades.

Continue reading “Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 introduced in the House

Congratulations Tara Sonenshine! confirmed to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Tara Sonenshine (USIP)
Tara Sonenshine (USIP)

Congratulations to Tara Sonenshine, who was confirmed this evening to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs!
Also confirmed was Mike Hammer as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (finally dropping “Acting” from his title).

Below is a list of all State Department.

  • Michael A. Hammer to be Assistant Secretary of State (Public Affairs)
  • Anne Claire Richard, of New York, to be an Assistant Secretary of State
  • Tara D. Sonenshine, of Maryland, to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, vice Judith A. McHale.
  • Robert E. Whitehead, of Florida, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Togolese Republic.
  • Larry Leon Palmer, of Georgia to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Barbados, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
  • Jonathan Don Farrar, of California to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Panama.
  • Phyllis Marie Powers, of Virginia to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Republic of Nicaragua.
  • Nancy J. Powell, of Iowa, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Personal Rank of Career Ambassador, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to India.
  • Frederick D. Barton, of Maine, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Conflict and Stabilization Operations), vice Bradford R. Higgins.

For Tara, getting started requires waiting for the President to attest (certify) the confirmation, then swearing in (mostly like at the Department, possibly by Secretary Clinton but possibly Under Secretary Kennedy, unless she has a specific individual in mind), and then she’s off and running.  She could start as early as Monday but Tuesday may be more likely.  It largely depends on the White House’s ability to turn around the certification and get it to State.

Congratulations also goes to State’s public diplomacy, including the people, bureaucracy, the practice and the supporters.  Having a strong leader like Tara confirmed for the job is long overdue.  

“An inch closer feels like a good mile” – Foreign Relations moves on Tara’s nomination

Tara Sonenshine (Source: USIP)

Today’s business meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee includes Tara Sonenshine, nominee for Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs).  While perfunctory and the time spent on Tara and her cohort will be measured in single-digit minutes (all the real work is done before the business meeting), it is a major move toward confirmation. Continue reading ““An inch closer feels like a good mile” – Foreign Relations moves on Tara’s nomination

Another US Deficit – China and America – Public Diplomacy in the Age of the Internet

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN)The Senate Foreign Relations Committee released its report on the imbalance of public diplomacy activities between China and the United States. Entitled “Another U.S. Deficit – China and America – Public Diplomacy in the Age of the Internet,” this is the final version of the report I reviewed on 11 February. Commissioned by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the Ranking Member of the Committee, the report is a unique and necessary review of Chinese Government engagement in America. The report also highlights Chinese obstruction of reciprocity and U.S. Government failure to act, notably in the area of information freedom initiatives.

The timing of this report is critical. It comes on the heels of the recent U.S. visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao. More importantly, it comes at a time when the U.S. diplomacy budget, public and otherwise (is there really any diplomacy that is not in some part negotiated in public?), is under threat in today’s austere budget environment. At risk is the development and implementation of smart policies that, coupled with unfettered access to information to create knowledge, ultimately have a greater and more enduring bang for the buck than the kinetic effect of any smart munition.

Senator Lugar closes his letter that opens the report, a 2-page letter that you should read if you do not have the time or inclination to read even the report’s executive summary, with the hope the report will “stimulate dialogue within Congress.” It certainly should.

Read the report here (1.55mb PDF).

See also:

California plans to bid for 2020 World Expo

image Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in China on a weeklong trade mission through Asia, announced California is preparing to bid to host the 2020 World Expo.

The plan, which is not due until late 2011, would propose using Moffett Field, a decommissioned (1994) air field on San Francisco Bay and is adjacent to Silicon Valley.

“Shanghai has demonstrated that when you host the World Expo, the world comes to you, and I want the world to come to California. Our state is a leader in entertainment, agriculture, the environment, high-tech, green-tech and bio-tech, and we are ready to showcase our innovation to the world,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “As the hub of innovation, Silicon Valley is the most natural place to hold the Expo, which will promote the international exchange of ideas, create jobs and increase revenues in our state.”

Continue reading “California plans to bid for 2020 World Expo

Recalling History: Making the Case for U.S. Government Broadcasting

image As Americans, we are detached from our history. True, remaining anchored to the past can hold back progress, understanding what came before and thus the trajectory of past activities that shape today is helpful. As the saying goes, those who fail to grasp history are doomed to repeat it.
Understanding the context of public diplomacy, the institutions, and methods is important. For too many, public diplomacy began in the 1980s when the beginning of recent memory. At a 2009 conference organized by Doug Wilson, now the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, I sat on a “scene setting” panel with Harriet Fulbright, widow of the late Senator Fulbright, Len Baldyga, former Director of the Office of European Affairs of USIA, Barry Fulton, former Associate Director of USIA, and moderated by Bob Coonrod, former deputy director of VOA and former president and CEO for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting. (I still don’t know why I was on this panel of luminaries.) Each person told a terrific example of public diplomacy. My job was to wrap it up, so I did. I realized there was a common theme: at one time we prioritized the resources (people, money, and “things”) to identify and engage the right audiences.

Continue reading “Recalling History: Making the Case for U.S. Government Broadcasting

Reforming Smith-Mundt: Making American Public Diplomacy Safe for Americans

VOA_stamp_1967My latest op-ed on the conceptually and practically out-of-date "firewall" of the Smith-Mundt Act is up at World Politics Review: Reforming Smith-Mundt: Making American Public Diplomacy Safe for Americans. The complete article is available without a subscription.

American public diplomacy has been the subject of many reports and much discussion over the past few years. But one rarely examined element is the true impact of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which for all practical purposes labels U.S. public diplomacy and government broadcasting as propaganda. The law imposes a geographic segregation of audiences between those inside the U.S. and those outside it, based on the fear that content aimed at audiences abroad might "spill over" into the U.S. This not only shows a lack of confidence and understanding of U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting, it also ignores the ways in which information and people now move across porous, often non-existent borders with incredible speed and ease, to both create and empower dynamic diasporas.

The impact of the "firewall" created by Smith-Mundt between domestic and foreign audiences is profound and often ignored. Ask a citizen of any other democracy what they think about this firewall and you’re likely to get a blank, confused stare: Why — and how — would such a thing exist? No other country, except perhaps North Korea and China, prevents its own people from knowing what is said and done in their name. …

The rest at World Politics Review and comment there or here.

It is time this wall, one of the last two remaining walls of the Cold War, the other being the Korean DMZ, came down. If we insist on keeping this wall, a completely un-American and naive approach to global affairs, should Wikileaks be enlisted to let people within the US borders know what its government is doing with its money and in its name?

See also:

  • Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2010 (Updated) on the Thornberry-Smith legislation now pending in Congress
  • Recalling the 2009 Smith-Mundt Symposium on the January 2009 event on US public diplomacy
  • …and the only-somewhat tongue in cheek remark by PJ Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, at the daily briefing of 27 July 2010. While announcing the new Coordinator of IIP in his opening remarks, Matt Lee from the AP (also only somewhat tongue-in-check) asks whether PJ can talk about this "under the provisions of Smith-Mundt?" PJ’s response: "Yes. I, as the head of Public Affairs, can communicate both domestically and internationally. IIP, on the other hand, can only communicate outside the borders of the United States."

Smith-Mundt in CQ Weekly

image

cA few select quotes from the article are below. To read the whole article, you’ll have to visit the CQ website.

“The central problem is that the law has not kept up with changes in technology,” said William M. ‘Mac’ Thornberry, a Texas Republican who is sponsoring the new legislation with Washington Democrat Adam Smith. “Whether it is the Internet, the most obvious example, or even satellite television broadcasts, it becomes extremely difficult to say this broadcast is not only intended for foreign audiences but will only go to foreign audiences.”

Although Smith-Mundt was aimed at State Department information activities, Thornberry and others say the Pentagon has embraced some of the law’s precepts. The House Armed Services Committee, in fact, wrote last year that the Pentagon had misinterpreted the statute and taken an “overly cautious approach” to communications for foreign audiences.

It’s not clear to what degree the Defense Department is using the law as a guidepost [today]. “I hear from some people inside the department that Smith-Mundt doesn’t come up anymore; I hear from others that it comes up all the time,” says Matt Armstrong, a principal with Armstrong Strategic Insights Group, and an authority on the subject.

Thornberry said Congress would use its oversight to ensure that the [amended] law wasn’t abused for domestic propaganda purposes.

The bill’s co-sponsors includes Democrats:

  1. Smith (WA)
  2. Tanner (TN)
  3. Loretta Sanchez (CA)
  4. Langevin (RI)
  5. Giffords (AZ)
  6. Boren (OK)
  7. McIntyre (NC)
  8. Murphy (NY)

and Republicans:

  1. Rohrabacher (CA)
  2. Rehberg (MT)
  3. Miller (FL)
  4. Poe (TX)
  5. Rogers (AL)
  6. Conaway (TX)
  7. Inglis (SC)

See related posts:

Pursuing Human Rights through Public Diplomacy

image The latest issue of PD is available. PD is a bi-annual magazine that focuses on one particular subject area in each issue. The theme this time around is “Pursuing Human Rights Through Public Diplomacy“, a complex area not often explored by public diplomacy researchers. As the editors note, “Nonstate actors [in the area of human rights] do not necessarily consider themselves public diplomacy practitioners, and thus are not always aware of the public diplomacy power they wield.”

A small selection of the articles in the current issue are:

Continue reading “Pursuing Human Rights through Public Diplomacy

Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2010 (Updated)

On July 13, US Congressmen Mac Thornberry (TX-13) and Adam Smith (D-WA), both members of the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, introduced “The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2010” (H.R. 5729), a bipartisan bill to revise an outdated restriction that interferes with the United States’ diplomatic and military efforts. The Smith-Mundt Act, formally known as the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, was intended to improve and institutionalize information and exchange activities to counter Communist activities around the world that America’s ambassador to Russia described in 1946 as a “war of ideology… a war unto death.” Today, however, the Smith-Mundt Act is invoked not to enable engagement but to limit it.
The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2010 by Reps. Thornberry and Smith seeks to update the so-called “firewall” of the Act to bring it up to date with the modern environment where people, ideas, and information move through porous or non-existent borders with increasing ease.

The impact of the current “firewall” is decreased accountability of what is said and done in the name of the taxpayer and with taxpayer’s money, reduced transparency and scrutiny in the conduct, purpose, and effectiveness of foreign policy, reduced awareness of global affairs, limited understanding of the State Department in general inhibiting the development of constituency.

Continue reading “Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2010 (Updated)

Public Meeting of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy

The US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy will hold a public meeting on July 20, 2010 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the conference room of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) located at 1850 K Street, NW., Fifth Floor, Washington, DC 20006.

The Commissioners will discuss public diplomacy issues, including measurement of U.S. government public diplomacy efforts.

The Advisory Commission was originally established under Section 604 of the United States Information and Exchange Act of 1948, as amended (22 U.S.C. 1469) and Section 8 of Reorganization Plan Numbered 2 of 1977. It was reauthorized pursuant to Public Law 11-70 (2009), 22 U.S.C. 6553.

The public may attend this meeting as seating capacity allows. To attend this meeting and for further information, please contact Gerald McLoughlin at (202) 632-6570, e-mail: acpdmeeting@state.gov. Any member of the public requesting reasonable accommodation at this meeting should contact Mr. McLoughlin prior to July 15th. Requests received after that date will be considered, but might not be possible to fulfill.

Pincus article on military information activities is part literature review, part ignorance

Once again, Walter Pincus of The Washington Post writes about military information activities. Once again, the esteemed Pincus exposes his lack of knowledge and ability to really investigate and qualitatively report on military information activities. Just as Pincus criticizes the military for expanding into areas it lacks expertise in, the same can be said about Pincus, an internationally influential reporter at a major media outlet.

In a June 29, 2010, article titled “Fine Print: Contractors’ roles in psychological operations raise concerns,” Pincus links the recent debacle of the Rolling Stone article on General Stanley McChrystal with the use of contractors in information-related roles while unfairly mocking the Defense Department’s effort to address fundamental organizational, doctrinal, training, and resourcing challenges.

Continue reading “Pincus article on military information activities is part literature review, part ignorance

Congress and International Broadcasting

While the nominees for the Broadcasting Board of Governors remain in a holding pattern in the Senate, mostly likely because of Senator Tom Coburn, there is good news on the US international broadcasting front. The bill to permanently authorize Radio Free Asia has passed an important milestone.

According to a Senate source, last Friday, the Radio Free Asia bill was “hotlined” on the Republican side. This means there was no Republican opposition to considering the bill for unanimous consent. The next step is to hotline the bill on the Democrat side, which may or may not have occurred before you read this.

See also:

USA Lost and other depressing news

Team USA lost to Ghana in the World Cup in a contest that went into extra time. The referring was not quite the factor it was in previous games, but the referee yesterday should have warned and even penalized Ghana for delay of game and pretending to be fouled. He did neither but in the end, that did not change the fact Team USA could not put the ball in the net, despite several good opportunities to do so.

South Korea, another team I hoped would make it to the next round, was also defeated.

Also depressing is the nominees for the Broadcasting Board of Governors have yet to be confirmed by the Senate. Senator Lugar’s report and Huffington Post article on the BBG has apparently had no effect on the primary opposition, which is still apparently Senator Tom Coburn. Hopefully the nominees will be confirmed immediately when the Senate returns.

Finally, my vacation in Hawaii is sadly coming to an end. However, on the brighter side, within hours of my return to the mainland, I’ll be on a plane to the 9th Annual Information Operations Europe Conference in London where I will speak on Tuesday about the convergence of old and new media. My presentation will focus on Wikileaks as an online propagandist whose products and influence transcend mediums as well as the timely if unfortunate example of the General McChrystal / Rolling Stone story.

Lastly, the upcoming seminar Now Media: Engagement Based on Information not Platforms takes place July 6 in Washington, DC. There is still space so sign up now. I will extend the “Early Bird” pricing to Wednesday, June 30. On July 1, the price goes up $100.

Lastly, you may have heard that the US military has renamed Psychological Operations (PSYOP) to Military Information Support Operations (MISO). Soup (and other) jokes aside, here is the memo from the Department of the Army that describes the change with the “direction and consensus of our most senior military leadership.”

Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus briefing

The Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus is holding a briefing this Thursday, June 17th at 9:00am in Room 121 of the Cannon House Office Building to discuss the National Framework for Strategic Communication, the Secretary of State’s Strategic Framework for Public Diplomacy, and the Secretary of Defense’s “1055 Report” on Strategic Communication.

Briefers include Mr. Pradeep Ramamurthy from the White House National Security Staff, Ms. Kitty DiMartino from the State Department, and Ms. Rosa Brooks from the Department of Defense. The one-hour briefing will include time for questions and answers.

RSVP with Katy Quinn in Rep. Adam Smith’s office at Katy.Quinn@mail.house.gov or with Michael Clauser in Rep. Mac Thornberry’s office at Michael.Clauser@mail.house.gov.

See also:

Senate Report on the Broadcasting Board of Governors

The most extensive report on the issues facing the Broadcasting Board of Governors and US international broadcasting was released this week. “US International Broadcasting – Is Anybody Listening? – Keeping the US Connected” (1mb PDF) was prepared by the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under the leadership of senior professional staff member Paul Foldi, and is the best, if not the only, substantial review of its kind.
The report describes the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) as transforming from its intent of a political “firewall” to a modern political “football” that has resulted in an average vacancy on the board of over 470 days. Even now, the new slate of members of the BBG has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

Beyond staffing difficulties and the resulting repercussions, the report describes the fierce competition and imbalance, particularly with China and Russia, to engage listeners, viewers, and readers around the world. The report also recommends changes to the Smith-Mundt Act, describing the firewall as “anachronistic and potentially harmful.”

Some highlights from the report:

Continue reading “Senate Report on the Broadcasting Board of Governors

Movement on the BBG? (Updated)

imageNo, not yet. The Senate has adjourned until June 7. Questions from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to at least one of nominees to the Broadcasting Board of Governors is available from the Huffington Post (scroll down to COBURN’S QUESTIONNAIRE FOR DANA PERINO), or click here for the Word document with the questions.

Meanwhile, the head of the Persian News Network was “reassigned” and his deputy was fired.

See also: