Below is the prepared testimony of Evelyn S. Lieberman, former (and first) Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, before the the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10, 2010. Alternatively, download the 86kb PDF.
This is the first of two parts. The second part will be a response by Jeremy Berkowitz to be posted shortly. This post will be updated with that link when it is available.
“Raising the Iron Curtain on Twitter: why the United States must revise the Smith-Mundt Act to improve public diplomacy” (PDF, 415kb) is an intelligent and thoughtful paper from law student Jeremy Berkowitz. It is a valuable contribution to the too-sparse knowledgebase of legislation that shapes much of the US Government’s engagement with the world, including Americans. Written from a legal perspective – in May 2010 Jeremy will receive a Communications Law Studies Certificate from the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America – this paper delves into juridical actions related to the Smith-Mundt Act not found anywhere else. Jeremy also explores some of wrangling between the legislative and executive branch, specifically the confrontation between Senator Fulbright and US Attorney General Kleindienst. I was pleased to see his discussion on the 1998 DC Circuit Court decision in Essential Information v. United States Information Agency. In this case, the Court failed to distinguish “dissemination” and “disclosure”, ruling that “it seems unlikely that these two terms were meant to bear different meanings.”
To be completely crass, disaster relief and humanitarian aid is huge opportunity to score points with locals. It is, however, best when it is not done blatantly, but making it clear where the aid was coming from both gives your side points and potentially denies opportunities to competitors.
Reading The New York Times on my Blackberry Thursday morning, the article “Haiti Lies in Ruins; Grim Search for Untold Dead” by Simon Romero and Marc Lacey, dated January 14, 2010, struck a nerve. These are the first two paragraphs as they still read on my Blackberry:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Foreign aid trickled into Haiti’s devastated capital on Thursday morning as the victims of Tuesday’s earthquake, many of them injured and homeless, began to wake from another night spent in makeshift accommodations or out in the open.
A China Air plane landed early Thursday with a search team, medical workers and aid, The Associated Press reported. …
We are in a world where “old” and “new” media converge to create “now media”. Focus must be on the information, and the listening being generated in a noisy environment, not the channels of delivery. The modern information environment is fluid and dynamic and never simple. Information jumps from one medium to another with ease as it is repackaged and forwarded by proxies. Stories by the BBC or The New York Times do not exist solely in the realm of broadcast or dead trees.
Beginning this week, Friday blogging is likely to be light as Public Diplomacy and Technology begins. This is a graduate course I’m teaching at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism every Friday, 10a – 12:50p.
Several questions are asked throughout the course: What of the traditional gatekeepers to news and information? Who decides where the fiction begins? What is “public diplomacy” and who in the US Government does it? What is the global information environment and how are audiences defined? Where are audiences getting their information and do platforms shape the listening being created?
The is a practical course with real, contemporary examples. Current (or very recently retired) professionals will be available to contribute and guest lecture. After taking this course, the student should be capable of explaining to a senior policymaker the need and requirements to engage in the modern global information environment while cognizant that different geographies – physical, social, and cultural – demand different tools.
From Helle Dale at The Heritage Foundation, Public Diplomacy 2.0: Where the U.S. Government Meets “New Media”:
Public diplomacy and strategic communications experts within the U.S. government are exploring the potential of the new social media in the effort to win hearts and minds abroad, especially in the Muslim world where today’s war of ideas is being fought. Enemies of the United States are already expert in using these low-cost outreach tools that can connect thousands, potentially even millions, at the touch of a computer key or cell phone button. As public affairs blogger Matt Armstrong writes,
In this age of mass information and precision guided media, everyone from political candidates to terrorists must instantly and continuously interact with and influence audiences in order to be relevant and competitive. Ignoring the utility of social media is tantamount to surrendering the high ground in the enduring battle to influence minds around the world.
… When employed strategically, social-networking sites clearly offer potential for U.S. public diplomacy to reach younger, tech-savvy audiences around the world. Social-networking sites can also be cost-effective and run with relatively low overhead. Yet, nothing can replace the power of person-to-person contact and individual exposure to American culture. Furthermore, the unevenness of global technological progress means that a variety of media will remain critical to spreading the U.S. message. As part of a clear and calibrated U.S. government communications strategy, however, Public Diplomacy 2.0 can be a valuable tool.
I would add that there is the convergence of new and old media into Now Media makes intense focus on “new media” channels as distracting and potentially dangerous. As Helle Dale notes, person to person contact remains essential. Even in America’s social media world, studies indicate online relationships that have by real world connections are far stronger than those without.
A powerful, important, and too often ignored is the use of the online media by our adversaries. We require culturally aware, linguistically capable actors in the same languages and cultures we are operating in the “meat space.” What you see in your English-language search of Google or YouTube is not the same list as an Arabic-language search using the same .com site. How many know that? This is a far more dangerous world than many realize. Helle Dale’s recommendations are valid but are ultimately a small part of the solution. The institutional dysfunction across Government and the extreme lack of awareness of the requirements in both the executive and legislative branches overshadow any advantage of these recommendations. We have surrendered primary battlegrounds in the struggle for minds and wills. It is time to reverse this and answer counter the highly damaging propaganda of our adversaries.
A recently released and unreported report from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center has some fuel for the struggle of minds and wills. Deadly Vanguards: A Study of al-Qa’ida’s Violence Against Muslims (PDF, 875kb) is a survey of attacks carried out by Al Qaeda that should be part of a counter-narrative to Al Qaeda’s broadly accepted proposal that they are the champions of Muslims. For too long we have accepted the propaganda of the enemy, allowing him to set the time, place, and vocabulary, all to his advantage. He declared the war was between us and them and we agreed. It wasn’t and it isn’t.
From the report:
The results show that non‐Westerners are much more likely to be killed in an al‐Qa’ida attack. From 2004 to 2008, only 15% percent of the 3,010 victims were Western. During the most recent period studied the numbers skew even further. From 2006 to 2008, only 2% (12 of 661 victims) are from the West, and the remaining 98% are inhabitants of countries with Muslim majorities. During this period, a person of non‐Western origin was 54 times more likely to die in an al‐Qa’ida attack than an individual from the West. The overwhelming majority of al‐Qa’ida victims are Muslims living in Muslim countries, and many are citizens of Iraq, which suffered more al‐Qa’ida attacks than any other country courtesy of the al‐Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) affiliate.
It is interesting to note that the percentage of non‐Western victims increased in the more recent period at the same time that extremist scholars, pundits, and supporters are questioning the indiscriminate use of violence and the targeting of Muslims. Al‐Qa’ida leaders stress that these individuals are not formal members of the organization, but recognizes their legitimacy as scholars and intellectual contributions to the movement nonetheless.
It is a short and required read. Supporting data fills most of the report’s 56 pages. See Deadly Vanguards: A Study of al-Qa’ida’s Violence Against Muslims.
Below is the report on the Smith-Mundt Symposium of January 13, 2009. Subtitled “A Discourse to Shape America’s Discourse”, it was a frank and open discussion across 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. Ostensibly on the law that authorized what we now call public diplomacy, it was really a way to foster an interagency, public‐private, and inter‐tribal discussion was on the purpose, structure, and direction of America’s global engagement. The report has been online since April. It is republished at Scribd for greater attention and comment. Please contribute your comments below.
Some readers may have noticed that I italicize part of Judith McHale’s title, as in Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. I’ve done this for over year now to draw attention to a bureaucratic reality. While State’s organizational chart shows the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs – now P.J Crowley, Sean McCormack before him – reporting directly to the Under Secretary, the reality is something less (although I’m told the relationship between the A/S and U/S today is closer than it has been). The media and others tend to focus on the Under Secretary’s primary and most public job and almost always list the titled as simply “Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy.” But today, an odd thing happened, Elizabeth Dickenson of ForeignPolicy.com gave Judith McHale a new title:
Replying to an e-mail regarding a different article, the press office resent a statement, sent separately last week by Undersecretary of State for Public Affairs Judith McHale to FP, on the U.S.-Africom relationship …
Under Secretary for Public Affairs? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that one before…
Courtesy of Bruce Gregory, Professor of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University.
September 9, 2009
Intended for teachers of public diplomacy and related courses, here is an update on resources that may be of general interest. Suggestions for future updates are welcome.
Adjunct Assistant Professor of
Media and Public Affairs
George Washington University
On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall delivered a "routine commencement speech" at Harvard University that would change the course of history. On that day, the retired General of the Army (5-star) proposed a program for Europe based on building local economic strength, governance, and self-confidence.
It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.
The program, called simply the "Marshall Plan" by the media, was based on the recommendations of Marshall’s Director of the Policy Planning Staff, George Kennan. In a declassified (formerly Top Secret) supplement to a July 23, 1947, Report of the Policy Planning Staff titled "Certain Aspects of the European Recovery Problem from the United States Standpoint," Kennan succinctly explained that success of the proposed plan would be determined by the Europeans themselves as they felt self-empowered and secure.
Is the State Department so full of problems today that it requires rebuilding from scratch if there is to be effective civilian leadership of America’s foreign affairs? From the recent report on the dysfunction within the Africa Bureau (which ignored the failure of intra-agency integration), the militarization of foreign aid and situation with USAID, to the continuing problem of the militarization of public diplomacy and strategic communication underlying the question of who represents America to the world, are we seeing more of the iceberg?
If change is necessary, are the Secretary of State’s authorities and leadership enough to push the necessary changes without creating a paralyzing backlash from within? Must change come from Congress in a modern (and more sweeping) version of the Goldwater-Nichols Act (which would beg the question of who would be the modern Goldwater)?
What are your thoughts?
- Comparing the Areas of Responsibility of State and Defense (Updated)
- What is the purpose of Public Diplomacy if not to influence?
- Public Diplomacy is not an influence activity and the DOD can only use PSYOP to engage foreign audiences
- New Defense Department Plan on Strategic Communication and Science and Technology
- Broadcasting Board of Governors: empty seats at the public diplomacy table
- Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy is at Odds with Social Media, and What to Do about It: an interview with Matt Armstrong
- Defining Public Diplomacy (again)
- In America? Smith-Mundt means no SMS updates on the President’s Ghana speech for you!
- Debating the Theory vs Practice of Public Diplomacy
- Report on the Smith-Mundt Symposium
- Must. Be. AWESOME! by Chris DuFour
- Government reports on public diplomacy you may have missed
For Americans, “influence” or “persuasion” in the context of foreign affairs is unseemly and even distasteful. While it is the responsibility – the requirement even – of a democratic leader to marshal and manage public opinion behind an issue or a platform, we have an uneasy relationship with this concept in the area of foreign affairs.
Using carefully selected words for carefully selected audiences, leveraging social media, traditional media, and personal engagement to build support for an issue are the hallmarks of political campaigns. Whether running for office or pushing legislation, politicians and their advisors explore the psychology of constituents to push emotional buttons to influence and mobilize audiences.
The propagation of accidental misinformation or intentional disinformation is a healthy business in America, as is the business of uncovering the same. It is legal to “swift boat” in the US is legal, the President can solicit my support through electronic media (see image above, ostensibly from a private entity) and through weekly radio addresses, I can watch government influence operations (from the Administration and Congress alike) on Sunday Talk Shows, and the President’s own press secretary can master the art of obfuscation (must more prominent in the previous Administration).
But change the target audience to be outside the US and all of a sudden the color of the discourse changes and we assume what our own government says and does in our name is “dirty” and unfit to be viewed by Americans, even through the filter of our own media.
Why is this? Craig Hayden says it is because we harbor “the phantom fears of the propaganda state”. But, as he points out,
…we already live in a propaganda state, where mainstream media reporting caters to narrow-cast markets with news and opinions framed to be marketable. So the dangers that Smith-Mundt supposedly protects U.S. citizens from is non-unique. At the same time, the U.S. clings to a phantom hope that its journalistic institutions adhere to a kind of impartial “objectivity” to serve the interests of public debate. Objectivity has been watered down to artificially bisect all issues as politically debatable, with few evaluative standards other than those posed by stakeholders with conveniently contrasting views on the “news.” Put simply – current U.S. media institutions produce propaganda – for better or worse.
The “inconvenient ignorance” of the “propaganda state” limits our ways, means, and purposes of engaging global audiences. We imply certain discourse is unsavory for Americans and label it “propaganda” or “psychological operations” simply because the conversation is with non-US audiences. The result is that we censor our Government, and only our Government, in the area of foreign affairs and yet domestically, we have a vibrant industry targeting individuals in far less savory ways (seriously, “death panels”?).
- Censoring the Voice of America at ForeignPolicy.com
- Comment on the above article highlighted here
- Is Social Media More Trustworthy than Voice of America?
- In America? Smith-Mundt means no SMS updates on the President’s Ghana speech for you!
- Senator Edward Zorinsky and Banning Domestic Dissemination by USIA in 1985
- Smith-Mundt: Myths, Facts, and Recommendations
The State Department’s Inspector General released an important report on the Africa Bureau (689kb PDF), or “AF” in State’s lexicon. Of particular interest is AF’s resource troubles and problems with integrating and supporting public diplomacy.
As the report notes, there were significant expectations with regard to Africa policy with the election of President Obama. It is important as both the President and the Secretary of State have recently completed high profile trips to the continent.
The troubles at AF could indicate deeper problems at the State Department at a time when Congress is asking why America’s public diplomacy wears combat boots. The report includes a little data on the military support to public diplomacy that may surprise Congress and shows State must do more to not only fix its organization but to solicit more funds.
The report repeatedly highlights the failure to incorporate public diplomacy into AF operations ten years after USIA was abolished. However, it never addresses the reality that AF public diplomacy has, at best, only an informal relationship with the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs office, known as “R”. This is a widespread but hidden issue many, especially in Congress but also pundits on public diplomacy don’t “get”: the Under Secretary actually has severely limited direct authorities over not only money but staff and programs. The report fails to mention that public diplomacy taskings from “R” to AF do not go through official channels to AF’s leadership but through informal channels that bypass the leadership, both in the Bureau and in field, does not always know what the public diplomacy officers are working on or their impact.
Peter Swire, Obama transition team attorney, discusses Web 2.0 issues specific to the federal government. Focus is on the selection and licensing of products and not nature of the content, but it is still an interesting subject for the Gov 2.0 discussion.
Us Now: A film project about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet (h/t CB3T)
In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power? New technologies and a closely related culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organisation. This project brings together leading practitioners and thinkers in this field and asks them to determine the opportunity for government.
A paper by Daniel Silverberg and COL Joseph Heimann in the current issue of the US Army War College’s superb quarterly Parameters discusses the legal authorities of the Defense Department’s activities in strategic communication, public affairs, and public diplomacy. In doing so, “An Ever-Expanding War: Legal Aspects of Online Strategic Communication” makes some startling statements on both the Defense Department’s and the State Department’s methods.
This paper is well-timed to coincide with current discussions in Congress on the role of DOD in engaging foreign audiences, particularly in the area of online communication. A key issue for the authors is whether interactive engagement of foreign audiences in the era of the social web by Combatant Commanders (eg. CENTCOM),
while critical to overall American strategic communication efforts, are properly characterized as “military missions,” that make use of DOD funding.
They do not blame the DOD for mission creep, with the understatement that DOD “is arguably filling a need where resource-strapped civilian agencies might be falling short.” (This statement assumes civilian agencies have the desire to fill the gap.)
Most troubling for me are the statements on which they base much of their analysis(emphasis is mine):
[O]nce the Department no longer labels its communication measures as PSYOP, it potentially subverts its own statutory authorities to conduct such programs. The Department has limited authorities to engage foreign audiences, and PSYOP are the principal authorized mechanism to do so. In legal terms, in order to justify the use of appropriated funds, DOD activities are required to support a DOD-specific mission and not conflict with the responsibility of another agency.8 Once DOD stops calling interactive communication activities PSYOP and undertakes functions similar to those of another department, the “military mission” becomes less defined.
Second, DOD may be encroaching upon the Department of State’s mission to engage foreign audiences. The two departments’ missions, while overlapping, are distinct. DOD’s mission is one of influence; the State Department’s mission is one of relationship-building and dialogue. The amalgamation of these tasks potentially undermines the State Department’s efforts. At a minimum, it forces one to ask exactly where does DOD’s mission end.
More on this from me later. What are you thoughts?
Sixty years ago, the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy was actually called the Advisory Commission on Information. A year after it was officially established by the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, and not too longer after its first members were confirmed, the Commission issued its first semi-annual (as in twice a year compared to today’s annual) reports. Below is an excerpt from The New York Times reporting on that first report. Note the membership of the Commission and the mention of private media.
An immediate and broad expansion of the world-wide information program being conducted by the State Department, including the activities of the Voice of America. was urged today by the United States Advisory Commission on Information in its first semi-annual report to Congress.
The group, which was created by Congress, is headed by Mark Ethridge, publisher of The Louisville Courier-journal. It includes Erwin D. Canham, editor of The Christian Science Monitor; Philip D. Reed, chairman of the General Electric Company; Mark A. May, director of the Institute of Human Relations at Yale, and Justin Miller, president of the National Association of Broadcasters.
“A realistic approach,” the commission said, “requires that we provide a budget better balanced between the three-pronged program of military, economic and information policy. A budget which contemplates $15,000,000,000 for military, $5,000,000,000 for economic and only $36,000,000 for information and educational services, does not provide an effective tool for cleaning out the Augean Stables of international confusion and misunderstanding.” …
The commission presented the following conclusions: … “The dissemination of American private media abroad is primarily and essentially an informational activity and the responsibility and funds for this activity should be placed with the Department of State, and the activities should not be limited to the countries receiving aid under the European Recovery Act.”
This was published March 31, 1949.
Strongly recommend reading the unsigned editorial in The Washington Times titled “Fighting the War of Ideas: Congress leans toward unilateral disarmament in info ops”:
Information operations are known by many names — public diplomacy, strategic influence, political warfare — but the purpose is the point. It’s vital for America to advance national security by changing the way people think about our country and challenging the negative messages spread by our adversaries. …
Ideally, the United States would pursue information operations through an integrated, coordinated interagency program following a coherent strategy aimed at achieving critical strategic effects. This would require a major presidential initiative, something President George W. Bush did not do but which President Obama may yet undertake. In the meantime, the Defense Department is the sole government agency adequately executing this mission. If the Pentagon goes silent, the field will be left to our adversaries. In the battle of ideas, Congress is forcing unilateral disarmament.
American public diplomacy wears combat boots. That was the first sentence of my chapter in the Handbook of Public Diplomacy published last year. I argued that public diplomacy and its related strategic communication had gone too soft and that the Defense Department necessarily, if unwilling and sometimes clumsily, stepped in to fill a gap left by an absent State Department. Today, the situation is different with Defense running increasingly sophisticated efforts, often with the collaboration and support of State and other entities within the Government. And of course, the Smith-Mundt Act has an effect here on public diplomacy and strategic communication.
In the practice of public relations, public diplomacy, public affairs, or strategic communication what does it mean if 67% – 70% of your audience is a demographic you’re not supposed to target?
a) you’re filling a void
b) you’re not fulfilling your mission
c) the rule is bad
Face-off to Facebook: From the Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen Debate to Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Jack Morton Auditorium, 805 21st Street NW
Washington, DC 20006
GW’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication at the School of Media and Public Affairs, in partnership with the Carnegie Corporation, the Walter Roberts Endowment, and the Kennan Institute, is pleased to announce a conference devoted to the 50th anniversary of the American National Exhibition in Moscow, with its famous Khrushchev-Nixon “Kitchen Debate,” as well as to the new opportunities for U.S. public diplomacy in a Web 2.0 world.