Gross Misinformation: we have no idea what we’re doing or what we did

International Information Administration logo

In the saga of institutional misinformation, we have a new entry. The following article is set up as satire in the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” which is fine, but the author’s invocation of history, specifically organizational history combined with implied current organizational portfolios is horribly wrong. The failure to understand our history is irrelevant to the article “Let’s Tweet, Grandma – Weaponizing the Social to Create Information Security” but it is relevant as yet another sad revelation of how poorly we understand our organizations, past and present. That the author of this piece is a Navy Commander, a graduate of the Naval War College, and presently at TRADOC reveals an unfortunate reality about what our institutions “know” about the past and present. (Incidentally, I am a casual collector of books by “Dean Swift,” my oldest is only from 1911 though. There was an older edition I had my eye on in an antique bookstore in London, but I never pulled the trigger.)

Continue reading “Gross Misinformation: we have no idea what we’re doing or what we did

Correcting Misinformation around the Smith-Mundt Act Seventy-Seven Years after it was Introduced

On January 24, 1945, Congressman Karl Earl Mundt, Republican from South Dakota, introduced a bill “to transmit knowledge and understanding to the greatest number of people” across the Pan American Union. The method would be exchanging elementary and high school teachers in training. Put another way, the Mundt bill was a scholarship program for student-teachers in their junior year of college, provided they were in good standing with the American Association of Teachers Colleges. Before he was elected to the House in 1938, Mundt had been a schoolteacher, school superintendent, a college instructor, a co-founder of the National Forensic League (since renamed the National Speech and Debate Association), and both he and his wife were active with the South Dakota Poetry Society. Karl Mundt appreciated the value of words and ideas. The bill he introduced seventy-seven years ago today would go through several iterations before being signed into law three years and three days later by President Truman as the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. Originally intended to create and foster common understanding between peoples, to preemptively as well as reactively counter misinformation and disinformation, today its purpose and evolution are clouded by an ironic combination of misinformation and disinformation.

Continue reading “Correcting Misinformation around the Smith-Mundt Act Seventy-Seven Years after it was Introduced

It is time to do away with the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy incumbency chart 14 Jan 2022

Here we are on January 14, days away from the end of the first year of the Biden Administration, and there is still no nomination for the office of Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. There were rumors of a forthcoming nomination around last autumn and recently I heard a nomination could be announced later this year. At this point, who would want a job that has been broadly neglected, often treated as an inconsequential sideshow, and whose authority, already slight, has been substantially reduced over the past couple of years? Considering the history of this post and this administration’s first year, if this administration does nominate someone for this job, they will likely be more Don Draper than Colin Powell, to borrow framing from the author known as Carrying the Gun, because that’s how the role is perceived and that’s the only person that would take it.

Continue reading “It is time to do away with the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy

tl;dr edition of “W(h)ither R: a marquee failure of leadership in foreign policy”

Last week, I published “W(h)ither R: a marquee failure of leadership in foreign policy,” a 2300-word discussion on the bipartisan failure to fill the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Below is a bulleted edition (with bonus arguments) for the tl;dr (too long, didn’t read) crowd.

Continue reading “tl;dr edition of “W(h)ither R: a marquee failure of leadership in foreign policy”

Neglected History, Forgotten Lessons: a presentation and a discussion

In discussions about how the United States needs to structure its bureaucracies as the nation — and democratic principles in general — is pummeled by propaganda and political warfare, historical precedents are often cited. These examples may be used to show how something worked before or as warnings. For the latter, it is easy to find a reference to the Committee for Public Information as a government domestic propaganda machine. For the former, it is increasingly common to read how the United States Information Agency provides a model to be emulated today. Both are bad takes based on common narratives that are ahistorical and easily debunked, and yet no one has seemed to do so.

Continue reading “Neglected History, Forgotten Lessons: a presentation and a discussion

Diplomacy’s Public Dimension: Books, Articles, Websites #103

October 2, 2020

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. 

Bruce Gregory
Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication
George Washington University
BGregory@gwu.edu
http://ipdgc.gwu.edu/bruce-gregorys-resources-diplomacys-public-dimension

Continue reading “Diplomacy’s Public Dimension: Books, Articles, Websites #103

Whither R: the office that’s been vacant two of every five days since 1999

There is a government position at the center of countless reports on countering foreign disinformation, correcting misinformation, and directly engaging foreign audiences that is rarely, if ever, mentioned in these very reports and recommendations. Whether due to ignorance, perceived irrelevance of the office, or both, the ghosting of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs reveals a fundamental defect in the analysis of how the United States has, does, and could organize in response to the role of public opinion in foreign policy and national security. Established in 1999 as a reinterpreted USIA Director, excepting the broadcast operations, the office has had a confirmed, not acting, Under Secretary only 60% of the time. Even if the counter stopped at the start of the Trump administration, which had one Under Secretary who served for only 100 days, the average officeholder’s tenure was one year and seven months with an average of more than six months between incumbents. The marginalization of this office, including the nearly complete disregard of its potential in the myriad of recommendations on “recreating” USIA or similar structure, should surprise no one.

Continue reading “Whither R: the office that’s been vacant two of every five days since 1999

Diplomacy’s Public Dimension: Books, Articles, Websites #102

August 2, 2020

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. 

Bruce Gregory
Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication
George Washington University
BGregory@gwu.edu
http://ipdgc.gwu.edu/bruce-gregorys-resources-diplomacys-public-dimension

Continue reading “Diplomacy’s Public Dimension: Books, Articles, Websites #102

Diplomacy’s Public Dimension: Books, Articles, Websites #100

March 5, 2020

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. 

Bruce Gregory
Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication
George Washington University
BGregory@gwu.edu
http://ipdgc.gwu.edu/bruce-gregorys-resources-diplomacys-public-dimension

Continue reading “Diplomacy’s Public Dimension: Books, Articles, Websites #100

The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs: an updated incumbency chart and some background

A newer version of this topic, published 3 December 2020, may be found here.

The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs was created in 1999 to lead the State Department’s existing public affairs operations and the reintegration of most of the global public affairs activities previously based in the department. These global activities had been removed in 1953 and rebranded in the late 1960s as “public diplomacy.” (Edmund Gullion is often credited with this rebranding, but proper attribution should go to Rep. Dante Fascell (D-FL), but that’s for another post.)

Since the office was established and the first Under Secretary was sworn-in on October 1, 1999, the office has been vacant 36% of the time. To be more precise, the office has been “unencumbered” with a confirmed Under Secretary for 35.8% of the days since October 1, 1999, with an average gap between appointments of 289 days (over 9.5 months). In December 2011, the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy released a report about this vacancy issue (at the time, I served as the Executive Director of the commission) and the next month I published a less restrained commentary on the topic, R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs). Above is an updated chart showing the tenure and vacancies of the office as of August 26, 2019.

Continue reading “The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs: an updated incumbency chart and some background

Diplomacy’s Public Dimension: Books, Articles, Websites #94

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. 

Bruce Gregory
Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication
George Washington University
BGregory@gwu.edu
http://ipdgc.gwu.edu/bruce-gregorys-resources-diplomacys-public-dimension

Continue reading “Diplomacy’s Public Dimension: Books, Articles, Websites #94

Diplomacy’s Public Dimension: Books, Articles, Websites #93

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. 

Bruce Gregory
Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication
George Washington University
BGregory@gwu.edu
https://smpa.gwu.edu/bruce-gregory
http://ipdgc.gwu.edu/bruce-gregorys-resources-diplomacys-public-dimension

Continue reading “Diplomacy’s Public Dimension: Books, Articles, Websites #93

A Strategic Perspective on “Information Warfare” & “Counter-Propaganda”

On Wednesday, March 15, 2017, the Emerging Threats & Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee convened a hearing entitled “Crafting an Info Warfare & Counter-Propaganda Strategy for the Emerging Security Environment .”

I recommed watching the worthwhile conversation. Below are my prepared remarks given at the top of the hearing.

Continue reading “A Strategic Perspective on “Information Warfare” & “Counter-Propaganda”

When do we start the honest debate over the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act?

Sardonic? Ironic? Satire? Which word best fits the the lack of serious debate over the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act and the realities for which public diplomacy and international broadcasting are required and operate? See my post at the Public Diplomacy Council about this. 

What is it about U.S. public diplomacy that we must hide it from Americans? Is it so abhorrent that it would embarrass the taxpayer, upset the Congress (which has surprisingly little additional insight on the details of public diplomacy), or upend our democracy? Of our international broadcasting, such as the Voice of America, do we fear the content to be so persuasive and compelling that we dare not permit the American media, academia, nor the Congress, let alone the mere layperson, to have the right over oversight to hold accountable their government? [Read the rest here]

Also, see Josh Rogin’s Much ado about State Department ‘propaganda’.

Neuroscience and Social Conflict: Identifying New Approaches for the 21st Century

What if you put neuroscientists, social scientists, conflict resolution experts, and diplomats together in a room? Is there something to the “human dimension” of conflict that the science of the brain can inform the art of conflict resolution and mitigation? The Project on Justice in Times of Transition, in partnership with the SaxeLab at MIT, launched the initiative “Neuroscience and Social Conflict: Identifying New Approaches for the 21st Century” to find out.
The first meeting was February 9-11, 2012, at MIT in Boston. PJTT and SaxeLab brought together a high-level group of experienced leaders from the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Central America with conflict conflict resolution experts, social psychologists, and leading neuroscientists to survey the latest findings in neuroscience and brain research to brainstorm and exchange ideas for addressing conflict.

I attended the February meeting and it was an eye-opening few days that started early and continued over dinner into the night. The presentations were honest, devoid of grandiose assertions of magic bullets, and each were followed by collegial discussions fueled by fresh questions and ideas.

Rebecca Saxe, the Director of SaxeLab, highlighted some of the general assumptions most scientists looking at conflict and conflict resolution share:

  • People respond to conflict as human beings and there is some generalized experience that can be captured
  • Behaviors can reflect emotions, associations, norms, and narratives that are not accessible through cognition or introspection
  • People resist changing their minds and simple persuasion is almost never sufficient to make them change

The science presentations shared research on how particular parts of the brain were involved with specific behavior and emotions, such as fear. Discussions included the role of humiliation in perpetuating war, motivations for “prosocial” and empathetic behavior, group norms, among others.

The acknowledged drawback of some of the existing scientific research is the “normal” person for much of the brain imaging is an MIT student, which all acknowledged is not a true representation. The scientists were eager for advice on how to modify their experiments to test on relevant questions, topics, and people.

The first meeting left all of the participants more interested than when the meeting started. Follow up ideas include:

  • Convening a second meeting to inventory key areas of research relevant to conflict resolution
  • Studying specific conflict resolution approaches to test assumptions underlying various established methodologies
  • Exposing leading neuroscientists to active conflict resolution and negotiation situations
  • Generate opportunities for concrete research on perpetrators of violence who have been de-radicalized [see Google Ideas’ “Formers” project]
  • Evaluating the impact of social media-based public diplomacy efforts
  • Create a multi-disciplinary study and research program that investigates core questions related to conflict resolution

This effort continues with a working group, which I am a part of, to help guide the initiative forward. The working group includes:

  • Matt Armstrong, former Executive Director, U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy
  • Eileen Babbitt, Fletcher School of Law and Public Diplomacy, Tufts University
  • Dan Batson, Professor of Social Psychology, Kansas University
  • Kim Brizzolara, feature film and documentary producer
  • Emile Bruneau, Researcher, SaxeLab, MIT
  • Betsy Levy Paluck, Professor of Psychology, Princeton University
  • Mohammed Milad, Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Psychiatry
  • Tim Phillips, Co-founder, Project on Justice in Times of Transition
  • Lee Ross, Professor of Psychology, Stanford University
  • Rebecca Saxe, Professor Cognitive Neuroscience; Director, SaxeLab, MIT
  • Gary Slutkin, Executive Director, CeaseFire
  • Jessica Stern, former member of President Clinton’s National Security Council staff

There is more to come on this subject.

Your thoughts?

Visual Propaganda: a cross-disciplinary conference on the influence of images

It has long been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what words to which people? The pixels or streaks of paint of an image is the only commonality shared by different audiences. The context in which they are received and interpreted matters. Beyond the intended framing, including words or other images, personal and shared history, language, current or developing narratives, and other inputs, both direct and indirect, all matter in the impact of a picture.

On March 16, 2012, Georgia State University, in conjunction with the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College, convened a conference entitled Visual Propaganda and Online Radicalization.  This public event followed two days of working meetings between the conference’s speakers and others from a variety of disciplines to better understand the role of images, still and moving, in recruiting, radicalizing, and mobilizing support. Also discussed was the possibility of over-analyzing images.

Conference day presentations are available here. Speakers included David Perlmutter, Scott Ruston, Anne Stenersen, Carol Winkler, Hussein Amin, Saeid Belkasim, Cori Dauber, Doug Jordan, Jad Melki, Shawn Powers, and me, Matt Armstrong.

My presentation was “Now Media, Identity, & the Marketplace for Loyalty.” Video of my part of the conference, which was a quick 15min, is here. This presentation will be more fleshed out elsewhere, including a book chapter Shawn Powers and I are writing presently named “From Nation-State to Nations-State: Conceptualizing Radicalization in the Marketplace for Loyalties.”

In the case of over-analysis, there was an interesting discussion on the use of fancy Islamic calligraphy in logos or brands of insurgent or terrorist groups. The meaning of these texts were analyzed but elder native Arab speakers from and living in the Middle East dismissed some of the conclusions. The contention was the youth cannot read the script or don’t bother to read it. The result is the calligraphy is better interpreted as a picture rather than text. The meaning is derived from the appearance of the image framing the logo as religious, Arab, or something else based on its similarity to other script, or all of the above.

The product of the working meetings will be book from the Strategic Studies Institute on visual propaganda.

Thank you, Mom (from P&G)

If you have not seen the Proctor & Gamble marketing campaign entitled “Thank you, Mom“, you really should. An Olympic Partner for London 2012, the campaign will run for these last 100 days before the start of the summer games.  It is the largest campaign in P&G’s 174-year history.
The campaign launched with the digital release of the short film “Best Job,” a moving celebration of mom’s raising great kids and Olympians, according to a press release. The video was shot on four continents with local actors and athletes from each location — London, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles and Beijing — and will be found online, across social media, TV, and print.*

How might the State Department produce similar vignettes that could translate policy initiatives including women’s issues, empowering young people, and other democracy and civil society issues?

The Bureau of International Information Programs has both the technical capacity, including a HD studio and post production suite, and the creative capacity. Madison Avenue agencies (both literal and figurative) would be willing to help, as private discussions have raised and previous efforts demonstrate. This partnership would not be unusual as there is established, if perhaps forgotten, precedent that extends at least to 1951, before the USIA was established, in the form of both formal and informal advisory relationships.

Such cross-cultural outreach like this P&G campaign that supports and praises moms would likely enjoy the support of senior leadership in DC and the field. It would likely have traction with Ambassador moms and Ambassador wives. The vignettes would have a ready audience to the growing number of Facebook friends of the various State Department sites, many of which need content.

What do you think?

*Does this make the ad “old media” or “new media”? Try “now media”…

The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Under Secretaries

By Brian Carlson
The following originally appeared at the Public Diplomacy Council and is republished here with permission.  

Tara Sonenshine was confirmed Thursday night by the Senate, and she will probably take office officially early this week.  (She can be sworn in privately by some current official and begin work, even as a more formal ceremony is planned for a few weeks hence.)

It is a new beginning down at Foggy Bottom.  Tara becomes only the seventh Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs since the job was created upon the merger of USIA into the Department in 1999.

It is a propitious time to consider what habits lead to  success at the State Department, as well as what experience teaches about being the nation’s Olympic spear-catcher when they think we’re being out-communicated by some guy in a cave.  Here are a few suggestions for how to succeed at this job, all gathered from my time working directly with five of the six previous Under Secretaries.  (I had no contact with Margaret Tutwiler.)

Continue reading “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Under Secretaries