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 imagined sometime over the three decades.

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Smith-Mundt Alert: USC magazine cites VOA

imageFound on page 7 of the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of USC College Magazine is a violation of federal law, specifically the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, as amended.  This magazine contains a quote from the Voice of America, a US Government broadcaster that is not permitted to be disseminated within the territory of the US (see image at right).  Concern over USIA and US Government broadcasters like VOA led the DC Circuit court in 1998 to exempt USIA from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Think of the damage Wikileaks could have caused if it was around in the 1990s to “expose” Americans to VOA!

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Berkowitz responds, discussing the Smith-Mundt Act

The following is Part II of a discussion between Jeremy Berkowitz and Matt Armstrong on Jeremy’s paper “Raising the Iron Curtain on Twitter: why the United States must revise the Smith-Mundt Act to improve public diplomacy” (PDF, 415kb). Part I is Matt Armstrong’s initial response to Jeremy’s paper available here. My response to the below, Part III, is here. Jeremy Berkowitz:

I want to thank Matt for his thoughts on my paper. I appreciate his comments and strongly respect his scholarship on the Smith-Mundt Act. I would like to discuss a few of the ideas he raised in his critique. I believe some of his criticism is well-founded and I could have more precisely conveyed my ideas in certain areas. Yet, I also believe that some of his criticism is misguided either due to simple disagreements or misunderstandings of my paper.

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Let me share some news with you: Gates likes the CNAS report but does not like that it is a CNAS report

According to the Voice of America, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates endorses the recent report – Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan – authored by Major General Michael Flynn, Captain Matt Pottinger, and Paul D. Batchelor. However, according to VOA, the SecDef took issue with the report being published by CNAS.

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Smith-Mundt Act: Facts, Myths and Recommendations

The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 is the authorizing legislation for America’s public diplomacy and strategic communication. This three-page information sheet addresses confusion surrounding the Act and makes recommendations that are fundamental to any improvement to US public diplomacy and strategic communication. It is ironic that legislation intended to counter misinformation is itself subject to misinformation to the point few know the Act’s purpose and true application.

The following is a short three page overview written at the request of and for a (pro bono) client who is neither the State Department nor the Defense Department. Download here or read below or at Scribd.

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Inconvenient ignorance: America’s curious concern over influence in foreign affairs

Organizing for America - Domestic Propaganda?
Organizing for America – Domestic Propaganda?

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”?).

See also:

Quoting History: A Sound Report

Below is the beginning of short op-ed from The New York Times on a recent report on what would later be called public diplomacy by the Advisory Commission on Information, to be known decades later as the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

Every American interested in a strong information program for this country would do well to study the latest report of the United States Advisory Commission on Information. The Commission’s four members … have clarified the key problems we face in attempting to counter Communist propaganda throughout the world and have spoken plainly on matters that require plain speech.

…[R]eferring to Senator McCarthy’s television circus last year, the Commission says, “The wide and unfavorable publicity … gave the agency such a bad name that professionally competent persons were reluctant to accept employment in it.” The Commission adds that the result of periodic Congressional attacks is that those who prepare our counter-propaganda for overseas “are perforce more cautious of how the
messages will sound or appear to the investigators and completely lose sight of whether they will be effective with their intended audience.”

Published February 6, 1954.