Selection and commentary by PDC members and authoritative experts in the field
Thursday, June 14th 2012
We are delighted to share with you a great new piece on Smith-Mundt provided to the Council by its author Jeremy Berkowitz.
In "Why Repeal of Smith-Mundt is Not Enough for Public Diplomacy" Berkowitz discusses what the recent attempts by Congressmen Adam Smith (D-WA) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) "to repeal the outdated domestic dissemination ban first inserted in Smith-Mundt in 1948, and later strenghtened in 1972" would mean (or would not mean) for U.S. public diplomacy.
Monday, June 4th 2012
There has been a war going on for quite some time, but it's one that has been conducted largely out of sight. This is the war being fought on the digital front: cyber-spying, cyber-theft, and cyber-sabotage.
Up until last week, the U.S. has been engaging in this war fairly discreetly. Most of the news reporting about it has focused on how citizens in our country have been the target of enemy probes, and the government’s public pronouncements have mostly been about the need for all of us to protect our personal information and our national critical infrastructure.
One reason for the official discretion is that we don’t like to let our adversaries know when they’ve found a vulnerable spot. But another reason is that we don’t want to brag when we’ve hit one of theirs, since uncertainty is also a weapon in this war. Yet the fact is, the people who are responsible for protecting our nation would be irresponsible if they weren't also strengthening our offensive capabilities – and you can be sure that, on that front, they haven’t been irresponsible.
Until last week.
Thursday, May 31st 2012
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?
Wednesday, May 30th 2012
There's been a lot of propagandizing lately about something that isn't propaganda.
I'm talking about the fuss that’s been stirred up by the proposal to amend the Smith-Mundt Act so that Americans can more easily scrutinize content that has been produced on their behalf for foreign audiences.
Suddenly everybody’s hair is on fire. People who usually call for more transparency and more openness of what government is doing are now fretting that exposing Americans to that stuff poses some kind of danger.
Well, there are dangers in this world, but this is not one of them.
This spun-up controversy reminds me of what happened during the war in Iraq. Journalists had been demanding better access to the battlefield and to the troops during wartime since, well, forever. So in 2003, Torie Clarke, then the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, pushed the Defense Department to give them just that. The result: Hundreds of journalists were embedded with units of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines and given unprecedented access to the conflict. They produced some of the most informed and comprehensive coverage ever seen in a modern war. And what happened after that? Critics started complaining that the journalists were too close, and the friendships they formed with the men and women who were fighting the war hindered their ability to cover it objectively.
Sometimes you can’t win. And this criticism of the proposal to modernize Smith-Mundt falls into that category.
Sunday, May 27th 2012
What to make of the renewed discussion of Smith-Mundt? A bill to revise this ancient law is part of the version of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, which the House of Representatives will pass sometime in the summer. It would reverse a central intent of the old law by making motion pictures, films, video, audio, and other materials prepared for dissemination abroad or disseminated abroad---material designed primarily for foreign audiences---available in the United States. The modernized law would apply to the Department of State as a whole (not just its PD operations) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.