NDAA Amendment Would Legalize War Propaganda

Via Mike Riggs at Reason, Michael Hastings reports at BuzzFeed that an amendment has been inserted into the latest version of the NDAA that would nullify the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987, both of which ban domestic propaganda. It is being sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State.

The amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon, according to the summary of the law at the House Rules Committee’s official website.

…The new law would give sweeping powers to the State Department and Pentagon to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”

According to this official, “senior public affairs” officers within the Department of Defense want to “get rid” of Smith-Mundt and other restrictions because it prevents information activities designed to prop up unpopular policies—like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The legislation banning propaganda aimed at Americans has not meant the end of propaganda, with a sycophantic mass media filling in for the state all along the way. But even the government’s war propaganda has managed to persist. Recent reports published by USA Today exposed the dubious nature and exorbitant costs of the Pentagon’s “Information Operations,” (IO) which the newspaper described as “the modern equivalent of psychological warfare,” or war propaganda. In fact, soon after the reports were published, the journalists were targeted in a misinformation campaign. If it was done using federal funds, it could be a direct violation of Smith-Mundt or the FRAA.

Propaganda has always been with us. During the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson set up the Committee on Public Information (CPI), a propaganda ministry meant to build public support for the war effort. The CPI distributed propaganda in news stories, street posters, advertisements, and hollywood films. It launched pro-war lecture circuits to mobilize public opinion, and publicly criticizing the president or the war effort was essentially criminalized.

“The propagandists in World War II,” writes historian Susan A. Brewer, ” following in the footsteps of the Committee on Public Information, while attempting to avoid their predecessor’s mistakes.”

The OWI’s [Office of War Information] objective, acknowledged privately, was the “coordination, synchronization, embellishment, emphasis, manipulation and distribution of facts as information rather than…gross overstatements and exaggerated misrepresentations.” To mobilize the population, the OWI drew on familiar advertising techniques such as repetition, catchy slogans, and celebrity endorsement.

…On December 16, 1941, President Roosevelt set up the Office of Censorship, headed by Associated Press executive news editor Byron Price. The Office of Censorship had authority over all civilian communication…Before news organizations released a story, Price wanted them to ask themselves, “Is this information I would like to have if I were the enemy?” In a 1942 press conference, he and [OWI Director Elmer] Davis explained the relationship of the Office of Censorship and the OWI with the news media. Price announced, “We tell what they cannot print.” Davis said, “We give them stuff we hope they will print.”

But a modern phenomenon really put a stick in the spokes of the government’s attempts to treat the public like mushrooms and the mass media’s efforts to dominate the airwaves with regurgitated state spin. By making vast amounts of historical, political, and economic literature freely and immediately accessible, the Internet has belittled the the government’s aim of keeping the public ignorant. As the saying goes, information is power – and when citizens have more of it, the government has less.

According to the report from Hastings, the amendment’s sponsors have the Internet specifically in mind:

…Thornberry warned that in the Internet age, the current law “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.”

The bill’s supporters say the informational material used overseas to influence foreign audiences is too good to not use at home, and that new techniques are needed to help fight Al-Qaeda, a borderless enemy whose own propaganda reaches Americans online.

In other words, people are getting information online that we don’t want people to have – therefore, legalize domestic propaganda. So NDAA is the latest effort by Congress (after SOPA, CISPA and the others) to take control of the best resource the American people have. The Internet is too open, too free, too…subversive. We need information the government wants us to have, not all that other stuff.

12 thoughts on “NDAA Amendment Would Legalize War Propaganda”

  1. We shouldn't be surprised by this crap. The U.S. Government–all governments–hate the free, unfettered exchange of information on the Internet. The U.S. Government wants to be able to lie about its failed policies, its criminal misadventures abroad, and the like. (Then again, it already does that. Right, Representatives Thornberry and Smith?)

  2. Is that the same Adam Smith who sponsored the amendment to repeal the indefinite detention provision from FY2012 NDAA?

    One more thing: I thought the current propaganda was bad, how much worse can/will it get?

    1. I had the exact same question about Smith. It doesn't seem consistent. Either it's a different Smith, or he's not too bright, or he's a jerk.

  3. I am mystified with respect to why the idea of repealing domestic anti-propaganda laws is even thought necessary.

    The corporate media (aka “Mainstream Media”) seem to me to be filled with little other than government propaganda, but given that it is increasingly hard to tell where the corporations end and the government begins, that is hardly surprising.

    I cant imagine why these Congress critters want to repeal these long ignored laws, unless this amendment is in itself a propaganda exercise to reinforce the false belief that Amerika still has a free and honest Press.

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  5. He put out a statement on his website, here's the first part:

    "Unfortunately, recent articles have misinterpreted the intent and impact of the Thornberry-Smith amendment in the NDAA. This amendment is intended to ensure that the US government can get factual information out in a timely manner to counter extremist misinformation and propaganda. It does not and is not in any way intended to ‘legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences’ and, in fact, specifically ensures that the content to be rebroadcast or republished domestically by the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) shall not influence public opinion in the US."

    Not sure what kind of extremist information he's talking about, or how it's possible to rebroadcast information domestically without someone forming an opinion about it. I'm pretty sure Adam Smith is full of it.

    And yes, he sponsored the amendment to repeal indefinite detention, and then he went ahead and voted for it anyway.

  6. It's very very bad. You think it's hard to combat the jingoism, the war-propaganda, the American exceptionalism, etc. etc. in the populus now. Just wait until all restraints are removed and this cr@p is seeping everywhere, kind of like tje Fukishima of propaganda. It will be used not just to continue to turn the world into a U.S. battleground, but also against the citizens in this country who dare to oppose doing so. They'll be so marginalized by waves and waves of propoganda that who will defend them?

    Your tax dollars at work? (afterall that's how they fund the war propaganda)

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  8. It's hard to believe anyone would even consider this amendment. This cannot happen and hopefully there's enough smarter thinkers in the House and Senate to kill this quickly. This would definitely be a step backwards for our country. Some members of congress could use a good bitch slapping sometimes.

  9. Not sure what kind of extremist information he's talking about, or how it's possible to rebroadcast information domestically without someone forming an opinion about it. I'm pretty sure Adam Smith is full of it.

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